Category Archives: Rum

My month of rum: The Lytton Fizz (and a bonus cocktail)

My month of rum continues today, with a couple of drinks featuring Cruzan Black Strap Rum. One of my goals for this project is to explore the depth and breadth of rum; there are very many different styles of rum out there, and yeah, that’s one reason I find the category a little intimidating, but frankly it’s also why it excites me. The idea of tasting my way across the category is pretty cool.

One thing I didn’t really explain last time was that I used Mount Gay Eclipse rum for the Royal Bermuda cocktail. That recipe calls specifically for a Barbados rum, as I mentioned, and I went with the Eclipse because, well, in part because it’s inexpensive, a good bargain at the 22 bucks my local pharmacy charges. (I think they’re overcharging a tad, but they’re so convenient that it’s worth an extra buck or three.) Also, in a rum-101 post, Matt “Rumdood” Robold recommends it as a good starter rum, in the amber/gold category. I’ve been using it for a couple of weeks now in various things and I find it to be a great mixing rum. It even sips fine, neat or on the rocks, although it’s a little simple for sipping; you’d probably want to go upmarket in the Mount Gay brand for that, and try the Mount Gay Extra Old, which is just delicious.

CruzanBlackStrapRumLTRBack to the black, now. The Black Strap is an interesting beast. You may have seen black-strap molasses around at the grocery and you may have even used it in, say, baked beans, but let’s step back and look at molasses for a moment. To make molasses, sugar producers take sugar cane, extract the juice from it, and then boil the juice so the sugar crystallizes. The molasses this first boiling produces is very sweet because sugar still remains in it. So to economize and wring out as much sugar as they can, producers then boil the sugar out again, and then finally a third time. It’s this third boiling that produces blackstrap. Interestingly, blackstrap molasses is one sweetener that’s actually good for you. The boiling process concentrates all the nutrients in the molasses, so blackstrap is rich in vitamins and minerals, especially iron.

Blackstrap has an important benefit for distillers. Because it ferments quickly, it doesn’t form as many fusel alcohols as other ferments do. Without delving too deeply into distillation-101, let me just say that a certain amount of fusel alcohols are necessary for certain spirits, but if you have too many, the flavor is rough. So they must largely be removed from a distillate before it can be bottled. (It’s the presence of these that in part explains the “rotgut” reputation of plastic-bottle spirits and mason-jar moonshine.) Blackstrap, because it lacks some of these fusels from the start, creates a smooth and easily drinkable rum.

Which also means it mixes well into cocktails, and isn’t that why you’re here? So let’s get on with it.

Lytton FizzThe first drink I have today is something called the Lytton Fizz. I’m not just drinking my way through the rum world right now, I’m also reading it. One of the books on my current reading list is Wayne Curtis‘s excellent And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails. I’m probably the last cocktail geek on the Internet to read this book, shamefully, but that’s okay. The Lytton Fizz is not one of the ten titular drinks, but it does appear in an appendix at the back. It’s the creation of bartender John Myers of Portland, Maine. It’s the last cocktail in the book, and it appealed to me for its seasonal ingredients, mint and Thai basil, both of which we had on hand. There’s a problem with it, though. Here’s the recipe as it appears in Curtis’s book, skipping the herbs:

1/2 oz. falernum
1/4 oz. lime juice
2 dashes of bitters
1/2 oz. dark rum

Hm. Equal parts rum and falernum? That falernum stuff is sweet. Very sweet. And what makes this a fizz is that it’s topped off with fizzy ginger ale. Not to second-guess Messrs. Curtis and Myers, I knew this had to be a simple typo, or the drink would be unbalanced and overly sweet. I told Jen I thought the 1 had gotten lopped off somehow and it should be 1-1/2 oz. rum. So I hit Google and sure enough, the results of the 2005 Rum Fest were posted, and I was right. There, Myers’s recipe calls for an ounce and a half.

So, enough of that. Here’s the recipe from the Rum Fest page:

Lytton Fizz

In a Collins glass, muddle

  • 4 fresh mint leaves
  • 3 Thai basil leaves
  • ½ oz. Falernum
  • ¼ oz. lime juice
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters

Fill with ice. Add 1 ½ oz. Cruzan Black Strap Rum and top with ginger ale. Stir.

Be sure to muddle gently, though. Press too hard on the mint, and you’ll open veins in the leaves that will express bitter oils into your drink.

