Putting Theory Into Practice: El Dorado Lessons

For the last few weeks we've been telling you how great El Dorado rum is. We've given you the history, photos of the distillery, a breakdown of their numerous antique stills, and a peek at drinking culture in Guyana. What we haven't done, however, is put that information to practical use. We don't live in Guyana where rum is king. We live in the United States where whiskey rules the cocktail scene. Rum, however, is so much more versatile than whiskey, which is why we want to get you excited about its potential as a crossover spirit. You can sip it, shoot it, pour it on the rocks, make a martini, or use it as a replacement to Bourbon in just about every drink you enjoy. But it's one thing for me to tell you that and it's another to hear it from Martin Cate: the owner and operator of what is perhaps the best rum bar in the United States – Smuggler's Cove in San Francisco.

Martin is also a big El Dorado fan. So much so, that Smuggler's Cove is the number one on-premise account for El Dorado in the country. They go through more Guyanese bottles on Gough Street than at any other cantina in America because they believe in the product and El Dorado's potential to create great cocktails. If the best rum bar in the U.S. is using loads of El Dorado for their drinks, I think that's a heavy endorsement as to the quality of the spirit.

Martin is a wizard behind the stick, so I wanted to pick his brain a bit about helping whiskey customers discover a new friend in rum cocktails. Seeing that he had visited the distillery just weeks before we went, we were both eager to share stories and memories from our trips. I told Martin that Daiquris and Mai Tais were the obvious drink recommendations for the younger El Dorado rums, but I was curious about using the older expressions like the 8, 12, and 15 year. What were some basic drinks that one could make at home that would showcase the flavors of these spirits without complicating the recipe or overloading our customers? He asked, "Have you ever heard of a Bombo?"

"No," I answered. "What is it?"

"It's basically a rum Old-Fashioned, except you use Demerara simple syrup and nutmeg instead of bitters. It's one of the oldest rum cocktails, dating back to the 1600s," he said.

That sounded great!

Bombo Cocktail (also known as Bumboo)

2 oz. El Dorado rum (use the 8 year or the 15 year)

1/4 oz. of Demerara simple syrup (stir 1/2 cup of Demerara sugar into 1/2 cup of water until fully dissolved)

Stir in a highball glass with ice and top with grated nutmeg

How simple is that? I would have drunk the entire thing in ten seconds if I hadn't been on the job. Something about El Dorado and simple syrup is a beautiful combination. I see many a Bombo cocktail in my future, but I'll have to wait until I'm not driving anywhere for the next ten hours. It scratches that Old-Fashioned itch, but isn't nearly as rich or overpowering. You can nurse this before dinner and keep your appetite, or savor it after a meal with the fresh nutmeg acting as a dessert.

Bartender Steve Giles was also on the scene with a few drinks up his sleeve. "You know the El Dorado 15 is like the single malt rum of the lineup, and the 12 year was made for Bourbon drinkers. That's why I love using the 12 in a Rum Manhattan," he said. Seeing that the 12 year has more column still rum, while the 15 employs more pot still distillate, this made perfect sense.

"Could you make me one so I can try it?" I asked.

"Of course!" he answered.

El Dorado 12 Rum Manhattan

2 oz. El Dorado 12 Year Old rum

1 oz. sweet vermouth (Dolin works great)

A dash of both Regan's orange and Angostura bitters

Stir in a mixer with ice until cold and the strain into a cocktail glass

Steve used the 2/1 booze to vermouth ratio with his Manhattan and I think that was a very smart move. The older El Dorado rums are a bit sweet, so you don't need to add much more to the mix. Just a bit of vermouth for flavor really helps accent the baking spices and molasses flavors inherent in the rum itself. I don't dislike Bourbon Manhattans, but I would never order one myself. Bourbon, for me, is already rich enough without adding more richness from the vermouth. The El Dorado Manhattan, however, wasn't nearly as heavy as most of my previous whiskey experiences. I would happily order one at a bar or mix a few for friends should they stop by to have a drink. It's incredibly simple, delicious, and hard to mess up.

Many thanks to Martin and Steve for their ideas and their time! If you want more ideas for dynamic El Dorado cocktails you should stop by Smuggler's Cove and have these guys mix you a drink. However, if you feel like practicing at home these should keep you occupied for sometime. That's if you need something more than just El Dorado in a glass.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll