Serious Eats: Drinks
Kahlúa Cinnamon Spice: A Flavor Too Far?
Whether you know it as Mom's favorite nightcap or the dude's raison d'être, odds are you're familiar with the the world's top selling coffee liqueur. If you're curious how they make their staple rum-based Arabica booze, check out Jessica's behind the scenes tour. But it's getting hard to keep track of the extensive Kahlúa flavored family: mocha, French vanilla, hazelnut, especial, and peppermint mocha. And that's not even including their ready-to-drink concoctions: Original Mudslide, White Russian, Banana Mudslide, Cappuccino Mudslide, chocolate latte, Raspberry White Russian—phew!
How did we get here? It's a rather typical story in the world of spirits. In 2005, potable powerhouse Pernod Ricard acquired Kahlúa (to give you some sense of scale, in 2010/2011 Pernod Ricard had just over $10.5 billion in net sales). They immediately set about to increase the brand's profitability and reach, with initiatives from a packaging redesign (highlights include "premiumization" using "authentic Meso-American cues"), to a steady stream of new flavor offerings. And with the launch of Kahlúa Cinnamon Spice this month, I can't help but wonder whether the world really needs another Kahlúa on the shelf.
To answer that question, of course, we've got to taste it. The KCS has that instantly familiar Kahlúa scent of sweet coffee beans and just a hint of rum, but there's also distinct cinnamon, clove, and baking spices wafting about. On tasting, the sticky sweetness hits first, and the coffee flavor is overwhelmed by a chalky, dry cinnamon flavor. Remember when you used to make cinnamon toast as a kid and smothered it with so much cinnamon sugar that it would crunch and suck all the moisture out of your mouth? Yup, Kahlúa Cinnamon Spice is pretty much like that.
As you swallow, there's a vaguely unpleasant metallic tang and spices. Trading off that nice coffee bite you get in the original for its assertive spice blend, Kahlúa Cinnamon Spice is definitely not a sipping liqueur.
However, it fared rather well in traditional Kahlúa applications. Since it's based on café de olla, I'm not surprised it made a killer boozy coffee. A cinnamon White Russian lacked that coffee kick that I look for, but I liked it in a refreshing fall highball with sparkling apple cider and a squeeze of lemon.
I also suspect that it would be right at home in the kitchen. In the end, this latest product is pretty much what you'd expect—Kahlúa with cinnamon and spices. But it compromises the Kahlúa flavor I know and like, and I would much rather have the option to add cinnamon when, where, and how I want to.
What do you think of flavoring proliferation? Is there a flavored Kahlúa that you love, or would love to have?
Sample provided for review.
About the author: Andrew Strenio is a lover of all things potable. Since sneaking his grandmother's bourbon balls, he's moved on to touring distillers and sipping snifters. He works by day making documentary television and films for an independent production company in Brooklyn.