So our friend Matt (a.k.a. Rum Dood) is running a contest on his site “Mai Tai Madness” and the rules are pretty straight forward – “Write a blog post about your favorite rum, rum cocktail or best rum experience. Tell me and your readers why a particular rum or drink captured your attention or about the first time a bartender made your eyes pop out of your head with some rummy goodness.” What I love so much about this contest is that in these fairly broad contest rules lay open the intrigue, fascination and appreciation I have for rum — for me it isn’t just about a single drink, a single experience, a single rum or a single bartender that captured my fancy but it is all of these experiences that have so captured my interest. So mix up a nice Zacapa 23 Old Fashioned, sit back and prepare for a story of excitement and adventure … ok it’s a love a story with a sappy Hollywood ending but the characters are cool.
Our story starts in a time before there was theSpeakista and before the land of rum even existed… Rum? Hhhmmm, rum? I have to admit that until recently and probably like many of you I didn’t know too much about the stuff aside from a few bad experiences on a vacation or from a fraternity stunt gone awry. Early last year a very novice Speakista found himself on holiday in sunny Puerto Rico … Comment from the script supervisor: “you were on “holiday?”” … ahh thanks for the clarification, I mean I was attending the Godfathers bachelor party, swimming in endless vats of Don Q. Golfing included drinking tanker sized portions of the “Kitchen Sink” an extremely potent and overly sweet mixture of Bicardi Silver, Gold and 151, to fishing on the inter byways drinking Don Q “rummy dummies” a poor mans Cuba libre with Don Q Silver and Coke to sublime, straight up sips of pure heaven on earth at our hotel bar. That sordid toxic event remains but a blur in my memory but rums passionate embrace took hold of me. Up to that point my rather small cabinet of spirits was completely devoid of rum and to date I had not tried to make a single rum-based drink but this trip was an inspiration. On my return I conducted a little cocktail research and went in search of my first rum purchase, later to come back with three completely random bottles – Appleton white, Zacapa 23 and Goslings.
What to make, what to make? Too many bad encounters with the Daiquiri made me think I had to try this one out and thanks to Stevi’s post on this I set out to give it a go. The Daiquiri is in so many ways the easiest drink to make and yet in my humble opinion, with many attempts and formulations now under my belt, one of the most subtly sublime mixtures. Only three ingredients, none of which radiates a color that approaches the nuclear waste found on a cruise ship or some random Caribbean island , it can be what ever you want it to be based on how you proportion the ingredients … refreshing and tart, sweet and filling and yet always unique and exciting. For the next month and a half I made Daiquiri after Daiquiri, varying rums (I was now up to five different bottles), and the proportions of lime juice and simple syrup. This drink was my gateway to rum … from here the Hemingway Daiquiri was a natural next step. I discovered that I like a sweeter standard Daiquiri (similar to Stevi’s formulation) and yet prefer a Hemingway that is more on the tart side.
By this time I was hooked. My rum cabinet was expanding as was my search for new recipes lead me to a natural next step … rum-based riffs on three classic cocktails. I sampled an amazing Sazerac riff from Death & Co. using Zacapa 23 called the Latin Quarter – the first time I used this utterly amazing over the top beautiful rum – a Manhattan riff using Zaya (yep, I now had that too) and a rum Old Fashioned that mixed the two. Many spins through the book the “The Art of the Bar” yielded several other more creative recipes for me to explore and through it all I began to gain a deeper appreciation for this complex spirit. Similar to my beloved Scotch, rum is not a one dimensional song; different regions of the world yield different tasting rums; silver is different from dark aged rums; higher proofs offer character and a punch; etc. … I had found a new partner in life, one that would keep me guessing, longing and wanting for more. Little did I know …
At this point in our adventure we find our two main characters clearly in love and like most relationships that develop to a certain point one person is looking for more. Timid, shy yet confident, rum turned to me one day and asked the standard refrain …”should we take this relationship to the next level?” How to respond? Sure I love rum but didn’t we have a good thing going? The recipes were good; I was getting better at mixing her into drinks of different types … but clearly she wanted more from me. So tentatively, somewhat meekly I responded … “Sure. What do you have in mind?” Before she could even speak I knew what was coming and yet it hit me like a ton of bricks … “Tiki. I want Tiki.”
Tiki I thought? That mysterious vortex of drinks employing multiple rums, sweetening agents, fruit juices and liqueurs … was she serious? Well, if she had that much confidence in me surely I must trust myself. So about a month back I embarked on a week of Tiki drink exploration and mixology, turning my kitchen and bar area into a mess of sticky syrups and spent fruit and by the end I was thrilled. I loved seeing how the combinations worked or didn’t work and thinking about how they could be extended to non rum-based drinks.
With this Tiki exploration under my belt I recently tried two rum-based drinks that have thrown me for a loop … combine rum with different spirits and flavors and take what I think is the heart of Tiki to a natural next level. The Tartan Daiquiri (see my write up as well) is an amazing drink that takes my hands down favorite type of spirit, Islay whisky, and pairs it with Zacapa 23 my hands down favorite rum ant puts both into a Daiquiri mix. An amazingly complex, wonderful and not at all what you would expect of it type of drink that has me craving it even now as I’m typing this. Similar to the Tartan, the Doral Cocktail (see my write up as well) created by Cameron Bogue at Bar Pleiades here in NYC mixes Santa Teresa 1796 Rum with Rittenhouse Bonded, Amaro Nonino and maraschino to form a subtly complex mixture where the rum and rye combine to form a unique single spirits profile behind a supporting structure of two herbal ingredients. Unlike Tiki (I know, I know … many Tiki drinks employ non rum spirits in them … hey, I did make the Fog Cutter) these drinks showed me how two competing, different, dominant spirits can come together in a drink to support and enhance one another. Lovely and sublime …
So there you have it Matt … my love affair with rum, drinks that use them, and praise for the creative bartenders and mixologists who employ it. New stories I’m sure are just around the corner and I am up for the challenge.
1. What is your favorite rum experience?
2. How have you learned from this in terms of branching out into more complex drink creations?