Probably the best way to explain how I feel about rum is to say that last week, when a bartender served me a rum cocktail in a glass rimmed with bright green candy sugar, I drank it. Now, if the drink had been made with whiskey or gin, I would have demanded something a little more dignified. But rum can make you relax your aesthetic standards. Drinking it is kind of like taking a trip to a tropical resort where you suddenly feel compelled to dress up in hideous polychromatic shirts printed with palm trees and hula girls. As it happens, I have a lot of shirts like that, and sometimes I'll wear them when I drink rum at home.
Something about rum makes you feel like you're on vacation. America must need a vacation pretty badly right now because we're drinking more rum than we have in years. It goes along with our current obsession with all things Latin, from singers such as Marc Anthony to the Latin-influenced cuisine at restaurants like Chicama, where I had that green drink. The Manhattan hot spot is one in a whole conga line of new Latin places across the city. But there's more to the current vogue than restaurants serving rum cocktails to wash down plantains and seviche. When mojitos start outselling martinis at Chinese, Japanese and even Italian restaurants (the mojito revival in San Francisco began at an Italian place in North Beach called Enrico's), you know that rum's appeal goes beyond a momentary national fixation on Ricky Martin's hips.
One explanation may be that rum is made from sugar, which hits us on the deep, irrational level where all first loves hold sway. That's not to say that rum is simple; it's a spirit of some complexity, as more and more people are discovering. Andrew DiCataldo, the new chef at Patria in Manhattan, recently devised a tasting menu that paired his Nuevo Latino cooking with fine old rums such as Pampero Aniversario and Barrilito. It was a great success; the rums had more than enough character to stand up to his sophisticated, spicy food. And the latest rums on the market, like Gran Blasón Añejo Especial from Costa Rica and Bacardi 8-year-old from Puerto Rico, are as nuanced as a Antonio Carlos Jobim chord. Still, their tonic note is sugar; the other notes--salty, sour or bitter--are harmonics.