I would wager that when most people think about rum, they imagine tropical cocktails—Daiquiris, Mojitos, Piña Coladas, all manner of big, fruit-forward drinks in the Tiki tradition. And there's nothing wrong with that. I mean, who doesn't love a Mai Tai? But rum has so much untapped potential beyond your standard-issue island fare.
My rum epiphany came courtesy of Bastian Heuser, one of Germany's most celebrated bartenders. (I know, I know, a man from a nearly landlocked country; it makes no sense at all.) I first met him in 2008 at the Berlin Bar Convention and became a fan of his work almost immediately. His cocktails are rooted in classic methodology, but with a forward-thinking philosophy that only a skilled modern palate could pull off. Case in point—his Guyana Manhattan, which made me rethink everything I knew about cocktails.
Unlike whiskey and brandy, rum doesn't come with a lot of rules. It can be made pretty much anywhere, anyhow, as long as it's made from sugar cane. Some islands favor fresh sugar cane juice, like the rhum agricole style of Rhum Clement from Martinique. The majority, however, use the main byproduct from the sugar manufacturing process, molasses. Other rums, most notably Jamaican, are made in copper pot stills, resulting in a fuller, richer spirit such as Myers's and Smith & Cross. Yet others are made in column stills, resulting in a lighter, cleaner spirit such as Bacardi from Puerto Rico. In addition, many rums are aged in used bourbon barrels, which brings a lot of those darker barrel notes to the party: vanilla, caramel, coconut, and oak tannins.
All of which brings me back to my original point—rums from Guyana. They're typically made from Demerara sugar and distilled in pot stills; as such, they're among the richer varietals out there, making them ideal for spirit-driven cocktails such as Bastian's version of the Manhattan.
His specific rum of choice is Guyana's El Dorado 12 Year. Dark, leathery and rich, the rum tastes more like an XO Cognac than anything you would associate with the Caribbean. Put it up against a full-bodied sweet vermouth and some aromatic bitters, and you've got yourself a cocktail worthy of sipping while the weather is still cool. In other words, there's no need to wait for tropical sunshine. It's perfectly appropriate for this upcoming half-winter/half-spring weekend.
Stir ingredients with ice until well chilled and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist.
Photo by David L. Reamer