Bonus: Corn ‘n’ Oil

Corn 'n' Oil

  • 2 oz. Cruzan Black Strap Rum
  • 1/4 oz. Falernum
  • 1/4 oz. lime juice
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters

Build over ice in an old-fashioned glass. Stir.

Cocktail photographs by Jennifer Hess.

A Month of Rum: Royal Bermuda Yacht Club Cocktail

I have said this before: rum sits squarely in my blind spot when it comes to mixing cocktails. I find the category a little overwhelming, I must say. Rums span the globe; you can get good rums from just about every continent except Antarctica. Rums made from sugarcane juice or molasses. Rums aged for many years or very few. Rums from Barbados, Cuba, Panama, Guatemala, Martinique, Mauritius, Mexico. Light rums, amber/gold rums, dark rums, spiced rums, flavored rums, overproof rums. It’s … intimidating.

But dayam is it good! I quite enjoy a great martini, a balanced Sidecar, a lovely rye old-fashioned, a good peaty single-malt alone in a glass. But a good sipping rum? I could come around to the notion that there’s the pinnacle of drinking. And rum, used wisely in a cocktail, marries well with a range of flavors.

So it’s finally time to man up, look rum straight in the face, and stop flinching.

From now until mid or late September, I’ll be exploring a month’s worth of rum cocktails–a drink a week that I think really exemplifies what rum brings to a cocktail. And to force myself into unfamiliar territory, there won’t be a daiquiri, Cuba Libre, or Dark and Stormy in the lot. And I am finally going to begin my exploration of the El Presidente, which Matt “Rumdood” Robold recommended months ago, when I was hoping to start exploring rum cocktails.

Royal Bermuda Yacht Club Cocktail

photograph by Jennifer Hess

First up, the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club Cocktail. I brought this one up as an idea for rum-running, before I decided on the El Presidente. I think I first encountered this drink when Doug Winship covered it during his Tiki Month, earlier this year. Even though I gave a lot of thought to running through it for the blog, I still managed to forget about it entirely, until I came across it again in Vintage Spirits. Doc Cocktail doesn’t have much information about it, but it’s apparently an early creation of Trader Vic Bergeron, a pre-Tiki tropical classic. The Royal Bermuda Yacht Club still exists, by the way, but I don’t see any cocktails listed on any of its menus, so I don’t know whether they still serve this drink.

The recipe, curiously, calls for Barbados rum rather than a Bermudan variety. I’m not sure I understand that. The other interesting ingredient is Falernum. I didn’t have the resources to purchase the ingredients to make my own, so I relied on the dusty bottle of John Taylor’s Velvet variety.

Royal Bermuda Yacht Club Cocktail

  • 2 oz. Barbados rum
  • 3/4 oz. fresh lime juice
  • 2 dashes Cointreau (I’d use 1/8 to 1/4 oz. for ease of measuring)
  • 2 tsp. Falernum

Shake over ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

The Dave Initiative

For a couple of years now, I’ve had a subscription to Esquire magazine. I don’t have much use for a lot of the stuff in there. The celebrity profiles are often silly (April’s is by a writer who “prepared” for his Ben Affleck interview by going on a four-day bender in Vegas, trying, I suppose, to out-man’s-man the man’s man he was interviewing). I don’t share Barry Sonnenfeld’s gadget fetish. And who can afford a $9,700 watch, anyway? Probably no one I want to know.

But the one can’t-miss feature every month is Dave Wondrich’s booze column. I usually read that as soon as my issue arrives each month. And the April column’s a beaut. Dave shares with us a formula for creating new cocktails. (It doesn’t seem to be on the Esquire site yet; when I see it, I’ll edit this post and link out to it.) I’ve now mixed up three different drinks with it, and I have to say, it’s a keeper. Here’s the idea: you start with your base spirit: gin, whiskey, rum, tequila, whatever you want. Add fortified wine (port, sherry, vermouth, you name it) and a splash of liqueur. Top with two dashes of the bitters of your choice. Here’s the basic recipe.

