At La Descarga, a popular cocktail is the Cortadita. Roberts macerates ground coffee in rum as the base spirit. For a garnish, he flames a cinnamon stick like a cigar and sets it smoldering on the rim.
“I’ve seen people try to puff it,” says Roberts. “It makes the bar smell good, and if we light up a drink, we sell a bunch more.”
Hot in the spicy sense is the Mama Juana, with rum and pineapple juice spiked with house-made tamale syrup.
The Flan Flip cocktail uses a whole egg, sweetened condensed milk, lemon juice, caramel syrup and Barbados 5-year rum. It’s given a dry shake to froth the egg, then shaken with ice and served in snifter.
The drink is flamed with a torch to caramelize a layer of sweet crust. As the flan is bruleed, cinnamon is sprinkled over the glass, which ignite like tiny fireworks.
“Sparks fly, catch people’s eyes, which has a domino effect on sales,” says Roberts.
At Breadfruit, The Shorty cocktail is made with rum, house tonic and habanero syrup; it’s garnished by smudging the glass with a burnt sage bundle that gives the lingering aromatics, present in every sip.
“The Garrison cocktail, made with pot still rum, botanical dram and cigar tincture, is finished with the toasted end of a cinnamon stick. The rich, comforting aroma sets the atmosphere at the bar,” comments Allen.
Among the various ingredients that make their way into Breadfruit’s innovative cocktails are saffron, bay leaf, sage, tamarind, Irish moss, Earl Grey tea and tincture of cigar. “The kitchen leads what goes on in the bar,” says Allen. “We raid the pantry and make lots of tinctures.”
A house-made herb dram liqueur contains 18 different spices. It’s featured in the Tamarind Ball cocktail, an homage to a candy Allen loved when growing up—garnished with a tamarind ball the kitchen produces.
The Sipping Point
Despite all the cool cocktails, operators who are truly invested in the rum experience believe that its most promising future lies in fine, aged sipping rums.
“There are rums for mixing and rums for sipping,” acknowledges Roberts. “We educate people to appreciate the sippers.” A 2-oz. pour of those aged rums is priced from $8 to $60. The bar manager relates a story about a customer who wanted a 25-year-old rum in a Dark & Stormy. He refused to do that, instead offering a glass of the fine rum and a side of house-made ginger beer, and urged the guest to try it on its own.
“I said, ‘How old are you?’” Roberts recalls. “‘This rum is as old as you are, and it’s taken all these years for it to be ready to drink, and you want to dump it into soda? I want you to appreciate the nuances.’”
Cachaça Beyond the Caipirinha
Cachaça, the national spirit of Brazil,hasn’t made much of a splash in the U.S. market yet. Most bars with an ambitious rum collection carry a bottle or two of cachaça, if only to mix Caipirinhas—the signature cocktail.
The two spirits are cousins; while rum is usually made from molasses; cachaça is distilled from sugarcane juice. Cheaper products come from column stills with little or no aging; artisanal versions are distilled in pot stills and aged in oak barrels. This latter category is attracting the attention of American mixologists.
Isla stocks two bottles: the top-shelf is Agua Luca and Pitu Aguardiente is used for Caipirinhas, says bar manager Lopez.
To show off cachaça’s range of expressions, The Breadfruit & Rum Bar offers guests a flight from a young cachaça to an aged example. The Brazilian spirit is ideal for summer cocktails, says Allen, who predicts it will move beyond the Caipirinha.
La Descarga has two signature cachaça cocktails: Tia Nena, which is a spin on the Negroni, made with plata, sweet vermouth, lime and grapefruit juices. And the Red Sash, made with a spiced cachaça, house-made banana syrup, Diplomatico rum and lime juice.
“We get a lot of people asking for Caipirinhas, too,” says La Descarga manager Roberts. He expects a surge of interest in cachaça coinciding with the Summer Olympics in Brazil. “It’s pending; it’s definitely going to happen,” he says.
Thomas Henry Strenk is Brooklyn-based writer specializing in all things drinkable.