The Back Story of Classic
Rum is among the most dynamic and diverse spirits in the world. It's made in exotic places, graced with brilliant hues, captivating aromas and rich engaging flavors. Part of rum's immense popularity lies in its diversity. Rums are produced in a broad range of styles, from clear, dry and light-bodied to dark, full-bodied and full-flavored.
Why are rums shooting up the charts? In addition to their "fun in the sun" image, their approachable taste profile means there's no learning curve necessary to enjoy them. But the shared attribute that puts rum on the map is its mixability. It can be used in the preparation of almost any cocktail. When it comes to drink making, premium rums have a taste and aroma that lifts them head and shoulders above any of the other light liquors. A vodka's particular characteristics may go unnoticed in a cocktail, conversely, rum is more often than not a primary flavor ingredient.
Theories abound about the origin of the word "rum." One suggests that it is an abbreviation of the Latin words for sugar, saccharrum officinarum. Another theory suggests that the name "rum" originated on the island of Barbados as a derivation of the words "rumbullion or rumbustion," which were common terms for fighting or causing trouble. On Barbados, rum was also called Kill Devil, likely because as a strong spirit it was used to cure a wide range of afflictions.
Nearly all rums fall into one of two major categories, heavy and light. Heavy rums are typically distilled in pot, or alembic stills. Heavy is an unfortunate label; it gives the impression that they are dense and chewy. The term refers to the fact that heavy rums are loaded with flavoring agents (congeners). They are aromatic, full-bodied and invariably aged in wood.
Light rums are usually distilled in column or continuous stills. As their names imply they have light bodies and crisp, clean palates. They are occasionally aged in oak to round out their character and then filtered to remove the color. Light rums are unsurpassed for their mixability.
An unfortunate misconception about rum is that it's sweet and therefore not in keeping with contemporary tastes. It's true that rum is distilled from sugar cane juice or molasses, but that doesn't mean they are inherently sweet. Quite to the contrary, rums are light-bodied and characteristically dry.
So whether it's their diversity, allure, or enormous mixability, rums are winning flavor with mixologists and their guests. Here then is your road map into the drinks of the subtropics. The journey includes the classic rum and cachaça cocktails from countries where heat and humidity are constants, places like Cuba, Martinique, Puerto Rico and Brazil. It's a memorable excursion and a look into the most famous heat busting drinks of our time.
The Daiquiri is the quintessential rum libation, flavorful and perfectly balanced between sweet and tart. It was born in the Caribbean and eventually its popularity swept across the globe like a blast of good news. Crisp, refreshing and amazingly delicious, the Daiquiri is experiencing a resurgence in the United States that borders on the phenomenal.
This is a trend worth riding. It mirrors the booming popularity of rum, which has quietly become the hottest growth spirits category in the nation. The drink enjoys all of the attributes requisite for longevity. It's easy to make well and loaded with exotic appeal.
The cocktail originated around 1905 in a bar named Venus in Santiago, Cuba, roughly 20 miles from the Daiquiri Iron Mine. It was created by a group of American engineers who originally prepared the drink in a tall glass packed with cracked ice. The process started with a teaspoon of sugar and the juice from two fresh limes. The glass was topped off with 2-3 ounces of light rum. The finishing touch was stirring the concoction with a long handled spoon, a technique referred to as "swizzling or frosting."
The Daiquiri's big break came in 1909 when Admiral Lucius W. Johnson, a United States Navy officer, visited the mine and tasted the local favorite. Duly impressed Johnson subsequently introduced it to the bartenders at the Army and Navy Club in Washington, D.C. It was there that the Daiquiri evolved to be mixed in a shaker with the same ingredients and shaved ice. After a thorough shaking, it was poured into a chilled champagne saucer or Martini glass.
The cocktail's fame grew from there. The Daiquiri became a phenomenon in the 1920s and ‘30s, especially in Cuba when the island was famous for having the swankest clubs, an international clientele and the most capable bartenders in the world. The Daiquiri was one of the drinks made famous in the works of Ernest Hemingway. Its popularity also received a huge boost when in 1961 it was reported that the Daiquiri was President Kennedy's favorite cocktail.
