It’s safe to say that I love passion fruit, and that a capital “L” on love would in no way be misplaced. It is truly the king of tropical fruits, still underappreciated by the American market thanks to its odd appearance, but fresh passion fruit is a flavor that is absolutely bewitching to practically anyone who tries it. Tangy, tart and sweetly vivacious all at once, fresh passion fruit has a flavor similar to stone fruit combined with bright citrus—they taste rather like the best apricot you’ve ever had, except with the assertiveness cranked up to 11.
That’s how I came to first truly fall in love with passion fruit, actually—by frequently misidentifying it in the course of blind beer tastings, until I realized just how lovely it was. The love affair took another step as I developed an interest and then an obsession with making tiki cocktails at home, in a genre where passion fruit is often a very complementary flavor. Nor is it a necessity to somehow have fresh or commercially packaged passion fruit juice on hand at all times in order to do this—not when there are absolutely delicious syrups available that make the process much simpler.
And so, it’s not surprising that I would jump at the chance to sample a new passion fruit-specific liqueur, in the form of the Dominican Republic’s Chinola. Now sold in the U.S., Chinola is a rum-based liqueur that uses the larger, yellow-green skinned variety of passion fruit in order to build a liqueur that is primarily focused on tartness rather than overt sweetness. It’s intended as a versatile mixer and cocktail ingredient, and the company claims it’s “shelf-stable without the use of additives or preservatives,” which is a nice feature. Each bottle reportedly contains the juice of roughly 12 to 18 passion fruit.
So with that said, let’s taste this first, and then discuss where it might fit in the cocktail arcana.
On the nose, there’s no denying how alluring this immediately smells. It puts out intense aromatics of pure passion fruit juice, very assertive and tinged with orange-like citrus and a touch of vanilla cream. On the palate, Chinola displays a solid tartness and moderate residual sweetness, with a fairly syrupy texture. It does have some sweetness—this isn’t some kind of dry liqueur—but it’s not enough to make this difficult to sample neat, not that I imagine many consumers would be drinking Chinola in this way. Instead, they’d likely be using it to add brightness and acidity to various mixed drinks and cocktails, and Chinola provides exactly that. It’s absolutely delicious, although to give it a numbered rating almost feels pointless—suffice it to say, Chinola delivers exactly what one would want it to deliver.
With that said, the question I find myself asking is what scenarios I would want to use Chinola in, as opposed to the reliable passion fruit syrup that’s already sitting in my fridge. Obviously, the syrup is more appropriate for mocktails and low-alcohol drinks, whereas the liqueur could give a boost in ABV to simple mixers and spritzes. When it comes to more traditional, higher-ABV cocktails, on the other hand, in which one might want to add some passion fruit flavor (such as a daiquiri or mai tai), you have to ask whether the additional alcohol of the Chinola is a feature or an impediment—or whether you want the drink’s alcohol content to be derived more from rum, or liqueur. This ultimately comes down to a matter of taste, but the syrups do perhaps provide a bit more versatility.
With that said, the contents of this bottle are still delicious, and I believe bartenders in particular will find themselves enamored with it. If you love passion fruit as I do, this is a must-try.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.