Shingo Gokan strains green tea powder into his Speak Low cocktail
When CBS News declared 2012 the year of rum in New York City, it pointed to the increasing number of hot spots devoted to the spirit: In Manhattan for example, The Rum House and Cienfuegos; in Brooklyn, Nights and Weekends. So it’s not surprising to hear Greg Connolly, head bartender at Manhattan’s Four Seasons restaurant and co-author of The Four Seasons Book of Cocktails, say that he sells “more rum drinks in a week than I used to in three or four months.” He points out that the current rum drinkers are more venturesome, eager to try new variations such as drinks containing crème de cassis, banana nectar, and now even powdered Japanese green tea, as well as savoring premium or flavored rums solo. “There are some fancy rums that we never used to stock, which are now in big demand,” he says.
For the past half century, the heart of rum consumption in New York has been the rum cocktail. The daiquiri, an uber-Wasp drink, was a mainstay in MadMen-era New York, as well as a favorite of JFK. Boomers quaffed piña coladas, which hit their peak of popularity in the late ’70s and early ’80s, after the release of the song “Escape” by Rupert Holmes. Generation X anointed the mojito its libation after Colin Farrell ordered a Bacardi mojito in the 2006 movie MiamiVice. (“Marketing really sells all of these drinks,” says Connolly.) Post mojito, the exotic combos Connolly cites have kept rum cocktails popular with trendsetters looking for the next big thing.
And “the next big thing” is no exaggeration. A breakout rum drink means major business for a top brand like Bacardi, which has a vested interest in making sure its rums are associated with whatever new cocktail hits the market. More than 240 million bottles of Bacardi rums are sold annually, about 50 percent of them in the US. To spearhead the search for the next hit drink, Bacardi sponsored a global mixology competition in San Juan, Puerto Rico, last February to coincide with the company’s 150th anniversary celebration. Twenty-six mixologists from around the world gathered to craft a new rum-based drink, something that, with luck and marketing savvy, might turn into a breakout star. The winning formula came from New York via Japan.
The judges didn’t want a recipe that drew too much on the past or relied on lime juice and sugar, like the daiquiri and mojito. “The old classics were created in a different era; we wanted to find something that preserved the spirit of those, but offered a new angle,” says David Cordoba, the company’s global brand ambassador and a judge. A German bartender wielded a blowtorch to pop popcorn for his drink, while the Russian contender played it more conservatively, combining rum with bitter aperitivo, lime juice, crème de pêche, and fresh pineapple juice.
But the final decision went to New York and Shingo Gokan, the 29-year-old head bartender of Angel’s Share, an East Village cult cocktail destination. So what if his concoction, dubbed Speak Low, included not only spirits—two kinds of rum (Bacardi Superior, Bacardi Solera) and sherry—but green tea powder as well? It’s a simple combination, “artfully prepared; truly a gourmet experience in a glass,” says Robert Burr, host of the Miami Rum Renaissance festival and publisher of Robert Burr’s Rum Guide, who praised the drink for its perfect balance of ingredients. Poured over a carefully carved ice snowball and garnished with yuzu zest, the drink is a mature cocktail, says Cordoba, “something that will grab the attention of a drinker interested in subtle flavor combinations.” Angel’s Share, 8 Stuyvesant St.
The Next Great Shake
Mixologist Shingo Gokan’s winning Speak Low rum cocktail recipe
1 part Bacardi Superior
1 part Bacardi Solera
½ part Osborne Pedro Ximenez Sherry
1 tsp matcha (powdered Japanese green tea)
Zest of yuzu
Mix the Bacardi Superior with the matcha, using a matcha whisk in a Japanese tea ceremony bowl. Strain into a shaker and add the Bacardi Solera and sherry. Hand-shake, double strain into an old-fashioned glass, and add a spray of yuzu zest on top.