Rum is a versatile spirit that can be sipped on its own or mixed into cocktails. If you’re trying to keep the approach simple, it works well with mixers like cola and ginger beer, as evidenced by classic calls like the Cuba Libre and Dark ’n Stormy. But all too often, tonic is overlooked as a complement to rum, and that’s a shame that deserves correction. The bitter quinine in tonic can foil the molasses-based (or sugarcane-based) spirit’s sweetness, while the soda’s botanicals are a flavor match for the layered richness of aged expressions. So, regardless of which style of rum you’re working with, tonic has the chops to match.
"I love a Rum & Tonic during the summer,” says Ashwin Vilkhu, the co-owner of Saffron in New Orleans. “It’s a great alternative to a G&T because it’s light and refreshing all the while having depth of flavor.” Vilkhu employs two rums for the base of the cocktail, and surprisingly, neither are from the Caribbean or South America. Instead he uses Paranubes, a sugarcane-based rum from Oaxaca, Mexico, and Old Port East Indian, a rich, molasses-forward rum. Since neither are as ubiquitous as rums like Bacardi, Flor de Caña or Plantation, you might be forced to make substitutions. A rhum agricole or other sugarcane-based rum will fill in best for the Paranubes, while another dark, butterscotch-forward rum can take the place of the Old Port East Indian.
Vilkhu serves his Rum & Tonic Spanish-style, in a large goblet heavily garnished with a lot of ingredients. More than just for visual show, the garnishes—which include star anise, cinnamon and citrus—have aromas and flavors that either complement or coax out those in the rum. The end result is bold and refreshing, botanical and gently sweet.
- 1 ounce Old Port East Indian rum
- 1 ounce Paranubes Oaxaca rum
- Fever-Tree Indian tonic water, chilled, to top
- Garnish: fennel frond
- Garnish: star anise pods
- Garnish: cinnamon stick
- Garnish: mint leaf
- Garnish: orange wheel
- Garnish: lime slice
- Garnish: ginger slice
Combine the Old Port East Indian rum and Paranubes Oaxaca rum in a large wine goblet filled with ice.
Top with the tonic and stir gently to combine.
Garnish with a fennel frond, star anise pods, a cinnamon stick, a mint leaf, an orange wheel, a lime slice and a slice of peeled ginger.