I bought this $6 bottle of Trader Joe's rum for a recipe I was working on a few months back, and after using the few tablespoons I needed, it has sat at the back of my liquor cabinet collecting dust ever since. Because let's face it: a $6 bottle of rum tastes pretty much like a $6 bottle of rum, and that's nothing I'm excited to have in my cocktail at the end of the day.
In a recent sweep of the dark corners of my kitchen, I unearthed this bottle and thought to myself, Self, I bet you could do something with this rum to make it taste amazing. And that's when inspiration struck.
Charred oak cubes to add to the rum
First, I thought about what flavors I like in a good rum. I'm no real rum connoisseur, but I think of rum and instantly I think of liquid caramel and vanilla. I think of warm oak-y flavors. I think of a mellow alcohol presence that doesn't make me cough when I sip it.
Next, I thought about how I could add some of those flavors and characteristics to my thin-tasting, lackluster rum. Whole vanilla beans were the first and most obvious choice. I also some charred oak cubes leftover from a homebrewing experiment that I thought might add a bit more of the barrel-aged flavor present in aged rums. Finally, almost on a whim, I decided to add a half tablespoon of roasted cacao nibs. I wasn't necessarily aiming for "chocolate," but I thought these might add a nuttiness and smoothness that the rum was lacking. And hey, they certainly couldn't hurt!
I combined one split vanilla bean, five charred oak cubes (those things are strong!), and a half teaspoon of cacao nibs with the rum in a mason jar, and then let it sit out of the way for a few weeks. I tasted the rum occasionally, and decanted it into a new bottle once I liked the flavor.
My infused rum is an entirely different beast from the thin, sad rum I had before. This rum is mellow and smooth, with real body and character. It picked up a mild nutty chocolate flavor from the cacao nibs that I really love, and the vanilla bean added its own unmistakable vanilla presence. The oak cubes worked more subtly. They darkened the color of the rum and seemed to add an overall complexity. Honestly, I think this infused rum tastes just heavenly.
This is rum that I would happy sip all on its own. Since bottling my infusion, I've done just that several times. I've also shaken it with some apple cider and a dash of chocolate bitters for a simple cocktail, and I look forward to trying it in other favorite rum cocktails over the coming months. At this rate, I may need to infuse another batch very soon!
Let's set aside for a moment the argument that I probably should have ponied up for good rum in the first place. If you happen to find yourself with a disappointing bottle of rum — or any other liquor, for that matter! — infusing it with some spices and other good flavoring ingredients is a great way to take it from ho-hum to truly amazing.
Here's a quick recap with some other flavoring ideas for those of you wanting to give this a try for yourselves. Anyone else done this? What are your favorite spices or flavoring ingredients to use?
Turn Cheap Rum Into Great Rum
Pick 2 to 3 of the following add-ins:
1 vanilla bean, split
5-8 charred oak cubes
1/4-1/2 tablespoon roasted cacao nibs
1 cinnamon stick
1 whole clove
1/4 cup dried fruit, like figs or raisins
2-3 tablespoons unsweetened flaked coconut
Combine your add-ins with 1 bottle (750-milliliters) rum in a mason jar or other glass container with a lid. Screw on the lid and shake. Set the jar somewhere out of direct sunlight for several weeks. Taste occasionally.
When the infusion tastes good to you, strain out the add-in ingredients and pour the infused rum into a new bottle (or back into the original bottle). Infused rum will keep indefinitely.
(Image credits: Emma Christensen)