In the 17th century, British sailors in the Caribbean were given a daily ration of rum to cut the sliminess of the usually stagnant drinking water aboard ships. With the addition of citrus to fend off scurvy, and plentiful cane sugar to make it more palatable, the mixture came to be known as “grog.”
While synonymous with stereotypical pirate swill, grog was essentially one of the first tropical cocktails. Its base ingredients of rum, sugar and lime still serve as the framework for a family of cocktails.
As a desert-dweller, I consider myself ignorant of tropical cocktails and know very little about rum. Fortunately, the owners of Rum Sugar Lime, the latest addition to midtown’s craft cocktail scene, gave me a sneak peek of the bar and their opinions on why rum is the only spirit I’d ever need.
“I try to open people’s brains up to the fact that rum is the most versatile spirit that has ever existed—literally, it’s made everywhere in the world,” said Loren DeVincenzi, owner and bar manager. “It’s just the liquor of the gods—I’m telling you right now.”
Loren and his family are all part owners of RSL. His father, Larry, runs the marketing efforts. His mother, Laurie, handles the bookkeeping. His sister runs social media for the bar, and his brother designed the logo. The family has had its plan in place since deciding on the name last March.
“I remember I was reading this book, Potions of the Caribbean, and it clicked,” said Loren. “I read this thing, it was like the holy trinity of tropical cocktails is rum, sugar, lime.”
Loren elaborated that RSL is meant to be a tropical cocktail bar, which differs from the image people might have of a related aesthetic: the tiki bar, with its palm-frond huts, torches or masks.
“Tropical is much more refined and clean, and tiki is much more kitschy and accentuated—I guess is the term to use,” he said.
RSL, while unfinished on my visit, has none of the aforementioned kitsch, opting instead for glossy white counters and back lit marble shelving. The room itself remains brightly lit courtesy of its full-glass façade.
The drinks, too, Loren said, are different. A good example is the difference between the more elaborate mai tai and the simple daiquiri—the latter being a textbook representation of a tropical cocktail.
The craft of tropical cocktails values minimal ingredients, I was told, because of the sheer range of flavors that rum—both dark and white—can exhibit. From sweet to spicy, smoky to tangy, Loren insisted that anyone who doesn’t like rum simply hasn’t had the right kind yet. I asked Loren which of his drinks might make me a rum-drinking convert. He wouldn’t give the name just yet but told me that his signature cocktail features dark Hawaiian rum with a citrus-infused coconut milk he developed working with Cameron Atkinson at Centro.
Had the DeVincenzis not been awaiting their first shipment of liquor, I might have insisted on being their first customer, but instead I left RSL with a book Loren lent me for my research titled Rum Curious.
I remarked to Larry on my way out that, with summer on the way, people would be in the tropical mood soon enough.
“Tropical is just a state of mind!” he called after me.