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 spirit’s sweetness, while the mixer’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.
These three recipes start with the basic building blocks of rum and tonic, and from there they call for coffee, garnishes and citrus. So let’s give gin a vacation day and make this the summer of the R&T.
Elana Abt, the wine director at Otto in New York City, wanted to add a rum-based cocktail to the menu but keep the classic gin refresher in mind. “Rum just feels like summer, and my guests typically order more rum cocktails this time of year,” she says. “I thought, ‘Why not create a cool rum version of the classic G&T.’”
And that’s exactly what she did, combining Mount Gay rum with Borgia herbal bitters, fresh lemon juice and Fever-Tree aromatic tonic water, plus a rosemary garnish for an extra dose of fragrance. It’s everything you love about the G&T, minus the gin.
“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 while having depth of flavor.”
Vilkhu employs two rums—one Indian and one Oaxacan—for the base of the cocktail, which is served Spanish-style in a wine goblet. It’s garnished with a lot of ingredients, including star anise, cinnamon and citrus, whose aromas and flavors either complement or coax out those in the rum.
An avid coffee geek, Daniel Moik, the head bartender at Yours Truly in Hamilton, Bermuda, has had his fair share of Espresso & Tonics, which was the starting point for this cocktail. The rum has a butterscotch and vanilla note but finishes dry, while the cold-brew coffee adds a rich and caffeinated flavor vein. Maple syrup brings sweetness, Angostura bitters lend complexity, and orange zest matches the tonic’s citrus notes.
“A Rum & Tonic is like the two friends you have and you can’t figure out why they’re so close until you really spend time with them,” he says. “This drink is a great summertime pick-me-up as the sun is setting, and you need that little boost to keep the party going.”