Rumbullion makes a comeback to become the hottest drink in town this winter

If gin is the liquor for serious people drinking serious cocktails, and tequila is for the let-it-all-hang-loose crowd, then rum is the unpretentious, laid-back brother out for a good time. Relax, slow down and stick an umbrella in it: rum is a liquor best served with a twist, and enjoyed while you’re reclining somewhere rather decadent.

In Hong Kong, the stylish bars of Central are taking rum to new levels of vogue. What was once seen as a drink for the unwashed proletariat has been worked over by bartenders and served with a modern twist, while aged and more expensive rums are getting the attention once reserved for scotches.

Rum has a long and chequered history (it’s not for nothing that it’s associated with pirates) but it was during the Prohibition in the US that it really became the public’s drink of choice. During Prohibition, the outright ban on the sale and consumption of alcohol led to the establishment of numerous speakeasies. And out of these speakeasies came classics such as the Old Fashioned and the Sidecar, which have now been given a twist by some of the best bars in town.

The New Rum Cocktails
One of several signature rum cocktails available at Mo Bar in the Landmark Mandarin Oriental is the New Fashioned, using aged rums, grapefruit and orange bitters and Angostura bitters. Working with rum is not easy, “we have to know the character and origin of the rum to know which mixers work with them. Light rum flavors such as Appleton, Havana Club and JM Rhum blend well with fruit, whereas Appleton White - a dry pot-distilled rum - tends to be heavier with a higher alcohol content, and is perfect for making Tiki cocktails”, says MO Bar’s Agung Prabowo.

Another bar that is making creative new cocktails with rum is Le Boudoir, managed by Max Traverse, a recent arrival from the London bar scene. He offers perhaps the most inspiring selection of unique rum-based cocktails, and features cocktails such as The Lucky Star, a Sazerac style mixture made with Appleton Vx, absinthe, sugar, and lime. Located four floors underground, there is no better place to invoke the spirit of rum’s lagubrious past.
Aged Rum
For those that enjoy their rum straight up, aged rums are the way to go, if not the easiest to locate. A shame, as aged rums, even just for a short period, are “smoother on the palate and with the longer maturing process, have deeper and more interesting flavours”, says Calvin Ku at Lily, the bar that has single-handedly ushered in Prohibition chic to Hong Kong. Barrel-aged rum has a more mature and developed flavor, “the oak barrel aging process helps develop the natural sugarcane qualities and gives it a hint of sweetness, similar to a brandy”, he continues. Everything from bianco to gold, and spiced to aged rum can be found at Lily and while you may not find dynamic incarnations of old classics there, the bar remains faithful to classics such as the Old Cuban, Periodista and the Rum Old Fashion. “All our cocktails at Lily and Bloom draw inspiration from the late 1890s to the Prohibition-era, are true to the essence of classic cocktails. Nothing is complicated by too many ingredients”.
Good Rum and Bad Rum
So how does one differentiate between good rum and bad rum? Light rums are primarily found in cocktails, and therefore the most abundant. Dark rums have a more distinct flavor; for that reason the spiced or flavored dark rums are a more acquired taste. Look for rhum agricole for the purest blend, while cheaper brands more often than not are known as rhum industriale. However, the difference isn’t quite so cut and dry, “we can’t say that one is better than the other, because some rhum industriales are very smooth and easy to drink and some rhum agricoles are not so easy to drink”, Prabowo explains. Quality brands such as Appleton, Clement, Rhum JM, Mount Gay and Havana Club may prove to be harder to find than your average bottle of Bacardi, but are well worth hunting down.

This excerpt is taken from Revolution's Winter 2010 issue.