The Basic Cocktail

  • 2 oz. spirit
  • 1 oz. fortified wine
  • 1 tsp. liqueur
  • 2 dashes bitters

Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

DSC08492As I said, I’ve done three drinks with this already. The first drink I’m not sharing here, not yet anyway. It’s a gin drink, and I want to enter it into competition at the Mixoloseum‘s Beefeater edition of Thursday Drink Night, on March 26. I’ll post the recipe after that evening. The second attempt featured Kilo Kai rum as the base, and I used Wondrich’s exact proportions.

Bitter Regret

Stir and strain. Photo, at right, by Jennifer Hess.

This was a delicious drink. Enough body from the port to match the spice in the rum, and the cherry flavor was really subtle. Tasty, tasty stuff. The next drink, however. Enh.

Not Quite Right

  • 2 oz. Inocente tequila
  • 1 oz. Martini & Rossi bianco vermouth
  • 1 tsp. St.-Germain elderflower liqueur
  • 2 dashes Angostura orange bitters

This drink was too sweet as formulated. I think the bianco’s just too much for the tequila in these proportions. Worse, though, is that the St.-Germain just disappeared in it. I added a touch more tequila, and it balanced out well with the vermouth, but I think I need a drier vermouth for this and perhaps a little more St.-Germain. Still, though, this has potential. I’ll have to work on it further.

Overall, this was a fun experiment with a versatile basic recipe. I’m eager to try more combinations out and report back to you. I already have some ideas in mind for bourbon or rye, and I’d love to play with a smoky scotch in this.

Year Four

anniversary_graphics_a3As I noted in my previous post, last month marked the third anniversary of A Dash of Bitters. And although my wallet’s hurting a little right now, I still have every intention of keeping the blog going through the next year. I started this site as a way to simply record the new drinks I was mixing at home, and to talk a bit about what we drank when we’d go out. My goal was to use the fact that I had this blog to be an incentive to push myself to try new things, and to always stay fresh.

With that in mind, I have one big project in mind for this year, and I’m going to need your help. But first, an explanatory note. One question that cocktail novices often ask is, “Where do I begin with this hobby? There are so many brands to choose from in each category, and there are so many categories to explore!” A common bit of advice to these folks is to narrow your focus: choose a drink or a type of liquor and build from there.

Robert Hess expands on this in his Essential Bartender’s Guide:

Rather than starting with a shopping list of products to buy, why not select a cocktail you want to make. Look up the recipe for that cocktail, and pick up just the products you need for that one drink. Simple, straightforward and effective.

…[M]ake that drink over and over again. Reach a point where you really understand what each ingredient is doing to the drink, and how the way you prepare it comes into play. Play around with the recipe a little bit. Perhaps look up a few alternate recipes and see how the drink is changed.

So, that’s the plan. I want one new drink that I will play with and blog about over the course of the coming year. I might not need a whole year to do this, but we’ll see. What I want from you is, suggest the drink. I have a few ground rules, though:

  1. Rum. It must include rum. White, golden, dark, whatever. Rum’s a spirit I’m still largely ignorant of and it intimidates me a little. This project will allow me to cycle several brands of rum through the same drink so I can start to learn differences between brands. If I move on from this drink and do this a second time, that new drink will also be rum-based.
  2. The drink, obviously, should be versatile enough that it can work with more than one brand of rum. I doubt that’ll be a problem, but I suppose it could be.
  3. I’d prefer the drink to be relatively simple. I don’t mean daiquiri-simple, with rum, juice, and sugar (I’ve pretty much mastered the sour, which is what a daiquiri is), but I also don’t want a drink with something like 8 or 9 ingredients, 3 of which are various types of rum.
  4. I’m open to tiki drinks, but see point 3.

An excellent example of the type of recipe I’m looking for would be the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club Cocktail, which Doug Winship wrote up last week. In fact, if the only comments on my post are the sound of chirping crickets, I might start with that drink. What I like about it is that it’s adaptable. You can try different rums in the base. You can swap out Grand Marnier for the Cointreau. If, like me, you’ve never made your own falernum, you can make some, and then judge the drink side-by-side against a version made with John Taylor’s Velvet, or another commercial product.

Please help. You know you want to.

MxMo: Rum

Mixology Monday logoOne recent afternoon, Mrs. Bitters and I were in our new favorite wine and spirits shop, Eno Fine Wine and Spirits on Westminster Street. While Jen shopped for that evening’s vino, I studied the spirits shelves. One thing that caught my eye was Thomas Tew Rum, distilled very near by, in Newport, RI. The distillers are also, in fact, the makers of the microbrewed Newport Storm beer.

