Roused by rum

Roused by rum

Madhulika Dash finds out what makes rum such a fascinating drink and a winter craving

Buttered rum

True, not most Indians are big fans of the eggnog, Tom & Jerry or buttered hot rum, but come winters, and even whiskey lovers surrender to the smooth, rich, velvety deliciousness and balmy comfort of one of the oldest spirits known to mankind — rum.

For good reason though, says seasoned bartender and Bacardi brand ambassador, Avinash Kapoli, “as many believed that rum keeps you warm in winters, strengthens the bones, combats muscular pain, promotes heart health and gives you that extra punch of energy.”

Incidentally, says nutritionist Sveta Bhassin, “much of it is a myth, except for the warm feeling that rum gives. The alcohol percentage in rum is more and hence the body works harder to metabolise it and detox the liver. The result, the body temperature rises making you feel warmer.”

Concurs Aman Dua, co-owner Raahi and a bartender who has worked extensively with the winter elixir. The benefits are even lesser in case of the Indian rum that is hardly aged and is heavier compared to its Caribbean peers, says the award-winning bartender, “but as a spirit, it is one of the most versatile on the bar counter, and when done rightly can even take on vodka, the popular spirit behind most cocktails.”

Consider Old Fashioned, says Kapoli. While the original calls in for whiskey, sugar, bitter and a hint of lime, it blends well with an aged rum as well. Likewise with Punch, which, says Dua, “came from the use of five elements, needs rum to help mature the other ingredients used. The Cider Spiritz is another example where rum can replace a whiskey in a cinch. And the classic Hot Toddy, of course. While many can swear by whiskey or cognac, rum makes a better version given its ability to season ingredients, thus enhancing their flavour in a drink.”

That fascinating flexibility of rum, says Yangdup Lama, owner, Sidecar, “along with rum slight heavy notes not only made rum one of the most drunk spirit in the world, but a favourite of bartenders too, who like their rum drinks mostly neat, with an ingredient or two or in Cuban Libre style (coke and rum). After all, the palate play of a good rum is one where it first coats the tongue so you can taste the different notes and then slowly disappears to allow you to go for the next.”

In a way, adds Dua, “it works like a Christmas pudding, well made: it is rich, indulging, smooth and yet allows you the pleasures of tasting the little ingredients like the spices and dry fruits.” While this quality of rum has earned it the worldwide popularity with rum fanatics and connoisseurs who can rouse a rabble for their favourite drink, it has also made it one of the most sought after drink during winters.

Of course, what adds to the rum charms are legendary stories, says Varun Sudhakar, Head, Innovation and Operations (Beverages), The Project.

“It was created by the slaves, caused the American revolution, was a currency in history and eventually became a part of the armed forces ration during the world wars and later, inspiring many a brilliant dishes as well – like the old-school cobbler and of course the Christmas plum cake.”

While that could explain the rum’s overindulgence in winters, especially during festivals, there is, insist experts, “a better way to drink rum – with quarter of the guilt.”

One of the best ways to start drinking rum is being versatile with the spirit, says Kapoli, who insists on trying different rum varieties neat (preferably) or in different classic cocktails. The reason, adds the seasoned bar hand, “is that this allows you to not only experience different notes of a light, dark or a white rum, it also cuts down on the quantity as well.” A fine example of this is Dua’s Comet, which plays with the tones of rum with coffee and spices, giving it that slow sipping quality where each sip becomes a burst of flavours.
Similarly, with Lama’s Pumpkin Pie In A Glass and Thyme Hot Buttered Rum. While the former celebrates the dessert with rum playing the base, the latter plays with the notes of a light rum.

Another interesting rum cocktail is Sudhakar’s Rum Runner, which takes the classic Daiquiri and turns it into a rum cocktail with slight tweaks like the barley grass powder infused sugar and egg white for texture. The result, says Sudhakar, “is a drink that you learn to pace out rather than gulp down at a go.”

Interestingly, the rise of the rum connoisseur has not only seen an advent of aged rum brands, which makes them less calorie heavy and enhances their taste in the country, adds Sudhakar, “it has also led to the evolution of this Japanese technique called fat washing, which is used to give rum more transparency and thus making it lighter without compromising on the taste.” Peanut, a stunningly clear rum cocktail uses peanut butter washed rum, vermouth and umeshu, adds the award-winning bartender. By looks, adds Kapoli, “it can rival a good martini with a dash of colour.” 

Dua’s Cupid too is made on similar lines. And while, adds Dua, “it is an interesting way to present rum for those who don’t like to have it neat, it does come with its share of calories and should be had in moderation.” In fact, Sudhakar has created his version of the eggnog using the same technique to give the Christmas must-have, an easy-on-the-palate treat. And just in case you had your fill, after all it’s the festive season, advises Bhassin, “always have it with a green salad on the side and finish the drinking session with a shot of lime juice, had neat. This followed by a glass of bitter gourd-spinach in the morning (again neat) will ensure the liver hasn’t taken much of the beating.”

Finally, ends Lama, “nothing beats the high of rum till it is had in moderation and altered between neat and a cleverly done cocktail.” 

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