Ten Tiki Rums.

It’s a rum do.

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.

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Bitters review – Bogart’s Bitters.

Don’t Bogart them bitters, my friend. Pass ’em over to me.

Bogart’s Bitters.

The very first celebrity bartender in the very first cocktail book made much use of the enigmatic “Bogart’s bitters”. The legendary status of Jerry Thomas and The Bar-tenders Guide (1862) has made the acquisition of these bitters something of a Quest for the Holy Grail for modern day cocktail archaeologists. The first hurdle was that for reasons unclear Thomas had written “Bogart’s” instead of Boker’s in his first edition and it remained uncorrected until the 1887 edition which was published after his death. The second problem is that Boker’s Bitters, like so many others, were killed off by prohibition in the 1920s making Johann Böker’s much loved bitters a mere 100 year flash-in-the-pan. Attempts to recreate Boker’s have been many and varied but largely hindered by a lack of any surviving (potable) samples or (reliable) recipes. At least until German bitters manufacturers The Bitter Truth managed to acquire an unopened bottle dating from around 1900. After much scientific analysis and tasting they reverse engineered a new version which they believe is as close to the original as is possible. They chose to go with the name Jerry T mistakenly used (which I imagine is just to head off any potential copyright challenge) but chose a bottle and packaging that pays homage to the original product. Nicely played fellas! But did they nail it? Let’s find out:

The Bitter Truth’s Bogart’s Bitters come in an elegant 350ml bottle that closely resembles the one they dug up from God-knows-where which makes it almost twice the size of their normal range, which at 200ml are already larger than much of the competition. Therefore you are getting lot of bitters for your €24. It has a cork closure which is classy but unusual and therefore requires decanting into your own dasher bottle which may be an inconvenience for some but leads me to conclude that the product is largely intended for sale to cocktail bars. I’d like to see a smaller (dasher) bottle for the home bartender who doesn’t need a 5 year supply but perhaps that will come with time. The Truth boys have done a spiffing job on the paper labels which look thoroughly Victorian whilst sneaking in the necessary modern data. The packaging also includes a fun little booklet with some recipes from Mr Thomas’ original tome which, of course, is handily well out of copyright. At 42.1% ABV we have a bitters in the right alcohol range for this type of aromatic bitters. Once freed from the confines of the very dark reddish-brown bottle we find the bitters to be even darker: something akin to the very darkest kind of chocolate – that 99% cocoa solids stuff that’s almost too bitter even for your advanced palate. Now, when we taste it – a drop on the back of the hand being the way to go with bitters – we do actually get a very deep chocolatey lingering bitterness as our first impression. There’s some spices in there too: cinnamon certainly, a little clove and more that are difficult to put a finger on. This is very nice, deep, warming, dark and with a long finish where the chocolate fades to leave the spices dancing on your tongue. While some modern bitters are more like flavourings that true bitters there is no such problem here; I sense immediately that Bogart’s will excel in the task of countering the sweetness of the teaspoon of sugar in an Old Fashioned. There’s a lot to like here and the feeling of authenticity is, while almost impossible to prove, rather convincing. Put to the test in an Old Fashioned three dashes of Bogart’s delivered a deep, rich and balanced drink, easily countering the teaspoon of simple syrup and the slight inherent sweetness of the Buffalo Trace. No better or worse than using Angostura just different. Woodier, darker, less familiar.

While firmly in the aromatic bitters category I do have to make clear that, in my option, Bogart’s bitters can never be a direct replacement for Angostura bitters which have become unshakably installed in a wide range of (comparatively) modern cocktails. Angostura, which even predate the original Boker’s by a few years have simply gained too much ground in the 100 years since prohibition purged almost all the competition and are, by any measure, a superb product. However I highly recommend Bitter Truth Bogart’s to those who are not averse to having a few different bitters on hand and it is now my belief that the serious cocktailista should have Angostura, Regan’s orange, Peychaud’s and Bogart’s on their shelf, using the other’s where called for by name or tradition but reaching for the Bogart’s the rest of the time. Therefore, with a few marks deducted for the large bottle and (understandable) inability to supplant Angostura, The Bitter Truth Bogart’s Bitters scores a straight:



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Good Evening Rosemary.

