Rum and I first met in the late 1970s, at a beach bar in Malibu, California. The drink was a chaotic mix of pineapple, orange, and passion-fruit juices, with grenadine, garnished with a maraschino cherry bleeding red dye onto a chunk of canned pineapple. Even with all those elements competing for my attention, the personality of the rum shone through, fiery and flirty. I wanted to get to know this spirit more intimately, but I soon discovered that rum has multiple personalities: Any liquor distilled from sugarcane or its byproduct molasses can bear the rum label; hundreds of brands, produced on every continent except Antarctica, now do. These rums range in character from crystal-clear to dark brown, bright and floral to smoky and rich.
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Rum also has baggage: a 350-year history of scandal, from its illegitimate birth on Caribbean sugar plantations, where it was made by forced labor and used as barter in the slave trade, to the low company it kept among pirates and Prohibition-era rumrunners. And then came rum's association with postwar Polynesiacs who put tiki torches in their yards and umbrellas in their drinks. By the time I discovered them, rum cocktails were considered syrupy, silly. But once I began studying their history, I learned that they were-initially, anyway-actually sophisticated drinks, worth taking seriously. And it was rum's multi-faceted character that made it all possible. -Jeff Berry, excerpted from Endless Summer, SAVEUR Issue 140.
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RECIPE: The Flamingo Cocktail
Jim Meehan of PDT bar in New York City created this alternative to rum and Coke, using lighter, brighter-tasting grapefruit soda, which lets the bold character of an English-style rum shine through.
MAKES 1 COCKTAIL
2 oz. English-style white rum, such as Banks 5 Island or Mount Gay Special Reserve
¾ oz. fresh lime juice 3 oz. pink grapefruit soda, such as Izze
1 crosswise slice lime
Combine rum and juice in a cocktail shaker and fill with ice; shake until chilled. Strain into a rocks glass and fill with ice; add soda and garnish with lime.
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