Before I was whiskeying, tangoing, and globetrotting, I was rumming. When I lived in Costa Rica several years ago, every day I would walk from my little matchbox apartment to the beach for sunset, and then follow it with a glass of Flor de Caña at Coconutz open-air bar in Playa del Coco. To this day, I hold that Flor de Caña (hailing from Nicaragua) is the best rum for the money you can get. With this weekend being National Rum Day (yes, rum gets its own day), it only seemed appropriate to do a post featuring rum cocktails.
However, rum, in my opinion, is the least appreciated rum of all of the spirits. The best rums have many of the same characteristics as a good dram of whiskey, yet it also makes for a great cocktail mixer. However, it’s left a bad taste in the mouth (literally) for many people, which is largely thanks to college. Nonetheless, there are some fantastic rums on the market, you’ve probably never heard of, and some even better cocktails beyond your Dark and Stormy and Cuba Libre (rum and coke).
If you’re interested in learning more about the history of rum in a way that’s less educational, and more entertaining, may I recommend picking up a copy of Wayne Curtis’ And a Bottle of Rum. It’s one of the foremost modern books on the history of rum, and includes a plethora of great rum and cocktail recommendations to boot. Meanwhile, you’ll find some of the best classic rum cocktails below, coupled with several of my favorite rum cocktail variations of the classics.
“I’ll have a frozen virgin daiquiri,” I’d often tell the waitress at our local pizzeria when I was a kid. I felt like such a man, ordering an adult beverage that most people drank with booze in it. If only someone would’ve told me how unmanly it actually was. While the daiquiri is one of the most basic cocktails, I feel like it’s gotten crapped on, largely in part because of the connotations of big fishbowl glasses filled with frozen daiquiri mixes topped with strawberries that make it more of a smoothie than a cocktail. But I’m here to give you the lowdown on the classic. A lot of people have laid claim to it, but the traditional start of it dates back to around 1900 in the Cuban town of the same name. It’s said that after the invasion of Daiquiri, this simple recipe of rum, lime juice, and sugar was brought to the attention of the military and came to be what it is today. And there were no blenders or frozen strawberries involved. The traditional recipe calls for two ounces of rum, half-ounce of lime juice, and one to two teaspoons of sugar that’s shaken and strained into a chilled glass (no ice).
And then Ernest Hemingway came along and changed things up. In the 1930s and 1940s, Hemingway would spend large amounts of time in Cuba, with a lot of that time being spent in one of Cuba’s most famous bars, El Floridita, where he’d often order several cocktails dubbed, “El Papa Doble.” Rumor has it that he could even drink 12 in one seating. According to Hemingway, “it had no taste of alcohol and felt, as you drank them, the way downhill glacier skiing feels running through powder snow.” Today you’ll find a variation of what’s now called the Hemingway Daiquiri on many cocktail menus around the world. Go into the El Floridita in Cuba and you’ll see Hemingway’s presence, both as a cocktail and a statue to commemorate him.
- 1.5 oz. white rum
- .75 oz. fresh lime juice
- .25 oz. fresh grapefruit juice
- .25 oz. maraschino liqueur
- Lime wedge to garnish
Shake ingredients with ice, strain into a chilled glass and garnish.
The mojito is perhaps my favorite rum cocktail. It’s simple, it’s floral, it’s refreshing, and it takes a little elbow grease to make. That’s just how I like many of my cocktails. The history of the mojito is a little grey, like many cocktail recipes. Many people think it dates to the late-1800s on Cuban farms. The rum they had to work with was bad. Like think about the worst rum you had in college and then multiply it by 100. So to soften the blow, ingredients they had on the farm (namely lime, sugar, and mint) were added and stirred together. The traditional mojito calls for several mint leaves, two teaspoons of sugar (or simple syrup), and a half-ounce of lime juice to muddle. Then add two ounces of white rum, fill the glass with ice, and top with soda water. It’s essentially a rum collins.
- 2 oz. white rum
- Several mint (or basil) leaves
- 2 tsp. sugar
- .5 oz. lime juice
- Several blackberries
- Club soda
However, I’ve had my share of bad mojitos. As I’ve found with the mojito, more than any other rum cocktail, there’s a fine balance. One of the best variations I’ve had recently is a Blackberry Basil Mojito, which I recently had at the Loews Hollywood Hotel. The difference being to add blackberries to muddle and replacing the mint with basil. And in this case, they subbed out bar sugar with agave nectar. It’s basically vacation in a glass.
How many of you have ever even heard of the Navy Grog, let alone drank one? The fact is that the Navy Grog is one of the oldest cocktails we have, dating back to the 1700s. As the name presumes, it has its roots in the Navy, where rum was rationed daily to sailors, who then had the option of purchasing sugar and/or lime to make it more drinkable. Traditionally, it’s often called for mint and brown sugar (rather than regular bar sugar) and served over ice. However, as it stands, the Navy Grog isn’t necessary your most tasty rum cocktail recipe. You find a tastier version below.
- 1.5 oz. dark rum
- 3 tbsp. runny honey
- .25 oz. lime juice
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters
- 2.5 oz. cold water
But thank goodness for variations. My favorite variation of the Navy Grog comes from Difford’s Guide, which is one of the foremost cocktail guides available. In this version (photo by Adrien on Flickr), you replace the sugar with runny honey and add a couple dashes of bitters. To make it, you’ll stir the honey with the rum in a cocktail shaker to dissolve the honey. Add the rest of the ingredients and shake with ice and strain into a rocks glass filled with ice. You can garnish with a lemon wedge. This Navy Grog cocktail recipe is very honey-forward. It also makes for a nice winter drink by simply using hot water and adding a cinnamon stick.
Come on, we can’t talk rum cocktails and not talk rum punch! It was in many respects the first cocktail and how many people consumed spirits for so long. One of the most famous punches is Planter’s Punch, which many attribute to the historic Planters Inn in Charleston, South Carolina, though traditional stories credit Jamaica in the 1800s as the source of it. Like most rum cocktail recipes, there are more variations to it than you can shake a stick at. Among the traditional recipes is one that involves 1.5 oz. Jamaican rum, 1 ounce lime juice, half-ounce simple syrup, and 2 ounces cold water. Shake all the ingredients with ice and strain into a glass filled with ice. However, you can really tweak with a variety of different ingredients like pineapple, mint, lemon, orange, and the list goes on.
- Bottle of Jamaica rum (750ml)
- 24 oz. water
- Peels of 4 lemons
- 6 oz. Demerara sugar (or other raw sugar you have on hand)
- 6 oz. lemon juice
- Nutmeg to garnish
Generally speaking, if you want a good resource on rum and rum punches, pick up copies of Wayne Curtis’ And a Bottle of Rum and David Wondrich’s Punch. One of my new favorites I recently featured in a summer cocktail post, a rum punch (listed above) which was made by Wondrich. To prepare, begin by placing the peels of four lemons and six ounces of Demerara sugar in a Mason jar and let it sit in the sun for several hours. The result are candied lemon peels, where the sugar has sucked up the oil from the lemons, giving it a more unique and complex flavor of lemon. After a few hours in the sun, transfer the lemons to a pitcher and add rum, water, and lemon juice and stir. Garnish with nutmeg and add ice.
What are your favorite rum cocktails?