Rum is so much more than the liquor component of a piña colada. We chatted with three local experts about the vibrant world of rum and tiki, and the best drinks their spots have to offer in honor of National Rum Day on August 16.
On Tap: Tell me about the different rums featured on your menu.
Owen Thomson: Rum is one of the most varied spirits in the world because no other spirit is produced in as many places. It’s made from sugarcane – most are made from molasses – and you’ll find a few producers making it from fresh-pressed sugarcane juice. There’s a whole manner of ways people try to classify rum, and the easiest way that I was taught has to do with colonial pieces: there’s English, French and Spanish.
OT: How do you decide which style of rum goes in which drink?
OT: Tiki has a pantheon of classic cocktails that call upon certain styles of rum, but more interesting is the fact that most of them call on multiple rums. So rather than a drink needing two ounces of Jamaican rum, you might have three different rums in a tiki drink, which creates a drink you really can’t get anywhere else.
OT: What’s your favorite drink on the menu and why?
OT: I always enjoy the Mai Tai. It is obviously an old school drink that people who don’t even work in tiki learn how to make. It was my introduction to this style of drink, so figuring out our Mai Tai blend was one of my favorites.
OT: What sets Archipelago apart from other bars that heavily feature rum-based drinks?
OT: We are the only tiki bar in the area. This time of year, you’ll see a lot of tiki menus or people will flip their outdoor bar for a summer tiki menu. A lot of people switch to rum this time of year, but we do it all year. Tiki is only partially about the drinks. It encompasses the whole vibe, [including] the décor. If you don’t have that, you don’t have a tiki bar.
The Jungle Room Experience
Archipelago: 1201 U St. NW, DC; www.archipelagodc.com
Bartender, Paladar Tysons Corner
On Tap: Your menu features a wide array of rums, and a key to what rums are similar to other types of liquors. What inspired your expansive, detailed menu?
Gavin Nazareth: A lot of people aren’t into rums and don’t know what good rums are. If you’re a bourbon drinker, there are rums that we have that will closely mirror a bourbon flavor. Obviously, rums are a little sweeter than bourbons or whiskeys or scotches that might have a bit of a bite to them.
OT: Can you tell me about the flights you offer?
GN: We encourage people to try our rum flights because you get to taste different flavors. They’re only half-ounce pours – that way, you can get a flight or two and still be okay. You can do a Spanish, English, aged or spiced flight.
OT: What are some of the big differences between rum styles?
GN: Spanish and English styles are boiled down, so they’re close to a honey or molasses. Once you have that concentrated flavor, you add water and yeast to it. The French style is different – it’s almost like a gin. You take out the sugarcane juice and add yeast, and they’re more on the botanical side. Spanish and English are more bold and sweet, with a nice buttery finish.
OT: What’s your favorite rum drink?
GN: We showcase a different rum every month, and this month we’re doing the plantation series. Plantation rums are from Barbados. They age them in Barbados and then bring them to France for an additional step. We have something called the Plantation Jungle Burn where we use pineapple plantation rum, fresh juices [and] campari, so it has a really nice finish.
Plantation Jungle Burn
Plantation pineapple rum
Paladar Tysons Corner: 1934 Old Gallows Rd. Vienna, VA; www.paladarlatinkitchen.com
Bartender, Bar Charley
On Tap: Tell me about the rum drinks you feature on tap.
Brendan Mullin: We have two cocktails on tap, and a whole tiki menu that contains a lot of our rum drinks. One we have on tap right now is called It’s Not a Mai Tai, It’s Our Tai. It’s white rum, curacao, pineapple, orange – a lot of tasty tropical flavors.
OT: What are your favorite drinks on the tiki menu?
BM: The Frog Smoking a Comically Large Cigar is massive, fun and has a ridiculous garnish in it, and has a blend of mezcal and rum. Our Zombie is also fantastic, but my favorite cocktail is the classic Mai Tai. In my opinion, that’s the best American cocktail. It’s a great way to try different rums.
OT: What about the non-tiki rum-based drinks?
BM: On our house cocktail menu, we have the You Can’t Do That on Television that has three different types of rum. One [rum] is infused with jalapeño and [the cocktail] also has a pistachio orgeat, so it’s kind of a riff on a Mai Tai. You Can’t Do That on Television was a show on Nickelodeon back in the day, and the drink is green and looks like slime and is reminiscent of the 90s.
OT: What food pairs best with tiki or tropical drinks?
BM: The best thing on our food menu to have next to our rum drinks is the pupu platter. It has a bunch of different food options like pork belly, wagyu beef skewers, half-smoke pierogies and crab tater tots. Anything that’s salty and has a tropical flavor to it will go really well with a sweeter tiki drink.
OT: What sets Bar Charley apart from other bars with tiki menus and large rum selections?
BM: I’d say just how comprehensive we are. People ask us if we’re a classics bar, a tiki bar or a wine bar. The answer is “Yes” across the board. We have a great wine selection, we have classics and we’re creative on our own. We can also do tiki!
You Can’t Do That On Television
Havana Club rum
Bar Charley: 1825 18th St. NW, DC; www.barcharley.com