As was the case with the Gimlet, the first secret to mastering the Daiquiri is balance. The three elements that need to be in sync are the tartness of the lime juice, the sweetness of the sugar and the flavor of the featured rum. Err too much in any direction and the cocktail becomes unpalatable. If you make the drink too sweet it will be cloying; too tart and the flavor of the rum will be buried by the acidity and pithy bitterness. While each is unpalatable, perhaps the most objectionable is over portioning the rum in the drink, which will result in an unpleasant and overpowering experience.
A reliable jumping off point for a Daiquiri is the traditional ratio of 1 part rum to 2 parts fresh lime sour mix. The two principal variables will be the flavor of the base lime mix — some are more tart than others — and the character of the featured rum. Your recipe may also be somewhat affected by seasonality issues. Limes vary greatly in flavor and succulence depending on the time of year.
One piece of advice before bounding off on your own. In your enthusiasm to create the best and brightest Daiquiris, don't overlook the original. The classic recipe for a Daiquiri is light rum, sugar and fresh lime juice (a.k.a. fresh lime sour mix), which is then vigorously shaken and strained into a chilled cocktail glass. Few cocktails afford a better opportunity to enjoy a wide array of rums. There's a reason it's the original, after all.
- Shake or Blend — Isn't this the age-old question? The age-old answer is let style dictate form. The decision depends entirely on what type of results you're looking to achieve. If the recipe calls for whole fruit or a puree, then for obvious reasons blending is the preferred method. Blending a Daiquiri will produce a tall and beautiful concoction. Some days there's nothing more welcoming then the sight of an icy cold, frozen fruit Daiquiri.
On the other hand, blending a cocktail with ice might potentially dull the nuances and subtleties that would normally shine through if it had been hand shaken. It's a technique that assures the ingredients are thoroughly integrated and that the cocktail quickly reaches proper serving temperature.
If you are so inclined, try preparing the same recipe by the two different methods and sample the results side by side. One likely finding will be that the blended drink lacks the brilliance and vibrancy of the hand shaken cocktail. A viable response is to bump up the portion of each ingredient. The thinking being that the diminished flavor is a result of being diluted by the ice, so just use more of everything. If a little is good, a little more is better, well, just in this case.
- Premium Spirits — The Daiquiri traditionally is prepared with light rum. Flavorful and crystal clear, it's a natural in the leading role. One of the allures of the cocktail is its glorious lime enriched appearance; a clear spirit leaves the color of the lime juice unaffected. Blended Daiquiris made with light rum, however, often have a pale, washed out look to them. One option is to splash in Rose's Lime Juice to bolster the color of the drink, or reach for a bottle of gold rum instead.
The clear advantage of preparing Daiquiris with gold rums is that they look as enticing as they taste. Dark rums contribute a rich amber hue to the cocktail, all without adding excess weight to the drink.
Nowhere is it written that you can't enlist the services of more than one type of rum in your specialty cocktail. Splitting the spirit base is a proven technique for instilling a Daiquiri with dimension and personality.
Another among the highly marketable features of the Daiquiri is its unsurpassed ability to showcase an unlimited variety of premium rums. Change the base rum and much of the character of the cocktail will change as well. The other absolute about the Daiquiri is the better the rum, the better the resulting drink.
In that vein, consider featuring a premium añejo rum in your next specialty Daiquiri. It adds layers of irresistible flavors, a dark, wood induced color and a set of alluring aromas to the cocktail unobtainable in any other way. Once you start to imagine preparing the cocktail with aged rum, the large window of opportunity will immediately open. No two añejo rums are the same. A rum distilled and aged on the island of Barbados, for example, will taste significantly different than one aged on Trinidad, Jamaica or Cuba for the same length of time. That means a Daiquiri made with Mount Gay Extra Old will be appreciable different than a similarly devised cocktail featuring Appleton Estate V/X, Pyrat X.O., or Guatemalan Zaya Gran Reserva.
There are also many great brands of rum distilled far from the shores of the Caribbean. That list includes stellar brands such as El Dorado Demerara from Guyana, Rum Toucano from Brazil, Gosling's Black Seal from Bermuda and Flor de Caña from Nicaragua. They are all fabulous rums with characters distinctive to their native lands. The Daiquiris they produce are equally distinctive.
