An assortment of craft cocktails. (Photo: iStock)
An assortment of craft cocktails. (Photo: iStock)

Is rum the new hipster drink

  • Aged, flavoured and infused with in-house blends, bars and restaurants are serving rum cocktails in innovative ways
  • Mixologists predict the dawn of rum signalling the end of gin in hipster glory

What’s better than one rum? Three rums," Yash Bhanage, co-founder of The Bombay Canteen, joked as he introduced the new cocktail menu last week. He was referring to a drink named Nightcap, a blend of white, dark and gold rum mixed with beer, fresh sweet lime juice and topped with egg white. It’s inspired by the classic Whiskey Sour.

Rum, considered a rite of passage for alcohol novices, is now on the rise. It’s not limited to the rum-and-coke kind nor restricted to the Old Monk variety, going beyond classic mojitos. Aged, flavoured and infused with in-house blends, bars and restaurants are serving rum cocktails in innovative ways to guests who are open to experimenting.

Pradyumna Shanker, mixologist at RumBah
Pradyumna Shanker, mixologist at RumBah

Bar managers and mixologists across cities in India are predicting the dawn of rum, signalling the end of gin’s days in hipster glory. In April, mixologist Vedant Mehra, 25,won the prestigious Bacardi Legacy Cocktail Competition for a “sustainable" rum cocktail. It was infused with banana peel. “Rum is particularly preferred by millennials, with 80% of 25- to 34-year-olds regularly enjoying the tipple. Its popularity among cocktail connoisseurs can be attributed to its deeper flavour notes and versatility for mixes," says Ravina Godkar, food and beverage team leader, Novotel Goa Hotels & Resorts.

The shift from gin to rum is driven by multiple factors. Some mixologists believe rum’s pocket-friendly pricing is a huge draw. While others highlight bar regulars in India are partial to mildly sweet cocktails. Rum, a spirit extracted from sugar cane, is inherently sweet. “I do notice our guests ordering more rum. Not only does it indicate the early beginnings of a rum culture, but also there might be more Indian-origin rums apart from Old Monk. Large parts of western and northern Indian grow sugar cane and it’s only a matter of time," says Rahul Raghav, beverage manager, The Bombay Canteen.

Marketing strategies by alcohol brands like Bacardi are driving factors as well. Bacardi adopted a nuanced approach by integrating with youth-centric cultural movements such as hip hop and comedy. For 10 years, it has been the title sponsor of the popular music festival NH7 Weekender, which hosts festivals in cities like Pune, Noida, Bengaluru and Shillong. According to the India Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF), a trust established by the Union ministry of commerce and industry, India emerged as the second largest global market for Bacardi rum in volume, in 2018. It sold about 1.7 million cases in India compared to 6.4 million cases in the US, which is the largest market. Evidently encouraged by these figures, Bacardi delved into the premium rum category by launching Reserva Ocho, a rum aged for eight years. Reportedly, it will add to its premium portfolio by introducing four years and 10 years aged rum.

As the Indian alcohol market evolves, your bar cabinet’s newest premium additions will perhaps be rum. Make that the Guatemalan Ron Zacapa, the Caribbean Kraken or the 12-year-old Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva from Venezuela.

Experimenting with rum is not confined to metro cities. Rupesh Verma, bar manager at Fairmont in Jaipur, has created an ingenious rum cocktail with a herb from Himachal Pradesh. “The herb is locally called aanchu. I mix it with white rum, ginger juice, tonic, lemon and sugar or honey water," he says. While creating cocktails with unexplored ingredients is his interest, he admits that guests’ preferences are paramount. Since Jaipur is a tourist hub, he has picked up a few tricks while serving guests from across the world. “Healthy cocktails with tea-infusions will be trending soon," he predicts.

MAKING RUM INFUSIONS AT HOME

Use a clean-flavoured dark or white rum to infuse at home. Begin with something easy like tea-infused rum, and use a tea-bag of lemon green tea—dip it in a mason jar of rum for a few hours to get a lightly flavoured rum that tastes a bit like iced tea. Or soak some vanilla beans in a jar with white rum, shake it from time to time, and enjoy your vanilla-infused rum concoction in a couple of weeks.

A rum kind of place

According to a report rum could be the next big thing.
According to a report rum could be the next big thing.

Rum could be the next big thing," a Bloomberg report said in June. It quoted a report by financial services company Jefferies, which predicts a “rumolution" (their words, not ours) and contends that “gin fatigue" is setting in, in the UK at least.

Well, we have always loved our Old Monk, so this is good news for India, which likes its robust drinks, and pubs and restaurants across the country are quickly adding rum-based cocktails to their menus and putting famous Caribbean rums on their shelves.

One of the first off the block is the recently launched RumBah at The Ritz-Carlton Bangalore. It not only serves some of the world’s best rums, like the Chairman’s Reserve White Label from St Lucia, the Mount Gay Extra Old from Barbados, and the Myers’s Original Dark from Jamaica, but also exciting rum cocktails. These range from classic, simple rum-based mixes such as Dark & Stormy (dark rum and ginger ale) to complex drinks—Ripe & Rock (dark rum, mixed berry and cherry jam, black pepper, sweet balsamic vinegar and lemon), Fog Cutter (raisin-infused rum, gin, cognac, lime juice, home-made orange syrup, cherry brandy, Cointreau) and the Hemingway Daiquiri (white rum, cherry liqueur, grapefruit juice, lime juice, sugar syrup).

“We created a bacon-infused rum too," says Pradyumna Shanker, mixologist at The Ritz-Carlton Bangalore. They use several interesting techniques like sous-vide to speed up the infusion process. “Seventy per cent of our guests are whisky drinkers, but they are open to experiencing drinks with rum. It’s possible because we have a few options, especially of the Venezuelan variety, which were stored in ex-bourbon casks.

“Single spirit revenue-generating bars are slowly making their mark. In India, it started with the gin-focused Toast & Tonic. Rum will find such addresses in the next two years," he concludes.

—Shrabonti Bagchi

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