If there was a single, overarching theme to my alcohol consumption for the last few years, it would most likely be an increase in home cocktail mixing, and a subsequent decrease in beer drinking.
On some level, this reflects a certain disillusionment with the beer industry’s creative stagnation, combined with a greater appreciation for classic beer styles that aren’t found as often in an era of endless IPA. But at the same time, it also simply indicates a growing passion for mixology and spirits, and there’s no corner of the cocktail world that has captivated me in recent years like tiki. Tropical cocktails, tiki drinks, “exotic drinks,” whatever you want to call them—the rum-driven corner of the cocktail world has been exactly the sort of playground for creativity and unique flavor combinations that I had previously been missing. It’s why I’ve written about the best values in rum today, as well as a tiki cocktail starter guide for beginners.
The beer world, however, continues to appropriate new flavors from wherever it can find them, and with numerous instances of beers based around classic whiskey drinks, it was perhaps only natural that a major brewery would eventually release a lineup of rum cocktail-inspired brews. The thought of these tiki cocktails certainly captured my imagination, and I wanted to see what a company like Oskar Blues might choose to do with the concept.
The brewery’s new CANspiracy Mix Pack is a 12-pack combination of two new beers and two new hard seltzers in the company’s Wild Basin lineup, all inspired by classic tropical drinks. Whereas the hard seltzers—which I’m not tasting here, because I’m not about to break my perfect streak of not reviewing hard seltzers—imitate classic drinks such as the Mai Tai and the Pina Colada, the two beers are a bit more nebulous. They are Lost Grog Tiki Wheat (7% ABV) and Can-O-Bliss Tiki IPA (7.2% ABV). The Mix Pack has been recently released, making me wonder perhaps if it was originally intended for summer but pushed back, but regardless, I’m ready to taste how Oskar Blues has decided to interpret these tiki flavors.
It’s not surprising that the idea of “grog” was evoked for at least one of these drinks, even if the resulting beer doesn’t really seem to have anything to do with historical grog. Actual, maritime grog was traditionally nothing more than a watered down rum served to sailors as part of their daily rations, though the Navy Grog cocktail has since made this more complicated.
Oskar Blues Lost Grog, on the other hand, seems to be based on an American pale wheat ale, a “tiki-inspired wheat beer fermented with coconut cream and apricot, to reveal flavor combinations found only in treasured tiki cocktails of yesteryear.” Looking at those flavors, one might at first glance be reminded of the popular Painkiller cocktail, but the lack of pineapple means it’s not really the best comparison. Instead, the classic Tradewinds cocktail is considerably closer, as it combines both coconut and apricot liqueur.
In the glass, this one pours very thick, hazy and opaque—it honestly looks like it contains actual coconut cream. On the nose, however, it doesn’t throw off the big coconut or fruity vibes I was expecting, instead being relatively subtle and not extremely aromatic. There’s a faint nutmeg spice, hints of coconut, and something like juniper.
On the palate, Lost Grog has a pleasantly creamy texture that isn’t too offputting or unnatural, but again the flavors are actually on the subtle side. There’s light coconut, which tastes a bit toasty, along with hints of stone fruit and definite notes of nutmeg, which brings the Painkiller back into the conversation. The fruit is more subtle than one would expect, and the residual sweetness is only mild. It’s also not really notably tart, which is what you’d be expecting in any cocktail of this nature—I can’t help but think that this same flavor profile might be lifted if the finished beer was significantly tart. As is, Lost Grog is actually quite easygoing, but ultimately pleasant after I readjust my expectations. I can see what they’re going for, but it perhaps doesn’t have the boldness I associate with “tiki.”
The Can-O-Bliss brand was already a year-round series of various IPAs from Oskar Blues, so one immediately wonders here what they’ve done in order to make one specifically evoke “tiki,” when many of them are surely already focused around tropical fruity flavors. According to the brewery, they specifically targeted hops with qualities they dubbed as “exotic,” “tropical,” “spicy” and “sweet” for this particular combination, with the three varietals being Bru-1, HBC 586 and Sabro. This, they say yields “a great mix of pineapple, lime, coconut and spicy orange zest” that rings in at 7.2% ABV.
On the nose, this one is indeed nicely tropical, with notes the definitely evoke some of the “POG” (passionfruit, orange, guava) beers that have become popular as of late. Initial tropical fruit tones are big, bright and vivacious, with lots of orange in particular. On the palate, Can-O-Bliss Tiki follows with mild sweetness and tropical fruitiness, but it’s backed by a decent amount of grassiness and spicy resin as well. There’s also even a little bit of bitterness coming into play here. An interesting note that seems to grow in prominence over time is alcohol—the 7.2% ABV doesn’t necessarily suggest that it would be a prominent player, but it feels like it’s contributing a combination of subtle dried fruitiness and dark malt that gives this IPA a bit more heft and complexity.
All in all, I don’t know if anyone would specifically drink this beer and think “tiki cocktails,” but having at least one IPA in any Mix Pack was always going to be a given. As is, it’s a solid tropically fruit modern IPA, with a little bit more going on under the hood than you might expect on first inspection.
At the end of the day, both of these were pleasant on their own merits, although I think they could have done more in embracing the “cocktail” aspect. Rum barrel aging, for instance, might have brought an interesting dimension to Lost Grog—perhaps we’ll get a special version down the line? That’s an experiment I would be interested in tasting.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.