1-2-3-4: Orange Basil Rum Punch
Because I consider Memorial Day to be the start of summer grilling season. Which to me also means rum. There is no better spirit than rum to lift your “spirits”. It can bring a little sunshine to that dark mood of yours. So light the grill, get the rum and let’s get this summer started.
Now, I have spent quite a bit of time in the Caribbean. So I know a thing or two about rum. First off it’s not just for coke. Rum is very versatile. People don’t really believe me when I say that, but it’s true.
It’s made from cane sugar and is the drink of the islands, though it was also the spirit of the 13 American colonies. It comes in many shades, from clear to almost black. Each offering something special. This chromatic diversity is a big part of its versatility, because the color affects flavor. It makes rum work in so many situations. Especially outdoor barbecues.
The color depends on the aging process and how caramelized the cane is during processing. Rum has a complex nose and is usually described as having fruity aromas. There should be a good balance between alcohol, sugar and spice. The flavors often run the gamut. White rums can be soft and floral. The golden hues bring honey and vanilla to the mouth, with a nice balance of tropical fruit flavors like banana and orange. The very dark rums can taste like toasty toffee. Good rum should be smooth and soft. Like velvet. Which means tropical Technicolor machinations are not the only mixes that work. In fact some rums should be sipped and given the same respect as a fine cognac.
I remember a Caribbean trip to Anguilla when we were taken to the cellar of a very nice restaurant. There in the cool, dark depths some very fine rums were left to age. We were invited to sprawl out on the bed (yes bed) and taste these golden-hued beauties, enjoying them as in a wine tasting. I learned quite a bit that night and have always carried that special memory with me.
How rum got to be called rum is all a bit murky. It seems most things rum are a bit murky. But there are many who claim that “rumbullion”, a 17th century English slang term meaning a “riotous good time”, may have become slurred and shortened. It’s a good story because rum certainly has matured and grown into quite the party boy!
The rum making process is rather straightforward. Sugar cane, or sometimes molasses, and water are simply mixed with yeast. The fermentation creates a liquid called “wash”. The wash then goes through several distilling processes in large copper pots. When you travel to old sugar plantations in the Caribbean you will still see huge copper pots dotting the landscape. These were (are) the stills.
The resulting rum is perfectly clear. It can be further aged in oak barrels to produce golden or darker rum styles. These barrels are often charred on the inside, which adds a smoky depth to the liquid the longer it remains in the barrel.
It’s hot in the Caribbean so the aging process usually only takes between 1 and 5 years. Like good wine the aged rum is often mixed and formulated by specialty producers to achieve the exact flavor, color and texture. Then further aged if necessary.
Which brings us to the next question. What to do with rum. Well there are a lot of choices. Remember I said rum was very versatile.
The darker rums and the spiced rums are typically enjoyed without mixers. Over ice or at room temperature. This way their flavors can be appreciated. These are often the specialty rums and can, of course, get rather pricey. There are some golden rums that mix well with other flavors as well.
But white rums can be quite basic, and even inexpensive. They are designed to be mixed with coke or fruit juice. Sometimes they are a bit too harsh to be sipped straight. But make a wonderful base for party cocktails.
That’s what I have in mind. A barbecue party cocktail. It’s an Orange Basil Rum Punch. The great thing about rum punch is it’s straightforward simplicity. I gussied mine up with some “fancy” flavors. But if you go to the Caribbean and order a rum punch you’ll get something that follows this general (rhyming) rule.
One part sour,
Two parts sweet,
Three parts strong,
Four parts weak.
Today’s Memorial Day version, Orange Basil Rum Punch, is a great barbecue party drink. It serves quite a few folks and is best made by the pitcher or jug. Oranges keep it fun, and sweet. But I love the way the basil and lime cuts through the rum to give this cocktail a refreshing edge. GREG
Greg Henry writes the food blog Sippity Sup- Serious Fun Food, and contributes the Friday column on entertaining for The Back Burner at Key Ingredient. He’s active in the food blogging community, and a popular speaker at IFBC, Food Buzz Festival and Camp Blogaway. He’s led cooking demonstrations in Panama & Costa Rica, and has traveled as far and wide as Norway to promote culinary travel. He’s been featured in Food & Wine Magazine, Los Angeles Times, More Magazine, The Today Show Online and Saveur’s Best of the Web. Greg also co-hosts The Table Set podcast which can be downloaded on iTunes or at Homefries Podcast Network.