We've all shared the days of enjoying simple rail drinks at dive bars or parties. The ingredients tend to be fairly ubiquitous, ratios are forgiving and just about any bar can create one to your liking. For my next series of recipes, I was inspired to channel that rail drink nostalgia into more complex, healthier alternatives. You won't be able to find these ingredients at your typical bar but you will be able to reminisce upon your college days and broaden the comfort spheres of your pickiest friends.
The first drink in my series is a take on the classic rum and coke. Typically, this rail contains its namesake ingredients of white rum and Coca-Cola with a splash of lime. I've never been much of a soda drinker due to its sugar content and additives so I sought to replace that flavor profile with a more natural, balanced alternative.
As you have probably figured out by now, I absolutely love to use tea in cocktails. It's widely accessible, can be incorporated in a variety of ways and adds so much depth while giving you control over sweetness levels. In my endless search for natural cocktail mixers, I stumbled upon Pearl Soda Company, based out of Portland, Oregon. They kindly shared several of their tea-based soda syrups with me, and I was blown away by how much the Dancing Dragon variety (crafted with sarsaparilla root and pu-erh, yerba mate and honeybush teas) mimicked a true, old-style root beer with a touch of earthy depth. I also appreciated that the soda syrup was very concentrated - a little bit goes a long way and I expect to get plenty of use out of it this summer in both single and batched cocktails.
I gravitated to aged rum instead of the traditionally used white rum because I wanted something with deeper oak flavor to yield a smoother beverage. Luckily, I stumbled upon Grander Rum, an all natural rum produced with care in Panama and aged for 8 years in Kentucky bourbon barrels. I'm fairly new to the vast world of rum but learned from Grander's owner that many varieties can have small amounts of additives for color, sweetness and flavor. Inspired by the art of bourbon creation from his Kentucky roots, the owner sought to create a more authentic rum by starting with a great un-aged product and keeping the entire production process at one facility in Panama. I found the rum to have a wonderful aroma of caramel and vanilla and a great strength to form the backbone of balanced cocktails.
To further enhance the sweet, spiced, earthy depth of this cocktail, I added some of Bittercube's Blackstrap Bitters. Crafted by a duo of Milwaukee-based cocktail consultants, Bittercube Bitters feature extremely well blended flavor combinations without any artificial ingredients. I've enjoyed all of their flavors but the Blackstrap variety truly made this cocktail shine with a deliciously aromatic mix of sarsaparilla, molasses and cinnamon. If you decide to give Bittercube Bitters a try, I strongly recommend investing in their mini sampler pack.
I chose to serve this cocktail with club soda for the obligatory bubbles and crushed ice to make it maximally refreshing. The resulting drink is comparable to a delightfully spiked root beer with a hint of herbal character and a molasses finish.
The Root & Chalice
- 2 oz Grander Rum (aged rum)
- 0.5 oz Pearl Soda Company Dancing Dragon Syrup
- 6 drops Bittercube Blackstrap Bitters
- 2 oz club soda
Stir all ingredients with ice in a mixing glass until chilled, then strain into a soda fountain glass and top with crushed ice. Serve with a straw and an optional slice of dehydrated lemon for some extra sunshine. Enjoy while recounting tales of your craziest college shenanigans.