Liquids: Rum

If you enjoy cocktails as much as I do, you probably agree with my credo that it’s always got to be happy hour somewhere in the world. But if restraint is in order (i.e., my wife’s watching), my cocktail of choice would be something that transports me far away from my daily grind. I’m thinking something tropical, something that just by taking a whiff of it will make my hair curl like Christopher Atkins’s in The Blue Lagoon. Most important, the drink has to be made with rum.

Rum is the spirit for summer drinks, even when it’s not summertime. But now that it is, it’s easy to see why its tropical flavor is so appealing. Rum was born in the tropics and simply by nature of its mellow character conjures up scenes of balmy imbibing within view of the sea. It’s so light and yet flavorful, it doesn’t leave you feeling heavy after a drink or two.

I’m talking rum mixed with tropical fruits so ripe they dribble onto your shirt when you bite into them. But before we get to that, let’s talk a little rum history, and let’s begin by pronouncing it like Ricky Ricardo would: rrrhoom!

The cocktail “tradition” began with rum, according to my buddy, the famed cocktail connoisseur Dale DeGroff. Distilling began commercially in the New World in 1640 in New Amsterdam (now Manhattan), where settlers built the first still to make gin—and a tavern to sell it. When Manhattan fell into the hands of the English, the still was instead used to make rum, which became the first internationally accepted spirit of the New World. It was a lucrative commodity. How lucrative? Let’s remember that, back then, alcohol was considered safer to drink than water. (Those were the days.)

Oddly, says DeGroff, rum was sort of an accident, made from the molasses left over from sugar production. Not surprisingly, by the end of the 17th century, rum production dwarfed sugar production to such an extent that the British had to enact laws requiring that a certain portion of all sugar cane crops actually be used to make sugar. Rum became the base of many beverages, especially punches, and was produced throughout the Caribbean, South America, and New England.

Today, rum is produced almost exclusively in the Caribbean and is divided into two categories, light and dark. Light rums traditionally hail from islands such as Trinidad and Puerto Rico and usually are aged no more than six months in oak casks. Dark rum takes its color from both the addition of caramel and significantly longer aging, ranging anywhere from three to 12 years. Naturally, dark rum is more aromatic—think caramel, and even coffee—and therefore has far more flavor than light rum; it’s produced in the islands of Jamaica, Haiti, and Martinique.

The good news is you don’t need to travel to those islands to taste locally produced rum. You can head a couple of hours south for an island approximation, to Nantucket, where Nantucket Vineyard and Triple Eight Distillery owner Dean Long has introduced his Hurricane rum. It’s made by blending Buck Island rum from the U.S. Virgin Islands with a Jamaican rum, then aging the results for six months in bourbon barrels from Kentucky to give the rum a subtle, sour mash–vanilla character.

I’m tempted to say it’s so good it doesn’t need to be blended into cocktails. But we’re here to talk about cocktails, so let’s belly up to the bar at Toppers at the Wauwinet, where bar manager Scott Corry makes a fabulous rum punch called the Wauwinet Sundowner. It’s made with Bacardi Silver (a white rum), Myers’s dark rum, Malibu rum (which has a coconut flavor), a splash of Amaretto di Saronno, fresh pineapple juice, orange juice, a splash of cranberry juice (“to keep our New England foot in the door,” says Corry), and a grating of fresh nutmeg. It’s as heady as it sounds, but also refreshing because of the juice, which is the secret to the best summer cocktails.

On Martha’s Vineyard, Roy Breiman, executive chef at Opus at the Winnetu Inn and Resort, says that, despite his title, he likes to stir stockpots with one hand and cocktails with the other. The inspiration for his South Beach Sunrise is tropical, but with a local twist.

“We are an island, and we have a lot of things that come with the ocean: sailing, fishermen, and a Jimmy Buffett/New England–y thing,” says Breiman. He and restaurant manager Todd Mullen modeled their rum drink on a tequila sunrise, but use Mount Gay rum, Malibu rum, and fresh pineapple juice, plus a dash of Triple Sec (an orange-flavored liqueur). “Then we get a little funky,” says Breiman. “We pour the drink into a martini glass, and then on top we float Myers’s dark rum mixed with an apple-vanilla syrup, sort of like a slick on top.” It adds a rich, silky flavor to an otherwise fresh, fruity cocktail.

At Twenty-Eight Atlantic at the Wequassett Inn in Chatham, beverage manager Martin Sadlemire’s Rummy Cosmo is made by mixing Bacardi’s new raspberry-flavored rum with an ounce of Grand Marnier and a splash of cranberry juice, then pouring it into a martini glass filled with crushed ice drizzled with lime juice. Sounds pretty good, huh?

And Rich Marcarelli, beverage manager at the Square Café in Hingham, whips up an exceptional rum martini by mixing Bacardi white rum, Belle de Brillet Poire Williams au Cognac (a sweet pear liqueur made with Brillet cognac and pears from Alsace), and fresh pear nectar. It will have you doing the salsa in no time. May I have this dance?