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One Of Chicago's Best Bartenders Just Released An Amazing (and Inexpensive) Rum

By Rob Christopher in Food on Nov 10, 2016 6:00PM

Plantation's O.F.T.D. rum (photo courtesy Land and Sea Dept.)

On Wednesday of last week, which happened to be the night of Game 7 of the World Series, Lost Lake hosted a launch party for a very special new rum. (We don't blame you if you missed it.)

Plantation O.F.T.D. stands out from other offerings in an increasingly crowded rum market for a few key reasons. Firstly, it's overproof: at a very potent 69 percent ABV (138 proof) this is one spirit that means business. Secondly, to create the rum's blend, Plantation gathered a veritable tiki all-star team of advisers, including Jeff "Beachbum" Berry, Martin Cate, Paul McFadyen, Scotty Schuder, and David Wondrich. And, Lost Lake's own Paul McGee.

McGee and Berry were on hand for Lost Lake's launch party, and the latter confirmed a rumor I'd heard about how the new Plantation rum got its name. Officially the O.F.T.D. stands for Old Fashioned Traditional Dark. But that's not the full story. Berry told me that when David Wondrich had a taste of the new rum's final blend, he exclaimed, "Oh fuck! That's delicious!"

It certainly is. O.F.T.D. isn't just powerful. It possesses a whole host of intense flavor notes, from fruit and spice to cream and vanilla, that are perfect for cocktails, tiki or otherwise. It's now in stock at Binny's, Foremost Liquors, and other area stores. I had the chance to talk with McGee about the development process, and he also shared the recipe for a cocktail that really spotlights the incredible new rum.

CHICAGOIST: Your rum is going to be in the $25-27 range. That’s exceptionally reasonable for an overproof rum.

PAUL McGEE: I know, right? I think that was the goal, to be at a price point where you would make cocktails with it at a bar. The Plantation guys made it happen. I think streamlining it with a one-size bottle definitely helped. it’s going to be in a liter bottle only. For the entire world, when it comes out globally, you won’t have separate sizes for the UK and US and so on. You’ll just have one bottle for all of the rum.

Plantation does some of their other rums in one-liter bottles as well, don’t they?

PAUL McGEE: Yeah, they do the 3 Star in the liter bottles, and then their current overproof right now.

When did you get the first inkling that there was a secret project afoot and that you would be asked to be a part of it?

PAUL McGEE: I had no idea! It was a really cool email to get from Alexander Gabriel and Guillaume [Lamy] from Plantation. And they were like, “Hey, we’ve got this idea. We want to reformulate our current iteration of Original Dark Overproof, and reach out to you guys and see if you want to play a part.” And we were like, “Absolutely.”

It kind of turned into like the Oceans 11-type team of tikiphiles.

PAUL McGEE: Right!

What do you think is the most surprising thing about this collaboration? Something that was unexpected as you started working on it?

PAUL McGEE: Most of the people on the label of the bottle are bartenders or people who own bars. And it was really interesting to have someone who’s not a bartender on that list: David Wondrich. It’s really cool to be able to have him look at the historical significance of this style of rum. He’s one of the people who put the “secret sauce” if you will into the blend. We stumbled across a really young Barbados rum from a stainless vat. David was like, “What’s in that? I want to try that.” So we pulled some off of the vat, and we were walking back to the van and we tried some. And we were like, wow, this is really interesting. It was a really young pot stilled rum. So we got back to the chateau and started working on the formulas and stuff. We were towards the end, we were almost there. We were in the process of tossing it up between one or two. David was like, “What if we put a little of that young, pot stilled rum in there?” And so the blender went back and made that an option, and that was the winning formula.

Can you talk a little bit about the various components in the blend and what each one adds to the rum?

PAUL McGEE: There were three rums that were used in there. The majority of the rum is a really young demerara rum, [from] Guyana. And there’s a little bit of high ester Jamaican pot rum. And there’s a little bit of that Barbados pot stilled rum in there as well. Those are the three components to the rum, and then obviously it’s been colored and bottled at 69% alcohol.

For someone who doesn’t know a lot about spirits in general, why is an overproof rum preferable? Why would you even go that route?

PAUL McGEE: It gives it that punch, historically speaking, looking for that kind of oomph and power, in a cocktail. And presence. Even just in a half-ounce increment. Just to kind of give it some of that spice, some of that big, bold flavor that you’re going to get from this rum. But it’s also excellent in an Old Fashioned. And I think we as bartenders, bartenders who make tropical drinks and tiki cocktails, I think we like to be able to control the amount of alcohol in the drinks. Like in Zombies, and things like that. Some of these drinks are pretty big, so you can use a big, bold, overproof rum in it. And because there’s so much volume, not only of the other ingredients but the amount of ice that you’re going to put in a cocktail, it’s not going to get watered down.

It stands up better to dilution, right?

PAUL McGEE: Exactly. Exactly. It’s like when we talked when we opened up the other joint several years ago, how you can contemplate over your cocktail for 20 or 30 minutes, it’s still good. Whereas if you’re going to sit on your Old Fashioned for 30 minutes it’ll be be a bit watered down.

Well, as you know, there are a number of other overproof rums already on the market. Do you consider your rum to be a kind of compliment to those, or to replace a rum like Lemon Hart 151 that’s getting harder to find?

PAUL McGEE: I really don’t think so. I mean, the Lemon Hart 151 has that really young, demerara component obviously. But we were just trying to make a really good overproof rum that had a bunch of different layers to it, and not just something that was hot. So that’s why Alexandre and the rest of us went to the trouble of wanting some of that Jamaican rum. The funky, fruity notes that you get from a Jamaican high ester rum. Lemon Hart and some other high proof rums are just there for the heat. Not much complexity to it. This was kind of cool because we had something that had a cool body to it but also had a really interesting nose. Instead of just the heat.

This simple mixture is ideal for sipping slowly (although it's so tasty that might be difficult!)

O.F.T.D. Swizzle

1.5 oz Plantation O.F.T.D. rum
.75 oz freshly squeezed lime juice
.75 oz simple syrup
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 teaspoon Letherbee Charred Oak Absinthe Bruin

Combine all ingredients in a tall glass or metal swizzle cup. Fill halfway with crushed ice and swizzle or stir vigorously for about 10 seconds. Top with more crushed ice to fill and swizzle again. Garnish with a cinnamon stick and mint, and grate a little nutmeg on top. Serve with a straw.