Luckily, the Shellback Caribbean rum people were in town staging an interactive mixology class. There, I could get tips on how make a really good cocktail.
So I headed for the event site, a few miles west on Pico Boulevard. The teacher, mixologist Tony Abou-Ganim, didn't start until we had warmed up (or cooled off) with the welcome drink, Tony's rum cocktail (above).
That recipe wasn't part of the class, but here are the ingredients: silver rum, orange and lime juices, simple syrup, Angostura bitters, nutmeg grated over the top and a mint garnish. "Bitters are like salt and pepper to a drink," Abou-Ganim said.
Then we went into a room lined with work tables covered with a battery of glasses and mixing tools (above), plus Shellback's two rums, one silver and one spiced; three types of syrup, mint sprigs, limes, lemons and other fruits to mix in or use as decoration.
The first lesson was how to make a mojito, not the simple version you usually get but one with greater depth of flavor, thanks to ginger syrup, the spiced rum and clementines.
Incidentally, I thought spiced rum sounded noxious, like over-the-top hot buttered rum, but Shellback's wasn't guilty. Its spicing and caramel flavors were smooth and delicate, and it wasn't sweet. To me, the silver rum seemed more highly flavored and, well, rummy. Both are from Barbados.
Following instructions, we muddled 8 mint leaves, 4 clementine slices, an ounce of ginger syrup and one of lime juice in a tall glass, then filled the glass with ice, added 1 1/2 ounces of spiced rum, stirred everything together and topped it off with a splash of club soda and a mint sprig. Then we offered a toast and drank our handiwork (above).
(To make the ginger syrup, boil 2 cups water and 2 cups sugar with 1 cup chopped peeled ginger until the sugar is dissolved, then cool this and strain out the ginger.)
Abou-Ganim also makes a cinnamon-flavored syrup (follow the same pattern as for the ginger syrup, replacing the ginger with cinnamon sticks). We put this into First Mate (above) along with apple juice, lemon juice and spiced rum, shook the mixture with ice and poured it over fresh ice in a tall glass.
The finish was a spritz of ginger beer. "Add just enough to tickle the drink," Abou-Ganim advised. The clunky apple slice I balanced on the edge of the glass should have been a thinly sliced apple fan.
Then it was time to concoct our own drinks according to a basic formula, which is one part each of syrup and lime or lemon juice and two parts of alcohol. Then you add fruit or whatever else you want, plus a garnish.
Above is the strawberry daiquiri I came up with. It's a little weak in the garnish, but that will get better with practice--lots of practice.
BARBARA'S STRAWBERRY DAIQUIRI
2 strawberries, sliced lengthwise, plus more for garnish
2 to 3 clementine slices, quartered
1 ounce simple syrup
1 ounce lime juice
2 ounces silver rum
Place the strawberries, clementine slices and syrup in a cocktail shaker and muddle thoroughly. Add the lime juice and rum. Add ice and shake well.
Strain into a stemmed cocktail glass and garnish with additional strawberry slices.
Makes 1 serving.