Oronoco Rum

By: Diageo

I Paid: $34.99 for a 750-milliliter bottle (prices may vary by region)

Taste: 5stars

Marketing: 5stars

Light rum is the sneered-at workhorse of the rum world, destined for sweet cocktails that are, more often than not, made with Coca-Cola. Oronoco, therefore, is an odd beast that positions itself as a light rum for the high-end drinker, a fact underscored by the Portuguese text on the label, the leather-esque map of Brazil wrapped around the bottle, and the faux-pewter top.

Oronoco’s better-known rival in this market, 10 Cane, is a clean-drinking, high-quality tipple, and there may be no finer commonly available rum for cocktail mixing on the planet. But Oronoco, as its river-derived name implies, is more layered-tasting and exotic. Open the bottle, and you get a whiff of what smells like pineapples and bananas. Not pineapple or banana concentrate or flavoring, mind you, just essential, fleeting whiffs of the pure fruit. The flavor of the rum—consumed straight, not mixed—is both appealingly smooth and surprisingly deep, with notes evoking vanilla, orchids, pineapple, and sugarcane. It has a clean, nonabrasive finish, and is the first light rum tailored for straight-up sipping that I’ve ever encountered.

The price tag is, of course, the deciding factor. If you can stomach paying almost triple the cost of a bottle of Bacardi for a high-end rum adventure, Oronoco is your passport. If you can’t, well, grab the Coke and get ready to mix.

Apple Pie Liqueur

By: BPNC Distillery

I Paid: $15.99 for a 750-milliliter bottle (prices may vary by region)

Taste: 4stars

Marketing: 4stars

It’s an Upper Midwestern thing: In rural taverns and at wedding receptions from southern Wisconsin to Bismarck, North Dakota, folks drink homemade schnapps spiced and flavored to resemble a liquid incarnation of apple pie. I make mine (with a friend from North Dakota) every year, using a big pot, a turkey baster, an oversized lasagne pan, and Everclear grain alcohol. Apple Pie Liqueur claims to make a credible mass-produced version of this homespun treat, and it does so with a folksy (if overly wordy) label and warm-red packaging to accentuate the cinnamon- and apple-inflected beverage within.

Apple Pie Liqueur is good—almost too good. It smells and tastes like liquid apple pie. The proportions of the spices are perfect, and the sweetness is there without being sickeningly over the top. It works splashed over vanilla or cinnamon ice cream; it could easily cook down into a sauce for desserts. The key application here, however, is as a novel digestif: People are generally a bit surprised to be offered “apple pie” by someone brandishing an attractive red bottle and a handful of cordial glasses.

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