How many iterations did it take to build Cane & Table’s Rum Old-Fashioned? “A lot of iterations,” says partner and bartender Kirk Estopinal. “Ten years’ worth of iterations!”
Made with a split base of Guyanese and Jamaican rums plus a barspoon of apricot liqueur, the drink fits right in with the vibe of the New Orleans bar, which leans tropical. But Estopinal remembers first playing with split bases, including rum, when he worked at Chicago’s Violet Hour in the mid-aughts.
“In the early days, we didn’t have a lot of good options for some spirits,” including rum, he recalls, and “split-basing” was a way to add strength, texture or flavor.
For the Rum Old-Fashioned at Cane & Table, Guyanese rum contributes richness and a robust, almost “syrupy” feel, while a half ounce of Hamilton Jamaican pot still gold rum adds funky aromatics and “more interesting depth of flavor,” according to Estopinal. Further, the lighter Jamaican rum balances out the fuller-bodied Guyanese rum to create a pleasing texture that he likens to whole milk. Higher-proof spirits are crucial for this template, he says; both rums clock in above 45 percent alcohol by volume, to maximize flavor.
As a sweetener, Demerara syrup adds “raisin-y molasses richness,” with minimal water content—another trick Estopinal first practiced at Violet Hour that creates better texture in the drink. In NOLA’s sweltering summer heat, this takes on added importance: “You have to be careful in New Orleans: Ice melts faster, so we try to control the water content” to avoid over-diluted drinks.
While it’s just a spoonful, “the apricot brandy was the addition that made this cocktail what it is,” Estopinal says, favoring Giffard’s Apricot Brandy for the recipe. He nods to the Fair and Warmer, a classic cocktail made with white rum and a small amount of fruit liqueur, as the inspiration that helped him recognize the “affinity” between rum and stone fruit.
“We’re always looking for ways to add a tropical aspect to cocktails,” he says, and the subtle funk and “jungle fruit vibe” of the apricot melds perfectly with the rum. “It really adds a backbone to the flavor.”
With the core of the drink in place, Estopinal adds the finishing touches. Angostura is the classic bitters for a whiskey-based Old-Fashioned, but he opts instead to dial back the Christmas-y spice and supplement with orange bitters, specifically Bittercube’s version, which has a fresh orange oil note that works well with rum and “keeps the aromatics of the drink strong.”
Served in a rocks glass over a large chunk of ice—again, to minimize melting in the NOLA heat—the drink is garnished with an orange coin placed atop the ice cube and freshly grated nutmeg. The latter “gives us a punch flavor profile” and nods to the Bombo, an early American rum cocktail topped with nutmeg.
He estimates this iteration of the Rum Old-Fashioned was reached in late 2018 or early 2019, shortly after he took over operations of Cane & Table from the departing Nick Detrich. “The basic bones of the cocktail were there already,” he recalls. “It was just a matter of gilding the lily and getting it more perfected for what we do.”
Still, almost definitely, this is not the final version of the drink.
“We’ve changed it for years—this is just the one we’re landing on now,” explains Estopinal. “I’m sure we’ll change it again. We have new people coming in all the time, and that changes the concept of what the drink should be, in that time. It’s like a painting you’re never finished with.”