Spiced rums are all the rage, lending themselves to a myriad of inventive cocktails.
In the late 70s I plucked up enough courage to get a tattoo. Stone-cold sober I was, too. I liked the pastel-shaded parrot on my shoulder. It was very hip. For a short time. Pastel tattoos went out of vogue shortly after that and my body has played host to an out-of-date parrot ever since.
A couple of years ago, rather than buying a snazzy new red sports car, I opted for another tattoo to celebrate my midlife crisis. This time I went for a classic. Something that would stand the test of time. I got myself an anchor that’s similar to the work of Sailor Jerry Collins, the famed tattoo artist known for a style that says “masculinity.” And Popeye. “Wow! You must have gotten that back in the fifties, huh?” people say when they see it, thus adding a couple of decades onto my lifespan. I just can’t get my timing right.
Or perhaps I can. Sailor Jerry Spiced Navy Rum is pretty hot right now. Perhaps some of its hipness will spill over. . . .
Truth be told, spiced rum in general is what’s in now. It’s not a new category of spirit by any means, but new brands keep hitting the market, and they’re being embraced by bartenders all over the country. What surprised me most when I contacted some major restaurants from coast to coast is that each bartender seems to have a favorite brand. And what really delighted me was the fact that they’re using spiced rums in so many different ways.
Ted Kilgore is bar manager at Monarch, a fine-dining bistro in Maplewood, Missouri, that features international cuisine and a wine list that boasts over 400 wines by the bottle and almost 30 by the glass. Kilgore sticks to the standards when it comes to choosing spiced rum. As far as he’s concerned, Captain Morgan is the name of the game. It’s a brand that’s been on the market for over 20 years, and it’s available as Captain Morgan Original Spiced Rum and as a “Private Reserve” version that’s issued at a slightly lower proof—35% abv—and offers a mellow palate. Kilgore uses the Original bottling when he makes his Love Jones cocktail, then he lets his imagination go wild by adding passion fruit juice, grenadine and Damiana, a very special liqueur that’s flavored with a Mexican herb of the same name. Its Latin name is turnera aphrodisiaca. “The drink was created for St. Valentine’s Day,” says Kilgore, “I wanted something spicy and lush [and] the ingredients lend themselves to being an aphrodisiac.”
Jonny Raglin, the renowned bar maestro at the equally renowned Absinthe Brasserie & Bar in San Francisco, opts for Foursquare Spiced Rum from Barbados, an aged spiced rum flavored with cinnamon, vanilla and nutmeg, when he shakes up his Bajan Breeze, a tall, thirst-quenching quaff that’s topped with nonalcoholic sparkling cider.
Montecristo, a Guatemalan rum whose Premium Blend White Rum garnered a gold medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition last year (the company won a double-gold for its 12-year-old bottling in 2003), has just issued a spiced rum that quickly attracted the attention of Tim Wilson, director of beverage for the Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group.
He used it at Puck’s Las Vegas outpost to create a Fresh Ginger Mojito, a refreshing mix of mint, ginger, fresh lime juice and ginger ale. The drink will probably help make more than a few visitors to Vegas feel like they’re winners, no matter what goes down at the tables.
The flavor options are many when it comes to choosing spiced rum. Bacardi Spice, for instance, offers stone-fruit flavors alongside cinnamon notes and hints of sweet potatoes. And VooDoo Spiced Rum, an aged Virgin Island rum that relies on vanilla from Madagascar as its main flavoring agent, also presents cinnamon and cloves in its well-balanced palate. Then there’s Pango Rhum from the renowned Barbancourt distillery in Haiti. This bottling is flavored with fruits as well as spices, and it offers intense pineapple-peach notes alongside some light spice.
Papagayo Organic Spiced Rum from Paraguay presents vanilla and ginger notes, and a very interesting pepperiness. It inspired Colby Spath, “Spiritual Advisor” at LeNell’s, a “wine and spirits boutique” in Brooklyn (named Best Liquor Store in New York by New York Magazine this year), to create a Paraguayan Pineapple Punch. He marries the rum with Pama Pomegranate Liqueur, Maraska maraschino, orange and pineapple juices, and a dash of coconut soda. “Garnish it with whatever’s handy,” he says, adding that, “a neon-colored straw is highly recommended.”
Of Pirates and Paradise Back in San Francisco, Victoria Damato-Moran, a cocktailian whiz who holds forth from behind the mahogany at Joe DiMaggio’s Italian Chophouse, makes her own ginger beer to use in her Sailor Jerry spiced rum-based drink, The Star. It’s made with fresh ginger, fresh lime juice, sugar, water and star anise. “It was a hot day [when I created The Star], and I began to dream of sand and surf. I decided to go see the movie, Pirates of the Caribbean, and when I came home I made the ginger beer from ingredients I had [in the house], made the drink, put a patch over my eye, and fell asleep,” she recollected. God bless bartenders who just happen to have star anise in their pantry.
Sailor Jerry Spiced Navy Rum should be taken seriously. At 46% abv, it packs a serious punch. Vanilla comes through strong in this bottling, and it’s far dryer than most of the other spiced rums I tasted. Perhaps I’ll take a tot or two of Sailor Jerry before I get my next tattoo. I’m thinking of one of those Tibetan om signs, or perhaps a dancing Shiva, or a yin-yang symbol. If my past record is anything to go by, I can probably put a halt to the whole New-Age movement in a matter of months.