Surely your holiday to-do list includes snagging a gift for a cocktail aficionado or two, not to mention drinking lots of cocktails yourself. If you're a rum fan, kill a few birds with one stone: There's an intriguing new rum that will wow everyone from spirits geeks to tiki-drink types who wish they were on a beach somewhere double-fisting umbrella drinks.
Its name is a mouthful: The rum is called Plantation O.F.T.D., which stands for Old Fashioned Traditional Dark Overproof Rum. It's a blend of rums from Guyana, Jamaica and Barbados, and at a whopping 138-proof (69 percent alcohol), the spirit is flavorful and balanced enough to gracefully star in breezy, tropical drinks—see the recipe for the OFTD Swizzle below—and dusky classics. Or, like Scotch, you might even (perhaps with the aid of a little water) want to sip it in its naked form, too.
And if you're into spirits that have a juicy backstory, this one delivers. Plantation O.F.T.D. came about as an attempt to replicate an old-fashioned, strong rum that dates back to the 1600s. Seamen who once holed up on Royal Navy ships looked forward to knocking back their “daily tot,” an uplifting reprieve from the demands of tying knots and firing cannons. To determine the quality of these coveted rum rations, the 17th-century British sailors lighted booze-soaked gunpowder on fire. If it ignited, there was the “proof” it was legit; if it didn’t, undesirably watered-down liquid was their fate. The ritual lived on until 1970, when it was abolished.
Making a modern-day version of this nostalgic rum style was the dream of Alexandre Gabriel, the visionary behind France’s Maison Ferrand portfolio of spirits. An adept blender, Gabriel most recently racked up street cred from the bartending community with the launch of Plantation Pineapple Stiggins’ Fancy Rum, a collaboration with renowned cocktail historian and scribe David Wondrich.
Before embarking on his follow-up creation, Gabriel decided he wanted the assistance of several refined rum palates, so once again he turned to Wondrich, as well as Jeff “Beachbum” Berry of Latitude 29 in New Orleans, Martin Cate of Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco and Paul McGee of Lost Lake in Chicago. Owners of the country’s most transporting tiki joints, they were joined by Paul McFadyen from London and Scotty Schuder from Paris, who run the equally quirky, convivial bars Trailer Happiness and Dirty Dick.
This global, spirits-savvy sextet secretly convened with Gabriel in New Orleans during the summer of 2015. After ample tastings and discussions, Gabriel returned to his laboratory and magically transformed an eclectic collection of notes into the heady liquor the gang all envisioned.
“Working with Alexandre and the others was a chance to reformulate an overproof rum that has complexity, instead of just being overpowering for the sake of overpowering,” explains McGee. “Most of the time when you grab an overproof rum, you’re just looking for the strength or the heat. This one is truly dynamic: it has richness, spice, a little bit of fruit and interesting aromatics.”
McGee says he's "happy to have another fantastic rum in my arsenal” at Lost Lake and finds that the lush and textured spirit works in timeless favorites like the whiskey-dominant Old Fashioned, and makes a great tiki drink: Its bright coffee and orange notes, paving the way to warm layers of cinnamon and nutmeg and a dark chocolate and caramel finish, make it ideal for playful cocktails like Lost Lake's OFTD Swizzle (recipe below). Or, for a more wintry holiday punch, pair one third of the high-octane O.F.T.D. with two-thirds Cognac, as Wondrich recommends. But sip slowly: This stuff is powerful.
1.5 oz Plantation O.F.T.D.
.75 oz lime juice
.75 oz Simple Syrup (1:1)
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
1 dash Absinthe
Combine all ingredients in a metal cup or large glass. Add 1 cup of crushed ice and with a "lei lei bois” (swizzle stick or barspoon) swizzle for 5 to 10 seconds.
Add additional crushed ice and garnish with a mint bouquet dusted with nutmeg, a cinnamon stick, an umbrella, a swizzle stick and a straw.