The Mrs. and I are semi-committed locavores. When we can buy local, we do, but when we can’t, we don’t sweat it. But having just moved here, we’re sampling as much of the local produce as we can, from shellfish to meats to veggies to, yes, rum. We’re not just blindly supporting local producers, we’re just avidly curious about what’s available here.

From what I’ve read, there aren’t many U.S. distilleries producing rum right now. When you find one in your back yard, at the same time the next MxMo post is all about rum… why the hell not?

So of course we bought the Thomas Tew, fool!

Tiki, Flickr

photo by Jennifer Hess

Thomas Tew has a good story. Newport was once a major rum distiller, and the Thomas Tew cats are trying to hew closely to the traditions of the past–distilling in a pot still, naming their product for a famous pirate, that kind of thing.

So, how’s the taste? Wellllll, it needs improvement. According to the markings on my bottle, I’ve got a sample of the third barrel that Thomas Tew has produced. When I bought the rum, I asked at guy at Eno, “Have you had this? What did you think?” He said he thought the flavors were good, but the rum was a bit thin. I think that’s a valid assessment. Sipping it neat, I found a simple, tasty dark rum. I didn’t find anything “unpleasant,” as some tasters have, but I didn’t find much complexity in the rum, either. I don’t know if it’s worth going out of your way to procure a bottle, but if the distillers tweak and improve their recipes, I think they can produce a damn fine rum.

For mixing, I wound up adapting the Kona cocktail from Trader Vic’s Book of Food and Drink. The copy I have entreats me to refrain from posting his recipe without his permission. I don’t have his permission, or that of his estate, but it doesn’t matter much because I didn’t hew to his formula that closely anyway. His recipe calls for Puerto Rican rum, lemon and lime juices, and maraschino.

I started with the Thomas Tew and the other ingredients, shook ‘em up, and tasted the results. Not quite what I wanted. I wound up adding a touch of Gosling’s Black Seal, and that was just the right thing to do.

I kinda putzed around with this recipe, so I’m not sure of my final proportions, but let’s say this:

  • 1-1/2 oz. Thomas Tew rum
  • 1/2 oz. lime juice
  • 1/2 oz. lemon juice
  • 3/4 oz. maraschino (Luxardo, in my case)
  • 1/4 oz. Gosling’s Black Seal

Technique: Shake, strain, enjoy.

Bottom’s Up!

BaroqueWell, I apparently paid way too much for it, having embroiled myself in a bidding war on eBay and being too stubborn to back out, but I finally have a copy of Ted Saucier’s saucy 1951 cocktail book, Bottom’s Up! For those of you who don’t know the book, it’s a hefty thing, at a pound and a half, 270 pages, and a trim size of 10.25 by 7 inches. (Yes, I’ve worked in publishing, why do you ask?)

I mention the book’s (ahem) ample nature to point out that it’s a serious volume, with a lot of recipes and a bunch of really good ones, to boot. One thing I love most, though, is the index. Arranged, in part, by main ingredient, it’s very handy. Want a gin drink? Find the Gin subheading and eat your heart out. It is, unfortunately, not cross-referenced, so if a recipe has, say, gin and rum, but rum is the main ingredient, you won’t find it under Gin.

“Whazzawha? Recipe with gin and rum?” you sez? Well, yes. And it’s a good drink. Well balanced, with the rum and gin complementing each other rather than fighting. Saucier terms this drink the Baroque, but given the political season in the USA, I’m calling this, rather obviously, the Baroque Obama, although it’s the same recipe as appears in Saucier (although I’m converting his 1 part lime, 2 parts rum, etc. into ounces).

Baroque Obama

Courtesy, The Baroque Restaurant, New York City

  • 1 part [3/4 oz.] fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 t. sugar
  • 2 parts [1-1/2 oz.] Jamaican rum
  • 1 part [3/4 oz.] gin
  • 1 dash maraschino

Technique: Shake lime juice and sugar well. Add rum and gin [and ice]. Shake well and serve in iced glass. [As you can see from the picture, I served ours up, in a cocktail glass.] Float maraschino. [No garnish.]

I’ve learned very little about Ted Saucier. It appears he was once the publicist for the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in Manhattan, and he lived from 1896 to 1970, but beyond that, I’ve learned nothing.

