The importance of sugar: Smith and Cross and Lyle

Smith and Cross and Lyle

When making cocktails at home, I’ve noticed that a lot of folks don’t pay close attention to the sweetener they’re using.  A good simple syrup, hopefully.  But it turns out that the kind, and form, of the sweetening agent you use matters a great deal.

One of my favorite rums is Smith and Cross Navy Strength Jamaican rum, imported by Haus Alpenz, and constructed of pot still rums in combining the lighter Plummer and heavier Wedderburn styles, it weighs in at 114 proof.  It’s not necessarily easy to mix with given the strength, but one of my favorite ways to use S&C is very simple punch or a variant on Navy Grog.

My usual starting point is a recipe from Cocktail Virgin Slut, a group of folks on the east coast who drink great cocktails, get seriously nerdy about their ingredients, and only write about one thing:  recipes, and how well they worked.  Their Smith and Cross punch is excellent, if a trifle….stiff.  Usually I tend to mellow it by using a bit of Trader Tiki’s superb Orgeat with it, which if you’ll notice essentially means I’m a mint leaf and some proportions away from having a Trader Vic’s Mai Tai made with Smith and Cross.

But I’ve been researching Navy Grog a bit lately, and the tradition of the Royal Navy’s rum ration lately, in preparation for a possible chance to taste Black Tot Rum later this year, so tonight I decided to stick to the basics.

Which means keeping the proportions the same (final recipe below), but perhaps playing with the way it’s sweetened, to match the boldness and burn of the Smith and Cross with a sweetener with enough body.  Molasses came to mind, but that’s too heavy.  I don’t keep Karo syrup in the house, and agave nectar seemed like the wrong flavor profile.  The answer is….Lyle’s Golden Syrup.  You may never have bought it, but I’ll bet you’ve seen the can on the shelf or the newish squeeze bottle in the specialty baking/dessert section of a good market.

Turns out, Lyle’s Golden Syrup is essentially old school pure cane syrup, partially inverted sugars and a rich, caramel flavor without the bitterness of molasses or Lyle’s Black Treacle.  Dear lord, I’m not one for sweet things, don’t put sugar in coffee or iced tea, and prefer salty snacks to sweets any day.  But if I ever slide into a diabetic coma, there will be a pile of Lyle’s tins somewhere nearby.

Historically, many of the rum drinks actually consumed by islanders in the Caribbean were fairly simple punch-like, or grog-like.  Ti’ punch, for example, mixes rhum agricole with a squeeze of lime and cane syrup.   This punch mixes aged Jamaican pot-stil rum with the same, and smoothes the harshness of the rum, allowing it to really express its funky self:

Smith and Cross and Lyle

2 oz Smith and Cross Navy Strength Jamaican rum

1/2 oz lime juice

1/2 oz Lyle’s Golden Syrup

3 dashes Angostura bitters

Construct by squeezing the lime into the shaker tin, then adding the Lyle’s.  It will require a lot of scraping to get the sticky mass into the tin, keep at it.  Then use the lime to thin out the Lyle’s before adding any cold ingredients.  Once cold liquids or ice hit the Lyle’s, it will turn into a sticky and solid mass like hard candy.

Once thin, add the other ingredients, ice, and shake like hell until your fingers stick to the shaker.  Really mix that gooey syrup in there.

Strain over rocks and garnish with lime and shaved nutmeg.

 

Sugar matters because ingredients matter.  If a recipe doesn’t seem quite right, tinker until it is.  Enjoy.