In this week’s column, I discuss that old mixed-drink workhorse, the rum and Coke. It’s always fun to take a simple classic and try a few dozen different variations — whether it’s varying the measurements and ratios, trying extra dashes of this or that, adding some non-traditional ingredients or experimenting with new techniques. In the case of rum and Coke, I was able to test out a few rums that I’d never tried before.
My old standby when it comes to rum and Cokes has always been Flor de Cana 7-year-old Gran Reserva. The reason for this is two-fold. For one, I happen to like a rum with a little bit — but not too much — age when adding tonic or cola. And two, I’ll admit that I have an emotional attachment to Flor de Cana based on extensive travels in Nicaragua when I was young and carefree and first trying to write about it. In Nicaragua, you ordered rum by the bottle, and it was served to you with a bucket of ice, limes to squeeze and a choice of Coke or tonic water to mix with it. I believe in Managua in the mid-1990s, Flor de Cana Gran Reserva was around $6 a bottle at bar...so I got well acquainted with the rum and Cokes and rum and tonics made with the stuff.
Now, of course I’ve acquired many other favorite everyday rums over the years, too. Some are relatively easy to find, such as Appleton Estate V/X from Jamaica, Rhum Barbancourt 8-year-old from Haiti or Chairman’s Reserve from St. Lucia. Other favorites are a bit harder to find, such as the rhum agricoles Rhum Neisson and Rhum Clement or El Dorado 8-year-old from Guyana and Pampero Anniversario from Venezuela, to name a few. And some are almost impossible to find, such as Havana Club, which is banned from the United States because it’s partly owned by the Cuban government.
Still, I have a warm affinity for the rums of Central American, and so I was pleased to sample Ron Abuelo from Panama as I experimented with rum and Cokes. Ron Abuelo has been on the market for a while, but it is new to me. I particularly like the 7-year-old, which has a good balance of caramel and wood, with the fruit and brightness that older rums are often missing. For $23, it’s a wonderful value, and it’s going into my own regular rotation, right next to the Flor de Cana Gran Reserva. I also really enjoyed the older 12-year-old Ron Abuelo but would probably save that one, at $33, as a sipping rum.
Another interesting aged rum I tried in my tastings is the relatively new Dos Maderas (”two woods”) which is actually created by sherry producer, Williams and Humbert — whom I visited earlier this year. It’s a blend of rums aged in American oak casks in Barbados and Guyana, which are then shipped to Jerez, where they are finished in sherry casks. I particularly like the Dos Maderas 5+3 (five years in American oak, three years in sherry cask) — a full-bodied rum that has the faintest hint of sherry fruit and nuttiness. It’s a little pricey at $30, but nice for both cocktails and sipping.
While I don’t usually go for white rum in my rum and Cokes, I would like to note one tasty new product that made for an excellent Cuba Libre: Chairman’s Reserve Silver, which is actually an aged rum that’s been filtered so its color has been removed. It is, in other words, a “white” rum that has a complex taste, with notes of honey, citrus and spice. We’re seeing a number of these aged-and-filtered white rums on the market, and I’ll be doing a big tasting of them soon.
And as I’ve said, rum and Cokes are all about personal preference, so I’d love to hear from readers about their own concoctions.