It’s hard to beat a good Old Fashioned. It is one of the world’s most beloved cocktails and a great way to figure out if a bartender is worth their salt. Still, even our favorite recipes could use some freshening up now and again and one of our favorite ways to put a twist on the Old Fashioned is by switching out the whiskey for rum.
Not just any rum should be thrown into an Old Fashioned. You need to find a bottle with enough complexity and character that it lifts the classic cocktail while also leaving its own mark. One of our favorite choices is Bacardí Reserva Ocho.
To dig deeper into the rum Old Fashioned and get a better look into Bacardí Reserva Ocho, we sat down with A-K Hada, North American Ambassador of Rums for Bacardí, who gave us a peak behind the bottle and some advice on mixing up the perfect serve.
Spirited Zine: Just to start, can you tell us a bit about Bacardí Reserva Ocho? How is it aged? Where does the sugar cane come from?
A-K Hada: Bacardí Reserva Ocho is a premium aged rum and one of the brand’s most celebrated expressions, as it is based-off of the original recipe from the Bacardi family’s personal reserve blend created in 1862. Bacardí Reserva Ocho is barrel aged for a minimum of eight years under the Caribbean sun and has a rich golden color and velvety body with warming notes of butterscotch, nutmeg, and dried apricots. The brand sources the highest-quality Bon Sucro certified molasses from all over the world for all of its rums and as you may know, molasses is the dark syrup left over from a three-stage sugarcane refining process.
SZ: Can you take us through a bit of the rum making process?
AKH: Every rum-making process is slightly different, but the Bacardí brand pioneered several techniques in 1862 to create the distinct, clean and robust BACARDÍ flavor we all know and love. It all starts in our Casa Bacardí distillery in Puerto Rico, where our Bon Sucro certified blackstrap molasses is diluted with filtered water and then combined with a particular strain of yeast, which we call La Levadura Bacardí. Our founder, Don Facundo Bacardí Massó, isolated and cultured this yeast from the sugarcane fields around Santiago de Cuba. He was one of the first distillers in the world to cultivate a proprietary yeast, and our team has still been using this same Cuban yeast strain ever since 1862! The water, molasses, and yeast combined kickstarts the fermentation process, where the yeast turns the sugar in the molasses into alcohol to create a beer. This process takes about 20 to 30 hours, which is very fast compared to most other spirits. The beer is then run through a still where heat causes the alcohol to evaporate first, separating it from the rest of the beer. Cooling tubes condense the alcohol back into a liquid, producing the spirit. Bacardí creates two different types of spirits, one a fuller-bodied richer base and another that is distilled several times to create a lighter and cleaner higher-proof spirit. Creating these two different types of rums in the rum-making process allows us the flexibility to create different flavor profiles through the art of blending. Every Bacardí rum is aged for a variety of different years and blended while some are also charcoal filtered to further refine the flavor and color.
SZ: Rum is going through what is called its “third revolution.” So what is different about rum now than 10-15 years ago?
AKH: The liquid itself is no different than it was 10 to 15 years ago. We have been using the same processes to make Bacardí rum for almost 160 years. However, I think the biggest difference is in public perception. As people are becoming more engaged in the burgeoning cocktail scene and more knowledgeable about spirits in general, they are starting to explore rum’s fantastic diversity. Of course, rum is a fantastic mixing spirit, but beautiful aged rums such as Bacardí Reserva Ocho are also wonderful sipping spirits. As this branch of the category expanded amongst consumers, Bacardí introduced its Premium Range in 2018 with the addition of Bacardí Añejo Cuatro and Bacardí Gran Reserva Diez to its portfolio. We are seeing a lot of exciting innovation in the rum category overall, which has pushed the brand to explore different barrel finishes, resulting in the development of the BACARDÍ Reserva Ocho Sherry Cask Finish and forthcoming five-year Cask Finish series. We’re always looking for ways to innovate with our rums and stay ahead of the curve.
SZ: Rum has always had a major connection with cocktails, especially with tiki, but now it’s making its way into other classic drinks. What makes rum such a versatile spirit?
AKH: Rum is a versatile spirit because it’s the most versatile category! Even amongst the Bacardí portfolio, there are many different expressions that lend different flavor profiles to cocktails. Despite public perception, many rums are just as dry as other mixable spirits such as gin, vodka, or whiskey, and have robust flavors from the fermentation, aging and blending processes that can be mixed in just about every style of cocktail. Again, as the aged sipping style of rums become more popular, people are discovering that rum can also be used in classic drinks such as the Old Fashioned. The tasting notes and flavor profiles in aged rums rival that of a whiskey or bourbon and complement spirit forward classic cocktails beautifully.
SZ: It’s currently Old Fashioned month. It’s a cocktail that has an incredible history, but it has been getting a lot of updates recently. What makes rum a perfect spirit for an Old Fashioned?
AKH: I think the complexity of rum is what makes it such a perfect spirit for a lot of classic cocktails, especially the Old Fashioned. The Old Fashioned is a simple cocktail that’s all about the base spirit and the small amount of sweetener and bitters is only meant to enhance the characters of that base spirit. Aged sipping rums have all the character and more that appeals to dark spirit enthusiasts.
SZ: What makes Bacardí Reserva Ocho such an excellent base for an Old Fashioned?
AKH: Bacardí Reserva Ocho is one of the oldest private rum blends in the world and is a very sophisticated expression in our portfolio. Much like the Old Fashioned, it has a tried-and-true reputation, making it a fitting spirit for “the original cocktail.” The notes in Bacardí Reserva Ocho, like butterscotch, nutmeg and dried apricots, can shine gorgeously on their own, and only blossom further when mixed into this subtle cocktail.
SZ: What is your favorite Bacardí Reserva Ocho Old Fashioned recipe? Can you tell us what it is and why it has been built that way?
AKH: We kept the recipe for our Bacardí Reserva Ocho Old Fashioned simple and classic. It has all the character that’s sure to be a crowd pleaser. Our rum rendition is made with 2 oz of Bacardí Reserva Ocho, 1/4 oz of simple syrup, 2 dashes of Angostura bitters and an orange peel as a garnish. All the ingredients work together to enhance the flavors of the aged rum. The flavors of the rum open up to a mixture of coconut and cacao on the front palate, followed by a long finish of baking spices and fruits such as dried apricot, charred pineapple and caramelized banana. We found this classic recipe to be the best representation of both Bacardí Reserva Ocho rum and an Old Fashioned cocktail.
SZ: What is your favorite way to enjoy Reserva Ocho?
AKH: My favorite way to enjoy Bacardí Reserva Ocho besides in an Old Fashioned is definitely shared amongst friends!