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Ode to the Rum & Tonic

June 22, 2017

Mount Gay XO rum and fever tree tonic

Rum and tonic.
   Gin you say?
     No, my dear. Not today.
       Barbados rum and tonic, please.
         Aged some years, ~80 degrees.
           Over ice in a highball glass.
             A nice dry tonic adds some class.
               Some lime as well, but just a squeeze.
                 Keep them coming and hold my keys.

Like my father and grandfather, I grew up around boats. You didn’t have to be rich to have access to one—they were just a way of life in New England. I used to teach kids how to sail at the local club and crewed for some of the racers there. Some skippers were really serious and some were quite casual, but after the races, one thing they all enjoyed was a good drink.

I was in high school at the time, so I couldn’t fully participate in the post-race celebrations, but I did notice their predilections. One curious beverage some of these sailors enjoyed stood out in a world dominated by the macro beers of the 1980s, and that was the rum and tonic.

The coolest among these sailors had red baseball caps from Mount Gay Rum. I later learned the only way to get one (at least back then) was to sail in the Round Barbados Race, a 70 mile circumnavigation of the island replete with tricky currents, shifting winds and some pretty big waves.

After a race like that, you need a drink to calm your nerves, and when Banks beer won’t cut it, many sailors in Barbados reach for a refreshing highball of rum and tonic. Mount Gay has long sponsored the race, so their Eclipse aged rum was often the most popular choice.

As it turns out, rum and tonic is indeed quite good for mental soothing. But it also manages to be extremely refreshing while demonstrating a depth and breadth of flavor not typically found in simple highballs.

Whereas gin cuts through tonic with a sharp juniper kick, a blended aged rum contributes loads of flavor while still managing to be nuanced. The tonic adds brightness, bitterness, and a bit of spice, so you could easily stop there and be quite satisfied. But depending on the tonic water you employ, a little additional citrus can provide much needed balance.

Aged rum and tonic might not sound great to you, but you’re just gonna have to trust me and the guys in the red caps on this one. As my old sailing buddy Alex said a few years ago, “It turns out those sailors were onto something”.

Rum and Tonic Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 oz blended Barbadian rum (Mt. Gay Eclipse or Doorly’s 5-year are good choices. Try Mt. Gay XO or Doorly’s 12 if you really want to class it up.)
  • 4 oz tonic water (Fever Tree or other high quality, not-too-sweet variety)
  • Lime wedge (optional)

Method

  1. Fill a highball glass with cracked or cubed ice
  2. Pour rum over ice
  3. Add tonic water
  4. Squeeze lime wedge into glass and discard
  5. Gently stir to combine and top with additional ice as needed to fill the glass
  6. Enjoy!

Editor’s Notes:
1. After this article was published, a friend informed me that some Bajans refer to this drink as a “Slap in the Face”, as Chesterfield Browne described to a young Camper English back in 2009.
2. The original version of this article referred to rum from Barbados as “Bajan”. I have subsequently been reminded that the term “Bajan” is reserved for reference to the people of Barbados, while the term “Barbadian” is used for all other items.

Like rum from Barbados? Check out where it comes from! Read my distillery visit recaps here:

Foursquare Rum Distillery
Mount Gay Rum Distillery
Saint Nicholas Abbey Rum Distillery
West Indies Rum Distillery

For ten more easy rum drinks you can make at home, check out this article.

Two Laser dinghy racers in 1986

My buddy Alex (left) and me (right) racing Lasers in 1986 or so. (Starboard!)

 

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