My spirits obsession persists year-round, but nothing says cocktail season like the summer. Yes, I’m partial to delicious bourbon side cars in the fall, and gin with muddled berries in the spring, but summer is the season that most strongly screams for slow sipping on my front stoop.
Cinco de Mayo kicks off the season with the ever-tasty margarita, while Labor Day weekend is the sad closing to another epic summer with the liquor du jour. Tomorrow marks summer’s crescendo with the popping 4th of July festivities, and as always, I’m planning the ultimate cocktail for watching the fireworks. Perhaps a red, white and blue mojito… mmm, rum… and, well, my mind begins to wander.
As someone who used to work on a rum brand, the category is notoriously turbulent (sadly, I worked on the down slope when rum wasn’t as popular). But now, it’s on everyone’s tongue! Rum is enjoying its renaissance, and its prominence on top New York City cocktail menus shows rum is making huge sales strides on the shelf and at the bar.
A few years back, tiki bars were all the rage, from Julie Reiner’s Lani Kai in New York (which sadly, closed last fall) to Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco, and delicious Mai Tais, Hurricanes and Zombies took center stage. The craze has since died down, leaving a happy medium of well-sculpted rum drinks causing a stir among sophisticates. Jonathan Pogash of The Cocktail Guru agrees rum is undergoing a renaissance. “Finally, rum brands are taking note and releasing more new and unusual bottlings of their old standby brands. You’re seeing aged bottlings, as well as unique flavors that add depth and uniqueness to cocktails.” Cheers Magazine featured rum as June’s cover story, including mixologists playing with aged rums cocktails to add that extra intensity of flavor.
Some are adamant, however, that rum never went out of fashion. Esteban Ordonez, Don Q Rum National Brand Ambassador (a fantastic rum as well!), thinks that while rum, in his opinion, never went away, “it has always been one the most popular spirits… The category is expanding at a much faster pace and there is a revolution and a re-evolution in the world of rum… The proliferation of brands hitting the market, more than eight brands in the last six months… [There is no] other category that has developed more flavored, infused, or is used more as a base for a liquor than rum.”
Category giants like Bacardi (which remains the best-selling light rum in the category) recently released a few new rums, and the highest selling spiced rum on the market, Captain Morgan debuted a new Black Rum in 2012. Hailing from all over the world, there are also smaller premium brands that have become the rum darlings among bartenders and savvy patrons alike.
One that maintains a low profile, and my personal favorite, is Zacapa Rum from Guatemala. Last summer, I passed afair hour on my stoop with a pitcher of Zacapa, ginger beer and lime. Regarded as a top notch rum, Zacapa has been around for quite some time and still, lucky for me, graces quite a few cocktail menus around Manhattan.
There’s more to this summer than rum, with spin-offs popping up around town. Rhum Agricole comes to mind, and in particular, cachaças are incredibly popular. “The flavor profile, heritage, story and the quality of Rhum Agricole seems to be what is attracting many bartenders to this subsection of the category,” says Andy Seymour, owner of Liquid Productions. “Rhum Agricole and rum is parallel to Mezcal and tequila, that same attraction to quality and smaller produced spirits.” Bartenders continue to experiment, but return to classic rums with an ever-faithful audience (myself included).
And thank goodness. For me, rum means summer. So, fire up the grill and light the sparklers. Remember, this is the halfway point with plenty more rum cocktails in your future, from the newbies to classic standbys; from daiquiris to piña coladas; and from dark and stormys to rum punch. Enjoy it while it lasts, because bourbon season is just around the corner… stay tuned! Cheers!