There’s no bigger or more random roll of the dice in the alcohol industry than sampling any given band’s branded spirits. From the ubiquitous bourbon brands owned by seemingly every country star, to the tequilas of Hollywood royalty, branded liquor is the ultimate mixed bag, because there’s rarely any way to know in advance whether those originating the brand care even a little bit about the quality of the product that will bear their name or likeness. Many are happy to simply slap their name on a bottle of young, sourced bourbon and be done with it. Others are surprisingly involved in the creation, selection and even flavor profile of their spirits, but it’s always difficult to know what to expect. I mean really, when you’re presented with the idea of Kiss-branded rum, how high do you get your hopes up?
Yes, Kiss rum. From the very conception, it might seem a little random. Does anyone especially associate rum with the rock band Kiss, the group of face-painted men who have been tearing up arenas for almost 50 years at this point since 1973? The band was founded in New York City and is sometimes associated with Detroit, thanks to songs like “Detroit Rock City”—and neither locale has much association with rum, especially Caribbean rum. And yet that’s what Kiss has chosen to build its liquor brand around, via partnership with the online retailer Brands For Fans, which offers similar alcohol brands for rock bands such as Motorhead and Ghost. At some point you can only shrug, and move on to examining what they’ve actually put in the bottle.
Kiss has not one but three rum brands via Brands For Fans, which range from this flagship “super premium dark rum” ($45 MSRP) to a well-aged Dominican rum ($55 MSRP) and a luxe, well-aged Jamaica/Guyana blend that retails for a rather shocking $250, far more than I would have expected for just about any music-branded spirit. We only have Black Diamond available for us to taste today, which is described as “a blend of carefully selected 3-15 year old rums from Barbados, Guatemala, Guyana and the Dominican Republic.” My personal expectation is that this likely implies the younger rums are from more sought-after destinations such as Barbados, while the older distillate in the blend is likely Dominican, which is typically less expensive.
And then there’s the “dark rum” label to mention. As we’ve written about previously, this is a term that is widely understood but functionally meaningless in the U.S.—there is no age requirement for “dark rum,” nor is the color of a rum indicative of its age. In fact, many bottles labeled as “dark rum” in the U.S. are primarily that way because of the use of caramel coloring, and some haven’t been aged in oak at all. That obviously isn’t the case with Kiss Black Diamond, and there’s nothing wrong with “dark rum” in general, being popular among bartenders for the color it can help give to mixed drinks—it’s just something that every rum drinker ought to understand about the style. With that said, let’s get to tasting Kiss Black Diamond.
The first thing one can’t help but notice here is the color, which is a very dark auburn into almost brown, looking like a glass full of tawny port. It is obvious that caramel coloring was indeed used here, and likely used heavily. Notably, where the premium Kiss Monstrum rum declares it “does not contain any added sugars or flavoring,” no such claim is present here.
On the nose, this rum is redolent of molasses and dark brown sugar, along with fresh banana bread. Ethanol is low, as it should be at a mere 40% ABV (80 proof), which allows more subtle notes of Christmas cookies, cinnamon, vanilla, oak and grilled cane to creep forward. It smells moderately sweet, and there’s thankfully nothing distractingly artificial about the nose—it reminds me predominantly of moderately aged column still rum from a source such as Panama or Puerto Rico or the Dominican, which is probably what it primarily is. Regardless, I’m relieved that the nose doesn’t seem to indicate that Black Diamond was loaded with tons of added sugar or artificial flavors.
On the palate, Black Diamond displays notes of molasses cookie and heavy vanilla extract, with a slightly boozy and “raw” ethanol character that is perhaps a bit stronger than one might expect for the low proof point. There are some other pleasant notes that lend a bit more complexity, though, ranging from cherry syrup and a touch of coconut, to toasted piloncillo sugar, grilled cane, dates and moderate oakiness. Residual sweetness is moderate—there may have been some added sweetening involved here, but it’s at least not egregious. Certainly, it’s not the cloying mess that I was afraid it might be, although the overall profile is a bit rough and ready. Fitting, perhaps, for an arena rock band like Kiss.
Regardless, when all is said and done this is a legitimate Caribbean aged rum blend, albeit one with a lot of artificial color. That may give it some useful applications for certain cocktails, or for adding a “floater” on top of drinks, but in general this one strikes me as more of a versatile mixer than something fans will be turning to for neat drinking.
Region: Barbados, Guyana, Guatemala, Dominican Republic
Style: Caribbean rum blend
ABV: 40% (80 proof)
Availability: 750 ml bottles, $45 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.