The day before Ash Wednesday marks a major cultural event in New Orleans, Louisiana. Popularly known as “Mardi Gras” (or “Fat Tuesday”), it is a vibrant day of celebration with parades, on-the-street jazz performances, hearty Creole grub, and enthusiastic samplings of the city’s signature cocktails. One beverage claims a particularly strong connection to Mardi Gras: the Hurricane, a rum-based concoction allegedly invented at classic NOLA watering hole Pat O’Brien’s Bar. Characterized by passionfruit syrup, citrus juice, plenty of ice, and orange-slice and maraschino-cherry garnishes, the Hurricane can be seen throughout the French Quarter during Mardi Gras, often in plastic cups designed for patrons to carry out and enjoy al fresco. If you want to capture the Mardi Gras spirit without hopping on a flight to Louis Armstrong International Airport, follow these bartenders’ advice and pick up one (or more) of these Hurricane-perfect bottles of rum.
Traditionally, a New Orleans-style Hurricane includes two different styles of rum: a “light” rum (usually silver) and a “dark” rum (aged and/or spiced). Bar chef Amanda Thomas of SoBou in New Orleans likes to include at least one native-to-NOLA rum in her Hurricanes: “When creating a Hurricane, it’s important to have the correct blend of two rums. The Hurricane cocktail was created here in New Orleans, so I like to try and use local ingredients; Three Roll Estate Spiced Rum is perfect for this. In our version of the cocktail, we like to blend the spices with a little funk, so we pair [the spiced rum] with Wray & Nephew. The two rums [provide] a perfect balance of spice and funk, completely true to our NOLA style.”
Lead bartender Onofrio Raimondi of Fiola in Washington, D.C. also abides by the New Orleans two-rum standard for Hurricanes, but his rums of choice both come from the Bacardi family of spirits: Facundo Neo Silver Rum and Bacardi Gran Reserva 10-Year Aged Rum. “I chose the Facundo Neo as the base of this drink because it’s a premium product that can be purchased relatively inexpensively, and it’s perfect when there’s a call for a tropical drink. It’s beautifully balanced, with fresh fruity notes of banana [and] vanilla, Demerara sugar, and nutty notes. The addition of the Bacardi 10 will enhance the vanilla and banana notes and add a touch of caramel and stone fruit flavors such as pear and peach,” Raimondi tells us.
The Brazilian spirit known as cachaça is categorized as a rum in the United States because both cachaça and rum result from the distillation of sugarcane juices or products. Cachaça typically features robust and earthy notes and a light weight and texture, which is why bartender Jeremy Hill of Francois Frankie in Chicago likes to use Novo Fogo Cachaça in lieu of a silver rum in his Hurricanes. “My Hurricanes are a little unorthodox because I like to play with layering. For a light rum, I swear by cachaça, specifically Novo Fogo. The subtle banana leaf aroma and honey undertones work deliciously with the passion fruit in a Hurricane,” Hill explains. When it comes to his preferred dark rum, Hill opts for “Plantation Stiggins’ Fancy Pineapple Dark Rum. The smooth pineapple, light smokiness, and a touch of spicy characteristics really round out a good Hurricane.”
“The irony of using Puerto Rican rums for this cocktail after Hurricane Maria is not lost on me,” co-owner and head mixologist Stefan Huebner of Dot Dot Dot in Charlotte, NC says of his light and dark rum choices for Hurricanes. However, he justifies his selections by stating that “I truly believe [that] these two rums bring together the perfect flavors to make an incredible version of the New Orleans cocktail classic.”
Rhum agricole, a spirit native to the French-Caribbean island of Martinique, comes from pressed sugarcane juice, and its unique — and slightly funky — flavor profile is responsible for its growing popularity at U.S. cocktail bars. Beverage manager Kyle Harlan of Mission Taco Joint in St. Louis likes to use fresh fruit juices in his Hurricanes, and he tells us that “a good French-style rhum [is excellent] here; they tend to be more vegetal and earthy [than other rums], which will balance the sweet [juices] out really nicely. Be aware, though, that [rhums] can be pretty grassy and a little sour. Rhum J.M. XO [is a] great option.”
While the grassy flavors present in rhum agricole may concern some mixologists and imbibers, bar manager Timothy Yee of Northern Union in Ogunquit, ME considers them a valuable asset, especially when making Hurricanes. “A sugarcane-based rhum is what I prefer in Hurricanes due to their grassy notes and clean, sweet aromas that work exceptionally well [in] juice-forward cocktails. Rhum Barbancourt 5 Star is always on my speed rail,” says Yee.
If you want to use a single rum for your Hurricane rather than a blend of light and dark rums, then a gold rum makes for an excellent middle ground between both styles. Head bartender Vicky-Rose Baines of Farmer’s Table in San Diego gives a particular shout-out to a local favorite of hers, Bali Hai Tiki Gold, which she describes as “exceptionally smooth. This particular rum is born from pure cane sugar and [is] fermented cool. It’s truly the perfect rum for classical tropical cocktails like Hurricanes.”
“The Hurricane falls in the same [category] as tiki cocktails, which need a combination of flavors and characteristics from the rum in order to ensure they don’t fall flat,” says lead bartender Sarah LM Mengoni of Double Take in Los Angeles. To achieve that perfect balance, Mengoni uses Banks 7 Golden Age Blend, a bottle that “provides a unique blend of 23 rums from 7 different countries, which results in a diverse flavor profile consisting of light, funky, and sweet notes. Adding this rum to a Hurricane provides that level of complexity and flavor-layering needed in order to make it a legit cocktail.”
A rich and complex medium-bodied rum hailing from Barbados, Mount Gay Black Barrel is a favorite Hurricane ingredient of beverage director Matthew McCahill of SX Sky Bar in Chicago, who tells us that, “We stay true to the original Hurricane recipe by using our rum overstock, just as the cocktail’s creator Pat O’Brien did in the 1940s. What we’re using now, Mount Gay Black Barrel, happens to work really well. We combine it with passion fruit puree, a little blackberry and orange juice, and a touch of grenadine with a cherry and an orange slice garnish. In a drink that already has this much flavor, it’s less about the type of rum and more about honoring the tradition behind the cocktail.”
Venezuela’s most internationally renowned rum distillery, Diplomático, produces an aged “Reserva” version that collaborates especially well with classic Hurricane flavors, according to beverage director Miki Nikolic of Double Dealer in New Orleans: “This is my go-to rum for Hurricanes because of its sweetness and full body. The aging process put into making this rum provides extra flavor.”
“Some Hurricane recipes call for only light rum, [but] I like to use light and dark rum to add texture and balance the sweetness from the passion fruit and orange,” explains beverage director Andra Johnson of Serenata in Washington, D.C. When choosing a dark rum for her Hurricanes, Johnson reaches for Appleton Estate Reserve Blend (or its more heavily aged cousin, Appleton Estate 12 Year). “[Appleton Estate Reserve and Appleton Estate 12 Year] add hints of vanilla, cinnamon, caramel, and spice that actually add recognizable flavor to the Hurricane,” Johnson concludes.
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