Then there are the glorious aged rums from the French speaking islands, those distilled from fresh cane juice rather than molasses. These are the famed Caribbean rhum agricoles, preeminent brands such as Rhum Clément from Martinique, Rhum Barbancourt from Haiti and French made 10 Cane from Trinidad. There is a fresh herbaceous quality to these world-class rhums that make them highly desirable, especially when crafting Daiquiris.
The Daiquiri is a versatile cocktail and one not to be pigeonholed. The cocktail is an excellent vehicle for featuring a spiced rum or nearly any one of the numerous flavored rums on the market. Imagine the allure of a Daiquiri made with fresh lime juice and Captain Morgan, Cruzan Pineapple, or Appleton Estate Mango Rum. The result is invariably phenomenal.
Certainly thought should be given to featuring a premium cachaça in a Daiquiri. These distinctively flavorful Brazilian spirits are typically distilled from fresh cane juice and aged in various types of wood. Among the brands to look for include Ypióca, Cabana, Leblon, Pitú, Pirassununga 51 and Água Luca. While considering the spirits from South America don't overlook the service of Peruvian Pisco, a type of clear brandy distilled from premium grape varietals. Piscos are beginning to gain recognition in the American market, largely because of their brilliant fruit flavors and delightful mixability.
- Lime Scratch Mix — The chassis of a handcrafted Daiquiri is essentially the same base sour mix found in the undercarriage of a Margarita. The quality and character of the fresh lime sour mix will largely determine the personality of the finished cocktail. Keys to success are using fresh ingredients and balancing the tartness of the lime. When deciding what type of sweetener to use, consider guarapa, a syrup derived from fresh cane juice. It is ideal for use in any rum-based cocktail. Further advice on concocting an excellent lime sour mix can be found in chapter two on Margaritas.
- Modifiers — Modifiers allow you to take your Daiquiri in any creative direction your imagination and good taste decide to go. It should come as little surprise that the most frequently relied upon Daiquiri modifier is fresh fruit or fruit puree. While Strawberry Daiquiris and Banana Daiquiris will forever remain popular, the options are bounded only by your access to fruit. The cocktail is ideal for showcasing tropical fruit, such as ripe mangos, papaya, kiwis, star fruit or guava. Many exotic fruits are now available year round, both fresh and frozen.
Adding in a measure of similarly flavored rum is an ideal way to enhance the taste of the featured fruit. For example if you're working with fresh mangos, a recommended additional step is to add a measure of Cruzan or Appleton Estate mango-flavored rum. The fresh fruit and the flavored rum harmonize together beautifully. The next best thing to working with fresh fruit is to use different combinations of juice to modify the drink. Passion fruit, pomegranate and pomegranate juice blends, orange juice and prickly pear are all frequently relied upon modifiers.
Liqueurs are also often drafted into service as modifiers. Options include Chambord, PAMA, Midori, Crème de Menthe, Limoncello and any of the popular Pucker range of liqueurs. HPNOTIQ and Blue Curaçao are often selected for their seductive coloring.
- Garnishing — Sure, it's understandable that you're eager to present your new specialty Daiquiri to friends, neighbors and guests, but before you do, make sure that it's appropriately dressed for its public debut. Elaborate fruit garnishes and colorful sugar rims are two ways to add pizzazz.
Dark rums are ideal for drizzling or floating on top of a Daiquiri. They add a great flavor and greatly enhance the drink's presentation. Drizzles and floats are especially effective on light colored, light flavored drinks.
Swirl Daiquiris are another creative way to enjoy different rums. Swirls are frozen drinks prepared simultaneously in two different blenders. The concoctions are then layered or swirled together in a house specialty glass. Each component can feature a different type of rum. For instance, one layer could be a raspberry Daiquiri made with Mount Gay Eclipse, while the other a banana Daiquiri made with Cruzan Estate Light Rum. Finish it with a dollop of whipped cream and a drizzle of Appleton V/X Jamaica Rum.
