Many people out there don’t often think of rum as a primary cocktail ingredient. That’s an unfortunate consequence of past American tastes. Americans, you see, have largely preferred vodka, which is defined as colorless, odorless and tasteless, and a lot of distilled spirits have followed suit. However, up-and-coming boutique rum brands are seeking to reintroduce “hogo,” a Creole-derived term rum aficionados use to describe what it is that makes rum great—a unique and underlying funky grassiness owing to its base product, sugar cane. And as a progressive mixologist and author of How to Booze: Exquisite Cocktails and Unsound Advice, I’m pretty excited about this trend.

The French believe wine takes on the properties of the region it comes from. I believe that this concept can be loosely applied to distilled spirits. Rum’s roots are largely in the Caribbean where sugar grows up next to pineapple, lime and coconuts.

The main thing to keep in mind when making rum cocktails is that rum is to be tasted and appreciated. When you make a rum cocktail, you want to taste the rum as well as the mixer, which we like to refer to as ‘modifiers.’

Now here is the catch: If you’ve only ever tipped wildly popular commercial rums, you may have never really had rum. Rum is more than just a vanilla-scented, or artificially flavored, mostly tasteless liquid. It should have a mixture of flavors connoting its origins and possibly employ barrel aging in some way. Fun fact: rum has fewer guidelines than any other spirit. You can’t buy Scotch made in Holland, because Scotch by definition comes from Scotland. Rum, on the other hand, can come from anywhere and contain just about anything, so long as it’s sugar cane based. This allows craft rum producers such as Denizen to come up with their own flavor profiles by blending rums and techniques from different islands like Trinidad and Jamaica.

The main thing to keep in mind when making rum cocktails, however, is that rum is to be tasted and appreciated. When you make a rum cocktail, you want to taste the rum as well as the mixer, which we like to refer to as ‘modifiers.’ These six rum cocktails allow you to do just that. Your friends and the ladies will love them, and I for one will salute you for putting all that funk to good use.


One of the quintessential—and most misunderstood—drinks for cocktail nerds. It’s a seamless blend of white rum, sugar and lime, and its beauty is its simplicity: all three ingredients can be found within a few yards from one another in the village of Daquiri, Cuba. Bet you didn’t know that.

2 oz rum
¾ oz fresh squeezed lime juice
½ to ¾ oz simple syrup or granulated sugar to taste

Place all ingredients into a shaker.
Add ice and shake well.
Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Garnish with a wedge or wheel of lime.

Mai Tai

Invented by the Godfather of Tiki, “Trader Vic” Bergeron in 1994, this simple sour variation employs a hard to find ingredient in orgeat (almond & sugar) syrup. Look at specialty foods stores and keep this stuff refrigerated. Always use fresh limes and a decent curaçao orange liqueur like Grand Marnier.

1 oz Jamaican Rum
1 oz Martinique Rum
1 oz fresh lime juice
½ oz orange curaçao
¼ oz sugar syrup
¼ oz orgeat syrup

Shake well with plenty of crushed ice and pour unstrained into a double Old Fashioned glass.
Sink your spent lime shell and garnish with a mint sprig.

Ti’ Punch 

Like the Cuban daiquiri or the Brazilian caipirinha, this classic uses the holy trinity of rum, lime and a cane-based sweetener. For an authentic Ti’ Punch, you’ll need cane syrup, though making a thick (2:1) syrup from sugar-in-the-raw will suffice in a pinch. I happen to like tweaking this drink (call it sacrilege) by changing out the agricole for the funky flavors of Denizen Rum.

2 oz Rhum Agricole (or similar)
½ teaspoon sugar cane syrup

Roll the lime firmly on a hard surface, cut it in four, and squeeze one of the quarters over an Old Fashioned glass. Place one or two of the quarters in the glass.
Pour in rhum agricole or similar and add cane syrup to taste. Stir until the syrup is dissolved and add a few ice cubes. Stir again until cold and serve.

Cuba Libre

Another legendary story to be kicked around by cocktail nerds world ’round. The drink’s name is said to commemorate the call of Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders circa 1900 by a group of GIs in Havana. Like its majority ingredient, Coca Cola, it was cheap and easy to replicate and still maintains its status as one of the tests of a good, flavorful rum.

2 oz rum
Lime wedges
Fresh Coca Cola (Mexican Coke with cane sugar, should you be able to find it)

Pour the rum into a highball glass over fresh ice, then pour in Coca Cola.
Squeeze the juice of one wedge of lime in the glass and then rub the oils from the skin on the glass’s rim.
Stir this mixture lightly with a straw or cocktail stirrer.
Add the second wedge of lime onto the glass’s rim as garnish and serve.

El Presidente

The El Presidente is an obscure cocktail from the heyday of Havana, Cuba. While we were suffering through National Prohibition in the States, our little buddy 90 miles from Key West was happily providing the revelry that American tourists were after, and bars like El Floridita were churning out what would become a large part of the lexicon of classic rum-based cocktails. El Presidente is a rare example of a stirred, spirit on spirit, “aromatized cocktail” (think Martini, Manhattan, etc.)

2 oz Denizen Rum
1 oz Bianco Vermouth
½ oz Orange Curaçao (Royal Combier)
1 teaspoon pomegranate grenadine
1 dash Regan’s orange bitters

Pour all ingredients into a mixing glass, add ice to two-thirds full and stir with a barspoon.
Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and express the oil of a long watch of orange peel with as little white pith as possible. 
Place the rind in the drink.

Rum Flip

No list of time’s most popular rum drinks would be complete without the mention of Colonial American tavern drinking. This one is for the adventurous soul who will try an egg in their drink. In 18th Century America when taking the long carriage trip from New York City to Albany, let’s say.

2 oz rum
1 heaping teaspoon sugar or 1/2 oz simple syrup
1 egg
Fresh nutmeg

Place sugar and rum in the shaker and dissolve if necessary.
Crack egg into shaker and shake DRY.
Add ice, shake and strain into a small tumbler or cocktail glass.
Grate fresh nutmeg over top.

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