Let's get one thing out of the way: Deco Distilling flavored rums are about as gentle as the Northeast Atlantic coastline in storm and about as subtle as the political message behind the movie Avatar. Is that necessarily a bad thing? No, not at all. Sometimes what one is looking for is a little braggadocio and explicitly stated positions. But we think you should be warned: when you look at Deco Distilling Coffee Rum and see "coffee" or look at Deco Distilling Ginger Rum and see "ginger..." well, please believe them!
Portland, Oregon-based Deco Distilling was kind enough to provide us with two bottles of their craft distilled flavored rum to try. They're one of the new craft distillers springing up from independent-minded Portland, Oregon (and, indeed, the entire Pacific Northwest). Founded in 2009 by Lenny Gotter and Bill Adams, their goal is to produce rums dedicated to finely distilled spirits creating explosive flavors. Their first two flavored offerings were coffee and ginger and these are what we set out to try.
First, a quick cultural lesson. While Seattle tends to be the city the tabloids recognize as the epicenter of coffee culture, it should be noted that Portland is as much the "City of Craft Brewery" and the "City of Coffee" as it is the "City of Roses." Their independent attitude has equally fostered craft-distillery, organic gardening, and shamelessly mixes professional basketball with their sushi. So if you think rum is more properly made in the Caribbean, think again. If you think ginger isn't as much a part of the Pacific Northwest as rhododendrons and apples, reset your geography. Portland is a wealth of exotic flavors mixing in a spirit of independence, small business, and economic sensibilities resembling more Henry David Thoreau than Donald Trump.
Now onward. As is our custom, we taste each spirit blind in different cocktails against a well-known market competitor. In the first case, we compared the Deco Distilling Coffee rum against the standard coffee liqueur Kahlua. This is not entirely fair since the Deco comes in unsweetened at a relatively hot 80 proof while the Kahlua is sweetened (and spiced) and comes in at half the strength at 40 proof. But in reality, we feel that comparing the deco against a standard yields a more approachable benchmark by which we can describe the experience. Readers will have tried Kahlua, been familiar with Kahlua, and can imagine the Deco better when contrasted with Kahlua. So, with apologies to the purist, here are the results...
Deco Distilling Coffee Rum vs Kahlua
Take one sip of the Deco coffee rum and you realize that the spirit of the lumberjack hasn't yet fled the city of Portland. Where our group found the Kahlua tasting of "bitter, watered-down cough syrup" and "wild memories," the Deco taken neat elicited one exact description: "coffee!" Coffee and more coffee. For some, strong and bitter and black camp-style coffee. For those in the group that drank coffee regularly and admittedly liked coffee, this was a very welcome turn of events. For those who were unfamiliar with coffee, novices with coffee, or disliked coffee, there was no rescue. Seldom have we tasted a spirit that was so unapologetic about what it is. People who disliked coffee tended to turn towards the sweeter, more viscous Kahlua while the committed coffee idolaters were moved more towards Deco. It was literally like tasting and contrasting coffee flavored syrup versus a genuine cup of coffee.
That was neat. We next tried out a cocktail recommended by the Deco Distilling website itself:
1 ounce Deco Coffee Rum
1 ounce Jamaican Rum
5 ounces Ginger Beer [apparently the Deco folks really like ginger]
Squeeze of lime
Mix and serve over a tall glass of ice
With Kahlua, the cocktail was not as successful. "It tastes like juice... but not any juice that I like," muttered one person. "This is what monks would make if they tried to make apple juice," announced another, who puzzlingly managed to find apple flavors in the drink. The cocktail did find an audience when it used Deco Coffee. "I can sit around on a hot day and drink this" shouted one only to be instantly challenged by another: "This is a Fall drink... Halloween maybe." In short, the experience of Deco in the cocktail was much more welcome as a whole than neat, where the coffee flavor had a chance to merge, grow, infiltrate, and augment the additional flavors of the cocktail. Score one for Deco.
In our second cocktail, one recommended by the Kahlua people, we found a very interesting drink.
- 1½ ounces Kahlua
- ¾ ounce amaretto
- ¾ ounce raspberry liqueur
- Dash of angostura bitters
- 1½ ounces half-and-half cream
- Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Pour into a champagne flute. Garnish with blackberries.
This sweet and creamy drink found its voice with Kahlua. "Beautiful... I could drink this all day," said one taster to the general consensus of even those who admonished it as cough syrup moments earlier. (Just goes to show that every liquor has a cocktail.) With Deco, the drink predictably tasted much more strongly of coffee and people found it almost an espresso-style drink to be taken with dessert. Here, it is strictly for coffee people... "If Starbucks were to make a cocktail, this is what it would be," solemnly intoned one imbiber, forgetting for the moment that Starbucks is headquartered in Seattle, the sworn enemy of Portland. This was an important turn of events: coffee people wanted more coffee while the milk-shake people wanted something much more gentle and subtle.
