With tequila so popular in margarita-loving Texas and bourbon beloved as America’s national spirit, rum seems to get overlooked on the bar shelf. But not today — not when it’s National Rum Day, and there are far too many good rum cocktails just waiting to be mixed.
I’ll admit it: I didn’t used to care for rum much. All too often, the already sweet spirit made from molasses or sugarcane juice gets combined with ingredients that are also sweet and little else to balance them, turning the resulting drink into a cloying mess.
This spring, however, I tried a rum cocktail at Congress Avenue’s cocktail bar and music venue the Townsend that knocked me off my feet, and not just because it’s incredibly boozy. The Psycho-Tropical, created by barman Brian Bounds, features coconut-washed rum, cashew orgeat, lime, cinnamon and Angostura bitters, topped with lots of crushed ice — a combination that quickly made it one of the best drinks I’ve had this year.
Silky, nutty and not too sweet despite the cinnamon spice, the Pyscho-Tropical has stayed with me months later and has helped me fully realize the beautiful complexity of rum.
For the Pyscho-Tropical, Bounds combined the J. Wray and Nephew Jamaican Rum with Rhum Barbancourt 8, fat-washing both in coconut oil to get the silky texture. Sure, he could’ve used just one rum, but together, they each contribute their own distinctive flavors: the J. Wray a fruity, spicy and rich body; the Haitian rum Barbancourt, aged for eight years in white oak barrels, full of treacle, caramel and overripe banana notes.
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The drink is marvelous. It’s made me glad to share my birthday with National Rum Day. And it’s made me seek out other well-made rum cocktails from other sharp Austin bars. Since the loss of Isla, the city doesn’t have a bar devoted entirely to rum and rum drinks, but with tiki culture on the rise, that’s probably going to change.
Here are other rum cocktails to seek out on this most tropical of arbitrary national holidays.
Craftsman: The East Austin bar in a tidy bungalow is actually throwing a National Rum Day celebration, so I’d be remiss not to mention it. Starting at 4 p.m., you can order an $8 rum old-fashioned with Plantation Pineapple rum, which Craftsman notes is very hard to get. Even better, frozen pineapple pieces are being used as ice cubes. Once they melt, you can eat them and no doubt count them toward your vegetable quota for the day. Genius. 2000 E. Cesar Chavez St.
- Garage: Just about anything on the ‘custom’ side of the cocktail menu is good at Garage (which is literally in a parking garage, so the menu is divided using car terms like ‘vintage,’ ‘refurbished’ and ‘unleaded,’ the latter referring to nonalcoholic beverages). My current favorite, however, is the Bay Roc Punch. Also with crushed ice, it’s got rum, lime, Jasper, Batavia Arrack, velvet falernum and mint. Jasper is Garage’s house mix of bitters, lime and cinnamon, and I think that’s got a lot to do with why this colorful tropical drink is so good. Rum and cinnamon, evidently, are an irresistible match. 503 Colorado St.
Kitty Cohen’s: This kitschy eastside bar with a small wading pool (cool, huh, ‘cause how many bars not in hotels do you know with any kind of actual watering hole?) introduced its outdoor bar called the Daiquiri Shack this summer. That’s where you can find a whole host of rotating frozen cocktail options, among them — as the name suggests — a classic frozen daiquiri. 2211 Webberville Rd.
Sellers Underground: The Warehouse District cocktail bar from the owner of Rainey Street’s Icenhauer’s, Sellers has made a cocktail any “Game of Thrones” fan will love — the Mother of Dragons, featuring Bacardi Dragonberry Rum, raspberry liqueur, Luxardo cherry juice, lime juice and rosé. It’s a tad on the sweet side, but Daenerys Targaryen fans will appreciate this pink-hued tribute to her anyway. 213 W. Fourth St.
- The Roosevelt Room: You can find a whole host of solid rum drinks on the menu here thanks to the dimly lit cocktail bar’s extensive focus on classic cocktails, but the Roosevelt Room also has an original rum-based treat called the Huli Pau! with El Dorado 5 Year dark rum, aloe juice, coconut cream, pineapple, mint, tarragon and peanut oil. The texture makes it seem like you’re drinking a boozy, tropical smoothie to which you secretly added peanut butter, and as a result, you’re probably going to slurp it down really fast. 307 W. Fifth St.
Irene’s: The casual bar and restaurant from ELM Restaurant Group, which also owns Easy Tiger and 24 Diner, devotes an entire evening to tiki in the summertime: Tiki Thursdays. The rum starts flowing at 5:30 p.m. on those days, with specials including the classic Sidewinder’s Fang (Plantation Original Dark & 5 Year rum, lime, orange and passionfruit) and the Shoal Creek Grog, a $32 batched drink for 3 to 4 people. 506 West Ave.