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Photo: Courtesy of EatBar
Photo: Courtesy of EatBar

Roll Out the Rum

Rum is one of the most nuanced spirits, both in its craft and taste. Regional differences mean there’s a bottle of rum for just about every palate. Too often, rum’s potential is restrained behind the bar, as it’s used for little more than boozing up tropical coolers best suited for cutting through triple-digit heat indexes. Those tiki-style drinks can be fun and refreshing, but they also leave the rum itself as afterthought, masked among layers of syrupy juices and sodas.

“I think a lot of spirits professionals will second me on this,” says Matt Strickland, head distiller at District Distilling on U Street. “I think the biggest problem is that rum is viewed as sweet, cheap and not very serious.”

Refusing to let rum live with this basic reputation, a growing chorus of bartenders are ditching blenders and pineapple wedges in favor of sophisticated cocktails that showcase rum’s natural flavors. Here are five cocktails in DC designed to highlight rum’s true colors.

Crown of Love at EatBar

2 oz. Plantation O.F.T.D. Rum
0.25 oz. rhum sirop
2 dashes Bittermens Xocolatl
Mole Bitters
lemon peel rim

This rum cocktail is based on Arcade Fire’s song “Crown of Love,” according to EatBar Spirits Manager Brian McGahey.

“‘[The song] captures the essence of crazy mad love,” he says. “It is a fitting name for this cocktail, which combines the intensity of a molasses-based dark rum that is a blend of Guyana, Jamaica and Barbados rums bottled at 69 percent alcohol, blended with a bit of rhum sirop from Martinique.”

EatBar: 415 8th St. SE, DC; www.eat-bar.com

The Migration at Kith/Kin

0.75 oz. cynar
0.75 oz. Mount Gay Black Barrel Rum
0.75 oz. Gosling’s Black Seal Rum
0.75 oz. Cocchi Storico Vermouth di Torino

The Kith/Kin bar team draws on two types of dark rum for its Manhattan-style riff, a recipe it originally credits to Ben Long of Reliable Tavern in DC’s Petworth neighborhood. The drink gets extra treatment here, spending two months aging in used Mount Gay Rum barrels before being served.

The result is a smooth, sippable cocktail with notes of charcoal and oak that bartender Dimitre Darrocan says imparts a whiskey-like flavor – one that’s miles away from tiki.

Kith/Kin at InterContinental Washington DC: 801 Wharf St. SW, DC ; www.kithandkindc.com

Full Moon Party (Photo - Courtesy of Quill - The Jefferson)

Full Moon Party at Quill

1.5 oz. Mount Gay Rum
2 oz. Thai tea apricot mix
0.25 oz. fresh lemon juice

“One of the biggest misconceptions about rum is that it’s not as versatile as other spirits, and that all rum tastes the same,” says Quill bartender Sophie Szych.

The upscale hotel bar, which also serves a Hamilton-inspired rum cocktail, takes advantage of that flexibility by using Thai tea in its Full Moon Party.

“The addition of condensed milk adds creamy roundness to the sharpness of the apricot,” Szych says.

Quill at The Jefferson: 1200 16th St. NW, DC; www.jeffersondc.com

La Fin du Monde (Photo - Courtesty of District Distilling)

La Fin Du Monde at District Distilling

1.5 oz. aged Buzzard Point Rum
0.75 oz. lemon juice
.075 oz. grenadine
0.25 oz. curacao

“When I approach a rum cocktail and it isn’t going to be tiki, I tend to look at classic serious cocktails in the canon, things like a Manhattan and an Old Fashioned,” Strickland says. “Subbing rum in for whiskey is the easiest thing to do, but you can get much more adventurous than that.”

Strickland is reviving this long forgotten rum cocktail (it originally appeared in the 1908 cocktail book World Drinks and How to Mix Them by William Boothby) in his distillery tasting room and using his distillery’s new barrel-aged rum as the base.

District Distilling: 1414 U St. NW, DC; www.district-distilling.com

Columbia Room cocktail (Photo - Karlin Villondo Photography)

A Spot in the Shade at Columbia Room

3 oz. clarified watermelon juice
1.5 oz. Bly Rum
0.325 oz. fresh lime
0.25 oz. Keepwell Carolina gold rice vinegar
0.5 oz. rich simple syrup

“This is a refreshing summer cocktail inspired by a picnic,” says Columbia Room Head Bartender Suzy Critchlow. “We are using Bly, a new white rum from the folks that make Boyd & Blair Potato Vodka in Pennsylvania.”

The cocktail is part of the award-winning bar’s four-course summer tasting menu. If a seat at the intimate bar is too much of a task, Critchlow says the drink can be easily made at home and even batched up into a punch for sharing.

Columbia Room: 124 Blagden Alley, NW, DC; www.columbiaroomdc.com

These cocktails represent just a small number of bartenders in and around DC that are challenging how we drink rum and use it in cocktails. Notes of vanilla, caramel, oak, molasses and spices are being highlighted in drinks that range from from revised takes on stirred classics to light and fruity sippers that balance sour and sweet. So next time a rum craving hits, put down the umbrella drink and consider something more suitable for a dimly lit cocktail bar than a sunny beach.

Photos: M.K. Koszycki
Photos: M.K. Koszycki

Behind The Bar: Archipelago, Paladar and Bar Charley

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.


Owen Thomson - Photo by M.K

Owen Thomson
Owner, Archipelago

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.

Jungle Room Experience 2 - Photo by M.K

The Jungle Room Experience
Rhum agricole
Blue Curaçao
Soursop
Cachaça
Apricot
Lemon

Archipelago: 1201 U St. NW, DC; www.archipelagodc.com

Gavin Nazareth 2 Photo by M.K

Gavin Nazareth
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 - Photo by M.K

Plantation Jungle Burn
Plantation pineapple rum
Pineapple juice
Simple syrup
Lime juice
Campari

Paladar Tysons Corner: 1934 Old Gallows Rd. Vienna, VA; www.paladarlatinkitchen.com

DSCN4320

Brendan Mullin
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
Clément V.S.O.P.
Chacho
Dry curaçao
Lime juice
Pistachio orgeat

DSCN4325

Bar Charley: 1825 18th St. NW, DC; www.barcharley.com