Rum flight at Nashville's Little Octopus (image: Angelina Hobbs)
Of course, Nashville embraces its native Tennessee whiskey, as well as bourbon from neighboring Kentucky. But rum? It just hasn’t received the same love. So when chef Daniel Herget openedLittle Octopus in January, he deliberately chose to use whiskey styles and language as a way to introduce customers to his personal favorite spirit, rum.
“I’ve had a love affair with rum ever since I had my first sip,” says Herget, who grew up in Florida and traveled throughout the Caribbean, two rum-soaked regions.
“Unfortunately in the South, it’s not regarded as a quality product. Most people associate it with some terrible spiced rum they had too much of in college. We wanted to change people’s perspective on that. The most natural translation we could find in the south is whiskey.”
Little Octopus (image: Lisa Diederich)
The real “a-ha moment” arrived during a staff training session before the restaurant had opened. “We were tasting all the rums, and time and time again, people said, ‘This tastes like whiskey, this tastes like scotch,’” he says. “That’s when I said, OK, this is how we turn people on to rum. It was a natural thing. It’s what people are familiar with.”
The next category, “The Bold and the Beautiful,” showcases rums that, like bourbon, are aged in American oak for deep toffee and caramel flavor, such as two Kirk & Sweeney bottlings (Dominican Republic) and Plantation O.F.T.D. The tagline on the menu reads, “Waiter, there’s some bourbon in my rum.” While that’s not exactly true, it’s a sentiment that customers have responded to, says Herget.
French Martinique, Oh Captain and Dark ’N’ Stormy, from left, at Little Octopus (image: Angelina Hobbs)
The following categories suggest the smoky qualities of peated scotch (including Mezan rum from Guyana, aged 10 years; tasting notes include “banana, brine, sweet oak, smoke”) and the spiciness of rye (the tasting notes for Malecon rum from Panama indeed could be subbed in for a rye: “sweet tobacco, leather, almond, baking spice, vanilla.”)
The final category is called “The Beat of their Own Dram” and includes funky rhum agricoles and Batavia arrack.
Hergat says he has been pleasantly surprised by how customers have responded to the whiskey/rum comparisons. “We weren’t sure how it was going to play,” he confesses. But he says that he has been enjoying the opportunity to talk about rum’s storied history and convert the occasional scotch drinker by describing the peat-like “saline, black truffle, olive” characteristics of Mezan, for instance.
Bottle offerings at Little Octopus (image: Angelina Hobbs)
“People love it,” he says. “Nine times out of 10, people say, ‘That is so cool. I never thought rum could be anything like this!’”
The ultimate proof? At Little Octopus, rum is now outselling every other liquor at the restaurant. But, c’mon, this is still Tennessee whiskey country. Surely, rum’s not selling more than whiskey?
“Yes, more than whiskey,” confirms Hergat. “We were confident in the program, but we had no idea it would take off like this.”