Thumbing through old cocktail books can offer interesting insights into what drinks were new and popular during a certain time period. In 1946, Victor “Trader Vic” Bergeron wrote Trader Vic’s Book of Food and Drink. It was the first book about tiki cocktail culture that also provided interesting information about rums and the locales they came from. When putting together a selection of rums for the home bar, specifically for tiki cocktails, this book provides some details that are as important today as they were 70 years ago.
Donn Beach, Trader Vic, and the other original tiki cocktail creators understood that the flavor profile of rums were different depending on island of origin, the kind of still used, and how it was aged and blended. This is why in many of the old recipes you will find a description that reads: 1 ounce Jamaican Rum followed by a suggestion of what rum product to use. With these in mind, here is a quick guide of rums by islands to use for crafting tiki cocktails at home.
Rub the rim with of a chilled cocktail glass with your spent lemon shell, then coat the moistened rim with sugar. Shake the rum, lemon juice, and triple sec with ice cubes. Strain into sugar frosted glass.
The distilleries of this Caribbean country also produce fine rum. Demerara Rum Distillery provides a character and strength unique among the Caribbean. The El Dorado rum line delivers a range of ages and flavor profiles that can cater to the flavor needs of any tiki cocktail. For a unique expression from Guyana experiment with Mezan Rum Guyana 2005 (Gold Medal, 2016 New York International Spirits Competition) The distilleries on this island also produce the rums that are commonly used as floats, such as Lemon hart 151 or Hamilton 151, which are easy to find and are an essential part to several recipes.
Put everything except nutmeg in a blender. Blend at high speed for 5 seconds. Pour unstrained into a metal cup with a flared top or a pilsner glass, adding more crushed ice to fill. Dust with nutmeg. Garnish with cinnamon stick.
The flavorful pot and column still rums produced by Appleton Estate, Hampden Sugar Estate, Monymusk Plantation, and Worthy Park are much beloved by Rum and Tiki Connoisseurs. The funky flavor profile of the pot still rums from this island form the backbone of many tiki cocktail recipes. In the early days of tiki, Myers was a favorite for general cocktail use. Today Appleton Estate rums are used for their diverse flavor profile; however, for heavier cocktails such as Navy Grogs experiment with Coruba Dark or Mezan XO.
Navy Grog (note: Beachbum Berry’s Navy Grog Cone Kit available via Cocktail Kingdom)
3/4 ounce/ 22 ml of fresh lime juice
3/4 ounce/ 22 ml of white grapefruit juice
3/4 ounce / 22 ml soda water
1 ounce/ 30 ml honey mix (1 part honey dissolved in one part water)
1 ounce/ 30 ml Puerto Rico rum
1 ounce/ 30 ml dark Jamaican rum
1 ounce/ 30 ml Demerara rum
Shake vigorously with ice cubes. Strain in double old fashioned glass with ice cone around straw.
With its lush landscape of banana and sugar cane fields the French island of Martinique is home to the top producers of Rhum Agricoles (rhums made from fresh pressed sugar cane juice). For the classic Mai Tai, you will need a good three to four-year old agricole such as Rhum Clement V.S.O.P. (Gold medal, 2012 NYISC) or Rhum JM V.S.O.P. to capture the right flavor profile of the cocktail.
Home of Bacardí, Barillito, and Don Q, these Spanish style rums are distilled from molasses and have a lighter flavor profile when compared to rums from other islands. Both Donn Beach and Trader Vic liked to use Bacardi Superior (Gold medal, 2016 NYISC) and Bacardí Gold (Gold medal, 2016 NYISC) in their cocktails, often naming the light and gold rums as specific ingredients. Many of the old cocktail recipes mention Brugal, which has since moved its operations to the Dominican Republic, as a light or gold cocktail ingredient.
½ ounce/ 15 ml fresh lime juice
½ ounce/ 15 ml fresh lemon juice
½ ounce/ 15 ml maraschino liqueur
½ ounce/ 15 ml orgeat syrup
½ ounce/15 ml blue curaçao
1 ounce/ 30 ml amber Martinique rum
1 ounce/ 30 ml light Puerto Rico rum
Shake with ice cubes. Strain into old fashioned glass filled with crushed ice. Garnish with green and red maraschino cherries skewered on a marlin swizzle stick.
St. Croix U.S. Virgin Islands
Cruzan rum distillery is the oldest operating distillery on St. Croix. Both Cruzan light and dark (Bronze Medal, 2014 NYISC) rums deliver distinct molasses heavy flavor profiles that the tiki cocktail creators of old loved to have in their cocktails. It is not uncommon to see them listed by name in the old and new cocktail recipe books.
Shake well with ice cubes. Pour unstrained into a tall glass or mug. If needed add more ice to fill. Garnish with an orange wheel, a stick of fresh pineapple, and an edible purple orchid (if available).
As you can see they are plenty of rums to choose from and a little experimentation will help establish what flavor profiles appeal to you the most. Most tiki home bars have at least five different rums in their inventory from a range of islands listed above. It is always a best practice to choose two or three cocktails and build your ingredient inventory up from there. What is important is to enjoy the exploration and before long you will have a versatile selection of rums for your bar.
Paul Senft is a Spirits Writer and Reviewer based in Metro Atlanta. His work has appeared in Got Rum? Magazine, Chilled, Distiller, as well as other publications covering a range of subjects related to Spirits, Travel, and the fun world of Tiki. He founded www.RumJourney.com and can be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/paul.e.senft.