National Rum Day is upon us soon! Alright, we’ll be honest with you, we know most of these “National Whatever Days” are pretty much bullshit, but we’re not going to complain about a day devoted to rum. And what better way to deploy rum than in tiki cocktails? So we asked a set of top tiki bartenders from around the country for their favorite rums and got a wealth of suggestions. Any of these Caribbean delights is good for sunny, tropical beverage any time of year.
PLANTATION O.F.T.D. ($32 FOR 1 LITER)
Martin Cate: Smuggler’s Cove, San Francisco
At the 2015 Tales of the Cocktail conference, Plantation’s rum master assembled a secret panel of rum experts to discuss a potential new product. Then, last December, they convened in France to taste samples, and this aged bottling is the result. The name stands for Old Fashioned Traditional Dark, and the mix of long-aged Jamaican and Guyanese rums is rolling out in the U.S. starting Sept. 1. Martin Cate, proprietor of San Francisco’s Smuggler’s Cove, was lucky enough to be a part of the group, and he’s justifiably proud, calling the 138-proof spirit a “rum designed by tiki lovers for exotic cocktails.”
EL DORADO 15 YEAR OLD SPECIAL RESERVE ($44), APPLETON ESTATE RARE BLEND 12 YEAR OLD ($38) & RHUM NEISSON 52.5° ($50 FOR 1 LITER)
Brian Miller: Tiki Mondays with Miller, New York City
Quoting tiki forefather Don the Beachcomber, Brian Miller says, “what one rum can’t do, three rums can.” And that’s why he chose a trio. For the last five years, Miller has been bringing tiki to thirsty New Yorkers through his pop-up series Tiki Mondays with Miller, and he says these three bottlings are his favorites for mixing. They bring in very different flavors: the El Dorado offers smooth sophistication, the Appleton deep Jamaican funk and the Neisson the distinctive earthiness of rhum agricole.
ZACAPA 23 ($45)
Chris Andrasfay: Frankie’s Tiki Room, Las Vegas
Kitsch is key to the appeal of both tiki and Las Vegas, and Frankie’s Tiki Room is proof of that. Its immersive decor, featuring original carvings and art by a raft of tiki all-stars, is matched by its powerfully tasty beverages. As managing partner of Frankie’s, Chris Andrasfay is responsible for many of those, along with the bar’s impressive list of 171 rums, and he says this Guatemalan bottling has been his favorite for many years, thanks to the deeply oaky flavors that come from aging way up in the mountains, at over 7500 feet above sea level. “Smooth, a touch of vanilla and a bit of cocoa—this rum is the girl who didn’t get away!” Andrasfay says.
ATLANTICO RESERVA ($28)
Yael Vengroff: The Spare Room, Los Angeles
Los Angeles’ The Spare Room isn’t a tiki bar per se, but its menu is chock full of delightful rum creations, it hosts monthly “An Evening of Tiki” nights featuring guest bartenders from around the country and bar director Yael Vengroff is a master of original tiki drinks. Her pick comes from the Dominican Republic, representing a cleaner, crisper style than the funky rums from Jamaica and the French-speaking Caribbean islands. “Reserva is an incredibly versatile workhorse rum that is able to make itself present in a cocktail without overpowering the other flavors,” Vengroff says.
PLANTATION 3 STARS ($25 FOR 1 LITER) & EL DORADO 8 YEAR OLD CASK AGED ($28)
Mindy Kucan: Hale Pele, Portland
The manager of the finest tiki bar in Portland, Ore., Hale Pele, Mindy Kucan knows her rums. And that’s why she picked two. For mixed drinks with tropical juices, she likes Plantation 3 Stars, a white rum that “delivers the funky flavors of Jamaica with the refinement of rum from Barbados and Trinidad.” But for sipping, as well as in Daiquiris and Old Fashioneds, she turns to the 8-year-old from Guyana’s El Dorado, calling it “sophisticated yet masculine, like a well-traveled gentleman.”
RHUM J.M GOLD ($35)
Erin Hayes: Lost Lake, Chicago
With its clever combination of craft-cocktail sophistication and fun-loving tiki sensibility, Chicago’s Lost Lake is probably the most influential tiki bar in the world right now. Much of that is thanks to bar manager Erin Hayes, who creates an array of creative drinks. “J.M Gold is perfect to drink on its own, but also adds complexity to cocktails with its drier, more vegetal flavor profile,” she says of this fine rum from Martinique. “And because it’s aged 12 months in oak, it carries beautiful barrel flavors without overpowering the fresh, grassy notes that make rhum agricole so unique and delicious.”
CLÉMENT VSOP RHUM VIEUX AGRICOLE ($40)
Christie White: The Hukilau Tiki Festival, Fort Lauderdale
The distinctive vanilla and oak notes of aged rum are essential for a proper Mai Tai, and this one from Martinique is what Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White likes to use in hers. And over 15 years as co-founder and organizer of The Hukilau, the East Coast’s largest tiki festival, Tiki Kiliki has certainly made her share of Mai Tais. “I love the hints of flavors I taste as this selection is aged in both French oak and bourbon barrels,” she says.
WATCH JASON BLIND TASTE TEST BOTTOM-SHELF VODKA