In spite of the lengthening days and temperatures approaching the balmy end of the thermometer, it's not quite time to break out the Tiki drinks yet. Most of the country is still in jackets and gloves and isn't ready to start swilling fruity concoctions spiked with sweetly chilled rum and topped with paper umbrellas and plastic swords. But it'd still be nice to sip on something that speaks to the longing for summer heat that infects everyone this time of year. The answer is simple – buy the deepest, darkest rum sitting like a black hole on your local liquor store's shelves and bring it home (preferably after paying for it). Then pour yourself a finger or two and feel the sunshine.
Dark rums are aged longer than light or gold rums, making their homes in charred oak barrels - often cast off whiskey barrels - for six months or even longer, creating much more complex flavors than light rums. Where un-aged rums are sweet, with a boozy bite – useful primarily for mixed drinks – dark rums are interesting beasts. They're still sweet, with molasses, caramel, vanilla dominating, but with prominent overtones of spices like ginger, pepper and even cardamom, pumpkin pie spice and cinnamon coming through loud and clear. They're often thick on the tongue and have a creamy mouth feel and rich warmth unlike almost any other spirit out there, and usually sipped on their own, but are sometimes included in cocktails that benefit from their complex sweetness. Best of all, they're perfect for days when the sun is shining brightly but the chill in the air still demands sweatshirts, hoodies, and lame pickup lines about sharing body heat.
Dark rums tend to be significantly higher quality than the lighter ones as well. After all, when setting liquor down to age in tropical climates, the percentages lost to the angel's share - the amount of spirit that evaporates through the barrels - can be up to five times greater than a when a whiskey is laid down in the U.S. or Europe, despite how much faster spirits mature in those climates! So only the best are set down to age. But when the concentrated deliciousness pours forth from those barrels it's the essence of the islands it's born from. And it doesn't get much better for those spring days when beaches and sunshine seem so close, yet so far away.
Here are a few bottles, not to mention cocktails to use them in should you insist on putting ice and mixers to these delicious elixirs.
The Lash – Not only is The Lash a dark rum, but it's a spiced dark rum, making it one of the most intense rum experiences a man could have short of sailing the seven seas with the pirates and privateers of yesteryear, guzzling the rough-hewn bumboo so common on ships of the line. It's thick and creamy, beating drinkers over the head with vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, molasses and nutmeg. To get this flavor, it spends four years in oak barrels in the West Indies, then gets infused with a mix of bourbon vanilla and a host of other spices – many of which settle to the bottom of the bottle, giving it that much more time to drain every drop of spice from the ingredients. But for a rum with such big flavors the alcohol content doesn't measure up. Most rums start around 80 proof. The Lash weighs in at 70. But if flavor is the most important thing, this one has it in spades. And while it may be sacrilege to use anything but Gosling's Black Seal, The Lash makes for an amazing Dark & Stormy once the weather gets warm.
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Dark & Stormy
Supposedly one of “Bermuda's National Drinks,” the Dark & Stormy is a refreshing jolt of ginger and warm spicy liquor that's tailor-made for sipping on a beach watching the waves roll by. Or just wishing that's where you were.
• 2 oz. dark rum
• Ginger Beer
• Squeeze of lime
Fill a lowball glass with ice and drop the rum in. Top off with ginger beer and a squeeze of lime and give it a stir to combine the liquids. Then kick back and let the tide roll in.
Ron Barcelo Anejo Rum – A bargain at around $15, Ron Barcelo is a tasty steal. Aged for up to four years, Ron Barcelo isn't nearly as heavy as many dark rums, but still offers up some intriguing flavors. Quite sweet, especially considering how long it spent in barrels, the bottle has a nice lug of molasses and vanilla with an interesting herbal, almost green, quality. Best of all, there's a little of the briny deep to it. You can almost taste the sea air, and that sense of place is a beautiful thing given that it is bottled in the Dominican Republic. Don’t worry, when the weather turns hot and sipping on that drink bedazzled with umbrellas and cherries sounds appealing, Mama’s got you covered.
The Bahama Mama is the quintessential island cocktail and one of the biggest crowd-pleasers in the cocktail world, especially if served in the traditional coconut shell vessel. It's sweetly spicy, with all the tropical flavors you could possibly want in a warm weather drink – not to mention a whole lot of booze to help make last call that much less appealing.
• 1/4 oz coffee liqueur (Kahlua tends to be the gold standard in here)
• 1/2 oz dark rum
• 1/2 oz coconut liqueur (Malibu is an easy substitute if you can't find real coconut liqueur)
• 1/4 oz 151 proof rum
• juice of 1/2 lemon
• 4 oz pineapple juice
Pour all the ingredients into an ice-filled cocktail shaker and go to town. Once it's well-chilled, pour into a highball glass full of ice and garnish with umbrellas, cherries, fruit – you name it.
Jack Tar Superior Rum – Jack Tar is an unholy black in the bottle, promising complex, albeit oily richness and deep flavor – and it delivers on all counts but the oily mouth feel. Brown sugar and molasses is there, but in a combination that only a rum can deliver. It has a peppery spice that mutes the sweetness nicely, and uses the oak it's aged in as a backdrop for a rich warmth that few bottles bring to the table. It's a bit less refined than the other bottles, but that bite actually seems to enhance the flavors nicely, rather than toying with throats and sinuses. Plus, it makes for a beast of a daiquiri. But we're not talking about the slushy concoction swirling in machines at crappy bars throughout Miami – this is the daiquiri downed by Hemingway and J.F.K. A drink that bears a striking resemblance to the grog the sailors of the Royal Navy guzzled to ward off scurvy and boredom.
The daiquiri was once a proudly potent cocktail of lime, rum and sugar. Only recently has it featured slush and day-glo flavors. And while light rums are usually used in the drink, you can reclaim the tradition by mixing up a batch fit for a summer day or a crisp spring evening with a dark rum. Either way, it’s bracing, citrusy, and deliciously boozy, with enough backbone to remind us that while our forefathers never saw Justin Bieber on YouTube, they knew how to drink.
• 1 ½ ounces dark rum
• 1 ounce lime juice (freshly squeezed is preferable – bottled lime juice won't be tart enough)
• 1-1 ½ teaspoons simple syrup, depending on preferences (1 part sugar and 1 part water heated enough to combine in solution)
Pour all ingredients into a cocktail shaker full of ice and shake until completely chilled down. Strain into a cocktail glass and sneer at any who might suggest adding strawberries.