Spirited Cuisine: Rum

Yo ho ho and a bottle of....This is the seventh installment in the Spirited Cuisine series from Sri Bala (Shaman) and me. Each round, I select a liquor or spirit, and Sri creates a dessert recipe incorporating it. Find Sri’s posts at his blog and mine here within the Lush Life category.

Why don’t people drink rum straight?

Dry Martinis made with gin and with vodka, bourbon on the rocks, whiskey shots, Scotch served straight, tequila shots: All are ordered every day in bars the world over. Meanwhile, rum is relegated to frozen daiqiris and pina coladas.

Rum is made the way other spirits are, fermented and distilled from sugarcane products — that is, molasses or sugarcane juice. By the end of the process there’s no sugar left in the beverage, although it still offers a sensation of sweetness.

And this suggests one reason why rum is served primarily in cocktails and not alone: It’s not seen as a manly liquor. Bourbon, gin, and tequila are clearly manly. James Bond drinks vodka. And the only notable guy who drinks rum is a long-haired, eye-liner-wearing, prancing pirate. Sure, he wields a mean sword, but is that enough to restore rum’s reputation?

But rum doesn’t make a drink girlie. People make drinks girlie.

But to my point: There’s nothing inherently girlie about rum. PeterB of Tea Leaves rightly says that "the real daiquiri will make a grown man fall over and forget where he left his brains." He also tells you how to make a perfect daiquiri, so there’s no need for me to say more about it.

Instead, let me tell you how to make a Mai Tai. After rum, the next most important ingredient in a real Mai Tai is Orgeat syrup (pronounced "or-ZHOT"), a sugary syrup flavored with almond and rose water or orange flower water.

I’ll hazard a guess that you don’t have a bottle of Orgeat sitting around. (I didn’t, and it took me days of searching to locate some.) Neither does the average bar. So if you order a Mai Tai at most bars, you’ll get a cocktail made from rum, sugar syrup, and a bunch of fruit juices — a girlie drink.

If you order a Mai Tai at a Trader Vic’s however, you’ll get something very different. The Mai Tai was invented by the original Trader Vic, so you’d expect his restaurants and bars to bemore precise about the drink’s implementation.

Made with Orgeat syrup, a Mai Tai is sweet and tart, swirling with lime and almond and a hint of something flowery. It tastes summery and strong.

Mai Tai

1.5 oz rum (preferably Jamaican rum, particularly 17-year-old Jamaican rum)
.5 oz orange curaçao
.5 oz Orgeat syrup
1 oz fresh lime juice (about half a lime)

Shake all ingredients in a mixer with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with the squeezed-out half lime shell and a sprig of mint, and serve.

If you don’t have 17-year-old Jamaican rum, use another aged rum. Aged rum is golden in color, like a light whiskey or brandy. It’s not the same as dark rum. Dark rum is generally gets its color not from barrel aging but from caramel coloring, and it’s used more in cooking than in cocktails.

By the way: The International Bartenders Association says you can make a Mai Tai with half white rum and half dark, shaking the white rum with the other ingredients and floating the dark rum on top of the drink. Not only is this a fussier way to make a drink, it leaves the nasty-tasting dark rum unblended with the other ingredients. Avoid it.

Back to our original question: Why don’t people drink rum straight? My guess is that it’s because the rum that’s most readily available is white rum, which has little flavor of its own. Gold rum, particularly rum that has been aged, is smoother and richer, quite appropriate for leisurely sipping. If you find yourself with a bottle, pour an ounce in a snifter and sip away. (Pirate hat and eye liner not required.)

And if you have some dark rum, Sri has created an excellent recipe for it: coconut rum tarts. They are very yummy and nicely rummy, and I suggest you check them out post haste.

3 replies on “Spirited Cuisine: Rum”

  1. Peter: Excellent question. I could say this is a trade secret, but on the contrary I would prefer that more people had a stash of Orgeat on hand.

    One can order Orgeat on the web of course (from Fee Brothers for example http://www.feebrothers.com), but that’s no help if you want a Mai Tai today. One can also make it at home (http://fxcuisine.com/default.asp?Display=26), but … no.

    Giant Eagle: nothing. Maybe Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods carry French or Italian syrups, and surely somebody in the Strip District does, but all of those were a bit too far for me this time around.

    Fortunately for me, Cummings Candy and Coffee on Main Street in Butler has a whole shelf of Torani syrups, for use in lattes. So I stopped in and asked my dear friend Patty if I could have an ounce or two, and she kindly obliged with a quarter cup of the stuff.

    My little stash is now nearly gone, so I need to figure out a long term solution. Most likely I’ll ask Cummings if I can order the occasional bottle through them.

  2. Back in the day rum was drunk straight. When prohibition put an and to liquor made legally. Bootleggers where getting their supply from guys who made rum in their barth tubs and that gave them a nickname of rock gut rum makers. You needed to add fruit juice and other masking agents to bare the taste of it. You can drink rum on the rocks if you have the taste for it.

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