Rum: An alcoholic beverage made from sugarcane or molasses through a process of fermentation and distillation. A perfect ingredient for a cocktail on a hot night in August during the dog days of summer. Just try not to think too hard about its consequences.
It's been suggested that rum originated in Barbados and it's known that the first rum was discovered on the sugarcane plantations of the Caribbean during the 17th century. The drink's popularity quickly spread throughout North America and proved to be a boon to the island economies. In spite of the fact that times have changed radically---sugar cane is agribusiness now--- rum, used in daiquiris, Mojitos and Mai Tais, is considered exotic.
And that was the theme of Rum Day last week in Chicago, sponsored by Brugal Rum USA. Our island journey started off at the Violet Hour, a hidden cocktail bar with Alice in Wonderland chairs and very dim lighting, kind of like a restaurant found in one of David Lynch's dreams.
We began our tasting with a classic Dark 'n Stormy---gin with ginger syrup and lime, incredibly tasty, with immense bold flavors tingling the tongue with every sip. The drink was accompanied by extra rich appetizers, including Tuna Tartare and Pork Belly Confit. The food was both appetizing and aesthetically pleasing.
Our mixologist, Robby Haynes, gave us a short tutorial and background on the two cocktails of the evening: the Dark 'n Stormy and the Airmail. Both were simple recipes, with only three ingredients, but how these ingredients are incorporated and mixed is key.
Robby and his assistant set up 13 glasses, in order to demonstrate how to mix the Airmail, a drink made with honey syrup, lime, rum, and topped with champagne (the Violet Hour's spin on the original recipe). Robby explained the importance of ice and how water is incorporated into both drinks. The Dark 'n Stormy had a single long piece of ice, because of the bold flavors, while the Airmail had cracked ice, because it's lighter and more pleasurable to drink faster. Every piece of ice was hand-cracked, with ice chunks flying around the counter.
We rum-tasters next made our way to Sable Kitchen & Bar, a large cocktail bar with a full service restaurant, with bright lighting and a contemporary ambience. Our first drink was a skinny Daiquiri---skinny is quickly becoming ubiquitous on bar menus everywhere ---another simple cocktail made using lime juice, sugar, and rum. Dates wrapped in bacon and deviled eggs topped with truffle, were an intense and delicious combination with the beverage.
Mike Ryan, our mixologist at Sable, gave a tutorial on using specific equipment when mixing a cocktail and the importance of each tool. His emphasis was on proper measurement and the incorporation of elements such as air and water, reminding me that mixology truly is a science. For example, the tightness of the coils on the stirring spoon affects the taste of a cocktail, because of the reaction between the air and water when stirred.
The night ended with another classic: Rum Manhattan, made with aromatic bitters and a sweet cherry at the bottom of the glass. For this drink, Mike used big chunks of ice in order to slowly incorporate water, which acts as binders on the drink that hold the temperature.
My favorite drink of the night was the Airmail, a simple cocktail with a boozy finish, that didn't hurt my stomach too much even after the rich and delicious food. The night was a reminder that rum is a perfect alcoholic choice for a relief from the intense summer heat, as long as you're careful to balance the sugar with absorbent gourmet food.
Cocktail created by Robby Haynes at The Violet Hour, 1520 N. Damen Avenue, Chicago.
1.25 oz Brugal Añejo Rum.
75 oz Lime Juice.
5 oz Honey
Shake and roll into a tulip glass.
Top with Champagne.