Except that I shouldn’t get excited and overbid on a cocktail book.

OH, I almost forgot! There’s another reason Saucier’s book is so well-loved. I’ll share that tomorrow.

How about a nice rum punch?

For last weekend’s blow-out, I mixed up a loose variation of Padma Lakshmi’s Sweet Lime-Ginger Rum Punch. I know you want to mock me for this, but let me remind you that Padma is hot. See? Hot.

I started the day before the party by taking a couple of plastic containers and filling them with a blend of water and lime juice. I lidded them up and stashed them in the freezer. I then juiced three dozen limes and set the juice aside before cooking up several cups of simple syrup, spiced with grated ginger and cracked cardamom pods. Once the syrup cooled, I double-strained it to remove the solids and then poured the syrup into the lime juice. I refrigerated that overnight.

The day of the party, things were simple. Once our guests began to arrive, I set up the punch bowl with the large ice chunks, poured all of the limey syrup into the bowl, and added three liters of amber rum.

And then people started falling down. Yatta!

MxMo 10: Festival!

MxMo FestiveIt’s Mixology Monday time again, this month hosted by Brenda at The Spirit World. Brenda chose the theme festive drinks for this iteration. Sounds great to me! Let’s get festive!

Homemade eggnogI chose a drink that I expect a few others will do this time as well: eggnog. And that’s okay, because it seems that just about everybody has a personal favorite recipe for eggnog, so I expect a lot of variation in ingredients and techniques.

And that’s okay, too, because I have a confession. I’m a nogn00b. Oh, I’ve had eggnog before, if you think that stuff you get at the grocery is eggnog. But I can’t recall ever having homemade nog, and this was my first attempt at making it from scratch. I’ll have fun reading what others have done and, I hope, picking up some tips on making a better nog.

(As an aside, there is a great New York State dairy, Ronnybrook Farm, that apparently makes a superb bottled eggnog. Although I’d love to try it at some point, I didn’t want to use their product for this MxMo entry. Where’s the challenge in that?)

So, on to the nog…
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MxMo: Exotics

MxMo ExoticThe theme of October’s Mixology Monday is exotic drinks, a category of beverages in which I am quite the raw novice. Exotic beverages always seem to require a lot of equally exotic ingredients that I don’t normally keep on hand: passion fruit, orgeat, rums older than Dakota Fanning–you get the idea.

This class of drinks intimidates me, but it also intrigues me greatly, so I wanted to start moving in its direction. After all, these drinks are some of the best liquid fun you can experience, if they’re done right, so they’re worth the investment of time and capital.

I’ve paid close attention this summer to Rick’s tiki experiments at Kaiser Penguin. A few months ago, he posted a recipe for a Noa Noa cocktail, a mix of rum, lime, brown sugar, and mint. Sounded yummy to me, so the Noa Noa was my first choice.

Noa NoaThe recipe Rick posted (which I won’t actually reproduce here, since I used his recipe almost verbatim) called for demerara rum. I thought I had a convenient source for that, but I was wrong. In its place, I used another African rum, Starr, a product of the island of Mauritius.

Starr’s flavor profile bears notes of citrus, cardamom, and a touch of vanilla, making it a lovely rum for sipping on its own. But it also mixes nicely, and my wife and I both loved the Noa Noa. Thanks, Rick!

My second exotic was a slight variation on the El Floridita No. 1. So slight in fact that if were to alter its numbering in any way, I’d have to go with a cliché and call it El Floridita No. 1.1.

El FloriditaThe pink tinge comes from the use of hibiscus syrup in place of simple syrup. My wife had made the hibiscus syrup for an unrelated food-writing commission, so since we had that on hand, I thought it would make a nice substitution.

El Floridita 1.1

Adapted from Gary Regan’s The Joy of Mixology

  • 2 oz. light rum
  • ¼ oz. lime juice
  • ½ oz. hibiscus syrup
  • maraschino liqueur to taste

Technique: Shake over ice and strain into a cocktail glass.

Tiki Talky

tiki mask

For the tiki-crazed among you, American Heritage has just published an excerpt from Wayne Kramer’s book, And a Bottle of Rum, which I keep bloody-well meaning to read. The excerpt focuses on Tiki culture and the histories of Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic. They’ve paired the excerpt with a James Teitelbaum review of ten tiki bars. Makes me wanna open the rum.