Over the past few years as a spirits reviewer, I’ve heard the same kinds of origin stories over and over again. Some folks got into this game because their parents were distillers. Others are nerds that like to tinker with things. Some are just in it for the money, cashing in on their celebrity status for a quick buck. The folks at Coconut Cartel though — their story is one that I had never heard before.
Danielle and Mike Zig, a brother and sister duo, didn’t start out intending to launch a brand of rum — they started out smuggling coconuts. (Yes – you read that correctly.) In 2012, the pair began their clandestine coconut conveyance from an island off the coast of El Salvador, supplying the pilfered palm tree products to local restaurants and hotels in Miami. The coconuts became the star ingredient in cocktails at those locations, which started the siblings thinking that they could cut out a lot of the struggle if they just made a delicious rum that already had those coconut flavors in it.
In partnership with some already-established rum distilleries, the pair of siblings developed a unique manufacturing process for their rum and founded Coconut Cartel to produce and import their spirits into the United States.
- Learn More: What Is Rum?
As a rum, this naturally starts with raw sugar as the source material. Specifically, Coconut Cartel sources from a sugarcane plantation that is located in the volcanic region of Guatemala, where the volcanic soil provides plenty of nutrients and unique flavors for the sugar plants to absorb.
While most distilleries use backstrap molasses (the cheap leftover sludge that remains after all of the useful sugar has been extracted for sale), this distillery instead follows the French tradition and uses the fresh pressed juice straight from the sugarcane for their processes. It’s a more expensive source, but usually creates a more herbaceous spirit. That juice is mixed with water and yeast and allowed to ferment, creating a mildly alcoholic liquid which is then distilled in a column still to create the raw white rum.
Once the raw rum is created, it is then placed into charred American white oak barrels for a period of up to 12 years. Once properly matured, the different barrels are blended together to create just the right flavor profile, without any additives such as caramel coloring.
Up to this point, that’s a pretty standard process for making an aged rum — but where Coconut Cartel differentiates itself is in the proofing process. Rum straight from the barrel has a remarkably high alcohol content, which not only can be unpleasant to drink but uneconomical to sell. Distillers “proof down” their spirits prior to bottling, usually by adding local water to the spirit. In this case, Coconut Cartel doesn’t use just any water — they use freshly harvested coconut water from the coconuts they had started smuggling into the US nearly a decade ago.
The bottle design here is a modern and sleek approach to a traditional spirits vessel, evoking a hint of that colorful art-deco-meets-80s-glam style that Miami is known for. The body is cylindrical with a sharp shoulder and a short neck that sports a spiral designed choker band around it. It’s capped off with a black wood and synthetic stopper, further leaning into that art deco style.
The label is flat and white and mostly empty, except for the Coconut Cartel logo (which is a masterpiece of minimalist art deco inspired design, in my opinion), the bottle information, and two black pelicans on either side of the label. My biggest pet peeve here is when labels unnecessarily take up the whole face of the bottle and obscure the contents, but I think there’s just enough visibility around the top and bottom of the label for me to give it a pass here. The style looks clean, classy, and unique — I think it works.
The color in this glass is beautiful for an aged rum, a slightly darker gold color. And coming off the glass I get a lot of those typical aged rum aromas: brown sugar, vanilla, pineapple, some herbal notes like fresh cut grass… but there’s also a good hit of coconut. It isn’t overpowering, but it adds a little extra character that you don’t normally see.
Taking a sip, this has a different mouthfeel compared to what I expect from a rum. It’s more buttery and smooth, without the alcohol bite that you’d normally expect from a spirit taken neat. Riding on that smooth texture are some surprisingly rich flavors, including dark chocolate, raisins, brown sugar, toasted caramel, molasses, apricots, pineapple, and (of course) coconut.
What’s interesting to me is that the flavor profile is darker and richer than I’d expect. There’s undoubtedly some extra sweetness from the coconut flavor in here, but those flavors are being kept in check by the other components of the rum. It’s an additive and supporting element, not an overpowering one.
My usual expectation when I add some ice to a spirit is that the lighter components will disappear while the darker and richer flavors stay behind. In this case, I think I’m actually getting the opposite.
What stands out the loudest in this cast of characters is the tropical fruit. I’m picking up some pineapple, apricots, bananas, mangoes, and even a little something citrus-y that makes this taste like a fruit punch more than a rum. Supporting that is the coconut with its accompanying sweetness — it’s toned down and reduced in intensity compared to what we saw when taken neat, but still very much in play. I don’t get nearly any of the dark chocolate, or the toasted caramel, or the brown sugar, sadly. But I do still get just a touch of herbal sugarcane and some vanilla.
As my wife and editor will no doubt remind me, a daquiri is not usually part of our standard testing procedure for a rum. However, this rum specifically calls out in its marketing materials that it makes a perfect daquiri. Given that hype, I didn’t think a review would be complete without at least giving it a try so I made one using the IBA specified recipe.
The resulting cocktail is darker than I’d normally expect from a daquiri, which makes sense as this cocktail is usually made with a white rum instead of an aged rum. That said, the flavors here are excellent. The tropical fruits that we saw earlier with the added ice really stand out, and with the added sour citrus component from the lime juice it makes for a cocktail that grabs your attention and sends your taste buds on a roller coaster of a ride.
There’s a lot of complexity and development in the flavors, from the initial sour citrus lime juice note that slowly fades into a brown sugar and pineapple tropical paradise. On the finish, I’m getting more of that coconut flavor joining the party, giving it a smooth texture and a perfectly balanced sweetness.
I really can’t argue with them — it does make a damn good daquiri.
Fizz (Dark & Stormy)
The daquiri seems to be this spirit’s sweet spot — a good shaken cocktail that has some complex flavors and interesting interactions. Going full-blown into a mule seems to have been this spirit’s version of jumping the shark.
I’ll give the rum this much of a handicap: this is supposed to be a dark rum cocktail, with more additives and flavorings, not necessarily just an aged rum. But the reason why we universally use this drink as a yardstick for spirits is because the components in here are so overpowering that any spirit which can hold its own is almost guaranteed to be useful in making other cocktails.
In my opinion, this is falling a bit flat. There’s definitely a good balance up front with some of the tropical fruits trying to counter the bright and bitter ginger beer, but those flavors diminish as the drink develops. By the end, you’re just getting watered down flat ginger beer without anything else in there (most likely a result of the coconut water flushing some of those flavors and diluting things a bit). I’m not expecting the same interesting textures I get from a bourbon-based mule, but some interesting interaction that lingers for a little while would be appreciated.
I love that the folks at Coconut Cartel are doing something legitimately new and interesting in the space of aged rums. The idea to use coconut water to proof down their spirits is great, and paired with their background and history in coconut smuggling it makes for exactly the kind of quirky product that makes me a little happy inside.
In terms of the product, this performs remarkably well. There are a lot of great flavors in here, and the addition of the coconut water helps keep them in check no matter how you use them. Where this falls down a little in my opinion is when you try to use it in some of the rougher and more demanding cocktails, where the flavors get a bit too washed out.
|Coconut Cartel Rum|
Produced By: Coconut CartelProduction Location: Guatemala
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $34.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 4/5
If you are looking for an excellent spirit for your next daquiri, this might be it.