Rum and Coke
by Darcy O'Neil on November 2010
The Internet is quickly becoming the place for highbrow cocktail culture. As a group, discussions on the use of rare ingredients, that most bartenders have never heard of, or the nuances of a cocktail created in 1933 is not uncommon and may actually be the norm. So, very rarely are discussions of basic drinks brought up. Part of the goal of the Art of Drink is to improve bartending, and drinks, as a whole, not just at the elite level. This requires that I tackle some of the most basic topics that, theoretically, shouldn't even require discussion. But these basic topics do need discussion, because when I go into a bar and order a rum and coke, I really, really shouldn't leave disappointed. It's not like I asked for a Ramos Gin Fizz.
As someone who has spent a lot of time in scientific research, I have come to realize that most research is done on very, very basic principals. Scientists never really tackle the big picture, they put the big picture together like a giant jigsaw puzzle. Sure, at the end of the day the discoveries and technologies that are made look very impressive, but they are built up upon tens of thousands of very small building blocks. Each additional block is an incremental improvement on the previous invention or understanding. The same thing can be said about cocktails.
In the early ages of distillation, we had a base spirit, that probably tasted like crap. Then some genius squeezed some fruit juice into it, and voila, the first cocktail. Distillation was the hard part, adding juice was the incremental improvement.
Early cocktails were simple concoctions, usually consisting of spirit, sugar and bitters. Eventually, other ingredients were added as incremental improvements. Some cocktails got out of hand with the “additions” and others were refined to what they are today. But, the fact is that for any cocktail to be great, you need to get all the little blocks right. This rule seems to apply to many things.
For a simple Rum and Coke Cuba Libra style), the building blocks are 10 oz glass, Coca-Cola, rum, ice and lime. The classic recipe calls for 1 part rum to 2 part Coca-Cola. For limes, I usually cut a wedge that is a sixth of a lime. Many bar owners will make you do eights, which isn't bad, but anything below that isn’t worth the effort. Simplicity at its finest. Sounds easy enough to make, but sometimes in the haste of a busy bar, bartenders will not add enough ice, or forget the lime or even pick a poor rum. That’s when you should realize that the bar only cares about making money, not making the customer happy. Well, unless you count the artificial happiness that alcohol provides.
Rum and Coke Recipe (Cuba Libre)
1½ oz Rum
3 oz Coca Cola
In a 10 oz rocks glass, pack with ice and build the drink. Garnish with lime wedge.
Really, who has tested which rum makes a good, non-call brand, rum and Coke? I’ll bet most bartenders just use what is on the rail, and whatever is on the rail is pretty much based on price (i.e. whatever is cheapest). Since I've been guilty of just pouring whatever is appointed house rum, I'm going& take a deeper look into what makes a good rum and coke. I’m going to use Appleton rums as my comparison point since they have a wide range that would help quality vs price arguments. The candidates are Appleton VX, Appleton White and Appleton Special Gold.
What is the point you may ask? It's just a rum and Coke and who really cares. Well, I do. If someone comes into a bar and orders a simple drink, and it sucks, why would that person even attempt to move up the list to something more complicated. They are more likely to just order a beer or glass of wine. But, if you make a good basic drink, people will trust you just a bit more and may choose to order something a little more exciting. That’s when it gets fun to be a bartender.