Spiced Rum on the Rebound

From classic cocktails to tiki riffs, this historic spirit is back on the modern mixologist’s menu.

Just a few years ago, to be offered a choice of spiced rums for your cocktail was unthinkable.

But now, floated by a rum renaissance and the explosion of tiki culture, a number of new spiced rums have been introduced—and fresh cocktails are being created to showcase the expanded range.

“Spiced rum is not a fad,” declares rum expert, importer and advocate Ed Hamilton. “The tradition of adding fruit and spice to rum is almost as old as Caribbean rum itself.”

However, the island tradition was typically for spiced rums made at home, or sold at local rum shops. Only a handful were brought to the U.S., most notably Captain Morgan, which was introduced to the U.S. in 1983 and is credited with creating the spiced rum category. Indeed, “Captain & Coke” remains one of the most popular mixed drink calls at bars across the country.

In 2008 and 2009, driven in large part by the escalatingtiki craze, a flurry of new spiced rum brands hit the shelves, jumping from just a handful of brands available in the U.S. to 60 to 75 brands in 2009, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. The category has narrowed in recent months, leaving 45 to 55 brands of spiced rum at the end of 2010, but those remaining brands have taken a larger bite of the marketplace. Spiced rum now accounts for 33% of the total rum market (about 9.2 million cases), DISCUS says, compared to 29% of the total rum market one year earlier (about 7.2 million cases).

Rum experts like Martin Cate, owner of Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco, a tiki bar noted for its staggering collection of 200-plus rums, point to a surge in rum overall. “Rum has had such a decade of new brands and older brands coming to our shores for the first time,” Cate explains. “It’s a great time for rum. And the spiced rums have been going along to stake their claim,” many with deliberate intent to plunder some of the Captain’s market share.

Many of these new-breed rums deserve closer attention, particularly dry-style rums like Sailor Jerry and Cruzan 9, a welcome change since spiced rum often gets a bad rap for its supersweet profile. Sweet styles have been popular in years past, Hamilton says, because “a little bit of sugar mellows the fresh alcohols,” while many new rums are made either with mellow aged rums (such as Brinley Gold Shipwreck) or a blend of aged and unaged rums.

Another welcome change: Spices are getting higher billing. Distillers have focused on creating rums that are “spiceforward,” rather than “vanilla-forward.” For example, Chairman’s Reserve has quickly become a bartender favorite thanks to its robust mix of clove, cinnamon and ginger. Similarly, Crusoe Organic Spiced Rum has a distinct allspice profile, not unlike gingerbread in a glass, suiting tiki drinks that otherwise might rely on allspice and flavored syrups.

Regardless of which rum comes out on top, the resurgence has inspired bartenders to experiment with the vibrant flavors of spiced rum in all manner of creative cocktails. Here are some great drinks to try, all featuring spiced rum.

Updated Classics

From the Cable Car, a riff on the classic Sidecar cocktail, to all manner of Dark and Stormy variations, spiced rum is used to jazz up a number of old standards.

Shore Leave SwizzleShore Leave Swizzle

By Daniel Deephouse, Sailor Jerry brand manager

A “swizzle” is a classic drink style dating back to the Caribbean in the 1800s. The original swizzle technique involved using a long, sturdy twig, which was held between the palms and then rubbed together to gyrate the stick and mix the drink. Modern bartenders are more likely to use a long spoon to stir the drink, often held between the palms.

1½ ounce Sailor Jerry spiced rum
½ ounce Port
1 ounce pineapple juice
½ ounce fresh lime juice
½ ounce simple syrup
2 dashes Angostura bitters
2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
Pineapple wedge

Combine all ingredients in a tall glass. Add crushed ice and swizzle to mix. Serve garnished with a wedge of fresh pineapple.

Tiki Nouveau

Sorry, tikiphiles, but spiced rum is not part of the classic tiki canon. Trader Vic and his peers would brew their own spiced syrups, tinctures and more, leading to elaborate libations that required up to 14 custom ingredients. “Spiced rum is a way of finding simplification,” observes Martin Cate of Smuggler’s Cove.

Henry & John

By Martin Cate, Smuggler’s Cove

Cate doesn’t specify which spiced rum to use in this tiki-influenced drink, but he has expressed preference for Chairman’s Reserve, Crusoe Rum and, of course, one of the bespoke spiced rums he makes at his own bar.

