When it comes to booze, it's always National "something" Day. Today it's the pirate's choice -- rum. Considering that we're in the thick of summer, the timing is quite apropos. Not only does rum have the transformative ability to whisk you off to a (possibly imaginary) Caribbean island with one sip, but its often spicy, bright orange and vanilla flavors fairly scream "vacation."
In recent years, rum has emerged from its checkered profile as a slushy drink additive (Do you like Piña Coladas?...), becoming a spirit of amazing refinement and variation. Light or dark, aged or Navy strength (i.e., higher than the usual ABV), there's a rum to satisfy every drinker, be they party animal, holiday cocktailian or sipping aficionado. Ever willing to push the limits of a spirit's mixability, Los Angeles bartenders have embarked on a rum odyssey that shows no signs of abating. And why should it? Rum's naturally sweet character -- it's the product of either molasses or sugar cane juice -- makes it a no-brainer for summer cocktails when tipples tend to be more laid back.
So, let National Rum Day be an excuse to try something new in the rum pantheon. Bermuda, Jamaica, Dominican? Light, dark, aged? It ain't just for boozy slurpees, ya know. The drinks below will, indeed, give you an instant vacation, no reservations -- or dead men's chest -- required.
In the Dominican Republic, mamajuana is a common mix of rum, red wine, honey and herbs that tastes a bit like port. For the Mamajuana Vacation 13, Serena Herrick, bartender at Allumette, made her own bottling of mamajuana after discovering it in the D.R. "My version varies a bit with each batch, but roughly includes Smith & Cross, Rhum J.M., Appleton VX, Zaya, Flor de Cana, Averna Amaro, Cynar, Meletti (also an amaro), pistachio tincture, and honey." To "make it a really perfect summer drink" in her mind, she mixed this personal brew with Carpano Antica, orgeat (an almond-based syrup), coconut, lime, orange, soda and a dusting of nutmeg. Sweet, spicy, fruity, and a bit fizzy - indeed, perfect summer sipping fodder. 1320 Echo Park Ave., Los Angeles; (213)935-8787.
4. Coco Laurent
The pronounced character of Angostura bitters in his Insane Bolt cocktail opened the door for Coco Laurent's bar manager Krishna Vutla to compete in the Angostura Bitters U.S. Cocktail Challenge at Tales of the Cocktail this year. There's good reason for this -- the Bolt riffs on Giuseppe Gonzalez' Trinidad Sour, which has a full ounce and a half of Angostura bitters in it, along with rye as the main spirit. Vutla took the bitters down a notch, and substituted rum. Still, with the high-proof intensity of Smith & Cross, complemented by lime, bitters, maraschino, and orgeat (it's a natural partner for rum), the Insane Bolt is still essentially a sour, offering a lip-puckering zing for a hot summer day. 707 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles; (213) 623-0008.
3. Muddy Leek
It's not often you hear of "farm-to-table" cocktails, but Muddy Leek's local, organic, sustainable philosophy carries over into its drinks menu. For summer, beverage director Sara Kay goes for a refreshing long drink called the Celia. Both vegetal and fruity, this is a drink for a languid afternoon or balmy evening. The fact is that the flavors here are relatively timeless with Crusoe organic rum as the centerpiece and Grand Poppy organic aperitive (both from L.A.'s own Greenbar Collective) offering the poppy's bitterness as well as citrus, dandelion, gentian and other amaro-like ingredients. Orange blossom water, lime juice, simple syrup plus cucumber/jalapeno syrup, and a top off of club soda add the comfortingly familiar notes of a well-designed Collins-type cocktail. 8631 W. Washington Blvd., Culver City; (310) 838-2281.
You could just plant yourself at 1886 for the entirety of National Rum Day and work your way through their supremely rum-centric summer tiki menu. One is hard-pressed to choose only one drink here: the Deconstructed Piña Colada with its spiked lime sorbet, rum-centric coconut and pineapple foams, and oatmeal crumbles with bitters on top is fittingly served in an ice cream sundae glass, while the Ciudad de Oro with its lean triad of coffee-infused El Dorado 12-year rum, Cynar, and absinthe is sophistication in a coupe. In fact, for this exact reason, there are two entries from 1886 featured below.
New barman Adam McLean's Jamaican Farewell, which gets its berry tone from a healthy dash of Peychaud bitters on top, balances Goslings Black Seal rum from Bermuda and Smith & Cross Jamaican rum with yuzu, coconut, and mango shrub. Topped with a miniature square of Jamaican rum cake, it manages to be whimsical in approach and serious in flavor. In sharp contrast, McClean and fellow bartender Greg Gertmenian (who also created the Deconstructed Piña Colada) serve up the Cut and Run, a rum Manhattan with three aged white rums, plus dry vermouth, and Benedictine. The name is derived from the 1700s when sailors would "cut" the anchor line and quickly sail away ("run") without drawing up the anchor. That sort of boozed-up behavior would indeed call for a stiff drink. 1250 S. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena; (626)441-3136.
1. Comme Ça
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The Dominican Roulette is a civilized combination of Atlantico Reserva Rum, Bauchant (an orange liqueur), fresh lime, simple syrup, egg white and apple bitters. Bartender Tim Loden explains the thinking behind the drink: "For me, rum drinks should be fun and visually appealing. This tastes like a vacation and packs a bit of a punch. The Dominican Republic is a beautiful place to vacation, and I wanted the cocktail to reflect that. We started with Atlántico Reserva, a Dominican rum, and worked with some fun new apple bitters that we just got. Egg whites create a great velvety texture, and for me, the added sustenance makes for a great first cocktail of the night -- and especially when celebrating National Rum Day!" 8479 Melrose Ave., W. Hollywood; (323) 782-1104.
Drink well, me hearties.
Lesley blogs at 12 Bottle Bar, tweets at @12BottleBar and is the author of the book "Gin: A Global History." Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.