Our contact form is a great way to partner with businesses and companies, but sometimes it’s reader mail that gives you the best ideas. Recently a reader contacted us for information about stocking his home bar for Tiki Drinks. It sort of hit me that even though we’ve discussed syrups and cocktails in the past, we never sort of went over those home basics. Rated R Cocktails has always been focused on making cocktails with the thought “I would sell this in a bar”. So in this series of pieces we’ll be telling you the must haves for Tiki bars from tools, to glasses, and rums.
There are Tiki drinks with many different kinds of spirits, but everyone knows Rum is the star. Donn Beach had a wealth of experience with rums, he became a master of blending them. The magic of rum is how vastly different they are based on age, color, and most importantly island. Blending two bourbons in a cocktail wouldn’t show you any difference, but take a Dark Jamaican and an aged Agricole and you have a varied flavor that one couldn’t give you on it’s own. I get asked my opinion on rums a lot, and I’m always down to taste some rum. So here’s our five essential rums for great Tiki cocktails.
We might as well be honest here and call these Daiquiri rums. These drier rums stand out more in cocktails and allow more sophisticated flavors to pierce the layers of sour and sweet. Utility white rums just can’t preform that task on their own. Way back in Tiki’s heyday this job was fulfilled by 123 proof Havana Club, and Bacardi before they became neutral tasting club kid juice. Nowadays there are still brands that can make you a fantastic daiquiri at home. Plantation 3 year is an amazing rum and worth the price if you can find it. Jeff Berry also recommends Cana Brava, Havana Club 3 year, and Doorley’s 3 year. Even in my travels I have had no luck in getting my hands on these brands beyond a taste here and there. We recommend El Dorado 3 year, Old New Orleans white, Matusalem Silver, and most of all Brugal white. It’s an important category to have on hand to tempt classic cocktail folks to the Tiki side and to twist up the classic Daiquiri in ways like our Haunted Hut.
This category is what we call “Utility Rums” around here. We’ve favored Cruzan since our inception because we like what flavor there is over other brands like Bacardi. To us a Utility rum is a cheap, mass marketed, neutral flavored rum. It’s important that it isn’t overly sweet, but it should have some sweetness. Utility rums are often used in generous pours to add room and punch to many cocktails from Nui Nui’s to Scorpion and Kava bowls. They are there when you want other flavors to be the star, but still have booze to give structure and wisps of flavor. It’s important to get a White, Gold, and a 151 bottling. Without 151 your Tiki will be weaky. This category is usually the one people start with because you can get 3 bottles for a little over $30. There’s nothing wrong with that because you can make a lot of drinks with these three. It may not be glamorous but every bar needs a well. When your Alchie guest comes over you’ll be happy you have them. We use our Cruzan 151 perhaps to much. Try it in our crowd pleasing Coral Snake.
Agricole rum, this is something Tiki nerds can talk a lot about. These rums are made from the fermented juice of fresh pressed sugar cane instead of the more common molasses. Flavorwise it’s the tequila of rums with a grassy, earthy, rubbery funk. Famously nowadays as the other half of an equal part of Dark Jamaican in a Mai Tai. Interestingly enough at Tales this year however Martin Cate revealed old Trader Vic menus showing most of his Martinique rums were Rhum Industrial, or molasses rums. Regardless of rather Vic, doubtfully, had Clement in his shaker it still makes a delicious Mai Tai. Other Tiki classics like the Last Rites, Three dots and a Dash, and Donga Punch among others also make use of this funky, flavorful rum. You want to make sure for Tiki drinks your using an aged V.S.O.P style offering. Younger less aged Rhums will overpower the delicate balance of the cocktail with hearty funk. For Martinique offerings we love Clement VSOP and Select Barrel, as well As Neisson Eleve Sous Bois. However our favorite Mai Tai agricole and a bottle I hate to be without is Barbancourt 5 Star, a delightful aged Haitian agricole rhum. It’s hard not to love that agricole pop in cocktails.
Of all the category of rums presented here this is the one I have the hardest time with classic cocktail folks regarding. Jamaican rums are amazing in Tiki drinks and we always have gold and amber bottling on hand. Dark Jamaican rums however are a crux of Tiki drinks and irreplaceable in their construction. Appleton V/X and Smith and Cross are Amber Jamaican’s though, no amount of wishing will make them otherwise. Real Dark Jamaican rums will have big flavors of molasses, brown sugar, and a little oak with some burn sugar notes as well. I adore Coruba with all my heart. Appleton 12 year extra is also delicious. Myers while a little to sweet has some great uses and a nostalgic nose I love. This rum is in countless Tiki classics from the Mai Tai, to the Navy Grog. We are never without real Dark Jamaican rums and usually pack more than one bottling. I like it most in my Darkness Falls cocktail.
Without a doubt when it comes to Tiki this is the holy juice. If you have a bottle of Lemon Hart 151 at your disposal your credit with a real Tiki lover instantly improves. Both versions of Demerara are really essential to having a Tiki bar. Without these rums the best drinks will always be beyond your grasp. Sadly though they aren’t always the easiest to find in more restricted markets. You must seek them out however if you wish to reach true Tiki. Lemon Hart 151 is getting to be impossible to find in the states, and much is the pity because it is a delightful must have. We all hope and pray they decide to make and export some more very soon. Luckily Ed Hamilton recently added to his wonderful line of rums both proofs of Demerara. We’ll have a review up for you soon, but they are delightful. El Dorado 12 year is an excellent bottling as well for your 80 proof needs, sadly their overproof rum isn’t good enough to clean your drain so be forewarned. Zombie’s, Navy Grogs, and several of our best creations rely on Demerara flavor.
Okay so I may have recommended more than one bottle, but it’s important to have choices. I hope this piece on rums will help you fill your Tiki bar with the necessary tropical juice to set big flavors loose. Once you have these essentials you can start grabbing other fun bottles like Blackstrap, higher end gold rums, even Batavia Arrack. In the future we’ll also have articles to advise you on juicing, tools, and glassware. Don’t forget to check some of our syrup articles. Plus the biggest two must haves of every Tiki bar Sippin Safari, and Beachbum Remixed by Jeff Berry. Until next time…
“You get Hammered America” – JFL