Essential to Caribbean classics like the Daiquiri or Piña Colada, rum tends to conjure the climate of its native tropics. Indeed, when shaken (or swizzled, for that matter) and paired with the bright kick of citrus or a mountain of crushed ice, the sugar cane spirit demonstrates its inherent refreshing qualities. But throw it into the mixing glass alongside—or in lieu of—whiskey in an Old-Fashioned or swap it in for gin in a winterized Negroni, and rum shows off its impressive adaptability to cool-weather cocktails.
The Negroni has proved a popular template in drawing out rum’s warmer side. Take, for instance, John Filkins’ Sangue di Gambi, which builds off of a Guyanese rum base, paired with alpine amaro in place of vermouth and Cappelletti aperitivo instead of Campari. The end result leans into baking spices for a heartier take on the aperitivo classic. In The Night Shining, meanwhile, both rum and kümmel are recast from their typical roles in shaken, citrusy drinks into a more robust, contemplative cocktail that gets a bitter twist from a teaspoon of Campari.
Even in formulas that typically call for an aged brown spirit, rum has a way of adding another layer of depth. In the Manhattan-inspired El Duque, rum stands in for whiskey and sherry for sweet vermouth, while a hit of cold-brew coffee and chocolate bitters round out the recipe. In the Rum River Mystic, the traditional rye base of the Preakness cocktail is complemented by aged rum alongside Byrrh and tiki bitters that “give it a bit of island spice,” according to bartender Paul McGee.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Old-Fashioned template is fertile ground for showcasing rum’s moodier side. Uncomplicated riffs like The Mutineer simply add a dash of Angostura bitters to the spirit-plus-sweetener formula, while others, like Chris Flannery-McCoy’s The Bachelor split the rum base with amaro and add a hit of absinthe for a drink that reads like an Old-Fashioned crossed with a Sazerac by way of the Caribbean. It’s Julia McKinley’s Fort Nite, however, that shows even a little rum goes a long way. Equal parts rye, Jamaican rum, Madeira and rancio sec (a French oxidative wine), the drink re-casts the Old-Fashioned at a lower octane. “I wanted to do something that obviously incorporated lower-ABV ingredients, but still had enough of a punch,” says McKinley. Rye gives it that hearty backbone, while Madeira and rancio sec add layers of sweet, nutty and dry. “And, of course, rum,” says McKinley. Because, well, rum.