Rum’s Bad Rap

May 8, 2008 at 2:05 am (Our Favorite Things) (, , , , )

This upsets me.

Phil Vettel posted this little blurb on “The Stew,” the Trib’s food and wine blog. Vettel writes that making Mint Juleps is “polluting perfectly good bourbon,” and he commends The Fifty/50 (2047 W. Division St.) for making 10 Cane Mint Juleps, which use 10 Cane Rum instead of bourbon.

There are several things wrong with this:

1) First, we have some misinformation on our hands. Vettel says that the 10 Cane Mint Julep, a combination of the rum, shaved ice, homemade mint syrup, and fresh mint, “more closely resembles a caipirinha than a traditional mint julep.” A Caipirinha is a cocktail made with sugar, muddled lime, and cachaça (a Brazilian spirit made by distilling fermented sugarcane juice). 10 Cane Rum is made with sugarcane instead of with molasses, so in this respect it resembles cachaça. The rest of the recipe, however, doesn’t fit: Caipirinhas have no mint; the 10 Cane Mint Julep has no lime. I can’t imagine this 10 Cane Mint Julep much resembling a Caipirinha. (As one apt commenter on “The Stew” points out, it seems like the closest kin is probably a mojito.)

2) Another disheartening aspect of this blurb is the underlying assumption that rum cannot be a “fine” spirit, worthy of being sipped on its own. Just like there are many bourbons that are best drank straight, there are many rums that you would not want to throw willy-nilly into cocktails. Check out this web site, dedicated to understanding and appreciating fine rum:

4) One more thing, and then I will end this rant: just because a spirit lends itself well to cocktails, does not mean it is inferior. There are a great many bourbons that I like mixing in cocktails, not necessarily because they are not good enough to be drank straight, but because they have flavors that pair wonderfully with various herbs, bitters, or liqueurs. And just like rum, there are certainly bourbons that I would not put in cocktails, because neither the spirit nor its accompaniments would be served by a collaboration.  

On that note, I am pleased to announce that we will soon be carrying an excellent cocktail rum. The Scarlet Ibis was handcrafted for the bar Death & Co. in New York City, where the mixologists were looking for a distinctive dark rum that was high enough in proof to maintain its integrity in a cocktail. They blended 3-5 year old barrels of dark rum from Trinidad to make this 98 proof rum that will soon be gracing the shelves of Lush. Drink it straight, use it in a cocktail (recipes to come!), but please don’t ever say that rum does not deserve to be called a fine spirit.   

Posted by Jane


  1. Edward Hamilton said,

    I was surprised to see that Lush will have a few bottles of Scarlet Ibis for sale in Chicago. Considering the small size of the bottling and the distribution obstacles associated with small batches you are lucky indeed.

    More than a few people around the country are looking for a bottle or two of that rum, not just because it is hard to find, but because it is a good 98 proof rum. Congratulations, hopefully you’ll be able to find a few more special rums for your customers.

  2. nw said,

    That, Sir, is no Julep.

    Mr. Vettle should have his tongue pummeled with punishing blows from a well used and bourbon-soaked muddler.

    A proper julep can be more meditation or rite than cocktail when served in the appropriate context. Not that I have any problem with rum, nor any problem with rum, mint, sugar and soda (sounds nice actually). It is just not a Julep.

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