Pretty in pink.

Good Evening Rosemary.

A wonderful and yet simple Gin & Tonic variation the Good Evening Rosemary was invented in the summer of 2017 by my good friend and Gin & Tonic aficionado Sive* Cassidy at a villa somewhere in Galicia. I was rustling up a round of Mezcal Negronis when she grabbed my Campari and a few sprigs of rosemary from the garden and asked me “D’ya think if I added these to a G&T it might be tasty?”

“Nah,” quoth I, “That’d be nasty.” The Good Evening Rosemary is a delicious drink where all those bitter and sweet flavours meld perfectly and then the taste and aroma of the rosemary elevate it to a further level of sublimosity. Genius.

Good Evening Rosemary

1.5oz / 45ml dry gin of choice.

0.5oz / 15ml Campari.

200ml of tonic (I like Fever Tree).

Pour above over ice in a Collins or balloon glass and stir gently.

Insert a nice fresh sprig of rosemary.

Toast Sive Cassidy.

*Rhymes with “five”.

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Three Dots & a Dash + Pimento dram.



Three Dots & a Dash.

One of TikiWorld’s finest delights, the Three Dots and a Dash was created by the great Don the Beachcomber to celebrate the end of the second world war. You see the strange name of this drink is the morse code for the letter V, which in turn stands for Victory. Which then enters into the drinks garnish in the form of three Maraschino cherries as dots and a skewer or pineapple stick as the dash. I suppose a dash two dots and another dash for Peace was just too tricky? Now if it’s so great why have I been holding out on you guys for so long? The simple answer is that the Three Dots uses a few tricky ingredients. While we’ve talked about Falernum and Rhum Agricole before we’ll have to add Pimento Dram to that list. So as usual let’s take a time out to get up to speed:

Pimento Dram.


The drammed don’t cry.


This typically Tiki liqueur – sometimes also called Allspice Dram/Liqueur – is based on the pungent flavour of the allspice berry which, confusingly is also known as the pimento berry despite having nothing to do with that little red pepper that lives inside a cocktail olive. Allspice gets its name because it contains flavour elements similar to clove, nutmeg and cinnamon in one handy package. It is heavily used in Jamaican cuisine (such as jerk chicken) which is also where it originates. When transformed into a boozy liquid form the  St. Elizabeth and Bitter Truth versions are perfectly good but it’s also fairly easy to make your own. A little goes a long way and it keeps particularly well so it’s not an exercise you need to repeat very often. My recipe goes like this: Fill a 2oz jigger with dried allspice berries acquired from any decent spice shop. Crack them open in a mortar and pestle (not into a powder!) and add them to a jar containing 400ml of white (or gold) Jamaican rum of at least 40%ABV*. Leave for a week shaking daily. Add a broken up Ceylon (this being the crumbly kind rather than the harder cassia type) cinnamon stick and leave for a further week, agitating daily. Strain through an unbleached coffee filter and discard the solids. Mix 250g of demerara sugar with 125ml of boiling water until dissolved and add to the spiced rum mixture. Bottle in a clean and sterilised bottle. As it’s used in small quantities – typically 0.25oz / 7.5ml per drink you could easily make a half sized portion.


This dotty drink is heavily dependent on the quality of the rhum agricole you use and I strongly recommend the excellent Clement select barrel if available to you. I found standard Clement agricole a bit meh and the more expensive Clement VSOP a bit too smooth. The smaller amount of demerara rum is less crucial but my top pick in the Three Dots is El Dorado 8 year old – a superb mixing rum with somewhat less sugar content than its siblings**. Furthermore, while the tiny amount of orange juice might seem insignificant, it most certainly is not and must be squeezed from a fresh fruit immediately prior to use. Now at this point you may be starting to think “Upon my word, this be a most persnickety beverage to concoct!” But trust me – it’s worth it. The reality is this: If you can perfect the Three Dots with all its peculiarities and esoteric ingredients you have truly reached the high plateau of Tiki excellence.

