Rum is the key element of numerous classic cocktails that range from sweet and festive to tart and complex. We will explore these great cocktails here examining the Hurricane, Mojito, Zombie, Mai Tai, and of course the greatly abused Daiquiri.

The Origin of Rum Cocktails

Rum Cocktails emerged organically far before the word “cocktail” was spoken. Born in the Caribbean, Rum in the islands was initially mixed with water as the Rum was typically bottled at very high proof. Rum was then mixed with coconut water to soften the spirit with the further adornment of fresh limejuice. This simple cocktail is enjoyed to this day in Rum producing nations.

Rum was an important commodity and drink in Colonial America. Rum was often enjoyed in a “Toddy” mixed with sugar (sometimes spices were used by those who could afford them) and hot water. These homemade variations of the toddy were likely America’s first Rum cocktails. During America’s War of Independence the English successfully blocked shipments of molasses to the colonies effectively squashing the production of Rum. Post Independence embargoes with French and British territories further choked Rum and molasses supplies. American-made whiskey was more than happy to fill the void.

Rum, the Ultimate Adult Beverage

8811375495_36023a346d_zPost Prohibition, the drinking of adult beverages rose from the dark Speakeasy to the bright and festive Polynesian inspired Tiki bar. Iconic bars such as Don the Beachcomber in Hollywood opened in 1934 followed quickly by Trader Vic’s (Victor Bergeron) in Oakland, CA. Both establishments lay claim to having invented the quintessential Tiki cocktail, the Mai Tai. The Mai Tai, Daiquiri, and Zombie among others are Tiki cocktails reliant upon Rum. It’s hard to find a connection between Rum and Polynesia save the Tiki craze itself. White sand beaches, blue water, and palm trees are common imagery shared by the Caribbean and Polynesia so pass the Piña Colada with a colorful paper umbrella perched atop please…

The years following WWII witnessed the continued popularity of the Tiki movement thanks to the many stories from the returning American GIs, the popularity of the musical South Pacific (1949), and the establishment of Hawaiian statehood in 1959. In the decades to follow all cocktails fell victim to the trend of convenience ushering in mass-produced, commercial mixers. Perhaps Rum was injured more than most spirits categories as the spirit was so closely linked to poorly-made blender-centric drinks like the flavored Daiquiri and the Piña Colada.

Today the great old Rum cocktails of the past are returning to their fresh roots. Additionally Rum is now recognized as being perhaps the most congenial of spirits being freely substituted for whiskey and brandy in great classic cocktails like the Manhattan, Sidecar, and the Old Fashioned among others.