Features Winter Drinks 2009
Winter Rum Drinks: Get Your Zombie On vol 9
October 2009

Holiday rum cocktails need no introduction—the consumer crowd is already well attuned to the idea of mixing rum drinks to jazz up company holiday parties or to make family reunions less awkward. But for the winter-minded mixologist, rum is a hard liquor to beat in terms of versatility behind the bar (or the fourth post-service nightcap).

Mixologist Damian Windsor of The Roger Room in Los Angeles observes: “Rum typically contains a lot of the flavors that people associate with the season”. Across its various styles of aging and range of sugar content, rum, the fermented distillate of sugarcane byproducts, has a special ability to absorb “holiday” flavors, which buzzed bar patrons commonly identify as sweet and spicy.

And rums have been used in all sorts of seasonal situations: in flavor pairings with go-to winter spices  (cinnamon, cloves, or nutmeg), Tiki drinks, or with more exotic ingredients like garam masala, fig, or chocolate.

And of course, mixologists have recently been showing their love of pairings with obscure spirits. 2009 New York Rising Star Orson Salicetti’s Rum Pine Manhattan captures the spirit of fall/winter by combining the dark, oak-aged Ron Centenario with a woodsy, funky Zirbenz Stone pine liqueur from the Austrian alps. In Brian Miller’s Tiki-inspired Gantt’s Tomb served at Death and Company in New York, rum-based St. Elizabeth allspice dram combined with Gosling’s dark rum and El Dorado Demerara rum blew the umami rating off the charts, proving that the elusive taste of “savory” definitely has the ability to permeate cocktails just as well as foods.

Rums have long been produced in their native countries at a level of sophistication similar to other alcohols like wine, whisky, or gin, but many of those brands weren’t available on the US market. With the growth of the rum market having surpassed that of the overall spirits market every year for the past decade*, multinational brands soon spotted the opportunity. The result is that the rum market has seen a bevvy of new products in the last several years. Smaller producers that had been producing specialty and premium rums have also recently begun to enter the US market. For mixologists, this means one thing: new toys for the holidays.

Because of a lot of the new rums on the market have a complexity similar to whiskies and ryes—traditional cold weather beverages—it’s a good idea to explore some of these newer, aged rums when experimenting with winter cocktails. One such premium rum is Santa Teresa 1796, which is manufactured using the solera technique (typically used for sherries and brandies) where barrels of different vintages are stacked together and fractionally blended to produce an evenly aged rum. The end product has an intense bouquet, ideally suited to hangover-busting drinks like the Hot Toddy.

It may seem obvious now, but in a good winter rum cocktail, balance of flavor and high quality rum are key. Here are five cocktails below from mixologists around the country to get your patrons tipsy for the holidays.

Donn the Beach Comber from Drink, Boston Donn the Beachcomber
Mixologist Misty Kalkofen of Drink – Boston, MA

Also known as the Zombie, this is one of the original Tiki cocktails created by Donn Beach in the late 1930’s before the Trader Vic’s chains brought the Tiki fad into its prime. According to Kalkofen, the layered, tempered sweetness of the Zombie is a sure-fire way to get people into Tiki culture. But be advised: The three types of rum (including the high proof Lemon Hart 151) in the Zombie led the Don the Beachcomber restaurants to limit consumption to two per person…for good reason.

Hot Buttered Rum from The Varnish, Los Angeles

Hot Buttered Rum
Mixologist Eric Alperin of The Varnish – Los Angeles, CA

This steaming cocktail served in Sasha Petraske’s LA outpost looks like it tastes: warm and comforting. In this precursor of the popular “fat wash” technique (the process of infusing a spirit with a fat), the dense and spicy aged Brugal rum pairs naturally with a healthy dollop of butter. Hot buttered rum may seem like an obvious choice for a winter cocktail list, but as Alperin puts it, “Yes, it's a common drink, but how often do you actually see it?”

Spiced Mule from The Roger, Los Angeles

Spiced Mule
Mixologist Damian Windsor of The Roger Room– Los Angeles, CA

At this hip, intimate six month-old speakeasy, Australian-born Damian Windsor serves this fun Mule variation in a Pilsner glass garnished with candied ginger from Australia (which Windsor declares to be the best source of candied ginger). A simple syrup spiked with vanilla, nutmeg, and ginger combined with the spicy Sailor Jerry Navy Rum delivers all of the punch and vigor needed to fight the snow drift.

Hot Mai Tai from Dutch Kills, New York

Hot Mai Tai
Mixologist Giuseppe Gonzalez of Dutch Kills – New York, NY

Who invented the Mai Tai? It’s a controversial subject, but Gonzalez serves his version sans fruit garnish, hot, and in a mug. “A Tiki drink is made to be drunk at a Tiki bar or on a cruise” says Gonzalez. “I’m after a way to get that effect and make it appropriate to the season.” A drink like the Hot Mai Tai is a suitable offering for pilgrims traveling across the river to his Long Island City bar and the après-ski crowd alike.

Piña Colada Deconstruction from Death and Company, New York

Piña Colada Deconstruction
Mixologist Joaquin Simo of Death and Company – New York, NY

A balanced winter cocktail list should offer alternatives from the dark, spicy rums and hot mugs. Latin cocktail specialist Joaquin Simo takes apart the piña colada and removes the fat and creaminess. The interpretation is a true deal-sealer—a surreal, all-season drink with clean, pure, earthy flavors of four-year aged Nicaraguan Flor de Caña rum and coconut.

* International Wine and Spirit Research Global Market Review of Rum