Rum's road to the dark side

12 December, 2013

Rum stirs up more than just flavours. Lucy Britner finds out what’s happening in cocktail culture

Rum’s journey into the hearts, minds and mouths of consumers is a well-rehearsed one. You look at the origin and history of the spirit, you find the classic cocktails that stem from this history and then you… what?

Rum is arguably ready for the next phase. We enjoyed the fun thing and the Sailors, Bats and Captains that went with it. Then many of the ad campaigns changed tack. Less emphasis was on parties and more was on the liquid and its – cue buzzword – heritage. The tiki drinks and the bars that go along with that theme are well known. Their classic counterparts are as well documented as the Hemingways who enjoyed them. 

Of course there’s still a place for all of this but what’s next? What else has rum got to offer the cocktail world? In a word: lots.

Logic and taste tell us many rums are dark spirits and therefore should be interchangeable with cocktails that err on the dark side.

Martin Cate from San Francisco’s seminal rum haunt Smuggler’s Cove – which placed at number 30 in The World’s 50 Best Bars 2013 – says this will be one of the next big drivers for rum cocktails.

“Rum Old Fashioneds and rum Manhattans for example are an excellent platform to introduce people to premium aged rum in particular as a complex and satisfying spirit. It also helps showcase the diversity of rum and all the directions you can take a classic such as a Manhattan when you choose, for example, a Barbados, Puerto Rican, or Martinique rum. 

“Making classics like this is a huge lure to traditionally Scotch or bourbon drinkers.”

Bar manager at Skylon London Nebojsa Kutlesic agrees. He serves up rum Manhattans to customers who don’t like bourbon.

He says: “From our perspective, people are a bit more about trying something new. So we make our own creations. We do sell classics such as Daiquiris but they are not bestsellers. Manhattan-style drinks and Old Fashioneds are popular – generally people go for them because they don’t like bourbon but they want a strong drink.”

It’s surprising to note Kutlesic doesn’t list rum’s most popular - and one of the world’s most popular – cocktails. Though it’s no secret that bartenders are not wild about concocting it. “We don’t have Mojitos,” he says. “It’s the number one in the world so we don’t put in on the menu.

“If customers really want it they will come and ask for it but we want people to try other classics. You can do great twists on Mojitos – you can play around with them quite a lot. People are comfortable with the taste and flavour of a Mojito. If you order one you play safe and drink it all night long. In my opinion you should try something different.

“Rum can take gin’s place in a Negroni, for example.”

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