South of the Border: Cocktails from Warmer Climes

On May 14 Bourbon Steak restaurant, located in the Four Seasons Hotel in historic Georgetown in Washington, DC, hosted the Museum of the American Cocktail for a “South of the Border” cocktail seminar.  The event was presented by esteemed DC bartenders Duane Sylvester, Jamie MacBain and J.P. Caceres, and featured “cocktails from warmer climes.”

From left: Jamie MacBain, Duane Sylvester, J.P. Caceres and Phil Greene.

Duane, who focused on rum, began his presentation by offering the traditional view that that rum was invented out of desperation. It can be credited to Barbados. At the time, the occupying Spanish ran out of wine. At the same time they were producing so much sugar that much of it was spoiling. With large amounts of leftover molasses (a byproduct of sugar production) available, the Spanish used their imported technology of distillation to produce rum. As time went on the distillation of rum became more refined going from a harsh, highly alcoholic spirit to a “softened” version that we all know today.

Duane treated guests to the fresh, summery and classic rum cocktail, the Mojito:

1.5 oz Flor de Caña Extra Dry White Rum

.5 oz fresh lime

.5 oz rich simple (2:1)

6 mint leaves

2 oz club soda

Build in glass, lightly press mint into syrup. Add the rest and fill with ice. Gently stir and garnish with fresh mint.

In describing the different types of rum, Duane informed guests that the English-style rums tend to possess a heavy aroma as it is distilled from molasses, particularly the darker rums from Jamaica. Brazilian/French Caribbean-style rum is made from fresh-pressed cane sugar, usually referred to as Rhum Agricole, which can be lighter in body, but “funkier” and more vegetal in taste and aroma. Spanish-style rum uses charcoal filtration and is filtered before aging into a barrel like a nice brandy. The production of rum is loosely regulated and can be produced nearly anywhere in the world. The exception is Rhum Agricole, which must be produced in the French West Indies.

Duane gives his “Falernum Cocktail” a thorough swizzle.

Duane prepared an original signature cocktail of his called the Falernum Cocktail, a richly flavored, yet clean finishing drink which was inspired by the traditional way of preparing a punch with 1 part sour, 2 parts sweet, 3 parts “strong,” and 4 parts “weak” (the “weak” in this case being the water from the melted ice):

1.5oz  of a one-to-one blend of Appleton Reserve and Depaz rums

.75oz allspice-infused rich syrup*

.5oz fresh lime juice

Build in 10oz Collins glass and fill w/ crushed ice. Swizzle (swizzle sticks can be found online at sites such as Cocktail Kingdom) and top up with additional ice. Garnish with freshly grated nutmeg.

*To prepare the allspice-infused rich syrup, 1.5 cups whole allspice:

1 quart water

2 quarts “sugar in the raw”

Grind/crush allspice into a course powder. Mix powder with water and slowly bring to a boil (covered). Allow to boil for about 5 minutes, then allow to steep for about 20 minutes. Return to heat and stir in sugar until its dissolved. Once dissolved, strain syrup through a fine sieve into a container, allow to come to room temperature and refrigerate. Use as you wish.

JP Caceres discussed two other spirits, namely Cachaça, made from cane sugar with a grassy flavor and Pisco, distilled from grapes. Cachaça’s number one consumer is Brazil, followed by Germany and then the US. Though Cachaça is similar to rum in nature, the amount of proof determines a Cachaça’s designation rather than being called rum.

J.P. says for a good frothy presentation, give your Pisco Sour a hard “dry shake” (without ice) before shaking with ice.

Of course, when you’re talking Cachaça, you’re talking Caipirinha and JP was more than happy to offer guests his version of this hot weather cocktail:

2 oz Leblon Cachaça

.75 oz Fresh Lime Juice

1 oz Simple Syrup (2:1)

1 Peeled Lime (Quartered)

First, peel the skin of a lime, cut flesh into eighths and muddle in a mixing glass. Add the rest of the ingredients with ice and shake vigorously. “Dirty dump” with shaken ice into a Collins glass and serve.

In talking about Pisco, which is slowly yet surely rising in popularity in the US, JP described it as pretty much a brandy made mostly in Peru which was originally distilled from grapes brought by the Spanish.

J.P.’s Pisco Sour garnished with an Angostura bitter MOTAC logo spritz. Thanks, J.P.!!!

JP presented guests with the Pisco Sour garnished with a wonderful symbolic gesture for the Museum of the American Cocktail:

2 oz Barsol Pisco

.5 oz Fresh Lime Juice

.5 oz Fresh Lemon Juice

.5 oz Simple Syrup (2:1)

.75 oz Egg Whites

Angostura Bitters floated on top as a garnish

Add ingredients except bitters into a mixing glass, “dry shake” first (without ice) to get a nice thick foam, then add ice and shake vigorously. Double-strain into a small coupe or rocks glass without ice. With a misto, spray angostura bitters on top.

Jamie MacBain gave guests an overview of Tequila and Mezcal. In looking back at Tequila’s history its distillation originated around the 1600s. At that time the Spanish brought their technology of distillation and applied it to agave. In 1608 you can find the first recorded taxation of tequila. The Cuervo farm was the first to commercially produce tequila made with blue agave, a plant which is actually related to lilies.

Jamie administers the Tequila for his La Paloma.

In describing Mezcal, Jamie said all tequila is mezcal but not all mezcal is tequila. Mezcal, also made from agave, is distilled in small batches. Most mezcal is smokier in flavor in comparison to tequila due to the longer roasting process in stone-lined pits as opposed to the baking process used in making tequila. The roasted agave is then stone ground into a pulp, which later adds to the mezcal’s deeper, more rustic flavor.

In showcasing tequila, Jamie made a classic and thirst-quenching Mexican cocktail, namely La Paloma:

.5 oz of  Partida Tequila


Collins glass

Top with grapefruit soda (such as Squirt)

Jamie’s “We Got the Beet.”

Jamie treated guests to one of his own original cocktail using mezcal called “We Got the Beet,” a play on the Margarita:

1.5 oz of Corz0 Tequila

.5 oz Averna

.5 oz agave syrup

.5 oz lime juice

.5 oz beet juice

Shake and double strain into a half rim salted coup glass.


As always, the Museum of the American Cocktail would like to offer thanks to the generous support of our sponsors for this event, namely: Barsol Pisco, Leblon Cachaça, Depaz Rhum, Appleton Estate Rum, Flor de Caña Rum, Partida Tequila and Corzo Tequila.

By Matt Keller

Matt lives in Washington, DC. When he’s not contributing to his blog District Cocktail – A Drinker’s Notes in Capitol City his imbibing can be followed on Twitter @DCcocktails.

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