As a lover of rum, I’m always on the lookout for innovative cocktails and combinations. The resurgence of tiki culture helped put rum back in the spotlight, with cocktails that highlight the nuances and flavors of different varieties. More and more mixologists have begun pushing the envelope by mingling this complex spirit with inventive ingredients.
During my recent jaunt to Washington, D.C., an Asian-Latin fusion restaurant on 14th Street caught my attention. Its name, Sakerum — melding my favorite spirit with the traditional Japanese drink — piqued my interest. Immediately my mind began envisioning combinations of sunny tropical spices and vanilla, layered with earthy and tangy sake. The potential couplings aroused my taste buds.
When I finally strolled into Sakerum on a late Friday afternoon, I was not disappointed. The eclectic drink menu features many rum- and sake-based drinks, but also a few choices with whiskey and tequila. Legendary D.C. mixtress Gina Chersevani, who is known for her unconventional creations, designed the cocktails.
Many have names as whimsical and creative as their components. I started out with the Turning Japanese, I Really Think So, which gets its moniker from an early ’80s New Wave hit about self-pleasure. An innovative riff on the Manhattan, this concoction is forged from Smith & Cross pot still rum, Amaro Sfumato, vermouth and orange bitters.
Turning Japanese, I Really Think So
2 ounces Smith & Cross navy-strength rum
.5 ounces Amaro Sfumato
.5 ounces sweet vermouth
2 dashes of orange bitters
Stir all ingredients with ice, strain into a coupe (martini) glass and garnish with an orange peel.
I fell in love almost immediately. This cocktail has a bold and bitter flavor up front, a far cry from the sweetness usually associated with the Caribbean spirit. At first, it was hard to believe it was actually rum. However, after savoring it for a few sips, some butterscotch-like nuances began to develop and its taste gradually softened to make room for the ripe and full-bodied flavor of the Jamaican rum.
Sampled on its own, the overproof Smith & Cross rum packs a “wow,” with a wide range of subtle tangs across the spectrum. The wine-based amaro imparts a prevalent smokiness that gives the drink a bit of a scotch character. This is definitely a grown-up cocktail.
I was eager to try a combination of sake and rum, so I sampled another cocktail called the I Don’t Know Where We’re Going, But It’s Going To Be Fun. The name captured my feelings trying these two spirits combined for the first time. This uplifting drink is made of Yuzu sake, Caña Brava three-year-old rum and cava. I was impressed with its unique twang and slightly sweet profile. The addition of sparkling wine made it a light and breezy treat.
One of my favorite rum drinks is the mojito. Sakerum has an interesting alternative called the Godzilla Crush, mixed with Kimoto sake, mint and cucumber. The sake does double duty, taking the place of both the rum and the lime of a traditional mojito, and the cucumber gives this tipple a garden-fresh flavor. Manager Justin Cho hailed its virtues, describing it as a perfect summer cocktail.
To appeal to the younger crowd, there are two offerings from Sakerum’s frozen daiquiri machine. But don’t expect some sickeningly sweet, slushy drinks reminiscent of spring break. Chersevani has designed these drinks to be upscale and sophisticated. One is a ginger grapefruit rosé that surpasses any frozé drink in town.
The second one, forged from green tea and wasabi, is a little more plucky. Also popular with the younger crowd, according to Cho, are the rum and tonics made with Sakerum’s house-flavored tonics.
The dual personalities of rum and sake are also reflected in the décor. The downstairs lounge has a sultry feel, with dimmed lights and Latin textiles, while the upstairs is light and bright with a retractable glass roof. Either floor provides a stylish environment to imbibe Sakerum’s imaginative cocktails.