¾ ounce fresh lime juice
2 dashes Angostura bitters
2 dashes Angostura Orange bitters
2 ounces quality spiced rum
1 ounce brown sugar simple syrup
(1 part brown sugar and 1 part water)
2 ounces chilled soda water
Orange peel spiral for garnish

Combine all ingredients except soda in a shaker with ice. Shake and strain into an ice-filled Collins glass with an orange peel spiral running through it. Top with soda and stir gently to combine.

Punches & Grogs

Mixologists also are using spiced rums as an easy way to round out large-format punches, and during the colder-weather months, spiced rum has become a bartender go-to for spiced apple cider and warming hot toddies, buttered spiced rums and eggnogs.

Pirate Grog

Adapted from Todd Thrasher, PX

This cold grog is served all year at PX in Alexandria, Virginia, where mixologist Todd Thrasher cheerfully admits to “a bit of a pirate fetish.” He serves the drink in a pirate-worthy pewter tankard; nonpirates might opt for a beer mug.

1 ½ ounces “pirate rum” (aka Captain Morgan spiced rum)
½ ounce fresh sour mix
3 ounces cold lemon verbena tea
1 teaspoon sugar
2 dashes Fee Brothers lemon bitters
Soda water

In a cocktail shaker, combine the first five ingredients with ice. Shake vigorously, and strain into a tankard or Collins glass half-filled with fresh ice. Top with soda water and stir with a long-handled spoon.

6 Great Rums for the Home Bar

Captain Morgan Original Spiced Rum
It’s become fashionable to hate on the Captain, but with a pronounced vanilla scent and sweet caramel flavor, it’s easy to see why it’s endured all these years. When mixed, it blends right in and becomes easy sipping.

Chairman’s Reserve
This St. Lucia rum is “selling like hot cakes at my bar,” says Cate of Smuggler’s Cove. Meanwhile, tiki expert and author Jeff “Beachbum” Berry tags this spirit as the one Don the Beachcomber would have most likely used in his day.

Cruzan 9
A rum with a warm, luxurious caramel scent and a fleeting creamy sweetness on the palate that recedes quickly into a dry finish with a flurry of dark chocolate, espresso, bitter almond, black pepper and ginger notes. Good value.

The Kraken Black Spiced Rum
This unusual rum has been lauded for its“sophisticated” marketing campaignas well as its intensely dark, spicy flavorwith loads of allspice, vanilla and ginger.

Old New Orleans Cajun Spice Rum
For those who like a little heat, this “Cajun” spirit, made with three-year-old amber rum, explodes with clove, ginger and cayenne pepper.

Sailor Jerry
Despite the sweet, almost root beer-like caramel fragrance, the mahogany liquid is brawny and dry. Look for bitter cocoa up front, cinnamon and allspice notes, and good alcohol balance (even though it’s north of 80 proof).


Try these other great tiki cocktails!

Cable Car

Courtesy of Tony Abou-Ganim

The name of this cocktail was inspired by the tracks near the Starlight Room in San Francisco, where it was created with Captain Morgan in mind.

Lemon half, for rimming the glass
Sugar, for rimming the glass
1½ ounces Captain Morgan spiced rum
¾ ounce orange Curaçao
1½ ounces sour mix (made by mixing 1 part simple syrup with 2 parts fresh
lemon juice)
Orange peel, for garnish

Rub lemon on the rim of the cocktail glass and dip in sugar. Pour the Captain Morgan, Curaçao and sour mix into a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake well and strain into the prepared glass. Garnish with orange peel spiral.

Spiced Duke Swizzle

Courtesy of Giuseppe Gonzalez, Painkiller

What makes this drink full-on tiki? Exotic fruit, Falernum—a flavored syrup made with ginger, lime and a hint of almond—and the signature tiki mug presentation.

2 ounces spiced rum (Gonzalez recommends Cruzan 9 or Chairman’s Reserve)
1 ounce passion fruit juice
½ ounce honey
½ ounce Falernum
½ ounce lime juice

Combine all ingredients in a tiki mug. Add crushed ice and swizzle to mix.

Published on June 20, 2011


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