Three Dots and a Dash.

1.5oz / 45ml Rhum agricole (preferably Clement Select Barrel).

0.5oz / 15ml Demerara rum (El Dorado 8 is ideal).

0.5oz / 15ml fresh lime juice.

0.5oz / 15ml (very) fresh orange juice.

0.5oz / 15ml honey syrup (1:1 honey/water) slightly less if using 3:1

0.25oz / 7.5ml falernum.

0.25oz / 7.5ml Pimento dram (see text).

One dash of Angostura bitters.

Pulse blend (5 or 6 pulses) with about 6oz / 180ml of crushed ice. Do not fully liquidise.

Garnish with three maraschino cherries on a stick. A pineapple “dash” can also be added, but I went for a pineapple leaf “V” instead. Serve with a bamboo straw – yes, I forgot to.

– — .- … – / -.. — -. / – …. . / -… . .- -.-. …. -.-. — — -… . .-.

*I like to boost the alcohol content by including some overproof Jamaican rum which helps the extraction of the flavours. If you do the same you can cut the two weeks down to around ten days (2×5).

**Although I hear El Dorado are gradually reducing the sugar content of all their rums which is very welcome news.

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Bin & Gitters.

Ducking  felicious!

Bin & Gitters.

Despite its bizarre name the Bin & Gitters is a cracking drink both in its simplicity and its deliciousity. Apparently the drink first appears in Charles Baker’s 1951 The South American Gentleman’s Companion, Being an exotic drinking Book or up & down the Andes with Jigger, Beaker & Flask, Vol. 1. I say “apparently” because I only have Baker’s earlier tome – which we dipped into recently. Largely neglected for the rest of the 20th century the Bin & Gitters next was resurrected by Sasha Petraske and shows up in his posthumous Regarding Cocktails in 2016. The B&G is a simple drink but so, so rewarding. Just pack a tumbler with crushed ice (this is one of those cases where there’s no need to use a chilled glass) and while it’s chillaxing make yourself a standard Gimlet. Strain the Gimlet into the iced glass and top off with as many dashes of Angostura bitters as makes you happy. But at least three. Insert a short straw and enjoy with glee. The only decision needed is whether to stir in the Ango a little or leave it floating to spice up the more diluted last sips. The only problem with the Bin & Gitters is that those final sips come all too soon! With all that Angostura bouncing around there’s really not a lot of point in using some fancy gin er, I mean bin, Tanquary Export, Beefeater, Gordon’s, Broker’s, Bombay Dry or similar value for money dry gins are easily good enough. While other recipes call for a lime garnish I think this drink is beautiful enough naked – besides in Regarding Cocktails Sasha P is quoted saying “No garnish for a bartender.” Good enough for me! Gold stars to those of you who noticed the similarity to the Bramble which uses lemon instead of lime and a float of berry liqueur instead of the gitters.

Bin & Gitters.

2oz / 60ml dry gin.

1oz / 30ml fresh lime juice.

0.75oz / 22ml simple syrup (1:1).

Shake with ice and strain into a Fouble Old Dashioned glass packed full with crushed ice.

Float 3 – 8 dashes of Angostura bitters on top. Stir slightly. Or not.

Serve with a straw as it’s best enjoyed from the bottom up.

Note: a normal Gimlet spec of 2oz gin, 0.75oz lime juice and 0.5oz will work fine but, with the double dilution used here, an extra quarter ounce of lime and sugar is marginally more pleasing.

Toast William Archibald Spooner (1844 – 1930).


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Mutiny on the Bounty.


Trouble in paradise.

