Ten essential rums for the Tiki voyager.
The wonderful world of Tiki cocktails can be daunting at first – not least because of the wide array of rums that are called for in many recipes. Today I’m gonna try to break it down to ten essential Tiki rums that will allow you to make the widest possible array of tropical drinks as authentically – and tastily – as possible. I’ve tried (mostly) to pick those which are affordable and fairly widely available. You will notice that there are no spiced or flavoured rums listed below and that is because
they are mostly a bit shit classic Tiki recipes predate those more modern inventions and add spices and other flavours in more natural ways. Without further ado let’s get stuck in to some fabulous rums!
1. Plantation OFTD. Going in heavy we’ll start with this modern rum which was custom blended to replace classic overproof demerara rum Lemon Hart 151 which is used in small but essential amounts in many classic recipes. Lemon Hart 151 has in recent years become difficult to source for many tiki-heads as well as becoming something of a shadow of its former glory at the same time. While OFTD stands for Old Fashioned Traditional Dark according to the label, everyone and his dog knows the “insider secret” that it was the exclamation “Oh, Fuck – That’s Delicious!” that was a reaction on the first expert tasting panel that gave it the name. Myth or excellent marketing? Who can say for sure. Now, while OFTD is a mere 69% to LH151’s 75.5% (yeah, I know) it does the job more than acceptably well. If you can get Hamilton 151 you’re doing better than me otherwise consider this to be your go-to overproof demerara rum, even if technically it isn’t.
2. Havana Club 3 Años. Available and affordable everywhere (except the USA*) HC3, is the quintessential white Cuban rum for Daiquiris, Mojitos and any other situation where a white Cuban is called for. It’s got a ton more flavour than most other white rums due to those three years in oak barrels in a hot climate. There are few alternatives but I’ve recently found Botran Blanca Reserva to be a good ‘un so that might be a good way to go if you find yourself on the wrong side of an embargo/copyright dispute.
3. Myers’s rum. Controversial! Some may say this dark Jamaican rum is only good for cooking but I beg to differ. Sure, it’s a touch sweet but if a recipe calls for a dark Jamaican I have absolutely no problem reaching for the Myers’s. It lacks the funk of many other Jamaican rums but you do get a rich molasses flavour instead. Coruba dark is a viable alternative for those in the USA and a few other countries.
4. Wray & Nephew Overproof white rum. Staying in Jamaica we’ll be needing some of the funk that Myers’s lacks and where better to find it than in Jamaica’s favourite rocket fuel. At 63% W&N is packed with those funky over-ripe fruit flavours that are so hard to describe. The only game in own until recently you will get a similar experience from any other Jamaican white that is of the same strength (Rum-Bar and Rum Fire being two good examples). Essential ingredient in the Wray and Ting and my own Trenchtown Grog.
5. Mount Gay Eclipse. A Barbados rum that has become my gold standard as a base mixing rum. Dry, flavourful, available and affordable Mount Gay Eclipse is the idea foundation that many a great drink can be built from. I find it to be pretty interchangeable with a gold Cuban rum even though it has some pot-still content and is theoretically a completely different type of rum. So there.
6. Navy Rum. Ah, I’m not going to go for a single rum in this category. For this British style of dark, rich blended rum from different sources the obvious choice is Pusser’s, which, to be fair, fits the bill perfectly and is very nice. But I like to go a bit left-field here and plump for Wood’s 100 which is a 57% navy strength demerara rum that can cover a few different roles at the same time. Pity it’s pretty much only available in the UK. Sigh, OK, for most of you we’re really talking Pusser’s here and they also have a 54.5% version.
7. Clement Select Barrel. While you might get by without one, you’ll be missing out if you don’t have a rhum agricole. Made from cane juice rather than molasses agricoles can be tricky territory for the beginner with their unfamiliar grassy/earthy flavours. I find that the moderately priced Clement Select Barrel has an approachable but punchy flavour without being overly smoothed out like the more popular Clement VSOP. Essential ingredient in the ‘Ti Punch and very nice in a Mai Tai.
8. El Dorado 8 year old. To do Tiki right you’re gonna need a demerara rum and here’s where things can get spotty as I don’t think there’s one that is universally available. If you’re in the UK (or Guyana, duh) you are likely to be spoiled for choice – and indeed Woods 100 mentioned above does double duty here – but in other countries the pickings might be slim. Luckily one that’s at least fairly widespread is also one of the best and most versatile. El Dorado 8 year old is reasonably dry, mixable, sipable rich and smoky although some of their other offerings are a bit too sweet.
9. Smith & Cross. Damn but this one’s tough for me to justify. Yes, it’s another funky Jamaican rum and not toooo far away from Wray & Nephew Overproof but this is just such a good mixing rum I couldn’t bear to leave it out. This, as far as anyone can tell, is the closest thing to what rum used to taste like and therefore what rum should taste like. Funky, strong (57%) flavourful and utterly unrepentant this is a rum that leaves it’s mark on every cocktail it touches – almost always for the better.
10. Plantation Original Dark. Not to be confused with our first option, this entry level rum is a great jack-of-all trades multi-island blended rum that also has a certain old world honesty to it. If you’re not sure what to use in a Tiki drink Original Dark will rarely let you down as a catch-all dark rum. Try it in a Queen’s Park Swizzle to see what I’m talking about.
With the above rum palate you will be ready to start getting deeper into the world of Tiki where combinations of two or three of the above are typical. To find what to do with them just type in the the above rums – or categories – into the search box on proofcocktails.nl.
*Those of you there beware of iffy imitations from Bacardi. No green seal of guarantee from the Cuban government = no Cuban rum in the bottle. Warned.