'Tis the season for cliche. I could do with fewer references to chilly weather and the warming bowls of soup I'm reading on food blogs lately. How about booze? How about hot booze? That's the stuff to warm up with.
Observer bar-and-clubs guru Daniel Hopkins came to my office this morning to tell me about a drink he had at Tate's, the new place on McKinney's. He said it was pretty good. He said they used this wicked strong rum, but he couldn't remember the bottle.
I took a guess and Googled "pot stilled rum" and scrolled through the images. I was looking for a familiar label -- a long lost friend whose name I couldn't place. "Was it Smith and Cross," I asked, pointing to a picture of navy blue labeled bottle filled with an amber liquid. I'd guessed right.
Last winter I ponied up to the pewter bar at Room 11, a tiny restaurant in a gentrifying neighborhood in Washington D.C., and worked my way through their warm winter booze menu. A Jamaican Toddy stood out, so I asked the bartender what kind of rum he used in the cocktail. It was Smith and Cross. Here in Dallas, now firmly in December, I've come to miss the spirit. So I set out to find a drink that featured the rum prominently.
I called Tate's and spoke to John Tate, who goes by JW. "It's got that distinct figgy taste," he said of the Smith and Cross rum. JW uses it in the Jane Danger, a boozy number dressed with campari, sweet vermouth and a rinse of absinthe. (Foodbitch wrote about that the other day.) Sounds good but it's not my bag. Smith and Cross is a flavorful spirit, and I wanted a drink that paid homage to its character.
I called Gabe at the Black Swann, but he wasn't around. And then Rocco Milano at Private Social, who was as excited about Smith and Cross as I was.
"Yeah, absolutely. I love that stuff," he told me, and then described its use in punches and a seductive dark and stormy (Milano brews his own ginger beer). Again, these drinks sounded great, but they all felt noisy.
So then I called Eddie Campbell, who runs the newly opened Chesterfield in downtown Dallas. "That's an over proof rum, sometimes called a Navy rum," Campbell said, in a rusty voice. He told me it had some some "age characteristics" -- that it spends some time in oak before ending up in a bottle. "It's like vanilla, caramel," he said. "A lot like brandy."
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Yes! That's what I was looking for. But when I asked him how he used the spirit, my enthusiasm slacked. Campbell uses it by the barspoonful -- a topper or embellishment for drinks that feature other spirits. "It's great stuff," he told me when I asked him if any drinks placed the rum front and center. "That would make for a real strong drink," he concluded.
Which is exactly what I'm looking for.
I gave up and called Room 11 in DC, to try to figure out what was in the cocktail that's haunting me almost a year after I tasted it. Chef Ben Gilligan picked up the phone, and after paging through some menus he remembered the drink.
Their Jamaican Toddy uses 1 1/2 ounces Smith and Cross, a sturdy pour considering the rum is 57 percent alcohol. Hot water dilutes the drink, which is flavored with 1/2 ounce falernum, a lime and clove-driven liqueur. Served in a warm mug and garnished with a scrape of nutmeg, this drink is an ass-kicker. The temperature made the rum more volatile; the vapor tickled your nose as you sipped. You inhaled a steam laced with citrus, cloves and booze. It was a drink for the coldest winter nights. I hope I find it again, or something like, soon.