Mutiny on the Bounty

I’ve been meaning to write about this one for quite a while but for the thorny problem that it has coconut rum as a major component which comes with… issues. Most coconut rum is a nasty affair based on rough rum, fake-tasting coconut flavouring and a massive amount of added sugar. Bleugh. When I first formulated the Mutiny on the Bounty I was trying to recreate the chocolate and coconut Bounty bar in a boozy liquid form and at that time there was one coconut rum that was acceptably decent. While underwhelmed by almost all their other products Bacardi Coco was a respectable 35%ABV with a natural coconut flavour and was significantly dryer than the competition*. Sorted! At least until they inexplicably stopped making it**. From then on I took to making my own coconut rum using desiccated coconut which while pretty tasty is a bit labour intensive as it takes several rounds of filtering to get enough of the fat content back out. I do try to keep things easy for you guys so I never quite got ’round to writing about it and the Mutiny even though it has proven to be very popular with my guests. Fast forward to 2020 and Bacardi have released a “new” coconut rum which, while it might not be quite the same as the old version (being 32%ABV rather than 35%), is still pretty serviceable so I think it’s finally time for you all to finally enjoy a good Mutiny. Basically a heavily tweaked Daiquiri the Mutiny on the Bounty replaces the simple syrup with a combination of orgeat and crème de cacao – a chocolate flavoured liqueur – and half of the rum component with our new Bacardi Coconut rum. I must caution that if you use another coconut rum it will likely be too sweet and too weak and you might have a mutiny of your own to deal with. In any case this is a drink that needs careful balancing as many of the ingredients have variable sweetness depending on brand so please take the quantities below as starting points. If you’re facing a novice audience it can even pay to let it run to the sweeter side. The bitters do bring in a little fruitiness and complexity but the drink will certainly still work without them. While it doesn’t strictly need a garnish it’s a fun drink and you have Captain Proof’s permission to get as silly as you like here.

Mutiny on the Bounty.

1oz / 30ml dry gold rum (I used Mount Gay Eclipse).

1oz / 30ml Bacardi Coconut rum (see text).

1oz / 30ml fresh lime juice (just a touch over works for me).

0.5oz / 15ml crème de cacao.

0.5oz / 15ml orgeat (Monin or home-made).

A dash each of orange and cherry bitters (optional).

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled champagne coupe.

Garnish with whimsy.

Toast Fletcher Christian and his motley crew.

* I tried many of them and never found much success. Koco Kanu came the closest but was still a bit too sweet.

** This was several years ago – maybe 2012ish?

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Mount Gay Eclipse rum review

We’ll have a gay old time.

Mount Gay Eclipse rum review

If you’re going to get serious about Tiki cocktails you need, in my view anyway, an “anchor” dry gold rum. It doesn’t have to be the fanciest rum in the world but needs to simply act as a base in cocktails that call for multiple rums that the other spirits can lock onto and still fully express themselves. While it doesn’t need to be anything expensive it certainly has to be dry (not sweet), flexible and easily available. A very long time ago I settled on Havana Club Añejo Especial as my anchor gold rum and haven’t had much cause to question that choice until recently. The reasons for re-thinking this being: 1: I’m a big fan of several other Havana Club rums – 3 Años, 7 Años and Seleccion de Maestros – and I’m slightly concerned about coming over as a bit of an HC fanboy. This leads me to 2: If I’m really honest HC Añejo Especial isn’t nearly as good as those others and while I always describe it as a “rock solid mixer” I’d certainly never consider sipping it on it’s own. Which is a pity because, if I had, I might have noticed that: 3. Añejo Especial was re-formulated a few years back and now contains a fair bit more sugar than I’m comfortable with. Time out!

Sugar in rum.

