The Moscow Mule is a pretty simple thing. A couple ounces of vodka, a squeeze of lime juice and some ginger beer. Combine it all over ice inside a copper mug and stir the hell out of it until the outside of the mug turns frosty. It’s delicately spicy, refreshing as hell and the perfect cocktail for spring. It’s so good, I’ve never felt the need to tamper with it, but then Havana Club sent me a bottle of their Anejo Clasico Puerto Rican Rum and suggested I substitute it for the vodka in a Mule. So I did. And it was good.
I’ve gone through a lot of phases during the 20+ years of my cocktail “career.” I started out by throwing a whole bunch of ingredients together in a backyard woodshed that I turned into a bar for myself and my underage friends. The cocktails were horrible, but I was in love with the creativity and experimentation of it all. I spent my college years dedicated to the simple things in life: vodka and orange juice; bourbon and ginger ale. Then an obsession with martinis led to a long-standing purist phase where every cocktail had to be made according to tradition, with no variation whatsoever. Cocktails were serious business; they needed to be made by the book.
It’s easy to get sucked into this strict, Reinheitsgebot-type of cocktail appreciation. A perfectly made Old Fashioned or Negroni is absolutely sublime. And cocktails are serious, right? Just look at all of the waxed mustaches and bowties that have made their way back into the scene over the last several years. Those aren’t “bartenders,” they’re “mixologists.” This is science, damn it. Science!
But here’s something I forgot while diving into the rabbit hole of classic cocktail puritanical fervor: a cocktail is supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to taste good and make it easier to talk to that girl you work with. It’s supposed to make you better at darts and give late-night episodes of Archer more meaning.
We could all use an occasional reminder that cocktails should bring a smile to your face, and one sure-fired way to make classic cocktails more fun is to make them with rum. Ask any college kid on spring break in the Caribbean and they’ll tell you, “rum is fun.”
Purists will scoff, but aged rum is a particularly good stand in for whiskey-based drinks. You get some of the same characteristics from the barrel, but rum can add new levels of fruit and sweetness to some simple cocktails. And yeah, rum can work as a substitute for vodka in certain drinks too. So, with the spirit of fun in mind, we took a few classic cocktails and made them with Havana Club Anejo Clasico. I like this particular booze for this scenario because it’s not precious. It’s inexpensive (under $30) and only aged for one to three years. In short, this rum is built for mixing.
So, your homework for this spring is to have more fun with your cocktails. Start by mixing the rum variations of classics listed below. God speed.
I know: don’t fuck with the Old Fashioned recipe. It’s sacred. But just give this version a try. In an Old Fashioned, the aged rum works well with the orange peel and the bitters, giving the drink new levels of tropical fruitiness.
2 oz. Aged rum
1 sugar cube
2 dashes of orange bitters
Directions: Add sugar and bitters to a glass and muddle. Add the rum and stir. Drop a chunk of ice into the glass, rub the orange peel across the rim and leave in the glass as a garnish.
Rum and mint go together like peanut butter and jelly. Add crushed ice and you have a PBJ with bacon. What’s that? You’ve never had a PBJB? Stop what you’re doing and make that sandwich right now. Wash it down with this refreshing beverage.
1 tsp. Sugar
3 oz. Aged rum
Lots of mint
Directions: Tradition dictates that you put this cocktail in a pewter cup, but if you don’t have one lying around, a copper mug will do. Or hell, glass is fine, too. We’re not standing on ceremony here. Anyway, put the sugar and a bunch of mint in the glass and muddle. Add the rum then load the glass with crushed ice and stir the hell out of it. Top it off with more mint.
This is the cocktail that opened my eyes to how versatile rum can be. It adds a depth of flavor to the Mule that you don’t find with the original.
2 oz. Aged rum
4 oz. Ginger beer
2 Lime wedges
2 Dashes of bitters
Directions: Fill a copper mug with crushed ice. Squeeze the limes into the ice and drop in their carcasses. Add the bitters, rum and ginger beer. Stir like crazy until the mug is frosty.