“Of all the spirits…rum is the most romantic.” So says the James Beard quote that tops the dizzying rum list at Hidden Harbor, the tiki bar that opened in Squirrel Hill in January. And Beard is right: rum is awfully romantic. Rum fueled the American Revolution, sustained the British navy for centuries and plays a key role in pirate legends. And on Thursday, May 26th, Hidden Harbor will celebrate rum’s swashbuckling history by adding (then taking down and passing around) their 99th bottle of rum on the wall.
As it happens, that 99th bottle is a special one indeed. The rum, called El Dorado Single Barrel PM, comes from Guyana and (as the name suggests) is bottled from a single barrel. But perhaps more interesting is the fact that the rum was produced in a one-of-a-kind still, a wooden pot still that’s over 200 years old. On Thursday, the team at Hidden Harbor will be pouring out samples of the bold, historic and altogether unique rum until the bottle is gone. A DJ will add to the festivities, spinning an all-vinyl set of music entirely from rum-producing countries.
And if intense aged rums aren’t your bag, not to worry. “Thanks to the range of rums here, we’re able to provide things for people who think they don’t like rum,” explains co-owner and cocktail director Adam Henry. “We’re able to steer someone towards a rum that fits what they like in other spirits.” Whiskey lovers, for instance, will likely enjoy Brugal 1888, a clean, dry rum that spends time in American oak casks. Tequila drinkers might prefer locally made Maggie’s Farm white rum, which has some of those grassy, floral notes. There are rums that taste of overripe bananas, others that burst with molasses and baking spices, and at least one that sips like distilled butterscotch.
“Rum is still sort of a Wild West of spirits,” says Henry. Quality varies widely and regulations are loose (for instance, “12 year old” could meant that’s the oldest or youngest rum in the blend, depending on the country). However, the flexibility of the category gives distillers plenty of room to be creative, coaxing out all sorts of interesting flavors through distilling, blending and aging.
Hidden Harbor takes this vast and varied world and (ahem) distills it down to a hundred or so of the best and most interesting varieties. For the most part, they skip flavored and spiced rums (the only flavored bottle is “Stiggin’s Fancy,” an utterly delicious rum made with real pineapples rather than chemicals). You also won’t find many of their bottles in stores. “About two thirds of the wall are special orders, and several were brought into the state at our request,” explains Henry.
From Antigua to Austria, the rum wall at Hidden Harbor represents some two dozen countries, including 16 local bottles. For those who want to experience the full range of the spirit, Hidden Harbor is launching a rum club, which will guide drinkers (over the course of many nights) through 20 distinct rums from 20 different countries.
Whether you’re a rum connoisseur or your knowledge starts and ends with Captain and Cokes, stop into Hidden Harbor this Thursday. You’ll taste rum made in a centuries-old still and celebrate what Henry calls “America’s first native spirit.” And heck—maybe you’ll learn a thing or two.