The Sazerac, which many consider to be the proto-cocktail, is unique among classic drinks for having two alternative base spirits. Historically, it was said to be made with cognac, owing to the French founding of its place of origin, New Orleans. But with time, the proliferation of rye whiskey, and the incorporation of Louisiana into the United States, it was canonized as a rye drink.
However, we’re going to sidestep the cognac vs. rye debate and propose that the cocktail be made with something else entirely: rum. And more specifically, rhum agricole.
This isn’t my idea. The drink that’s become known as the “Rhumzerac” is a creation of Ben Jones, who serves as the North American Director of Spiribam, a company that represents and distributes rhum agricole brands including Rhum Clement and Rhum J.M. in the United States. Jones, who favors spirit-forward whiskey drinks, one day decided to order a Sazerac made with aged rhum agricole and coined the variant’s delightful name.
“I prefer stronger cocktails with sophisticated flavors, particularly when I need a break from citrus,” Jones says. “I think agricole rhum, like the Clément 10 Year, is the perfect hybrid of cognac and rye.”
While Jones is partial to rhum agricole for various reasons, there’s an objective case to be made for Clément 10 Year’s ability to stand in for cognac or rye. As a rhum agricole, it’s made from freshly fermented sugar cane juice rather than molasses, which gives it a grassy, spicy quality that might be likened to rye, but also features the dried fruit flavors that are indicative of cognac. And like rye and cognac, it’s been aged in oak—in this case, a spell of 10 years in a mix of virgin and re-charred barrels.
Jones has occasionally made a hybrid Sazerac that combines rhum agricole with one of the cocktail’s more commonly used bases, but ultimately he falls back to a pure Rhumzerac made with Rhum Clément.
“Many Sazeracs are made with a split base of both [rum and rye], and I have tried to substitute the Clément in for one or the other spirit,” says Jones. “But I have found it is easier for the bartender and smoother on my palate to just go with the aged rhum as the singular spirit. I suppose at this point it really can adopt the Rhumzerac name.”
If you want to adopt the Rhumzerac into your own cocktail repertoire, Jones’s preferred recipe is below.