Alcohol, like most things, can often be intimidating for the very reasons that it can be rewarding. As many spirits, aperitifs, bitters, and liqueurs exist as could possibly be dreamed up, and with the current boom in the craft cocktail and distilling industries, even a bona fide expert must learn to expect, and hopefully enjoy, the unexpected.

Working your way through this labyrinth is just that: work. When I was first learning to bartend, my manager consistently emphasized this point—that enjoying alcohol is about developing taste through a discovery of spirits. His favorite milepost on that journey was rum. “Everybody always thinks they’re into whiskey;” he was quick to point out; “but just because they haven’t realized they love rum yet.”

Golden Cadillac 200Soothsayer of Hooches he was not; but it would appear lately that the barman’s sweet spot for sugarcane was right on the money. Rum is everywhere these days—seeping up between whiskey and tequila into the consciousness of craft cocktailers from coast to coast. The Wall Street Journal recently acknowledged the inevitable return of the Disco-era cocktail with a profile of Golden Cadillac, the new bar from Greg Boehm, owner of ubiquitous bar supply retailer, Cocktail Kingdom. Golden Cadillac’s Colada and Cooler-heavy program is heavy on rums and liqueurs, as are recent offerings from Jeffery Morganthaler’s Pepe Le Moko, located in the basement of recent James Beard “Outstanding Bar Program” nominee, Clyde Common, in Portland, Oregon. Even click-bait viral journalists at Gawker have gotten in on the Caribbean craze, quoting both Sammy Hagar: “You can do shots like tequila,” and Lord Byron: “There’s nought, no doubt, so much the spirit calms as rum and true religion,” in the process.

All this is to say that rum is the best way to keep the dust off your liquor cabinet this year. And the best part is that you only need one bottle to get the most out of the previously elusive libation.

That bottle is Smith & Cross Navy Strength Jamaican Rum. Produced at the Hampden Estate from equal parts Wedderburn and Plummer type distillates, and clocking in at a whopping 114 proof (handle with care!), this deeply sweet, spicy, earthy elixir is on one hand a time capsule for spirits of yesteryear, and on the other, a perfect shortcut to more modern takes on tiki-style staples of this, and probably next, summer.

Learning to use it at home couldn’t be easier. Here are three ways to get a feel for the foreign ingredient hot on the heels of the trend, and to familiarize yourself with it’s character even before Mai Thai season comes calling.

One simple method of exploring a new spirit is to see how it reacts in place of a usual suspect in an otherwise traditional cocktail—replacing white rum with gin in a Hemingway Daiquiri, for instance, or gin with cognac in a more classically rooted (and in almost all ways superior) French 75.

Cue: the Smith & Cross Sazerac. Shown to me by another tenured manager, it’s the drink I make for myself more often than any other, and the first trick I throw at patrons looking to expand their palates.

The recipe follows a fairly typical Sazerac template: two ounces of your base spirit (in this case Smith & Cross), one quarter ounce Rich Demerara Syrup (2:1 simple syrup with Demerara sugar instead of white), and three dashes of Peychaud’s Bitters, stirred and strained into a chilled, absinthe or Pernod-rinsed Rocks Glass, and served up, with a lemon twist. The rum’s most intense qualities are made shockingly palatable by the addition of bitters and anisette. Tropical sweetnesses lingering beneath its leathery aroma are brought to life by the brightness of the lemon oil, and rich honey mid-palate is exposed and anchored by the more full-bodied Demerara.

Negroni 200But why stop here? When the sailor’s Sazerac might feel too heavy, try Smith & Cross in a Negroni, (with sweet vermouth and Campari), or while it’s still cold out, in a Toddy: One and half ounces of Smith & Cross, half an ounce of lemon juice, a quarter ounce of orange juice, and your sweetener of choice (honey, syrup, Allspice Dram, for a true standout, or Galliano Liqueur a la Dave Shenaut of Portland’s esteemed Rum Club, Beaker and Flask, and Rookery Bar). Top your rum and citrus with hot water to broaden and make more perceptible each note in the otherwise dense spirit.

To be truly economical, Smith & Cross can even be used as a rinse or float to lend its sweet, leathery backbone to almost any spirit-forward cocktail, from a Manhattan to a Martini.

In small quantities, the almost vegetative and distinctly rum-y funk plays well with nearly anything you can think of. In large, more adventurous portions, the secondary ingredients play the role of highlighting or accounting for attributes you wish to accentuate or downplay. In either case, as strong, intimidating, and perhaps acquired a taste as Smith & Cross is, it can and should be explored and consumed with a careful (or perhaps even careless) voracity, and you needn’t be Robert Louis Stevenson, or even a professional mixologist to do so.

What’s your favorite rum-based libation? Let us know in the comments!

Image Credits:

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Smith & Cross:

Golden Cadillac: