With the newfound urban popularity of tiki cocktails comes an interest in “tropical” libations of all sorts…and no island-inspired drink menu would be complete without the piña colada. A Puerto Rican invention supposedly first created by a 19th-century pirate captain, this cocktail typically includes coconut (either coconut milk or coconut cream), pineapple juice, and a hearty pour of rum, all blended or served over ice. The result? A sweet, surprisingly-refreshing sipper ideal for hot late-summer days.
Because the piña colada includes such bold and specific flavors, it can be tricky to select a rum that holds its own in context without overwhelming the other key tastes. That’s why we turned to the experts, asking bartenders and beverage directors to recommend their favorite piña colada rums. These eight spirits bring a smoothness to the cocktail while highlighting the unique characteristics that make the piña colada so unique (and so delicious).
Don Q Gold
Bartenders in Puerto Rico rightfully take pride in their piña colada recipes, including Chuck Rivera of Jungle Bird in San Juan. When selecting a rum for his piña coladas, Rivera likes to stick with a Puerto Rican classic: Don Q Gold Rum. “I like to read books and history quotes about bartending, and the [modern] classic Piña Colada made by Ramon “Monchito” Marrero in 1954 used Don Q Gold Rum. By [using] that [rum], we at Jungle Bird try to maintain some history and get nostalgic by using flavors from the past in each cocktail. I use Don Q Gold Rum for our classic Piña Colada and Tepache Colada in our menu to keep the [drink’s] heritage alive. This rum has some rich, spicy and fruity notes that help bring bolder pineapple and coconut flavors [to the cocktail],” Rivera tells us.
With a strong Caribbean presence and distilleries in both Jamaica and Barbados, Plantation makes a variety of rums with different flavor profiles, making it a fantastic go-to brand for creative bartenders. It’s a favorite piña colada ingredient for head bartender Amanda Swanson of Fine & Rare in New York City, who explains that “when I’m making piña coladas, my hands will always reach for a bottle of Plantation Rum. There are many expressions in their portfolio, but coconut, ripe banana, and vanilla are staple tasting notes throughout their lineup. For the most bang for your buck, Plantation 3 Star is a classic. For added depth, you can take those notes to a bolder place with Plantation Barbados…but the Creamsicle lover in me prefers the Plantation Trinidad for its added notes of orange peel and its toasted, woodsy character.”
Neisson Éléve Sous Bois
Hailing from the French West Indies, rhum agricole refers to a rum made from sugar cane juice (as opposed to molasses). Bartender Josh Washburn of Gunshow in Atlanta, GA favors this style of rum for his piña coladas, telling The Manual that “[rhum] agricole adds a nice grassy funk that complements the coconut and keeps it tasting fresh, and the slightly higher proof adds a kick of booziness that cuts through the richness of the drink.” He’s especially partial to Neisson Éléve Sous Bois Rum, a rhum agricole distilled in Martinique and aged in French oak barrels.
Copalli Barrel Rested Rum
Aged rums bring extra dimension to a piña colada, and in the case of Copalli Barrel Rested Rum, used American oak bourbon barrels impart a rich flavor and unctuous texture. Head bartender Stacey Swenson of Dante in New York City always opts for Copalli when whipping up piña coladas, calling this rum “perfect for a piña colada because it’s rich and full-bodied, but dry enough to help balance the sweetness of the coconut and pineapple. Copalli Barrel Rested’s tropical fruit, coffee, and vanilla notes are perfect flavor pairings for the ingredients in this classic vacation drink.”
El Dorado 12 Year Old Rum
Head bartender Rick Powanda of Bywater American Bistro in New Orleans, LA also likes aged rum in his piña coladas, which is why he recommends El Dorado 12 Year Old Rum. “While it is fantastic to sip on, this Guyana rum offers beautiful notes of cinnamon and vanilla, as well as a certain earthy spice note. These flavors, along with the richness of the rum, blend perfectly with the tart sweetness of the pineapple and the lushness of the coconut. I add a touch of Angostura bitters as well to flush out the spice notes,” says Powanda.
Bacardi Añejo Cuatro
Because piña coladas already involve significant sweetness, bar manager Josue Gonzalez of Seven Reasons in Washington, D.C. chooses a dry rum with the nuanced flavors provided by aging: “My go-to rum for a piña colada would be Bacardi Añejo Cuatro, [which is] made and aged in Puerto Rico, the birthplace of the piña coladas. Bacardi Añejo Cuatro is a dry rum aged up to 4 years with hints of vanilla and oak that complement the exotic flavors of pineapple and coconut.”
Wray & Nephew Overproof White Rum
Many bartenders prefer the bold and deep flavors of aged and dark rums for their piña coladas, a well-executed white rum can bring an appealing freshness to the cocktail’s flavor profile. That’s why Atlanta-based beverage consultant Tiffanie Barriere of The Drinking Coach prefers Wray & Nephew Overproof White Rum, telling us that “my favorite [piña colada rum] is Wray and Nephew out of Jamaica. The [particularly high] proof and the grassy notes of this Caribbean [rum] match with the coconut, and [Wray & Nephew is] my favorite for the impact and complexity of all the flavors.”
A collaboration between Foursquare Distillery in Barbados and Hampden Estate in Jamaica, Probitas Rum is a white rum with a robust presence and a commitment to classic blending methods. Head bartender and general manager Fraser Hamilton of Sweet Liberty Drinks & Supply Co. in Miami, FL enjoys Probitas in a piña colada because “[it is] incredibly versatile and unabashedly flavorful. Solid notes of tonka bean, citrus and tropical fruits, molasses, and banana, this rum has a light, oily texture [that works beautifully in this cocktail].”
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