There’s a misconception that rum is inherently sweet. Not so. Just because rum is made with a sweet feedstock (molasses or sugarcane juice) doesn’t mean that the resultant spirit is sweet, as the process of fermentation and distillation turns all that sugar into alcohol. Which is, after all, the whole point of the exercise. However rum is often sweetened post distillation as it makes for an easy and inexpensive way to appeal to a (rather undiscerning) segment of the market, an option which is further facilitated by a general lack of regulation in the rum sector. I don’t sip on sweetened rums (anymore) but if you are aware and careful you can still mix with them as long as you take care to balance that sweetness with the sour component – usually lime juice. Because spirits have no requirement to label sugar or calorie content this makes the whole sugar-in-rum thing a bit of a minefield. Thankfully a motley crew of dedicated rum-heads have gone to some lengths to expose this scandalous state of affairs by using hydrometer readings to detect added ingredients (which are almost always sugar). Capn Jimbo has collated a large (although incomplete) master list of these results if you’re interested. It was from this list than I noticed that the amount of sugar in my Havana Club Añejo Especial appears to have been creeping up over the years and a sip of it au natural quickly confirmed this*. While 22 grams of sugar per litre isn’t on the high end of the scale there are plenty of good rums (including others from Havana Club) that are at, or close to, zero. Now I have to say this all came as a bit of a surprise as I was of the understanding that Cuba is one of the islands that forbid – or at least frown upon – the addition of sugar to their rum. ‘Parently not. However Barbados, the birthplace of rum (according to themselves) takes a very dim view of such shenanigans (although there is a bit of barney going on there on the subject which I’m not dragging you into right now) and looks like a good place to start. Thus we finally get to have a look at a widely available, affordable dry Barbados gold rum with a view to it becoming an “anchor” rum in cocktails especially of the Tiki persuasion.

Mount Gay Eclipse gold Barbados rum.

Coming in simple but flattened screwtop bottle Mount Gay Eclipse comes over as somewhat unpretentious as indeed it should at a lower mid-shelf price of just €16 for 700ml which is roughly the same ballpark as HC Añejo Especial. We can’t be too surprised that it’s a bog-standard 40%ABV but what is quite impressive is that, even at this low price, we’re getting a rum with some pot-still content. And that is seldom a bad thing as pot-stilled spirit always has more character than column distillate. This type of rum for this use needs to be pretty straightforward and at first sniff Eclipse smells reassuringly “rummy”. It has a nice light copper hue – a fair bit paler than HC Especial which probably just shows a less aggressive use of caramel colouring. Since we’re on the subject of added sugar it’s worth saying that, counter-intuitively, caramel colourant does not add any significant sweetness when used in spirits so this needn’t necessarily be of any concern. We know that Eclipse juice sees the inside of some charred ex-bourbon barrels for up to two years which, while that might not seem that long, is reasonable enough in a tropical climate. Sipped we get a nice “orangey” tang, a hint of spice and a pleasant smoothness that while all unspectacular are above my expectation at the price point. While not exactly smooth it is noticeably less harsh than the Havana Club and also has a nice long finish. If you forced me to sip this with just an ice cube to temper it I wouldn’t be furious. By comparison the Añejo Especial is more aggressive; punchier, oilier and with a harshness that was clearly trying to be tempered with the added sugar. While Especial is certainly no sipper it does have a remarkable ability to mix well with other rums that should not be taken for granted. And this brings me to my only concern about Mount Gay Eclipse – is it just a little too mild-mannered for our intended use? Time to make some cocktails to find out! First stop in any rum test is to make a Daiquiri and Eclipse cleared this first hurdle effortlessly. It was nice and crisp with just enough presence to show some character. Check. Another essential use for an “anchor” gold rum is in a Navy Grog or Zombie but in those triple rum drinks it’s much harder at ascertain the effect of the anchor gold rum. However I found that subbing in the Mount Gay resulted in a satisfying drink each and every time – and those are two of my very favourite cocktails so I’m very familiar with their nuances. Well played Mount Gay! While I’m certainly not ready to de-recommend Havana Club Añejo Especial I think I’m ready to let Mount Gay take its place on my rum shelf. If that should change be assured that I’ll be letting you know. When it comes to marks I feel I have to be clear again that the following is entirely based on use as a mixing rum in the context outlined above and heavily based on value for money. With that considered I give Mount Gay Eclipse an:


*It was necessary for me to ping myself on the ear for forgetting my own advice to periodically taste your ingredients on their own to spot any unannounced and unwelcome changes. I should have done this when the label design changed a few years back as that can sometimes be accompanied by a change in the recipe.

