Conversations about rum were the white noise of my childhood in Trinidad and Tobago. And every time I visit home—usually once a year, 2020 being the only exception—I’m glad that talk hasn’t quieted. You hear it in the tiny open-air rum shops that dot the main roads; in the distilleries, where neighbors continue to hold life-long careers; and in schools, where children on the island learn about the sugar cane industry (and its many by-products). Even my teetotaling mother has a pint bottle tucked away somewhere at her home in Tobago for visitors.
Rum lubricates the social landscape of the Caribbean in ways too numerous to number; I suspect that’s why it’s a staple in my drinking—and cooking—repertoire now. During these balmy American summer months, I most frequently make one simple, delicious drink that brings together two decidedly Caribbean ingredients.
Rum on the Rocks, as I like to call it, is refreshing and invigorating but never too intense. The drink is both easy-going and steely, reflecting some of the characteristics of the island that I treasure most.
To make this libation, I freeze coconut water in an oversized ice-cube mold, then pour good rum over the frozen cube. By good rum, I mean a bottling that you can enjoy neat, so you can admire the spirit’s golden color, spice notes, and floral aroma. As a Trinidadian, good rum for me will always be a product from the House of Angostura, particularly its 1919 offering.
That’s it: Good rum and a frozen coconut water cube is the entire recipe. Nothing more, nothing less. Rum on the Rocks doesn’t need a cherry and pineapple wedge. It isn’t a preening, grandstanding drink that requires garnishing or grooming. The coconut water ice cube which floats in the bronze-tinged rum resembles the color of sun-bleached sand, and that’s garnish enough.
This drink doesn’t make use of packaged mixers or artificial sweeteners, and it stands on the other side of the sticky, fruity-fluorescent, elaborate cocktails that tourists tend to order. Islanders generally don’t drink that stuff. Instead, islanders of all stripes are more inclined to reach for a drink that embraces the brightly upbeat—but never syrupy—identity of the Caribbean. Each time I return to this rum drink, I’m reminded that while the history of the Caribbean carries painful scars from the slave trade, the present day is full of moments of strength, enterprise, and creativity: elements that are embodied in this simple combination of two home-grown ingredients.
As the ice melts, the coconut water gradually asserts more of its mellow flavor.
However breezy the presentation, the flavor is exemplary, smooth and complex despite the easy prep. On first taste, there’s the heady attack of the rum, with rich vanilla, tropical fruit, and spice ever-present. As the ice melts, the coconut water gradually asserts more of its mellow flavor, introducing nutty details that keep each sip interesting. The coconut water challenges the rum but never overpowers it, and the fusion of sultry and refreshing flavors are simultaneously crisp and luscious. It's both calm and compelling down to the last drop.
Right now, as the harsh realities of a global pandemic knock daily at the door, a strong, unfussy cocktail that forces my gaze away from the news, and toward the islands, is exactly the type of drink I both want and need. This drink offers a sort of reprieve, capturing the past while anchoring me in the present. It also challenges me, even in these times, to enjoy the pleasures of good things that—when simply brought together—shine.
Originally Appeared on Epicurious