While cocktail insiders and enthusiasts appreciate the many different styles of rum, many consumers consider the spirit to be out of fashion. A seminar titled the Reemergence of Rum panel at the second annual Thirst Boston cocktail conference last month offered a few tips on how to get guests interested in rum again.
Boston-based mixologist Misty Kalkofen moderated the panel, which included Joaquín Simó of New York cocktail bars Death & Co. and Pouring Ribbons fame, and Charles Joly, most recently of The Aviary in Chicago. They noted that one problem bartenders have with the rum-averse is that the first experiences some consumers have with rum aren’t great.
As a bartender, Kalkofen she has heard all too often from customers who were turned off by rum “after a bad night in college.” So one way get them to try to erase those crummy memories is to serve rum with familiar flavors in a drink they already enjoy. For instance, you might use aged rum as a substitute for whiskey in classic cocktails such as the Manhattan and the Old Fashioned.
Another tactic is to let guests sample some of your bar’s specialty rum libations. Joly recalled one his favorite traditions at The Aviary of whipping up a batch of modified Banana Daiquiris at midnight for staff and guests alike to sample.
Not only did the comp cocktails serve as a fun communal moment, they also put rum on the radar for guests who may not have given it a second thought otherwise, Joly said. Planting those seeds can be a good way to open customers up to rum down the line.
And as with any spirit, taking the time to educate your customers about rum can go a long way to getting them interested and excited about it. That means you and your staff need to understand the nuances of rum, of course, and not just the ins and outs of individual brands.
Unlike bourbon, whiskey and scotch—spirits that follow some degree of uniform production regulations and have formal governing bodies—there is no single set of guidelines for rum production. That puts the onus on bartenders to do some research if they want to know their stuff, the panel said.
Rum also boasts a colorful history that can be fun to share with guests. The panel suggested two books to check out to gain a better understanding of run: And A Bottle of Rum by Wayne Curtis and Caribbean Rum by Frederick H. Smith.