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The Kessel Run + Szechuan tincture.

How many parsecs?

The Kessel Run + Szechuan tincture.

We’ve covered a lot of ground here over the years but it seems to me we’ve not done enough Sci-Fi Tiki drinks. Yes, it really is a (sub)genre. My contribution to the canon is The Kessel Run which uses Szechuan pepper tincture as its key ingredient. Now at this point don’t be all “wha? I have to make some fancy shizzle?!” because this unique ingredient is fun, addictively tasty but also ludicrously simple to make.

Stop! Tincture time!

A tincture might sound a bit fancy but it’s simply alcohol flavoured with a dry ingredient and filtered. You can tincture any range of herbs and spices but it’s a good idea to check your chosen ingredient with cocktailsafe or wikipedia to make sure you’re not going to kill anyone. In this case we’re gonna make a Szechuan (aka Sichuan) pepper tincture but the process is similar for other flavourings although the optimal extraction times may differ. Typically spices extract sufficiently in 48 hours but many herbs need much less time. Tea needs only about 90 minutes and coffee about 3 hours. So WTF is Szechuan pepper? While not actually a pepper at all this spice has a wonderful lemony woodiness to it as well as the most peculiar numbing effect on the tongue. In Chinese cuisine it is mostly used in conjunction with chili pepper but on its lonesome is quite unfamiliar and exotic to the western palate. You should be able to get it from Chinese grocers and spice merchants without difficulty. They look like tiny red/brown pac men:

So let’s get tincturing. Take a clean and sterilised jar* (a jam jar or small mason jar is ideal) and add 200ml of 50%ABV vodka (or other potable neutral spirit). We use a spirit of this strength as it is optimal for extracting flavour from dry ingredients but if you only have regular 40% vodka you can simply steep the ingredients for longer. Add to the spirit three teaspoons of whole Szechuan/Sichuan peppers. Put the lid on and shake. Wait two days (or three if using 40% vodka) shaking twice a day or whenever you can be arsed. Strain the solids out using coffee filter paper or any other super-fine filter. Done. Use the same method for any other spices using 48 hours as a base unless otherwise advised. I like to keep my Szechuan tincure in a sterilised bitters bottle so I can fire a few dashes into a gin and tonic, which, trust me, is delicious. So in other words we’ve made a sort of super simple bitters, although we don’t call it that as bitters should have more than one flavour component. However do consider this stage one of learning to make your own bitters. Indeed bitters can be made by simply combining various tinctures. But it’s time to make the jump back to:

The Kessel Run.

While a dash or two of Szechuan tincture can spice up any number of drinks we’re gonna use a whole quarter ounce in our Kessel Run. Why? Because we be badass! And for that exotic, out-of-this-world experience. Szechuan and gin are a killer combo and this is also a great opportunity to use some of the more interesting left-field gins with more exotic botanicals especially those with a more oriental bent. Lime? Nah, too boring; let’s go white grapefruit juice. The sweet? Well I tried cinnamon syrup but ginger syrup just tasted better. Now, if we’re going to name this after a spice smuggling route we’d better double down and float some of the wonderful anise/floral Peychaud’s bitters on top. OK – also because it looks pretty dull otherwise. I like to refrain from stirring in the Peychaud’s so I can enjoy their exaggerated influence in the final few sips but the choice is very much up to you.

May the Force be with you**.

The Kessel Run.

1.5oz / 45ml gin (something a bit spicy if possible).

0.25oz / 7.5ml Szechuan pepper tincture (see text).

1.5oz / 45ml white grapefruit juice (fresh or bottled).

0.75oz / 22ml ginger syrup.

Shake with lots of ice and pour, unstrained, into a collins glass.

top up with soda water (no more than 3oz / 90ml) and stir gently.

Float 3 or 4 dashes of Peychaud’s bitters on top***.

