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The refinement of rum: the versatile spirit shows it's more than a mixer.

Rum has long been a staple on the cocktail scene. The Rum and Coke is the third most-popular mixed drink, according to the 2012 Cheers OnTrac Study. Rum is also a requirement for most tropical drinks and Tiki-themed concoctions, as well as a bevy of blender cocktails. But there's so much more to rum.

That's why bartenders are hailing rum's many styles--white, rested and aged, as well as its variants like rhum agricole and cachaca--as back-bar tools for creative cocktails. They're also promoting the longer-aged offerings as sipping alternatives to Scotch and Bourbon.

"Rum seems to be a misunderstood spirit, and often gets a bad rap because people associate it with a lot of poorly made, sugary concoctions," says Scott Tipton, general manager of Kill Devil Club, a 140-seat live music and craft cocktail lounge in Kansas City, MO. When used properly, rum can be a versatile and creative addition to or stand-in for other spirits, he says. One of his versions of an Old

Fashioned ($10) substitutes Plantation Five-Year rum for whiskey.

Steven Oshana also likes rum in brown-spirit-based potent potables. "One of the trends I'm really pushing for is using rum as a base for more spirituous cocktails, in the same way you would use Bourbon in a Manhattan," says the head bartender at the Washington, D.C. location of BLT Steak, one of 25 restaurants owned by the New York-based ESquared Hospitality.

Oshana recently crafted a Manhattan spin called Jamaica Queens ($14), with Mount Gay rum, Luxardo Maraschino liqueur and Angostura bitters. His colleague Rico Wisner's Blood & Sugar ($14) is an update on the Scotch classic, with Drambuie, Mount Gay rum, Cherry Heering, sweet vermouth and orange juice.


The growing interest in and availability of aged rums have allowed bartenders to create multi-dimensional drinks that are decidedly more complex than what is typically mixed with the clear offerings in the category. "Some people assume that 'rum' necessarily indicates a white liqueur of little to no character," notes Connor O'Brien, bar manager for Rumba, a 60-seat bar in Seattle with 250 rum options.

O'Brien has seen an uptick in the popularity of rum drinks--both those that are "drier, brighter, spirit-forward" as well as "brown, bitter and stirred." His Coin Toss cocktail ($11) combines Plantation 5-Year rum from Barbados with Benedictine, Yellow Chartreuse, Carpano Antica and hitters; the Rum Cocktail ($10) mixes Plantation 5-Year rum with Curacao and bitters.

Giving rum a little rest in a barrel ramps up its multilayered notes even further. "We've promoted rum largely through our barrel-aged cocktail program; it's really been our best opportunity to talk about rum in a more insightful way," says Oshana. His Bermuda Triangle ($14) is a barrel-aged version of a Dark and Stormy, made with dark rum aged in a Bourbon barrel and infused with anise, and then topped with house-made ginger beer naturally fermented with Champagne yeast.

Aged rums also provide guest the experience to sip them neat or on the rocks. "Some people have experienced these while traveling, [others] grew up in places where these were more commonplace, and others are just interested in dipping a toe in an unfamiliar spirits category," notes O'Brien. Rumba sells a lot of well-aged, sipping rums, he adds.

"Our guests are becoming more familiar with rum and are being introduced to aged rums," notes Cindy Busi, worldwide director of beverage for the 175-locations of Orlando, FL-based Hard Rock Cafe. It's too soon to tell if guest demand for sipping aged rum will increase at Hard Rock, she notes.


Rum may be branching out from its Tiki roots, but continued interest in Tiki culture and cocktails still helps sell the spirit. "Rum is the preferred beverage in most tropical, fruity beverages, so you see a lot of rum punches in fish bowls or in glasses shaped like Easter Island heads," notes Ryan McGrale, beverage director for Tavern Road, a 120-seat restaurant in Boston. "Mai Tais and Zombies have really come mainstream--they are not just for island vacations and cruises anymore."