About Piña Coladas
In 1954, Bartender Ramon "Monchito" Marrero created the Piña Colada at the Caribe Hilton Hotel in San Juan, and ever since it has remained among the most enduring of subtropical classics.
The allure of the Piña Colada is easy to perceive. At its essence is the convergence of three prominent flavors, rum, coconut and pineapple. If you've ever had the drink, you can appreciate the synergy between these three complementary tastes. When working within the Piña Colada framework, don't lose sight of the three flavors that create the drink's famed multifaceted appeal.
In the day, the cocktail was invariably shaken and served in a tall iced glass. It's curious that Piña Coladas are rarely prepared in that manner any more. Perhaps the explanation is that when shaken the drink is more viscous than when blended. Its consistency and texture is similar to a cream drink. Hand shaking also loses a few style points because it does little to enhance the drink's off-white appearance.
On the other hand, blending a Piña Colada has certain advantages. Blending with ice results in a taller drink with a more palatable consistency. Blending also affords the opportunity to work with fresh fruit, something that hand shaking doesn't easily permit. Lastly there's guest expectations to consider, meaning that today most people expect Piña Coladas to be blended concoctions and are thrown when they're not.
Gaining a mastery of the Piña Colada is one merit badge all mixologists should strive to achieve. It is a drink filled with possibilities.
- Premium Spirits — Like the Daiquiri before it, the Piña Colada is traditionally prepared with light rum. One can presume that it is preferred because the rum's transparency will leave the color of the other ingredients unaffected. On the other hand, the Piña Colada's creamy, off-white appearance is not necessarily the drink's strongest attribute. Using a gold or full-bodied, full flavored aged rum may well be an inspired option. In addition to the rich color, the vibrant character of dark rums such as Mount Gay Eclipse, Rhum Barbancourt, Rhum Clément, or Appleton Estate V/X provides intriguing counterpoints and stand up well to the coconut-pineapple palate of the Piña Colada.
Looking for more Colada options? Certainly start with the largest cache of possibilities, namely flavored rums. Making a Colada with a coconut, or pineapple flavored rum seems like a no-brainer. But banana, mango, citrus and orange flavored rums seem like natural choices as well. So does vanilla, or spiced rum. Then what happens when you make the drink using more than one in a Colada? It's called magic.
The most famous variation, the Chi-Chi, is prepared by substituting vodka for light rum in a Piña Colada. The substitution will create a sleek cocktail, but the vodka will contribute nothing to the drink's personality. On the other hand, using a flavored vodka in the drink could make a huge contribution. Imagine a Chi-Chi made with Stoli Blueberi, Absolut Vanilia, or Van Gogh Dutch Chocolate Vodka? In this day and age of superior flavored vodkas, preparing a Chi-Chi with a neutral vodka seems like a missed opportunity.
If you're getting the idea that the Piña Colada is a highly versatile player, then it won't surprise you that the drink is also marvelous made with tequila, cachaça, pisco and shochu.
- Coconut and Pineapple Base Mix — Coconuts are quite the contradiction. How can something so delicious be so incredibly difficult to penetrate? This is one area where science has made life easier for all of us. Coco López Cream of Coconut is just what its name implies. Having originated in Puerto Rico in the early ‘50s, Coco López is a blend of coconut meat and cane sugar to create a smooth and creamy product. It is a luxuriously rich product with authentic coconut flavor.
Coco López and similar products are viscous and challenging to accurately measure. To accommodate its thick consistency, one tried-and-true technique is to create a scratch Colada mix by blending the Coco Lopez with pineapple juice. Start with an initial ratio of one part coconut cream to 1.5 parts pineapple juice. For example, blend the contents of one, 15-ounce can of the Coco López with 22-23 ounces of pineapple juice. The end result will be a balanced, silky smooth mix where both the pineapple and coconut are equally represented. For added flavor and more consistency, blend the Colada mix with pineapple cubes.
Another technique is to blend ice cream, half & half, or sorbet into the Piña Colada mix. The result is a thicker, more flavorful concoction. This tactic allows a new avenue of creative thought, for in addition to vanilla ice cream, optional flavors to consider are chocolate, French vanilla, banana, strawberry and coffee. Of course, you could argue that there are at least 31 flavors from which to choose.
