It’s funny how a Valentine’s meme about eating pineapples became the main inspiration for me to do this pineapple-flavored rum comparison.
Flavored spirits have a reputation for being low quality, as they’re associated with cheap drinks used by college kids to get wasted. For the most part, this is true, as many flavored spirits end up being too sweet; the sweetness is used to cover up the faults and help the drinker ignore the harsh ethanol sensation. Flavored vodka would be the most common example, as their additives tend to be macerations that flood the senses and/or very sweet fructose.
Regardless of how popular a stereotype is, there will always be exceptions. Mhoba’s Franky’s Pineapple Rum and Plantation’s Pineapple ‘Stiggins Fancy’ rum are two of them. I’m sure there are other as good or even better pineapple-flavored rums, such as Maggie’s Farm Pineapple Rum, but I either don’t have access to them (as with Maggie’s) or don’t know of them yet.
The most popular among these two is surely Plantation’s Pineapple Stiggins Fancy Rum. Plantation’s Bar Classics range is quite well-regarded among bartenders, as their products are affordable and distinct compared to other better-known brands used in drinks. I remember the line making a lot of noise when it was featured at a Tales of the Cocktail Seminar back in 2015 or 2016. There was a lot of praise for this particular bottle, as there weren’t any other good pineapple-flavored rums—or even flavored rum—back then. At first, it was planned as a limited release, but Plantation gave in to the demands of the people. For more information, you can watch this video by Plantation, which tells the story and explains what makes this better than most pineapple-flavored rum.
Next, we have Mhoba’s Franky’s Pineapple Rum. Reuben and I talked about the Mhoba Strand 101 awhile back. Despite it being made for cocktails, both of us found it so good we gave it an 8/10. This made me curious as to how the Franky’s might taste, but Mhoba’s website doesn’t give much detail. This prompted me to reach out to Mhoba’s founder and owner-operator, Robert Greaves, who graciously answered my questions regarding Franky’s.
Malt: Where did the name and idea for Franky’s Pineapple Rum come from? Who is Franky?
Robert: The name Franky’s Pineapple was used because I was convinced by a friend and fellow rum fan named Frank McDouall to make a pineapple rum. I was not all that keen on making a flavored rum, wanting to stick to pure rums with zero additives of any sort. Frank was a big fan of Plantation’s pineapple rum and also loved our unflavoured rums. I had once mentioned to him that I felt we could probably make a more authentic tasting pineapple rum, so he kept telling me that I needed to do it. Eventually, I made a 25-litre demijohn as a trial. It was a success (according to Frank, who declared that Mhoba Pineapple was superior to the Plantation). While tasting and discussing it, the name Franky’s Pineapple was decided on.
Malt: Can you go more into detail with the production process? The website only says infusion. Are any of the infused rum re-distilled to be added in the blend?
Robert: The final pineapple-infused rum is a blend (roughly 50:50) of two different rums, both infused with fresh but very ripe Natal Queen Pineapples. I keep the pineapples in a warm place until they develop a strong sweet pineapple smell. This seems too also be when they are at their sweetest. The crowns are then removed and the pineapples are cut longitudinally into eight slices. These slices are small enough to fit through the necks of our glass demijohns.
Rum 1: Unaged, relatively light white rum. This is simply placed in a 25L demijohn at about 65% ABV with five to eight (depending on size) whole sliced-up pineapples.
Rum 2: This is previously American oak stave aged rum, matured on our self-split and charred American oak staves. This rum is then infused with the same sliced pineapples, except these slices are grilled first on a hot wood-fired braai (barbecue) until they go slightly brown and some of the natural sugar in the pineapples gets caramelized. Both of these rums are then infused for around six months before being blended and diluted to 43%.
Malt: Keeping the pineapples in a warm place promotes ripening or fermentation?
Robert: I’m not knowledgeable enough to say for sure, but my feeling is that there is some kind of sugar conversion process in the pineapples as they ripen. I don’t think there is much fermentation yet. I have noticed there is a distinct change in the smell, but they also change from green and yellow to a darker, more orange colour. Upon tasting, they become exceptionally sweet as opposed to the tart, slightly acidic taste they’d have earlier. The smell may well be that the abundance of sugars are starting to ferment, causing the heavy pineapple ester aroma. I don’t detect any advanced fermentation in the flavour or the pineapples, though. With our sugarcane juice wash, one can taste how the fermentation is progressing. The wash goes from extremely sweet and fresh to yeasty and slightly vinegary.
