This is the only time rum and Coke will be mentioned. We will not discuss mojitos because enough already. Nor will tiki drinks be touched upon as they are a subset unto themselves. However, as this is a piece about rum, we will dwell on the daiquiri. But first a word from our sponsors.
Just kidding. But I did sit down with a congenial host to get the lowdown on a spirit I have ignored over the years. Tim Bryand is the assistant manager and head wine and spirits guy at NAO; its small bar sports 25 rums—if you count the three cachaças. With stints including Bohanan’s Bar and The Esquire under his belt, Bryand is well placed to conduct a tutorial in almost anything spirituous, but as NAO’s focus is Latin American, rum is a natural. He started by sampling me with small shots.
The first was a silver, unaged rum (made, as are most, from molasses) from Panama’s Caña Brava. It was snappy and bright with a hint of lime peel. Next came 10 Cane from Trinidad. The label doesn’t use the term rhum agricole, but that’s what this was a twice-distilled version of—a “first-press” rum made directly from fermented and distilled sugar cane juice. (“Only about five percent of rums are made this way,” explained Bryand.) It had hints of vanilla and light caramel. Both of these categories can be aged, often in used bourbon barrels, to yield amber (or gold), then dark products. But for sobriety’s sake we next went to a blackstrap from Cruzan. “They boil it three times,” Bryand said of the molasses used in this dark and distinctive variation, heavy on allspice and clove aromas and flavors. The final leap was to a Smith & Cross Navy-strength rum at 57 percent alcohol (40 percent is the norm), a potential burner that turned out to be merely a little rowdy with fruity banana tones and a touch of yeast. Having successfully completed the course so far, the reward was a brace of daiquiris.
The daiquiri may be the ultimate, unfussy summer drink. Bryand’s ratio is two ounces rum, ¾ ounce fresh lime juice and ¾ ounce simple syrup shaken with ice and served in a chilled coupe—no garnish. Variation number one–fragrant, crisp and bracing—was made with Caña Brava, number two with the Smith & Cross Navy-strength—“deelishus,” according to Bryand. I’d agree, but would take either one. I’d also happily repeat Bryand’s variation on an Old Fashioned with 12-year Zaya rum; it was stunningly spicy and aromatic.
And I’d get back to NAO often for one of Bryand’s weekly creations. “We don’t reinvent the wheel,” he said modestly, of his seductive riff on a French 75 that was Mother’s Little Helper, a summery blend of Cruzan with house-made hibiscus syrup, lemon and a splash of sparkling wine. For NAO’s second anniversary he’s created another version with cachaça, Aperol, lime and mango syrup.