- Creative Modifiers — One of the Piña Colada's more admirable qualities is its versatility. The blended drink's pineapple and coconut base marries well with scores of flavors. For example, a shot of coffee or chocolate syrup works beautifully in the drink. The Piña Colada also enjoys a special affinity for the sun kissed flavors of fruit, melons, mangos, bananas, oranges, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and citrus of all kinds. Liqueurs are ideal modifiers in the drink. Popular examples include Midori, Amaretto, crème de banana and Kahlúa to name a few.
- Garnishing — Why is it that the better a drink looks, the better it tastes? Who knows, but it's true. A liqueur float is a visually striking way to add flavor and pizzazz to the drink. Lace the top of your Colada with Midori, Kahlúa or HPNOTIQ and watch what happens. A healthy splash of PAMA will add a bold red color and the fresh flavor of pomegranate. ZEN Green Tea Liqueur is also a contender with its jade green color and subtle tea taste. Better yet, serve the liqueur you're featuring in a sherry or shot glass and let guests have the fun of pouring it into the drink.
Often a dollop of whipped cream is used as an embellishment. Its stark white appearance, however, almost begs for a drizzle of chocolate syrup or a sprinkle of shaved chocolate. Rimming the glass with shredded coconut is another attention grabber.
The Mojito has captured the collective American imagination and sparked a boom in restaurants and lounges around the country. While the drink originated in Cuba in the early part of the 20th century, it really became an international hit during the ‘30s and ‘40s. The country was flourishing and Havana was a playground for the rich and famous. The place to be seen was the La Bodeguita del Medio bar, the birthplace of the Mojito.
Behind the timeworn wooden bar the La Bodeguita, bartenders would make a seemingly endless procession of Mojitos, 10 to 15 drinks at a time for the likes of Ernest Hemingway and Prince Edward. While the Mojito's fame reached a crescendo in the halcyon days before the Castro regime, it has once again become a popular phenomenon.
The eminently refreshing Mojito is made in a Collins, bucket or specialty glass. Place simple syrup, fresh lime wedges and a generous portion of 5-6 mint leaves in the glass. Muddle the ingredients together, add some ice, 2-3 ounces of light rum and a splash of club soda for effervescence. The final touch is a garnish of fresh mint sprigs.
In addition to being delicious and thirst quenching, the Mojito has a number of rather compelling attributes. The muddled combination of mint leaves, sugar and lime wedges makes for an interesting appearance. And then there's the drink's enhanced production value. Correctly preparing a Mojito takes some time and effort, the theatrics of which is an added benefit. Finally, the drink is amazingly versatile, accommodating a wide range of flavors.
The Mojito bears striking family resemblance to several traditional Brazilian concoctions, the best known of which is the Caipirinha (pronounced Ki-per-REEN-yah). It is a marvelous drink served in a bucket or tumbler that's made with simple syrup and a quartered lime, both of which are strenuously muddled. The driving force behind this cocktail is cachaça, a clear Brazilian spirit produced from sugar cane. Use between 2-3 ounces of cachaça, add ice and garnish with a fresh lime wedge.
Two other Brazilian borne cocktails are the Caipirissima and Caipiroska. The Caipirissima is prepared in the same manner as the Caipirinha, only light rum is substituted for the cachaça, while the Caipiroska showcases the services of vodka instead of cachaça. All three South American cocktails are delicious and distinctive. They differ from the Cuban Mojito in the type of spirits used and, equally important, none are prepared with muddled mint leaves.
The Mojito is a proven crowd pleaser and an absolute must for every mixologist to perfect.
- The Muddled Base — One of the great things about a Mojito is watching its preparation. But beyond its theatrical appeal, the muddling process is essential to achieving the cocktail's depth of flavor. It's arguable that the Mojito's true character can't be reproduced in any other manner. Certainly hand shaking the ingredients won't achieve the desired effect.
The secret lies in the muddling action involving the mint leaves and pieces of lime. The objective is two-fold. First, you're looking to gently crush the mint leaves with the flat of the muddler such that the essential oils are released, but the leaves remain somewhat intact. A mangled heap of leaves in a glass is not appealing. The mint leaves should be removed from the sprig before being placed in the glass. The stems are too bitter for the drink.
