Rum is a misunderstood spirit. Often banished to syrupy daiquiris and badly-made mojitos, it's kind of the forgotten cousin of the spirits world — people mainly associate rum drinks with oversized fruity beach beverages, rather than considering rum to be in the same league as things like gin.
Those people are missing out. Rum, which is a sugarcane-based spirit aged in oak barrels, can be just as complex as a good bourbon, with notes of caramel, molasses, or even spices like pepper and rosemary. Generally, darker rums are going to have much more developed flavors, since they've been aging longer, and are better for drinking straight than white rum, which is primarily for mixed drinks.
Unless you've been to Cuba recently (or you know a guy), you can't get your hands on Havana Club, which is the standard for making drinks like a Cuba Libre. But there are plenty of good brands that you can get here in the U.S. Try Flor de Caña Añejo Oro 4, a golden rum which has notes of coconut and pepper. For something spicier that can either be sipped or mixed (and has badass packaging), Kraken is the way to go. I used Bacardí here as my basic rum option
Rum, with all its tropical notes, pairs perfectly with island-y flavors, and so for a beginners' rum drink, I started with the classic flavor combination from the piña colada: pineapple and coconut. I added some lime to balance out the sweetness of the pineapple, and the cilantro gives it an unusual vegetal twist. Finally, just a pinch of salt brightens all the flavors.
What You Need:
- 2 oz. rum (You can use silver or gold for this; I like the extra complexity that gold brings, but either will work.)
- 3 oz. pineapple juice
- Juice from 1/4 lime
- 5-6 sprigs cilantro
- Splash of coconut milk
- Pinch of salt
In a cocktail shaker, muddle cilantro, juice from 1/4 of a lime, and salt. Add the rum, pineapple juice, and coconut milk, and shake with ice. Strain into a glass, and garnish with cilantro.
If you've been to a bar in the last 10 years, chances are that you've had at least one overly-sweet, overly-minted mojito. And that's a tragedy. The secret to a great mojito, as I learned when I visited Havana, is in the muddling. You shouldn't be grinding the mint up so much that it tears apart; rather, you should be "bruising" it to release its oils. Additionally, in my experience, most American mojitos don't use nearly enough lime juice to balance out the sweetness from the sugar and the rum. So for our intermediate, rummier drink, we're going to rectify that.
What You Need:
- 2 teaspoons of sugar
- Juice of 1/2 lime
- 2 mint sprigs
- 2 oz. gold rum
- 4 oz. club soda
Combine sugar, lime juice, and mint in a glass. Muddle gently. (See in the photo, how the mint is still intact? That's what you want.) Add the rum, several ice cubes, and top with soda. Stir gently, and enjoy!
And for our advanced, most rum-centric drink, another thoroughly mischaracterized cocktail: the daiquiri. Often considered the territory of not-quite-21-year-old sorority girls, a traditional daiquiri is actually a very simple, sophisticated drink. The ingredients in a daiquiri really let the rum flavor shine through — it's the perfect balance between sweet and tart, and should never be served in a fishbowl.
What You Need:
- 1 1/2 oz. silver rum
- 1 oz. lime juice
- 1 teaspoon simple syrup
Combine all ingredients, and shake with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lime wheel.
So go ahead and give rum another shot — it'll be more than worth your while.
Images: bionicgrrrl, Krista /Flickr; Leigh Kunkel