At Rhumbar, a Caribbean-inspired cocktail, hookah and cigar lounge at the Mirage Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, the menu boasts several Tiki and tropical tipples. The 1944 Mai Tai ($14 for a glass and $56 for a pitcher) combines Appleton Reserve rum, lime, orange curacao, rock-candy syrup and orgeat. The Tatonga ($12) mixes Sailor Jerry rum, Cruzan Mango rum, pineapple juice, lime, cane sugar and Angostura bitters.

Kill Devil Club features a different Tiki cocktail every Thursday, promoted on the bar's Facebook page and Twitter feed. Kill Devil's Navy Grog ($11) is one; it's made with Plantation rum, Ron del Barrilito, lime, grapefruit, cinnamon syrup and Dale DeGroff's pimento aromatic bitters.

Shareable punch bowls are conversation starters and convivial options for guests. Kill Devil Club offers several rum-based punches, like Kill-Devil punch ($52 for six to eight servings), with Don Q light rum, dark rum, Batavia Arrack (a spirit made from sugarcane juice and fermented red rice), cinnamon bark syrup and lime. The Samogon Shore Punch ($52 for six to eight servings) combines Samogon (a Russian white spirit), dark rum, velvet falernum, lime and allspice.

Of course, not all punches need arrive in large vessels with lots of straws. Rumba features four single-serve punches on its menu, all priced at $9, including a Barbados Punch with Barbados rum, coconut water, lime and sugar. Rumba's menu also pays homage to a famous Cuban citrus concoction.

"We take a lot of pride in our classic, Cuban-style Daiquiris, being at the front and center of our cocktail program," says O'Brien. The original recipe, Daiquiri No. 1 ($8.50), with rum, lime and sugar, is joined by three variants that originated at the Floridita in Havana, including one with Curacao and orange, and another with maraschino liqueur and grapefruit.


"There's a lot of variation in rum depending on the region it's produced in, says Kill Devil's Tipton. "Simply tasting a rum from Jamaica next to one from Puerto Rico will show you the vast differences in rums typically from those regions."

In other words, not all rums are created equally, nor are they universally interchangeable in all cocktails.

O'Brien cites the rich, dark flavors of El Dorado rums from Guyana and the longer-aged Appleton rums from Jamaica as great rum introductions for whiskey fans. They also work wonderfully in classic cocktails like Manhattans and Old Fashioneds, he says.

On the flipside, younger rums from Barbancourt in Haiti, Puerto Rico's Barrilito and Don Q offerings, and the Angostura line from Trinidad and Tobago, work well in light, citrus-based drinks.

Eric Johnson, cocktail consultant for the 56-seat cocktail bar Sycamore Den in San Diego, first developed the Swiss Bank--a pineapple Daiquiri with absinthe--using Banks rum. After experimenting, he discovered that making the same drink with different rums, including Appleton (all styles), Diplomatico Anejo and Rhum JM, results in uniquely delicious variations.


While not all rum cocktails need render thoughts of warm breezes and palm trees, the time of year does dictate which bottle to grab. "Seasonality is definitely more of a consideration with rum than with other spirits because of the range of cocktails it can be used for," explains Oshana.

So while he may reach for Lemon Hart Original rum or an El Dorado Demerara rum for a refreshing Queens Park Swizzle ($14) in the summertime, Oshana will likely turn to a glass of Brugal Ron Anejo ($13) on a brisk fall or cool early spring night. "Rum has the versatility for all seasons," he says.

Rhumbar head bartender Adam Martinez agrees. "In the summertime, everyone wants something refreshing and light; rums also warm up the soul in the wintertime."

The Rhumbar Mojito ($14), made with Montecristo 12-year-old rum, fresh-pressed cane juice, lime and Yuerba Buena mint, is more complex than the typical Mojito yet still refreshing. Rhumbar's Latin Manhattan ($12) mixes Cruzan Single Barrel rum with Caribbean spices, falernum, lime, Angostura bitters and ginger beer, which plays up the rum's darker notes.