The object behind muddling the lime wedges is to express the fresh juice while not overly bruising the fruit's bitter white pith. Some of that bitterness is actually a welcomed thing, but too much and the drink will be adversely affected.
Regarding which type of sweetener to use in a Mojito, granulated white sugar is a frequent choice, but to be most effective the sugar must be thoroughly dissolved. Simple syrup is particularly advantageous for that reason. Creative options include sweetening the drink with guarapa (syrup derived from fresh sugar cane juice), brown, raw, or powdered sugar.
Without the muddled fresh mint, the Mojito fails to live up to its advanced billing. The mint is present in nearly every aspect of the cocktail. The predominant variety of mint selected for use in Mojitos is spearmint (Mentha spicata), although some prefer peppermint (Mentha piperita), pineapple mint (Mentha suaveolens) and the yerba buena variety from Latin America.
- Premium Spirits — The traditional spirit base in a Mojto is light rum and again the better the rum, the better the Mojito. The good news is that there are certainly a great many brands of premium light rum from which to choose. In the pursuit to make a world-class Mojito, strongly consider experimenting with the famed rhum agricoles, such as Rhum Clément from Martinique, Trinidadian 10 Cane Rhum, or Rhum Barbancourt from Haiti. Their vibrant, flavor imbued characters are incomparable when featured in Mojitos. Dark rums are also marvelous in the drink. They add color and waves of dry, often spicy flavors.
Yet, if working with different flavors is high on your list, then showcasing a flavored rum or vodka in the drink is just the ticket. Between the two categories, there's a stellar brand representative of every popular flavor. Imagine the possibilities. You might decide to muddle together Cruzan Raspberry Rum with a handful of fresh raspberries, mint leaves, limes and sugar, or Stoli Blueberi Vodka and a tablespoon of blueberries. Then again you could muddle together a mango flavored rum with muddled papaya, limes, mint and sugar. Using the spirit as either a flavor enhancer or as a counterpoint is part of the artistry.
The Mojito is a superb delivery system for most light spirits. Silver tequila is a great choice. Its exuberant character works well with the muddled mint and sweetened lime juice in a Mojito. Not surprisingly, so does gin. As Bafferts Mint Flavored Gin has proven, mint is a natural complement to the aromatics used in gin. Infusions and exotic products — e.g. aguardiente, cachaça, shochu, sake — are also viable choices.
- Modifiers — As alluded to above, fruit, syrups and juice are often relied upon as modifiers in Mojitos. A partial list of modifier choices includes pomegranates, mango puree or nectar, passion fruit, pineapples, grapefruit or kiwi slices, blood oranges, kumquats, blackberries and prickly pear juice. Whatever you can't find at the local farmer's market might be available on your backbar. Liqueurs such as PAMA, Malibu, Chambord, ZEN, Rhum Clément Creole Shrub and Grand Marnier were seemingly created with a flavor starved Mojito in mind. The final ingredient in the Mojito is a healthy splash of club soda, which adds a welcomed blast of effervescence. But even here you have creative latitude. There's no reason to limit yourself to using plain carbonated water when the world's finest sparkling spring waters are available for service. Then again, why not consider charging a Mojito with champagne or ginger beer? They'll add flavor as well as, effervescence.
- Garnishing — The classic garnishes on the Mojito are mint sprigs and either a lime wheel or wedge. The wedge should be used if you want to provide your guests with an opportunity to squeeze more juice into the drink. If not, the less functional, but more attractive lime wheel might be a better choice.
Many restaurants are adding a segment of sugar cane to their Mojitos. It looks great and performs admirably as a swizzle.
The realm of rum drinks also includes such stalwart libations as the Zombie, Mai Tai, Blue Hawaiian, Hurricane, Scorpion, Planter's Punch, the Run Skip and Go Naked and the Vicious Virgin. They're joyful concoctions — tall, colorful and brimming with tropical appeal. A word of caution, be moderate with their rum content. They all share a reputation as being eye rolling strong.