Garnish with a sprig of mint.

Toast Han and Chewie.

*Clean the jar well (ideally in dishwasher) and then fill with boiling water for at least ten minutes. Re-sterilise before each use.


***It will float easily but you might want to give it the tiniest of stirs to disperse it evenly though the top layer.

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Mexican “Firing Squad” Special.

Hans ap greengo!

Mexican “Firing Squad” Special.

While the “Firing Squad” might sound like some modern student bravado shooter it’s really something much older and wiser. Charles H Baker’s 1939 The Gentleman’s Companion: Being an Exotic Drinking Book or Around the World with Jigger, Beaker and Flask is a quirky globe trotting cocktail guide* part of which includes his frustration at trying to get a decent cocktail in Mexico City in 1937. While it is interesting to note that is no mention of a Margarita in his book (supporting our theory that it is somewhat more modern) he does eventually find satisfaction the La Cucaracha bar with the above named drink. It’s a cocktail that has – just barely – survived the following decades as something of a niche tequila drink but has evolved markedly from his original recipe and for good reason. Baker’s spec of “2oz good tequila, the juice of 2 small limes, 1.5 to 2 teaspoons of grenadine and a couple of dashes of Angostura bitters” simply makes for a very lopsided sour/bitter concoction. Que pasa? Were limes smaller and sweeter in 1930s Mexico? Was grenadine crazy sweet (unlikely as there is literally a limit to how sweet you can make a syrup)? Or were palates simply more acquired to a tart cocktail? Who knows? Not me. In any case the recipe has evolved significantly with most modern versions containing equal quantities of lime juice and grenadine. Marvellous. However, unlike some modern iterations I won’t be adding soda or anything else to the recipe just re-balancing it for modern tastes. I’m none too enamoured of the name which smacks of cultural stereotyping and violence and take Baker’s use of quotation marks as a licence to just call it the Mexican Special. But whatever. When all of this is taken into consideration we are left with a rich and rewarding drink** although it does trouble me a little that the tequila flavour doesn’t really come to the fore – it’s just kind of hanging there in the background. That might be fine with some folks though. Another problem is that Baker states “use a tall collins glass and snap fingers at the consequences” but there’s really not enough to fill a Collins glass even if you fill it with shaved ice as he suggests. What to do, what to do? My take is to serve it over a big block of clear ice in a double Old Fashioned glass as that simply seems to suit it best but I can see that on a very warm day it could be pretty tasty in a long glass with a metric shit-ton of crushed ice.

Mexican Special.

2oz / 60ml Blanco tequila (100% agave as always).

0.75oz / 22ml fresh lime juice.

0.75oz / 22ml grenadine (good stuff – preferably your own).

2 dashes Angostura bitters (although I like a few more).

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled double Old Fashioned glass containing a large block (or ball) of clear ice.

An orange garnish seems to suit it well but is certainly optional.

Toast Charles H. Baker (1895 – 1987).

*Which is available as an inexpensive reprint as seen in the picture.

**Bonus points if you noticed that it has much in common with the Shrunken Skull.

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Panacea + Chartreuse Elixir Vegetal.


Going viral.

Panacea + Chartreuse Elixir Vegetal

A coronavirus lockdown is just the thing to get some cocktail inspiration. My self-set brief was to come up with an (imaginary!) Covid-19 “cure” solely using ingredients with alleged curative powers. First up is Jamaican overproof rum which long ago had a local reputation to cure all ills and at 63%ABV falls right into the sweet spot for use as a disinfectant. Indeed, Wray and Nephew have been diverting some of their production for exactly that use in the current crisis. Good on ’em. Next we turn to amari (Italian bitter/sweet liqueurs) which began their history as an attempt at stomach medicine. None of them has more medicinal credentials than Nonino Quintessentia with its serpent and chalice logo. That it weighs in at 35% – more than most other amari – allows us to use it as something between a base and a modifier which is especially useful to tame down the overproof rum. We’ll be using an unusual ratio of 4 parts rum to 3 parts amari as a result. Finally we’re going to use possibly the most nutso ingredient in the cocktail arsenal (although there’s a backup plan if you can’t get any). Now as everyone knows Green Chartreuse is a total flavour bomb packed full of 130 exotic botanicals and made by dedicated Carthusian monks since 1737 based on a recipe from 1605. And it’s 55% alcohol by volume. Insane. But not insane enough for us

The Holy Grail: We already got one. Is very nice.

