Any drinker worth the ice in his or her shaker will, over time, amass a rather daunting collection of nearly-empty bottles that contain a bit too much for a shot but a bit too little for a round of cocktails. These bottles clutter up the liquor cabinet and make you feel like a lush hoarder.
I’ve tried having parties where I put out all these leftovers, but the joke wears thin during the first round. People seem to resent dearth and plentitude presented at once.
You could avoid this problem, I suppose, if you only ever bought the same type of booze and you simply married the bottles. But my curiosity and the range of drinks I like mix up, makes that solution unrealistic.
However, I did find a solution that wouldn’t require me to swear allegiance to one type and brand of alcohol. Whisky dorks…um…I mean, enthusiasts create a so-called “infinity bottle” by pouring the last couple ounces of every single malt they drink into a decanter. It’s a sort of living record of the Scotch they’ve drunk. The serious among them take notes on the progress of the bottle and keep a careful ledger of what they’ve added.
I don’t drink much Scotch, but I do seem to have an unwieldy number of almost killed bottles of rum, which I decided to start mixing together. I couldn’t imagine taking it very seriously. I figured I’d make more Daiquiris than notes. But since rum is so variable, with each island, each style and each distillery bringing a different character and flavor, the marriage was interesting right off the bat. And I surprised myself by getting caught up in tracking the effect of each new addition.
However, my habit of making a small drink before and after each addition to see if the characteristics of the blend were changing did have the frustrating side effect of keeping the bottle from ever filling up—two ounces forward, one ounce back. (Perhaps I should have called my rum mix Sisyphus.) But as the project started to really roll, I found my desire to add to it growing.
While I’m still not using white rum in the mix, although I’m no longer sure why, I have started simply pouring in an ounce or two of different aged rum to see what happens. (Curiosity has even caused me to start adding alcohol from mostly full bottles, which runs counter to my initial mission.) The results were usually delicious and got me thinking about this bottle as more than just a kind of compost pile.
A jolt of Vieux Labbe Gold Label rum from Haiti shifted everything towards something funkier. Then, a hit of Clément V.S.O.P. rhum agricole gave the bottle a vegetal depth.
On top of that, a jigger of Myers’s Dark Rum compressed the flavors and moved the needle over into pineapple sweetness that seemed to pull together the various funky flavors, without overpowering them.
Tasting those changes, I began to wonder if it would be possible to do this on purpose. Not just as a way to manage your leftovers (although that’s been fun) but as a way to create a rum that is all your own.
All the tiki recipes I’ve read over the years flashed before my eyes. I’ve never really attempted to fully understand the thinking behind Don Beachcomber’s original recipe for the Zombie—I’m a man of faith in these regards—but there must have been a goal behind mixing white and gold rums. While I still believe that those original tiki masters were operating like alchemists and creating perfect, synergistic balances with knowledge unavailable to the rest of us, I have also come to believe that anyone might blend with a purpose.
Dave Kwiatkowski and Yani Frye, partners in the elegant, jewel-box of a speakeasy bar, Bad Luck, in downtown Detroit, have done exactly that.
Kwiatkowski told me that their custom rum blend uses Jamaican Appleton as a base. Agricole rhum adds what he describes as a “whiskey character, an earthiness.” Cruzan Blackstrap (“practically a liqueur”) adds depth. It’s rounded out with some green apple and grass flavors from Wray & Nephew.
“Yani developed it to get something he couldn’t find,” said Kwiatkowski. “Everything you like about each of the rums in the blend, you can taste.”
At one point, while they were developing the recipe, they were up to eleven rums, but it seemed as if things were getting lost. If two of the rums were similar, they’d consolidate. They finally settled on six rums, which they use in a drink they call Death. It’s served in a flaming skull, and in addition to the custom rum blend it calls for a soy-infused Pedro Ximénez Sherry, spiced butter syrup and lime juice.
Of course, I’ve utterly undone my original purpose. What once was an elegant way to get rid of some leftovers has me running to the store to buy armfuls of rum, so that I can design my own blend. But at least now I have room for these new additions in my liquor cabinet.