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Rum Gets Its Due at Tiki Tatsu-Ya

Tiki Tatsu-Ya

The oft-abused Mai Tai is perhaps the best example of Starr’s skill when it comes to building harmonious flavor profiles. In the wrong hands, a Mai Tai is cloying or flat, rather than bright, refreshing and balanced. Currently, it’s made with a blend of Martinican Rhum JM and Neisson Agricole Blanc, Jamaica’s Smith & Cross, Appleton 12 and Appleton Estate, and St. Lucia’s Chairman’s Original, combined with housemade miso orgeat, lime and mandarin. It’s a lush, crushable cocktail garnished with fruit slices and a fragrant bouquet of mint.

Starr learned to create singular island profiles at Three Dots, but the concept of using multiple rums for tiki cocktails was developed by one Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gannt, a.k.a. Donn Beach, the creator of the Mai Tai. Beach opened Don the Beachcomber — the birthplace of tiki culture — in Los Angeles in 1937.

“He liked to say, ‘What one rum can’t do, three rums can,’” says Starr. “We’re just taking that to the next level, using different rums to create a fully balanced profile, along with other components, many of which are made in-house. Our goal is to always use elements that elevate our drinks, which isn’t always the case with modern tiki.”

Even an Old-Fashioned — decidedly not a classic tiki cocktail — undergoes a sub-tropical transformation in Starr’s hands. He uses one of his favorite rums, Blackadder Jamaica Monymusk Raw Cask Rum 11 Year, which is aged in Scotland. The cold climate necessitates a longer aging period, yielding an amber spirit with a “an earthy, jungle profile,” says Starr. Combined with housemade Chinese “herbstura” bitters and Kukoto (black Okinawan sugar) syrup, the result is a nuanced, seductive cocktail that aptly demonstrates how complex and versatile aged rum can be.

“Rum isn’t for the faint of heart,” says Starr. “It’s an adventurous spirit like no other, ranging from smooth and easy-drinking to bold and complex. My advice is to try a rum from a specific island and go from there. Rum is a collector’s spirit because it’s so diverse. You’ll never get bored once you’re hooked.”

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