Homemade Cocktails — Experiments, Critiques & Travels
Time for the third cocktail night! This time around we’ll be mixing up rum drinks, most of them on the lighter side. Yes, I know it’s November, but down here in Georgia, the weather’s still in the 60s or lower 70s, and who doesn’t love one last taste of summer?
Our three drinks can also be included in that special category of libations that have become so popular, so successful, that they have ultimately morphed into something completely devoid of its original character — the bottled, pre-mixed cocktail sold on the back shelves of your local liquor store. Hopefully our third round of mixing will change that. Our Daiquiri will be a classic one — no strawberries, no blenders, and nothing resembling a smoothie. The Mojito will be made with fresh mint, muddled in the mixing glass. The Painkiller is the closest we’ll get to a giant plastic bottle of Piña Colada mix — by sheer necessity and practicality we’re using Dole pineapple juice from a carton, with Coco Lopez thrown in for old times’ sake. That being said, we’ll start with the Granddaddy of rum drinks, the…
1 1/2 ounces Light Rum (Cruzan or Banks 5-Island recommended)
3/4 ounce Fresh Lime Juice
3/4 ounce Simple Syrup (1:1)
Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass or coupe. If you’re feeling elegant, leave un-garnished. If, after that first sip, you think you’d like it to be more tart, garnish with a lime wedge.
Simply wonderful. Since I’m feeling a bit lazy, I’ll condense the history of the drink into a recommendation instead: check out Matt Robold’s (aka Rumdood) Daiquiri post for all the info you really need to know, oh, and be sure to see his follow-up on the Hemingway Daiquiri (which, it turns out, is not a Papa Doble).
Now, some people like their Daiquiris to be more sour than sweet — I prefer to increase the sugar on mine, but others only call for a teaspoon of sugar to match either a half-ounce to an ounce of lime juice. Of course, if you’re Robert Hess, you always make things sweeter, and if you’re Jason Wilson, you debate about which rum to use (he likes a white rhum agricole, but I prefer less vegetal whites — Jamaican or former British islands). For some information on its relatives and variations, and additional commentary on rums, check out Paul Clarke’s article on Serious Eats. As Clarke says, gold rums will likely work in the Daiquiri, but substantial tweaking will be needed for dark rums, which have a richness of their own that you may not want to spoil.
Like any good drink, the Daiquiri will, inevitably, be tinkered with. Somebody — probably a Cuban — had the good sense to throw some mint into the mix and transform the humble Daiquiri into a tall, refreshing cooler, christening it the…
2 ounces Light Rum (Banks 5-Island)
3/4 ounce Fresh Lime Juice
8 mint leaves
1 ounce Simple Syrup (1:1)
1/2 ounce – 1 ounce Chilled Soda Water
Muddle the mint leaves and simple syrup in a cocktail shaker, then add the rum and lime juice. Shake with ice and (fine) strain into an ice-filled Collins glass or double rocks glass. Top with the soda water and give it a gentle stir. Garnish with a mint sprig and serve with a straw.
What I find interesting with the Mojito is that it really doesn’t differ from the Daiquiri that much, but the simple addition of the mint changes the drink dramatically. What is also impressive is the mindbogglingly diverse methods that people use to prepare a Mojito. The above version is adapted from Jim Meehan’s recipe from PDT — they use Banks 5-Island rum, according to their cocktail book — and it is one of the simplest methods out there, but more complex and finicky methods abound. Murray Stenson, from the Zig Zag Café in Seattle, has a layered, built method documented at Married With Dinner. Jeffrey Morgenthaler has a few words to say on the subject, as well, and provides his go-to recipe, which is more of a swizzle-style drink.
While we’re on the subject of white rums, I know many people will pick up a bottle of Bacardi Superior (Bacardi silver or white) because it’s one of the best-known (read: most advertised) rums on the market. Personally, I don’t like Bacardi — too much alcoholic burn, not enough rum funkiness or depth, and a dis-likable aftertaste, but their aged rums aren’t bad. I’ve never tried Cuban rum, and Puerto Rican Bacardi’s are said to come close, but I find it hard to believe that the company’s modern rums match those made in its Cuban days. Instead, I follow Jeff “Beachbum” Berry’s advice: Nicaraguan rums — such as Flor de Caña — make excellent substitutes for Cuban and Puerto Rican ones, as do Virgin Islands rums — namely Cruzan — which have more of a buttery mouthfeel and a floral flavor profile.
Finally, replacing the much-maligned Piña Colada, we have what is, in my opinion, a much tastier drink, the…
2 (or 2 1/2, or 3, or 4) ounces Pusser’s Rum
4 ounces Fresh Pineapple Juice (3 ounces if using Dole)
1 ounce Coco Lopez Cream of Coconut
1 ounce Fresh Orange Juice
Shake with a large amount of crushed ice and pour, unstrained, into a tall glass or Tiki mug, preferably a Painkiller mug. Dust with freshly-grated nutmeg and garnish with an orange wheel, cherry, pineapple chunk, or what-have-you.
Yes, it’s remarkably similar to a Piña Colada, but so much better. For one thing, the Pusser’s rum is a unique one, providing a wonderful bit of, well, ruminess (a funkiness that David Wondrich calls “hogo”) that you just don’t get with a light rum…oak and caramel, I’d say, but not heavy. Secondly, there’s much more juice in the Painkiller: it hasn’t got any heavy cream like modern incarnations of the Colada, and the orange provides a much-needed bit of citrus that cuts through the sweetness of the pineapple and Coco Lopez while providing complexity. Finally, that nutmeg on the top takes this drink into the Tiki category, adding a wonderful bit of spice for your nose (yes, I forgot to add it for the above photo…shame on me!). Feel free to increase the rum up to 4 ounces if you want to make this your one drink for the evening, or if you feel that the rum is a bit overwhelmed by the fruit and coconut (I like 2.5 — 3 in mine).
Of course, no write-up on the Painkiller would be complete without mentioning that it’s a trademarked drink. The whole issue is rather silly, however, given that the drink was invented before the rum was even created (for the original, use a blend of Barbados and Jamiacan rums, or try Paul Clarke’s “Not-Exactly-A-Painkiller”). Pusser’s is a great, but very distinctive, rum, but you may not feel like springing for a bottle — in that case try mixing a few different rums, if you have that luxury, or another nice, aged rum like Scarlet Ibis, maybe even Zafra 21-Year. Smith & Cross is one of the few rums I’ve tasted that shares the hogo or funkiness of Pusser’s, in fact it has a much stronger flavor, so I’d recommended combing it with another gold or dark rum in the Painkiller. Banks 5-Island would provide some hogo as well, and might work well when combined with an aged Flor de Caña.
Anyway, while the neighborhood boozers and I are busy mixing, go out and revive summer for an evening! Cheers!
Photos by IJL.