The final declaration was strictly down party lines between the pro-coffee and the anti-coffee crowds with 47% electing for Deco Coffee rum, 27% opting for Kahlua and another 27% disliking coffee so much they would prefer neither. Enough, though, to say Deco Distilling Coffee Rum takes the coffee round by a 2 – 1 margin over the far more common (and lighter strength) Kahlua.
Deco Distilling Ginger Rum vs Captain Morgan Spiced Rum
It's hard to figure out something to compare and contrast with ginger flavored rum. So we decided to try something a little different. To a few, this may be even more heretical than comparing a rum to a liqueur. But once again, we felt it important to compare against a well-known standard. So with a few puzzled looks and rebellious murmurs, we decided to compare it with Captain Morgan Spiced Rum. Everyone has, at one time or another, tried Captain Morgan, the self-professed king of rums with spices in it. Well, look here: ginger is a spice so we figured: hey, if Deco Ginger can stand up to Captain Morgan, than they may have something of a winner on their hands. This was a good test because there were several people in our group who had a (somewhat creepy) love affair with Captain Morgan and swore by him. Who would prevail in this contest?
Once again, we tried a round neat.
The Captain was familiar. It was also sweet and a bit hot. Spices were there but sugar was really the dominant ingredient and, to some, this was just fine. How familiar was it? "Yep... just like I remembered. It makes me feel like I'm taking shots in college just to get drunk." Maybe some were a bit too familiar with that position.
The Deco Ginger, by contrast, was intense... massively intense. "Jesus!" swore one person, to the likely delight of the distiller but to the despair of the local priest if they had been there, "the Captain Morgan is like a chaser for the Deco!" Interestingly, there was an East Indian demographic in our tasting group—these greatly adored the ginger rum straight and had little issue with the intensity. While their Yankee friends were coughing and spluttering over the spice they calmly looked skywards and detected notes of lemon and tea in the Deco rum. This was the shape of things to come: lines were being drawn between those who liked ginger and those who didn't; once again, the Deco was declaring itself and making no apologies for it.
Our first cocktail was a Deco recommendation:
- 1 ounce ginger rum
- ½ ounce triple sec
- ½ ounce lime juice
- ½ ounce cranberry juice
- Shake vigorously on ice and strain into a martini glass.
Captain and Cola
A ginger flavored Cosmpolitan with rum? Not clear what the ladies from Sex in the City would think of this adventure but we mixed it up with the Captain and got commentary that was not too far removed from what they felt when taking it straight: "If you're a true alcoholic then this can replace grapefruit at breakfast!" This was considered a compliment by the person who uttered it. Clearly a college style drink for those comfortable with red bull, sugar sodas, and other "alco-pop" style cocktails.
And once again, the Deco began to find its voice in a cocktail. While the East Indian contingent agreed to an "excellent flavor profile," perhaps the more interesting comment came from the Yanks. One person declared with some relief: "Straight up, there was no way I can drink this stuff. I thought I was going to die. But in this, it's actually kind of drinkable." Not an obvious ringing endorsement until you consider the distance between "self inflicted mortal wound" and "drinkable."
Surely, however, no contest with Captain Morgan without taking the contest to that most simple of all cocktails:
Fill glass ¾ full of ice
1 ounce of spiced rum
Fill with cola and garnish with a slice of lime
Cola is the perfect accompaniment to Captain Morgan. Why? Because the mix accentuates the vanilla notes naturally produced during the maturation process to create a legendary mix.
We're a little dubious about the "natural maturation process" and the idea that rum and coke as a cocktail is "legendary." But once again, the rosy glow of fulfilled expectations wrapped around the room like a comfortable blankey long used as a childhood security item. Where the Captain and Coke (when using Captain Morgan) didn't command any attention, it didn't distract either. It's equally useful in watching football as it is in computing annual taxes.
The Deco Ginger was a surprising contrast. While some preferred Captain Morgan, those more culinary adventurous (hello India!) found the drink turned tropical with a fast spicy kick. This did command attention and would easily distract from football, taxes, and probably your spouse on the night of the honeymoon. And once again, we had a pasty Yank say, "If I ignore the straight up experience, I actually prefer the Deco in both cocktails."
So the final verdict here—in despite of the pre-drink love for the Captain—was a decisive win for Deco. 62% preferred the Deco Ginger 30% for Captain Morgan (and only 8% preferring neither). This is a great finding for those looking to experiment. It is a good thing to explore outside the normal boundaries dictated unto you by the marketing powers of the world. Where even something as solid and familiar as Captain Morgan can be replaced with some acclaim in cocktails is indicative of a wider world of spirits waiting to be sampled, tried, and enjoyed.
As for Deco itself, the verdict is clear: not quite as successful neat—this is no sipping spirit. But in cocktails—particularly where intense flavors are called for—this is a great flavored rum to investigate and experiment with. Deco equals "demanding" a