Cocktail of the Month: Pirate’s Cocktail
It seems that rum and pirates are like smoke and fire – you can’t find one without the other. From the earliest rum production in the 1600s in Barbados to Captain Jack Sparrow’s fondness for the spirit in Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” trilogy, their history is tied together.
Today, liquor-store shelves are filled with brands of rum with pirate-themed monikers, the most popular being Captain Morgan, accounting for about a third of the premium rum market in the U.S. The real Captain Henry Morgan was legendary for his ruthlessness, his exorbitant thirst for liquor and his enormous success. But few know that he died an ugly death in Jamaica at the age of 53 from alcohol-related causes.
While it may have been rum that put the final nail in Morgan’s coffin after his Jamaica retirement, during his carousing on the high seas Morgan most likely imbibed other spirits. Preferring to plunder Spanish ships and villages, the richest of the time, he probably drank brandy and Madeira wines, the spirits that Spaniards consumed, while on the job. Another rum named for a real-life buccaneer is Admiral Nelson. A British flag officer famous for his rousing leadership and unconventional battle tactics, Nelson was wounded in combat several times, losing an arm and his sight in one eye.
The best known and most notable of his victories was the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, during which he was shot and killed.
Nelson’s love for rum was so fabulous that his body was preserved in a cask of rum before it was finally laid to rest. After this incident, rum was often referred to as “Nelson's Blood.” The rum drink most commonly associated with pirates is “grog,” which is a misnomer. Grog was invented after the decline of piracy as a form of rationing on ships of the British Navy. Pirates consumed their often crudely distilled and harsh tasting poison straight up.
If you’d like to act like a buccaneer and enjoy a tot of rum on its own, you’re in luck. In recent years, rum has been enjoying a renaissance. Many fine rums now on the market can rival the complexity and depth of a single malt Scotch. One of my favorite sipping rums is Ron Zacapa, produced in the highlands of Guatemala. This rum took the top honors for five years in a row at the International Rum Festival. It was retired in 2003 to give other spirits a chance at the grand prize. Ron Zacapa continues to be served to the judges at the competition as a benchmark.
Other aged rums I adore are Ron del Barrilito, a craft rum produced in Puerto Rico; Chairman’s Reserve from St. Lucia; Neisson Rhum Agricole from Martinque; and Mount Gay Extra Old from Barbados.
Even with these enchanting choices, many still prefer their rum in a cocktail. The Pirate Cocktail, which originated in the venerable Esquire Drink Book, is a lovely option. Essentially a rum Manhattan, this pleasant nip preserves the character of the rum. The sweet vermouth softens the alcohol while the bitters highlight the complexity of the aged spirit. It’s a perfect coming-out drink for spring: too hearty and sublime to be a frothy summer drink, but too sultry to stay inside after winter.
3 ounces full-flavored aged rum
1 ounce sweet vermouth
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Stir ingredients with ice and strain into a short glass.