Coconut rum is an essential spirit behind the bar—and great in drinks well beyond piña coladas. Though this style of flavored rum once had a questionable reputation for incorporating sickly-sweet, artificial ingredients, many brands have shifted to more natural options. As a result, in-the-know bartenders are today finding new and inventive ways to make this coconut-flavored spirit shine.
Here’s everything to know about it, from the basics of how coconut rum is made to the bottles our reviewers are digging at the moment.
What Is Coconut Rum?
Coconut rum is a coconut-flavored liqueur made by blending rum with coconut-based ingredients like coconut water, milk, purée or other flavorings.
The first bottled coconut rum was Malibu, which was created after the founder tasted a coconut-flavored, rum-based beverage brought to London from South Africa in the last 1970s. This drink, called the Coco Rico, inspired the creation of Malibu and more similar coconut-flavored rum bottlings.
What Are Popular Coconut Rum Drinks?
Although piña coladas are closely associated with coconut rum, it’s an asset to a broad range of cocktails. Consider the Scooby Snack Shot, an internet-famous marriage of coconut rum, banana liqueur, pineapple juice and electric green-hued Midori.
There’s also the Making Love at Midnight, served at Crown Jewel on Great Diamond Island off the coast of Portland, Maine, which “is basically a piña colada reconstructed,” says beverage director and bar manager Jordan Knightley. The drink, a sort of clarified milk punch, melds coconut rum with “Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur, cream of coconut, Combier Rose liqueur, pineapple juice and a touch of yuzu to build up the acidity.”
One is the Cuban Swizzle, a “derivative of a mojito [meant to] broaden people’s understanding of Cuban drinks beyond [the] daiquiri,” Andrews says. It features coconut rum, green Chartreuse, fresh lime, pineapple, demerara sugar and club soda, with a not-too-heavy mouthfeel akin to a Painkiller.
Another cocktail, Prohibition’s Lime in the Coconut … And Don’t Call Me in the Morning, blends coconut rum, fresh lime, pineapple and vanilla. A final addition of house-made bitters delivers hits of allspice, cinnamon and clove.
But while many of the cocktails that feature coconut rum are sweet, that’s not always the case. Richard Boccato, owner and bartender of Dutch Kills Bar in Long Island City, recently started using coconut rum in a not-as-sweet-as-you-might-think spin on the Old Fashioned. The drink uses aged coconut rum, along with chocolate bitters, cinnamon syrup and Cynar. “It’s very spirit-forward. It’s not like a piña colada or a daquiri,” he says.
The lesson here? Coconut rum might surprise you. Here are some of Wine Enthusiast’s favorites.
The Best Coconut Rum Bottles to Try
Hard Truth Toasted Coconut Rum
The producer says this rum is made with “toasted flaked coconut with cane sugar and natural sea salt.” Look for a bold, sweet coconut aroma and syrupy-thick palate loaded with vanilla, almond and toasted coconut. The salt adds a pleasing, addictive quality, like a tropical version of salted caramel. 91 Points— Kara Newman$28 Total Wine & More
Bom Bom Coco Mochanut
Made with a base of Barbados rum, this dessert-like cream liqueur resembles chocolate milk and has a rich cocoa and hazelnut aroma. The viscous, palate-coating creaminess is balanced by a welcome boozy hint, winding into hazelnut, coconut and a hint of espresso. 92 Points— K.N.$18 Total Wine & More
Monkey Rum With Toasted Coconut
Made with a blend of rums aged from six months to one year, look for a coconut scent that’s echoed on the fleetingly sweet and slightly bitter palate, finishing brisk and marked by vanilla. Mix into piña coladas and other tropical drinks. The brand is backed by TV host Zane Lamprey. 89 Points — K.N.$25 Total Wine & More
Thrasher’s Coconut Rum
This white rum infused with coconut has a bold, sweet coconut aroma plus a hint of juicy mango. The palate leads with mouthwatering citrusy acidity and overall is not sweet at all, finishing with just a waft of coconut and vanilla on the long, brisk exhale. 89 Points— K.N.$30 Total Wine & More
Whistling Andy Hibiscus-Coconut Rum
With its transparent pink-blush hue that was imparted from hibiscus flowers, this unusual flavored white rum resembles rosé wine in the glass. But the delicate flavors tend toward sugary coconut, touched with vanilla and a hint of juicy red fruit. Made from sugar cane in a Montana microdistillery. Use for tropical drinks. 89 Points — K.N.$40 Caskers
What Mixes Well with Coconut Rum?
In many cocktails, coconut rum is paired with fruity ingredients—and there’s a reason for that. Coconut rum can be quite heavy on the palate, and fruits (particularly tropical ones, like pineapple) are bold enough to stand up to it. Slightly spicy accents tend to round out the mouthfeel, too.
What Kind of Alcohol Is Coconut Rum?
Coconut rum has a base of dark or light rum.
How Do You Make Coconut Rum?
This is easier than you think. Soak fresh coconut chunks (either store-bought or from a cracked-open ripe coconut) in warm water for 30 minutes. Next, steep it in a sealed glass jar with 2.5 cups of rum for two to three weeks. You can also ingredients like ginger, cardamom, vanilla or chili toward the end of the steeping time. Strain, and you’ve got coconut rum.
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Last Updated: July 12, 2023