Malibu rum isn’t actually a rum, although rum is its base spirit. But when you’re sipping a Malibu & Coke by the pool, does it really matter?
Classification rum-based liqueur
Company Pernod Ricard
Distillery West Indies Rum Distillery (Barbados)
Proof 42 (21 % ABV)
A terrific mixer, fitting in well in a host of summertime cocktails, most notably a Piña Colada
It’s a sweet and low-proof entry point for rookie drinkers who haven’t had a lot of experience with full-proof liquor. The low proof also means it works well for day-drinking.
Malibu is a liqueur that’s perceived by many to be a rum, which distorts the perception of the entire rum industry and can frustrate distillers who have to explain why their product doesn’t taste like Malibu.
Color: Crystal-clear; slightly more viscous-looking than water, but essentially the same
Nose: Sweet coconut, pineapple and banana, none of which are necessarily natural but all of which are mouth-watering in their own way
Palate: Sweet and viscous, almost syrupy, with sweet coconut and tropical fruit notes as well as vanilla and rock candy; slightly tangy and fruity on the finish, with barely any alcoholic heat
Finish: There’s not much sticking around in the way of flavor—there’s a hint of coconut and pineapple—but the sugar lingers on the teeth for quite a while.
Malibu was created in the early ’80s by longtime spirits industry leaders James Espey, Peter Fleck and Tom Jago, who also created such ubiquitous spirits as Baileys Irish cream and Johnnie Walker Blue Label whisky, among others. It was adapted from a coconut-flavored rum, Coco Rico, which is made and sold in South Africa, a country then-blacklisted by much of the world for its apartheid practices. Espey and Jago adapted it, came up with the Malibu name and distilled the rum in the less-controversial country of Barbados. Four decades after it was introduced, it sells almost 4 million cases a year worldwide.
A lot of enthusiasts consider Malibu a rum. A lot of hard-core rum fans bristle at the very mention of “Malibu” and “rum” together. So what is it? If it’s not at least 40% ABV, it can’t legally be considered a rum. At 21% ABV, Malibu doesn’t qualify. So it needs to be judged on its own merits for what it actually is: a rum-based liqueur, or as it says on the bottle, “Caribbean rum with coconut liqueur.”
Malibu isn’t a sophisticated sipper designed for contemplation. It’s a party in a glass, something to mix with Coke or add to a Piña Colada and drink without thinking too much about it. Even the most knowledgeable of rum aficionados likely couldn’t place the origin of the rum (it’s still made in Barbados), but that’s not really the point, is it? The point is to drink it and have a good time while doing so. And on that count it succeeds wildly, making millions of beach bums, both actual and aspiring, very happy.
Creators James Espey, Peter Fleck and Tom Jago went on to form the boutique spirits company Last Drop Distillers in the 2000s.