A tropical take on classic Guatemalan sipping rum, Coconut Cartel Rum is a refreshing and balanced blend of Guatemalan Anejo rum that is cut to proof with locally grown coconut water. You can now find this one of a kind rum on Country Wine & Spirits: Coconut Cartel Special Rum.
Read on to learn more about this spirit's storied tale from humble beginnings to a smuggling adventure with a suitcase, spiked fresh coconuts, and Miami Beach.
It all started on a hot day out on a golf course in El Salvador in 2012 when Mike Zig’s friend used a car key to pop open a coconut. Growing up between Miami, Guatemala, and El Salvador, Mike had seen and drank from a lot of coconuts in his life. He had never seen a coconut that was so easy to open or tasted one that was as crisp and delicious as this particular coconut. With just a few sips, he knew he had a nutty business opportunity in his hands.
Mike soon learned that these special coconuts were from the original Almond Joy candy coconut plantation that had been planted in the region over 100 years ago. When Almond Joy candy relocated their coconut farming operations to Southeast Asia in the 1970’s, the company abandoned tens of thousands of acres of coconut farms that were subsequently divided into smaller privately owned parcels of land. These landowners would use the overgrown coconut trees to shade other crops native to the region, such as cacao. Mike knew that people would go crazy for these coconuts on Miami’s beaches, where surprisingly, coconuts weren’t widely available unless you bought them in cash from a guy on the boardwalk. He saw that fresh coconut water had the potential to play a much bigger role in Miami’s hospitality market.
It was then that Mike called his younger sister, Dani, to tell her about his new business idea. He explained that he was going to bring up 300 coconuts in suitcases as a test run to sell to the hotels in Miami Beach as a new beverage offering. Dani, who at the time was a senior at Babson College completing her degree in Entrepreneurship, dubbed it “the dumbest business idea that she had ever heard”. Determined to make it work, Mike began googling how to import coconuts. He soon learned that if he brought the coconuts into the United States without a husk, they would be classified as a nut, instead of a fruit, and he would be able to bring them into the country legally. Though he was held for hours by the Transportation and Security Administration, who X-rayed and carefully examined each coconut, Mike was finally cleared to bring his suitcases of coconuts into Miami. Here is what the first smuggle looked like:
While home for senior year winter break a few weeks later, Dani tried the coconuts and finally came around to the idea. The coconut water was just too delicious to deny! At this time, in December 2012, there were big companies like Vita Coco and Zico emerging in the coconut water space, both of which were pasteurized and served in a tetrapak. Danielle saw the opportunity to become the freshest coconut water option available on the market. But like these big companies, Dani insisted that they needed a brand name. Inspired by a television show the siblings grew up watching called “El Cartel de Los Sapos”, the Zig’s translated “El Cartel de Los Cocos” from Spanish to English, and Coconut Cartel was born.
Dani and Mike purchased a wood laser-engraver and began laser-engraving each coconut with their brand name “Coconut Cartel”. Almost instantly, these fresh, easy-to-open coconuts quickly became Miami’s most instagrammable cocktail and signature menu item at Miami Beach’s hottest hotels such as Soho Beach House, The Standard Hotel, and The Fontainebleau. Celebrities such as Drake, Former Prince Harry, Martha Stewart, 50 Cent, Kendall Jenner, Cristano Ronaldo, and many more have been photographed enjoying our coconuts. If you visited Miami Beach from 2012-2019, chances are that you drank a Coconut Cartel coconut. It was an experience that became synonymous with being in Miami.
Unlike Vita Coco and Zico who marketed their product as a healthy, natural hydration beverage, Coconut Cartel focused on positioning itself as a lifestyle beverage, and subsequently a great vehicle for alcoholic cocktails! Their signature cocktail was a fresh coconut spiked with a shot of aged rum. As our shipments grew from suitcase loads to refrigerated sea container loads, the Zig siblings ventured into other markets such as New York City and the Hamptons in the summer, and ultimately cruise lines like Royal Caribbean.
As the Coconut Cartel expanded, so did the demand for coconuts, across the country and the world. However, as delicious and instagrammable as the coconuts were, the one major hurdle was their perishability. The coconuts only had a 2-3 week shelf life and required constant cold chain refrigeration. By 2015, Coconut Cartel had amassed a large following on both Instagram and within the food and beverage world. The Zig siblings knew that they had to create a product that could be shared around the world, but was non-perishable, authentic to them, and would speak to the brand that they had created. Given that their signature cocktail was a fresh coconut spiked with aged rum, they decided to flip that cocktail on its head and create a premium coconut rum using delicious, aged rum at the base and super fresh coconut water as the cutting agent. This rum was designed to sit on a shelf anywhere in the world, but always bring you back to Miami and the beaches.
Born in Miami to Latin immigrant parents, the Zigs grew up between Miami, Guatemala and El Salvador. Having spent most of their childhood in Guatemala, they grew up celebrating one of the country's most prestigious exports, rum. Guatemala makes some of the best rums in the entire world, so when Mike coincidentally met the owners of one of the best rum distilleries in the world, he took the opportunity to pitch him on the idea of working together to make the best Coconut Rum in the world!
With the distillery’s help, and after months of sampling rum and coconut water of various ages and blends, the Zigs identified the winning formula. They liked how the blend was incredibly easy to sip on its own, but also played perfectly into any classic cocktail. The result was a rum blend, aged for up to 12 years, down-proofed from cask strength to bottle proof (40%ABV) using fresh, locally sourced coconut water. Typically, all spirits must be “proofed” to their desired bottle strength, and this is usually achieved using water. Instead, we use real fresh coconut water, harvested just a day or two before we blend it with our aged rum so that it maintains its freshness. The coconut water is the magic ingredient that gives Coconut Cartel its unique flavor and luscious mouthfeel. The smooth, crisp coconut water cuts the bite on the spirit and gives the rum a slight touch of sweetness and saltiness; a balance that works just perfectly on ice or in a mixed drink.
Coconut Cartel Special rum is a refreshing addition to our rum aisle at Country Wine & Spirits! Coconut Cartel is definitely not your average coconut rum. It is a sophisticated sipping rum that works well in booze forward cocktails like a Rum Old Fashioned or Manhattan, and can really upgrade a fun tropical cocktail such as a Pina Colada, Mai Tai, Mojito, or Daiquiri. See here for some recipes.
Coconut Cartel Special (80 proof, 40% ABV)
Visual: Medium-dark gold.
Nose: Vanilla and coconut. Rich and mouth-watering nose.
Taste: Soft, extremely approachable, and luscious. Oak, coconut, tropical notes with a touch of saltiness.