A common misconception about rum-based drinks is that they are all cloyingly sweet, summer cocktails served with an umbrella or other kitschy garnishes. "This is partly our fault as a bar industry," admits Tavern Road's McGrale. "We created the culture and made rum synonymous with warm weather because of the brightness of mixers and the flavor profile."

But even rum drinks with a sweet component should be tempered to be balanced. McGrale's Return to Hotel Nacionale ($10) mixes rum, pineapple juice, lime juice, agave, peach brandy and Angostura bitters.

Hard Rock Cafe has had success with its line of made-from-scratch lemonades mixed with fresh fruit and flavored rums, like raspberry with Bacardi Limon rum, and strawberry with Bacardi Dragon Berry rum. "Rum transcends into all kinds of great cocktails, from tropical punches to savory or spicy grogs," says Busi, as well as what she calls "indulgent sips" like eggnogs, coquitos and hot buttered rum during the winter months.

Whether it's served neat, on the rocks, frozen or chilled, enjoyed by itself or mingling with other ingredients, rum has mass appeal. Keeping in mind the time of year, the region in which the spirit is produced and the aroma and flavor profile of the liquid in that bottle, bartenders can find a rum drink for all seasons and all reasons.

RELATED ARTICLE: A Taste for Rum-based Cream Liqueurs

Irish cream liquors tend to get most of the attention, but several rum-based cream brands are catching on. For instance, Rum Chata, made with Caribbean rum, cream, cinnamon, vanilla, and other flavors, was launched in 2009. The liqueur, which was inspired by the Mexican rice milk drink, horchata, has been a Beverage Information Group Rising Star Growth Brand for the past three years.

A similar product is Ricura Horchata Cream Liqueur, made with Barbados rum, cream and cinnamon. Other rum-based liqueurs include Cruzan Rum Cream, a blend of Cruzan light rum, Irish cream, caramel, vanilla and other flavors, and Castries Peanut Rum Creme Liqueur, made using St. Lucian rum, cream, a blend of spices, and vanilla from Madagascar.

El Dorado Golden Rum Cream Liqueur is made with 5-Year-Old Demerara Golden Rum, cream and spices, while Crisma combines aged Barbados rum with cream, herbs and spices. And Dulseda, inspired by the traditional Latin American dessert, Dulce de Leche, is a blend of cream, caramel flavor, and Caribbean rums.--MD

RELATED ARTICLE: Eachaca and Rhum Agricola

Fringe offerings in the rum category are driving guest interest. Grassy, vegetal rhum agricole is distilled from sugar cane juice instead of molasses. Rumba, a 60-seat bar in Seattle, uses it in Ti Punch, a Daiquiri riff that's especially popular in French-speaking Caribbean islands like Martinique. The cocktail mixes rhum agricole with a sliver of lime and cane syrup, served up (Martinique-style) or over ice (Guadaloupe-style), priced $10 to $15 depending on the aging of the spirit.

Brazil's native spirit cachaca is essential for a Capirinha. Rhumbar, a Caribbean-inspired lounge at the Mirage Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, uses it for the Spanish Trampoline ($14), made with Leblon cachaca and muddled tangerines.

Kansas City hot spot Kill Devil Club's Mojo Royale ($11) shakes up Velho Barreiro cachaca with tarragon, mint and lime, topped with cava. And one of beverage director Ryan McGrale's signature drinks at Boston's Tavern Road, the Cruela ($10), is a nod to his travels through South America. It's made with cachaca, Galliano, Luxardo, creme de cacao white and Peychaud's bitters. --KAM

Kelly Magyarics is a wine and spirits writer and wine educator in the Washington, D.C. area. She can be reached through her website,, or on Twitter @kmagyarics.
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Author:Magyarics, Kelly A.
Date:Jun 1, 2013
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