Arizona’s lack of coastline is most glaring come summer, but in the winter season, the similarities between our Valley and the Caribbean islands begin to show, chiefly, in the kinds of cocktails we can’t resist diving into.
The Breadfruit and Rum Bar are making seasonal menu transitions look as seamless as they did early last summer, when blackberry shrubs blended light and dark flavors into effervescent highballs (creating one of our favorite summer drinks), and punchy rum and guava juice creations that soothed any signs of strain from the hot desert sun.
The rest of the country is elbow-deep in boozy bourbon drinks by December. Though plummeting temperatures have us reaching for stashed jackets when it gets dark, after a sun-drenched winter day Phoenicians are still in need of refreshment. Fruit juices are still in play — and in season.
At Rum Bar, you’ll want to point your attention, first, toward the "Light & Citrusy" and "Full-Flavored" column of the menu, where drinks like the Boatman’s Tipple and the Kingston 5 punch reside.
The former is the result of a surplus of winter oranges, combined with owner Dwayne Allen’s fondness for shrubs, fruit syrups acidulated with vinegar and preserved with spirits. Rum Bar's summer blackberry shrub was a big hit, and this time, the bar team wanted a winter shrub.
Winter citrus — oranges — came to mind, Allen says, accented by cardamom.
“You throw them on the grill and forget about them,” he says. “The sugars inside the juice caramelize, and with the peels on you get this rindieness combining with the caramelized juices, and smokiness coming from being over the flame.”
Allen and his team combine the orange and cardamom shrub with house-made cherry bark bitters and citrus-forward Appleton rum.
“It turns into this amazing, amazing, wonderful cocktail that really says Arizona in the winter as we’re gearing up with winter citrus.”
Even more juice-forward is the Kingston 5 punch, poured out of a single-serving bottle where the mixture has been aging for close to a week.
“The Kingston 5 is really a rum punch based on how the grown-ups make rum punch in my family,” Allen says. “We took a basic rum punch recipe that would show up at weddings, or even at funerals.”
The family drink, he says, is usually made in a hurry with the kind of strawberry syrup that doesn’t contain real strawberries. Not the case with Allen’s, the product of a bar owner who takes great pride in making many of their liqueurs and tinctures in-house. The kitchen’s strawberry syrup is made by simmering freshly quartered strawberries that have been sitting in demerara sugar, their juices slowly extracting, with spices, a touch of citrus, and bourbon vanilla paste.
“It’s the most beautiful strawberry syrup,” Allen says — and it shows, a sunny red in the bottle, softened a bit by passion fruit, orange, and pineapple juices, but kicked up a notch by Wray & Nephew overproof (126 proof, to be exact) white rum.
He remembers, too, a creamy and boozy holiday drink, “rum cream,” which is made by Wray & Nephew, and which functions a bit like a Caribbean version of Bailey’s, minus the coffee flavor.
But it isn’t available in Arizona, Allen says.
“So we set out to make our own.”
To build the rum cream from Allen’s memory of the drink, they combined Wray & Nephew rum with condensed milk, spices — pimento, cinnamon, clove, and fresh nutmeg — and an exotic ingredient called cocoa tea.
“They grind down the chocolate beans in Jamaica,” Allen says, “And we add some more spices to it, warm spices, and they press it back into this ball which gets grated into your cup to make what you be your equivalent of a hot cocoa here.”
For the Big Marble Rum Cream on the bar’s menu, they use a microplane to grate a cocoa ball over the top, followed by grated lime zest — for a little zippiness, accompanied by those flecks of spiced chocolate with every sip.
“And I really quite enjoy that,” Allen says.
Allen, again, reaches for another drink from his native Jamaica — the Late Night In Rio, born from a shot-and-chaser combination of neat rum and the Caribbean’s grapefruit soda, Ting.
Allen says that he wanted to create a stirred drink that acted light and crisp, rather than heavy and foreboding.
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“And that was very important to me,” he says. “There are a couple places I go to and I usually want something stirred. But what I find is that nobody makes a stirred cocktail that is light and crisp — they’re always heavy and boozy as all heck.”
Allen combines an un-aged, grassy Brazilian cachaça, distilled from sugar cane juice, with Averna brand amaro, muddled lemon peel, and their house-made horehound tincture. To finish, it gets just a splash of Ting soda — enough to give it a smidge of effervescence. It arrives on a serving board that Allen crafted himself, with a pocket for sage leaf that gets lit and extinguished, so that your first sips are enveloped by the pungently green aroma, a scent Allen adores.
Rum Bar doesn’t forget to play the hits — they’ve brought back a number of best-sellers from previous winter menus. The Rendition — their white rum martini accented by a house-made orange blossom tincture — is one. Another is the hot buttered rum.
“Yes,” Allen says. “People have been asking for that one since September.”