Top Bartender Will Thompson’s Current Obsession: Mexican Rum
Talented Miami bartender Will Thompson is currently obsessed with Uruapan Charanda Blanco Rum from Mexico. Find out why you should be, too.
In the weeks leading up to opening Miami’s Jaguar Sun, co-founder Will Thompson had the difficult job of tasting through all sorts of spirits and liqueurs to decide what would make the bar’s final cut. He tried mezcals, tequilas, gins, vodkas and, of course, plenty of rums. But the spirit that stood out to him most, was the one he least expected: Uruapan Charanda Blanco Rum.
“You taste a lot of stuff that’s really not exceptional,” says Thompson, who opened Jaguar Sun with his business partner chef Carey Hynes (formerly of Momofuku and Per Se) last September. But “once in a while you come across something that just opens your eyes a little bit wider and that’s what I felt about that rum.”
Distilled from sugarcane or its byproducts—including melado, piloncillo and molasses—charanda (which in the Purépecha language means “red-colored soil”) is a style of rum that has been made in Mexico for centuries. It wasn’t until 2003, however, that the spirit was granted protective denominación de origen status, stating that charanda must be made in the Mexican state of Michoacán in the region of Uruapan.
The Uruapan Charanda Blanco that captured Thompson’s attention is one of just a few commercially available charandas outside of Mexico. The spirit is made from an equal blend of sugarcane juice distilled in a copper pot still and molasses distilled in a modified French-style column still. The sugarcane used for both ingredients is grown nearby in the region’s famed red, volcanic soil.
Though Thompson admittedly tries to avoid obsessing over things as he’s “already airing on the side of being a geeky bartender,” he says what’s exciting about this 92-proof rum is finding out what it can’t do.
“I was concerned I was only going to be able to put it in geeky bartender drinks, but increasingly I’ve just been using it as a white rum,” says Thompson. “It checks a lot of boxes for me.”
When Thompson first tasted the charanda, he says it reminded him of a rhum agricole thanks to its prominent heat and hogo funk. But, he adds that its underlying big fruit flavor—like “exploding, overripe pineapples”—masks the esters and any potential harshness.
So far, Uruapan Charanda Blanco is featured in two cocktails on the menu at Jaguar Sun: a spirit-forward pineapple Daiquiri (“a drink that we see reordered over and over again, which is really cool”) and the Very Strong Baby (recipe below), which combines the spirit with pear eau de vie, strawberry-infused Campari, and vermouth.
Another box this funky spirit checks for Thompson is its price—it retails at a very reasonable $26 for a liter.
“There’s a whole universe of things that are very delicious and also expensive,” he says. “I think a lot of the time your job as a bartender is to seek out that value that hasn’t been explored yet and then pass that along to people by making inexpensive, delicious drinks that lead a guest to want to come back.”
It doesn’t hurt that the bottle is eye-catching.
“The fact that it’s visually beautiful goes a really long way with guests,” says Thompson. “That’s what I learned with mezcal. It can help somebody who doesn’t want to have a conversation with you about ancestral rum styles from some of the smaller states in Mexico open their minds to, ‘I don’t care what that is, just give it to me in a drink.’”
Thompson’s newfound love of Uruapan Charanda Blanco has also encouraged him to seriously consider rums and other rum-like spirits from outside the same standard Caribbean islands —from clairins in Haiti to Brazilian cachaça.
“Sugarcane spirits in general are in the midst of a really exciting time,” he says. “Even though [charanda] is not a Caribbean rum where a lot of the [rum] conversation is coming from, it’s still tapped into this idea of making really great unadulterated spirit and being really transparent about it—I think that’s really important.”
- 1 oz Charanda
- .5 oz Pear eau de vie
- 1 oz Strawberry-infused Campari*
- 1 oz Chinato Vermouth
- Glass: Old-fashioned
- Garnish: Half grapefruit wheel (optional), pinch of salt
Add all the ingredients to an Old-fashioned glass. Then add one large ice cube. Stir and garnish with a pinch of salt and, if desired, half of a grapefruit wheel.
16 oz Strawberries, cleaned and de-stemmed
32 oz Campari
Add the strawberries and Campari to a jar and let sit for 48 hours in the fridge. Strain the Campari into a clean, sealable container.