SAN FRANCISCO -- If the huge anchor and float lights hanging from the ceiling of Martin Cate's Smuggler's Cove bar don't clue you in, the stacks of barrels and ship's figurehead mounted on the wall should get you in the spirit of things: You don't come here for a dry martini, be it ever so shaken or stirred.
Cate has a rum perspective on things -- the bar features more than 200 from around the world.
There's a rum revival going on across the country as devotees spread the word that rum is about a lot more than the cheap stuff you might have got trashed on in college.
"Rum is the most diverse spirit in the world," says Cate. "There's rich, smoky rums. There's drier, medium-bodied rums. Some have longer finishes and some short, drier finishes. There's a rum for every palate."
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All that and Flaming Volcanoes, too.
The rum 411:
Rum is a distilled spirit made from sugar cane byproducts, including juice and molasses.
It's usually aged in used whisky or bourbon barrels, which turns the spirit golden and, if aged long enough, brown.
Rum can be white, gold or dark (known as black). The darker rums may be either due to the effect of aging or from being darkened with an artificial caramel color.
Perhaps most important is rum's dual personality. While it is the basis for laugh-out-loud drinks like the zombie, premium rums prefer being sipped straight or over ice, a drink that can compete with fine cognacs and brandies.
You can even get a special rum glass to imbibe from, though Ed Hamilton, who runs the Ministry of Rum Web site, thinks that may be a bit much.
"People ask me, 'What kind of glass do you use?' I say, 'A clean one,' " he says with a laugh.
Perhaps it's not surprising that rum, and its cousin, tiki, are making a comeback now. After all, the pioneering tiki bar, Don the Beachcomber, opened in Los Angeles during the Depression. Bay Area resident Victor Bergeron visited and became a convert, going on to start the Trader Vic's tiki temples.
Somewhere during the '60s, tiki and rum fell out of fashion.
Cate fingers one of the culprits as a "guy in a tuxedo who showed up in a secret-agent movie and asked for a vodka martini."
But now it's back, beneficiary of the craze for authentic cocktails that is an offshoot of the foodie movement. And, conveniently, you can be a complete rum snob for much less than being, say, a single-malt scotch maniac.
"It's amazing how much cheaper it is," says Jeff Berry, who has written about rum and tiki culture. "You can spend $140 for an 18-year single-malt. You can buy a 21-year aged, amazingly layered fantastic sipping rum for half that."
Figures from the Distilled Spirits Council show that premium rums, which 10 years ago weren't big enough to really exist as a category, now account for nearly 10 percent of all spirits sold by volume and 12 percent of revenues in the $60 billion retail market.