Yo-ho-ho, booze buddies, and welcome to another edition of Liquor Nerd, the column where the goal is to turn you into a home-bar star. Or at least a third-rate approximation of Donn Beach.
This week we’re talking rum, the one liquor that can mess up a drink fast.
Think about it. It really doesn’t matter if you reach for the Absolut, the Ketel One, or the East Van Vodka—all of them will create a screwdriver that only Viktor Korheev would be able to tell from the others.
As for whiskies, if you steer clear of peat-heavy Scottish offerings like Ardbeg and Laphroaig, you can swap Canadian Club with Jim Beam or Maker’s Mark in a Manhattan without anyone reporting you to the ghost of Iain Marshall.
Wrong as this may sound to casual imbibers—and downright barbaric to purists—generally speaking, the same goes for gins when it’s Gimlet time, and for tequilas when you’re pulling into Margaritaville.
Crazily, though, rum is a whole different deal, with specific drinks calling for specific brands. Want to ruin a Yellow Bird? Grab a molasses-heavy Cruzan Black Strap instead of Bacardi White. Your Dark ’n Stormy won’t bring to mind the Caribbean at midnight during monsoon season if you decide to invite Sailor Jerry to the party rather than Gosling’s.
And the best way to make a Tropicana bartender cry is to decline to root around for the Havana Club at the back of the liquor cabinet when there’s a bottle of Old Sam staring you right in the face.
Nowhere is this rule of designated rums for designated drinks more iron-clad than in the wonderful world of tiki cocktails, some of which will call for two, three, or even four different brands of rum.
For home mixologists who tend to land on the OCD side of things, that means short-term pain (in the form of financial ruination at the liquor store) for long-term, doing-things-properly gain.
The first step to mastering the art of rum drinks is accepting the fact that you’re going to need a good dozen brands on hand at home. Ignore this if you’re happy drinking nothing but rum and Cokes. Sorry, but you’re in the wrong place right now—namely, this week’s Liquor Nerd.
As for the rest of you, yes, the idea that different rum drinks call for different rums is daunting, but as American tiki guru Beachbum Berry notes in his essential book Sippin’ Safari, “A drink that sings with a Haitian rum will likely croak with a Puerto Rican.”
(Not to rant, but do you know why getting a proper Mai Tai in Vancouver is pretty much mission-impossible unless you’re sitting on a barstool in a place like the Shameful Tiki on Main? It’s because a proper Mai Tai calls for Martinique rum [Saint James Hors d’Age or Clément, to be exact], a style that is basically nowhere to be found on the shelves of B.C. liquor stores.)
If you win the lottery tomorrow, head to Legacy or a government liquor store and stock up on one of everything you see in the rum section—eventually, you’ll stumble on a recipe that calls for whatever you unearth. If you’re on a fixed COVID-19-lockdown income, invest in a different brand with each visit. Assuming that you’re not practising for the role of Henry Chinaski in a Theatre Under the Stars mounting of Barfly, you’re only going to need an ounce or two of a specific brand for each happy hour.
Because all this is a lot to process, let’s end this week’s Liquor Nerd here. After you’ve picked up a bottle of Gosling’s, you can make the following cocktail, which we’ve modified with the addition of lime juice and homemade ginger syrup. (For the latter, make a tea by boiling a cup of sliced fresh ginger with one cup of water. Mix hot tea with one cup of white sugar until the sugar dissolves).
No, it’s not the official registered-by-Gosling’s recipe, but it uses the right kind of rum. So don’t judge.
Dark ’n Stormy
2 oz Gosling’s Black Seal Rum
3/4 oz fresh lime juice
3/4 oz ginger syrup
3 oz ginger beer (e.g. Old Tyme or Reed’s—not ginger ale)
Pour ginger beer, syrup, and lime juice over crushed ice in a tall glass. Add Gosling’s and stir. Or don’t.
Mike Usinger is not a professional bartender. He does, however, spend most of his waking hours sitting on barstools.