Malt: Since pineapples are seasonal, would you be open to revealing how much are bottled per year?
Robert: Pineapple availability is certainly limited by seasons, but our volume limitation is unfortunately, still, demand. (Robert clarified this and said their volume limitation is dependent on the market, not the supply of pineapples.) Once the pineapples are in the rum, they keep indefinitely, so we could produce much more in season to maintain us through the year or beyond. We have produced 3 x 1000 L batches so far. We have had three alcohol bans as part of our COVID-19 government restrictions here in South Africa, so local sales have been dramatically reduced in 2020. Our sales in Europe have also been slightly reduced.
Malt: Why make a pineapple rum and not a fruit-infused rum more unique to South Africa?
Robert: I have experimented with marula fruit (both fermenting the fruit, and a rum infusion), but that was quite a few years ago. Locally (and internationally), there are so many flavoured, sugary bullshit rums that I wanted to distance what I was doing from that. I then made a decision to focus on pure rums, as mentioned; just building my stills and cane juicing equipment and learning to make good distillates has been a lot of work. I’m only now starting to see some of my first conventional cask ageing attempts reach four years old. The whole art-science of cask-aged spirit-making is something that takes a lot of trial and error, and the maturation, of course, takes years to see if your ideas worked out. In short, I really made the pineapple rum because of pressure from a friend I respect and from a feeling that I could make something more authentic than popular existing products. At this stage, my output of rum is still very limited because of my distilling capacity. With a limited supply of liquid, nearly all the rum is going into traditional cask maturation that I would rather focus on now than trying new fruit infusions.
Plantation Pineapple Stiggins Fancy is bottled at 40% ABV and is available at The Whisky Exchange for £36.75, or via Master of MAlt for £33.95. Mhoba Franky’s Pineapple rum is bottled at 43% and was available in La Maison Du Whisky Paris for €41.00.
Plantation Pineapple Stiggins Fancy – review
Color: Dark amber.
On the nose: A very pleasant and light but lasting scent of pineapples. This pineapple scent is sweet and tart. Victoria pineapples are not something I’m familiar with, so I can’t say if the rum really tastes like them. It makes me think of pineapple jelly mixed with some orange jelly. There are lighter and quicker scents of lychee, mango, strawberry and elderflower.
In the mouth: Just like on the nose, it’s sweet and tart. The tastes of pineapple and orange jelly are strong, while the lychee jelly, strawberry jelly, mango yogurt, elderflower liqueur and guava candy tastes are lighter and appear at the end.
Mhoba Franky’s Pineapple rum – review
Color: Yellow amber.
On the nose: Medium intensity yet pleasant scents of salted caramel, Taiwanese pineapple cakes, lemongrass syrup and mocha emerge. These are mixed with light ephemeral scents of cinnamon syrup, cacao nibs, nutmeg, toffee and pimento dram. There are mild, enveloping scents of savory pineapple that make me think of the pineapple skins mixed with something like a pineapple caramel paste.
In the mouth: The ethanol heat is more noticeable in this, but it’s not surprising, as there is some unaged rum in it. What I get here is considerably lighter than the notes I get on the nose. There are light and quick tastes of Taiwanese pineapple cakes, toffee, mocha, lemongrass syrup, orange jam and cacao nibs.
Before I get to comparing these two, I’d like to remind you that while both are pineapple-flavored rum and share a similar process of flavoring the rum, the Plantation is molasses-based, while Mhoba’s uses sugarcane. The base ingredients already make them different kinds of rum.
The Plantation is straightforward and simple in flavor. It lacks complexity but delivers the pineapple flavors well. On the other hand, the Mhoba has two faces, which isn’t surprising considering what Robert said about the two rums involved in how it’s made. The characteristics on the nose smell like what Frank, the friend, had in mind: the pineapple characters get to shine more than Plantation’s, while the characteristics in the mouth taste more like unadulterated rum. The pineapple flavors are lighter and play a more equal role to the American-oak-aged Mhoba rum in the blend.
As a purist, I prefer Mhoba’s Franky’s Pineapple rum. It’s more complex; thus, in my opinion, it’s more flexible, and can serve as both a mixing and a sipping rum. This rum may be a good one to introduce to rum novices, as the pineapple flavoring is enticing, yet doesn’t stray into the usual abominations of flavored rum that give the category a bad name. The Plantation Stiggins is sweeter and has a simpler profile. This makes me think it’s meant more for cocktails.
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