You see there exists a kind of secret mega-Chartreuse – and what would a drink like this be without a secret ingredient? – called Elixir Vegetal de la Grande Chartreuse that is even more powerful. Coming in a tiny 100ml bottle lovingly encased in a sealed wooden reliquary with instructions to only use by the drop (and thus ensuring your €13 purchase is effectively a lifetime supply) this bizarre and frankly hard-to-find potion is truly the Holy Grail of cocktaildom. There is scant information on it but my suspicion is that, at 69% ABV it is the base for Green Chartreuse before it is sweetened and diluted down to 55% for bottling. The “instruction sheet” also states, “known as an «Elixir of a long life» the Elixir Vegetal is believed to have health giving properties and can be taken to ease digestion, cure tiredness, sickness and discomfort and restores and (sic) sense of wellbeing and vitality.” Bingo. It is hard to explain how powerfully flavoursome this shizzle is but, indeed, mere drops have the same intensity as the already pretty-damn-intense Green Chartreuse has in much larger quantity but with less of the sugar – although there is still enough sweetness that we can’t simply consider it to be a type of bitters. If we’re going to dispense this by the drop we’d better have a little talk about what a “drop” is in terms of cocktail measurement. A drop is considerably less than a dash and is literally the smallest possible quantity. The best method is to suck a little into a clean pipette or eye-dropper and very gently squeeze out the tiniest possible amount. The number of drops in a dash is something cocktail-heads love to argue about but I reckon it’s around 8-10. That we’re using about 4 drops in one drink that means a bottle of Elixir is good for around 200-300 Panaceas. Or is that Panaceae?


Having gathered our quite spectacular ingredients we simply stir them with ice and strain them into a sherry glass. No fanciness is required as this is simply an exercise in taking some legendary spirits with powerful flavours and combining them in a balanced way. To put it another way we’re turning the volume up to 11. The Panacea should be enjoyed in tiny sips and very slowly as even after stirring with ice it is relatively high in alcohol – although it does have a lovely buttery texture. Consumed with the appropriate respect its medicinal components imbue a feeling of well-being and, dare I say, invincibility. Now, of course, the chance that you can’t get any Elixir Vegetal is more than significant but you can get close by using a larger quantity of Green Chartreuse**. Start at just shy of 1ml but the key is that the funky taste of the Jamaican rum and the distinctive notes of the Chartreuse must be in balance – it shouldn’t taste of either but of both at once. The Nonino plays more of a supporting role in this case acting as the glue that holds the drink together. I hope you’ll forgive me for using a couple of left-field ingredients and I promise we’ll be using some more accessible ones next time.

Now just in case it wasn’t abundantly clear let me repeat that this Panacea will have no effect of defeating the coronavirus. Better simply to stay home, wash your hands and use the opportunity to have some fun with cocktails.

Stay safe cocktailistas!


1oz / 30ml Wray & Nephew overproof Jamaican rum (or similar*).

0.75oz / 22ml Amaro Nonino Quintessentia.

4 or 5 drops (see text) of Elixir Vegetal de la Grande Chartreuse.

Stir with ice (a little less than usual) and strain into a sherry or Glencairn glass.

Sip slowly and enjoy the silence.

Toast Elixir Vegetal de la Grande Chartreuse the Holy Grail of cocktail ingredients.

*But it must be a white Jamaican 63% rum such as Rum Bar overproof or Rum Fire.

**I feel the drink works better with the Elixir as it brings less sweetness than the Green Chartreuse but feel free to tinker further with the proportions.

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