Are We Enjoying a Rum Renaissance?

Today is National Rum Day, so what better time to explore a spirit often fraught with varied associations, misperceptions, and confusion. And a spirit that – despite all those things – is clearly having a resurgence in the cocktail world.  

To dig into the world of rum, I turned to cocktail genius Lukas Smith of Cotton & Reed (among other fun projects).  I first met Lukas at Dram & Grain speakeasy many years ago and was excited to pick his brain about where fits rum fits into the culture of cocktails today.

Rum across the world: a delicious rum-based cocktail at   Hotel Grande Bretagne   in Athens.

Rum across the world: a delicious rum-based cocktail at Hotel Grande Bretagne in Athens.

Lukas rightly pointed out that most people have strong associations – sometimes positive and sometimes negative – with rum. Bacardi’s marketing machine created a “party, party” feel around their rum labels, Malibu made you feel like you were on a beach even if you were in a basement dive bar, and Captain Morgan…. well… who hasn’t had their fair share of college Captain & Cokes?

A tiki cocktail I fell in love with at   Eleven Madison Park.

A tiki cocktail I fell in love with at Eleven Madison Park.

And while we may harbor those associations, we should not let that stop us from enjoying a spirit that is actually incredibly versatile. And, as Lukas noted, “almost every classic vodka drink can be improved by using rum.”

So where to start in the world of rum? A spectacular rum cocktail, according to Lukas (and I would agree), is the daiquiri, whose traditional formula is

2 oz white rum
1 oz simple syrup
1 oz lime juice
In cocktail shaker filled with ice, combine rum, lime juice, and simple syrup. Shake vigorously, then strain into cocktail glass. Serve up.

I also agreed with Lukas when he said, “rum and lime is a match made in heaven,” and so who can deny that a classic mojito isn’t a shining example of how good a rum cocktail can be?

8-12 mint leaves
2 oz rum
3/4 oz lime juice
1 oz simple syrup
1 oz club soda
Add the simple syrup and mint leaves to a shaker and muddle.  Add rum and lime juice, then shake and strain into a Collins glass filled with ice. Top with club soda. Garnish with mint sprig.

For those who lean toward more bitter cocktails, Lukas suggests:

The Italian Daiquiri
1 ½ oz white rum
½ oz Campari
½ oz simple syrup
¾ lemon juice
Combine, shake (or you can even use a blender), serve up.

And a Lukas-Smith-creation served at Cotton & Reed – appropriately named The Redbeard Cocktail (if you know Lukas that makes perfect sense!) is another delicious example of a rum-based cocktail.

Redbeard Cocktail
1 oz white rum
¼ oz Campari
½ oz lemon juice
Ginger beer

Straight build in a Collins glass, top with ginger beer.

If you are hosting an event and want to serve rum, consider frozen cocktail machines that feature rum-based frozen goodness. Lukas has created recipes for frozen cocktails that defy the notion that all frozen rum drinks are sweet. So worth trying! And pre-batched rum cocktails are delicious, as well.  The added benefit of the machines and the pre-batching? No lines at the bar!

Now, if you will excuse me, I am off to make a daiquiri…


Why All the Hubbub About the Aperol Spritz?

Sipping the ubiquitous Aperol Spritz in the Rialto Market in Venice, Italy, on a cooking trip with   Stirred Travel   — 2015

Sipping the ubiquitous Aperol Spritz in the Rialto Market in Venice, Italy, on a cooking trip with Stirred Travel — 2015

A recent New York Times article slammed the Aperol Spritz—an effervescent aperitif born in Italy and on the rise for the last several years here in the States. The article knocked the drink for being too syrupy, getting too watery with the addition of ice, and often tainted by poor quality prosecco chosen when making it. The author also pointed out that the drink became unnecessarily popular due in large part to the marketing push that Campari America—the owner of the spritz’s main ingredient, Aperol — undertook in 2017, which made the trend commercially-driven over organically developed.

I agree with some of her points—it can get too watery (but what drink with ice doesn’t?) and many bartenders do ruin it with poor quality bubbly—but I still argue that it is a lovely aperitif and one that is especially enjoyable on hot summer days. I am not the only one who disagrees with the New York Times; the internet blew up with rebuttals over the stance. I particularly enjoyed this article by Becky Krystal of the Washington Post which talked about the reaction to the claims.

So, here’s my take on all the hubbub…

The Aperol Spritz is not going away. It has too many followers now to not have at least a couple more years of “trend” left in it. It is, in fact, a wonderfully refreshing beverage, and here in DC in the summertime, we desperately need something to beat the heat. If you are going to indulge, just ask for a quality prosecco and not too heavy on the Aperol. I think you will find the result enjoyable.

But the Aperol Spritz is just the start—there is a world of spritz offerings out there to explore. If you are curious about spritzes in general and want to try one at home, just follow this basic formula: three parts bubbly, two parts bitter (of which Aperol is one example), one part soda, and add a citrus garnish, if desired. There are other formulas for more “modern” spritzes, but you really can’t go wrong with that approach.

The Sgroppino |  Photo by:     Procopio Photography

The Sgroppino |
Photo by: Procopio Photography

For inspiration, I highly recommend this book which includes a variety of variations on the cocktail from classic to modern. One of my favorites in the book is the Sgroppino, which I first tried and fell in love with in Italy. Talk about refreshing! No, it does not follow the traditional spritz formula, but it is a darn good aperitif! I also enjoy a good Americano, which, like most spritzes, has the additional benefit of being low ABV (but that is for a different post). This Eater article previews a few recipes from the book—Negroni Spagliato, Rosé All Day, and Safe Passage—should you wish to sample some.

If you live in DC and are not up for stocking your bar specifically for spritzes, try out some of these places that Jessica Sidman and Anna Spiegel of the Washingtonian suggest. To that list, I’d add Fiola. Tell Jacob, Jordan, Marcos, or Ron behind the bar that I sent you. :-)

For those hosting a summer event, consider offering some spritzes upon arrival for your guests. Sure, you could do the Aperol Spritz, but why not add one or two others to the mix to be less predictable? The Americano could be a nice fit here or the citrus-forward Aperol Betty.

You could also consider a “build-your-own-spritz bar”, keeping in mind the 3:2:1 + garnish formula above. Most people enjoy being in control of their cocktail destiny, and so an interactive bar with an experienced bartender to assist will be a hit.

Perhaps the Times article will actually spawn more curiosity this summer in not only the Aperol Spritz, but others in its class of cocktails…. now, wouldn’t that be refreshing?