Bottom Line Right at the Top: here at Proof66, we make our Margaritas out of honest tequila, real lime juice, and orange liqueur. But we're committed liquor geeks. RTD's or "ready-to-drinks" have proven enormously popular on the market where people just want to pour something out of a can and drink it. Parrot Bay offers an RTD in this realm with their Coconut Water version of a Margarita (with rum?). While in the actual taste test it came up short against the competition, it's combination of coconut, lower calorie / higher alcohol bottling, and fresher flavors can easily combine to create a strong following in its target market of pool parties. In fact, we have to admit that cooler people would bring a cooler of these cans rather than a pitcher of homemade margarita filled with equal parts tequila, pretension, and smug. If you see a 6- or 12-pack of Parrot Bay on the shelf at the gas-mart where you're buying sun screen and massage oils on your way to the beach, you could do a LOT worse (read: light beer) than grab Parrot Bay.
This rather large, 16x12x6 margarita hobby kit showed up on our doorstep one morning. There's nothing quite like the little surge of pleasure one gets from opening a cardboard box and finding a giant margarita hobby kit staring back at you. The only way it could've been better is if bikini-clad brand representatives had delivered it personally.
Parrot Bay is a division of Captain Morgan and known for flavored rums… coconut, pineapple, mango, or what-have-you, it’s a brand that is known for lower-proof, very sweet, flavors. That's fine... but this box has "MARGARITA" emblazoned across the top and tropical flavored rums are not the kinds of things one normally associates with margaritas. What are they doing? And what happens when we open the box!? Will parrots spill out? A mariachi band?
The cover letter introduces us to the Parrot Bay® (note the registered trademark) Margarita with Coconut Water product. They promise a slim can holding a scant 150 calorie beverage that “does not sacrifice quality flavor.” Skimming down the page, it’s most vital statistic is an equally slim 5.8% ABV and a suggested retail price of $10.99/12-pack (or about 92 cents a can). It turns out that 5.8% ABV is a long from 80 proof rums and tequilas and even 42 proof where Parrot Bay is typically bottled. (For science's sake, we estimate a traditional Margarita of 2oz tequila, 0.5oz of triple sec, 0.5oz of lime juice, and shaken once ice will come in around 15%-20% ABV, but that's a stiff margarita compared to the frozen slushies slung from teenager-staffed drive-by bars in Vegas and other locations).
This is all academics and pedantry because the kit itself is pretty exciting. This thing is the old-school Coca-Cola Challenge brought back to life in a DIY package! It has foam-formed slots for "A" and "B" unmarked cans, two tiny little plastic margarita glasses, Parrot Bay branded salt, and even an honest-to-god, nature-grown lime (how long has it been in there?). There are very specific directions about the Parrot Bay Ultimate Margarita Showdown (attention copy writers: you forgot the ® on the directions!) that include salting the rim with lime juice, enjoying the aroma by “wafting” with your hand, and our favorite step: "repeat." There is a secret tab in the upper right of the box that will reveal the A vs B origins once you’ve elected your choice. Doesn't that sound exciting? let’s try!
Step 1: SALT THE RIM. Cut one-third of the lime and rub along the rim. Then dip into the salt provided.
So, "salting the rim" worked okay. We had a generous amount of salt and against our mean-spirited and skeptical fears, the lime was fresh and had plenty of moisture. The glasses were cheap little plastic affairs and, for the record, looked and felt like something out of a deranged grade school tea-party. We're not sneering though: we're glad that they marketers spent money on the lime rater than the glasses!
STEP2: POUR THE MARGARITA. Pour a portion of “Can A” into one of the margarita glasses provided, noting the color.
Oddly, the A can has a green tab and the B can doesn’t. What doe that mean? Oh well, down the hatch and here we go: we pour the A can. We note the color as a kind of pale, pale gold. It’s also carbonated. That’s weird because who ever heard of a carbonated margarita?
STEP 3: TAKE IN THE AROMA. Waft your hand over the glass towards you and deeply inhale to take in the aroma of the liquid.
Away we wafted. Wafting, by the way, is an elite pose that is mastered only after many years of practicing in only the most elite company of connoisseurs... one must do it just so. Something between the wave of a beauty queen on parade in the convertible and the short snappy flutter of a French maître d´. The wafting spoke to us of citrus; lemony, stale pop; maybe a trace of after-frat-party tequila, which his totally wrong because we’re now aware of Parrot Bay making a tequila. It is at least faintly reminiscent of a margarita. We get no coconut and Parrot Bay promised us coconut water! But maybe Can A doesn’t have coconut and this is the challenger.
STEP 4: TASTE. Take a sip of the liquid and get a feel for the texture and soak in the flavor. After swallowing completely take in the flavor experience.
Here we go. It tastes immensely salty. Sea water. We earnestly suggest—nay, entreat!—leaving that rimming the glass bit out. Absent the salt, it appears composed of a very weak ginger ale / beer flavor. The finish is coconut-driven but short. It’s a very light drink… rather like drinking soda pop. Perhaps a dishwater fade on the finish. Some of our number claimed that they’d buy this for a hot summer’s day. Please note: we drank at room temperature right out of the box… many commented this would be far better chilled. So we poured out the can's remainder into a tumbler of ice (blissfully free of salt).
The ice preparation seems far more plausible. It is vastly superior chilled. It gets less citrus and more malty. The lime comes to a fade. We don’t miss the salt in the slightest bit. In fact, we suggest not calling this a margarita. However, someone did say, “I’d probably add a tequila floater to make this taste like a drink.” Chilled, this is a reasonable beer alternative and, best of all, not remotely too sweet. In a world where so many things are so insufferably sweet, this is a nice, dry alternative.
STEP 5: REPEAT. Repeat the same steps above with a portion of “Can B” and decide which on you like best.
The B Can—room temperature and salty preparation as the directions dictate *sigh*—has a pale green color and a preferable aroma… perhaps more coconut. Yes, definitely lots more coconut. Probably sweeter. On the palate, it doesn’t taste as strong as Can A but a lot more coconut. We’re going to hazard a guess that Can B is the coconut water version of Can A.
Moving as fast we can to the iced preparation, Can B is clearly less carbonated. It tastes more sour and definitely more coconut… there’s an absence of malt flavor. On the initial and instant reaction, our group was 100% in favor of Can A, though we recognize that Coconut People would like Can B. Over time, though, as the ice seeped in and the malt became tiresome in Can A, some preference came to be voiced for Can B as the one that can be ingested over time. Still, Can A is the dominant victor of the field.
THE BIG REVEAL
Now for the results: we pull the mysterious tab
CAN A: Bud Light Lime-A-Rita
CAN B: Parrot Bay Margarita with Coconut Water
Whoops. Sorry Parrot Bay. Following the challenge closely, it appears we correctly surmised both the maltiness of the Budweiser product and the coconut in the Parrot Bay product… and we opt for Budweiser. Here'’ the rub, though: Bud is 8% ABV (a little lighter than Parrot Bay’s 8.5%) but it also has 220 calories per 8 ounce can versus the Parrot Bay 150… that’s almost 50% more calories per drink. If you’re guzzling a 12-pack of these with a few friends, you’re looking at a couple miles of treadmill worth of extra drink. So if you’re calorie-conscious, this might be a big deal. That coupled with the lighter, more refreshing profile, we can easily see this drink becoming rather popular under the hot sun.
by Neal MacDonald, editor
[Disclaimer: we received the Ultimate Margarita Showdown free of charge with all supporting apparatus free of charge. ]