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Cocktail umbrellas work if ingredients are right

Use high-quality rum in cocktails like the mai tai.
Yunhee Kim
Use high-quality rum in cocktails like the mai tai.

Believe it or not, there was a time when the cocktail umbrella was a status symbol. In the 1930s, the tiki bar trend began spreading across the United States, infusing tropical tipples with movie star glamour. Hollywood A-listers lounged under the palms at Trader Vic’s and Don the Beachcomber, sipping daiquiris and mai tais made from freshly squeezed juices and hand-spiced rum.

The cocktails retained their exotic cool for several decades, but by the 1970s, rum punches had become punch lines, ruined by bottled mixers and bargain-basement booze. No longer welcome at star-studded parties, zombies and Singapore slings were strictly for sloshed coeds on spring break.

But now, thanks to a new generation of retro-minded, rum-loving mixologists, the umbrella drink is finally getting another shot at respectability. Frank Cisneros, a mixologist and beverage director in New York City, says, “The best way to improve a rum cocktail is simply to use high-quality rum and fresh ingredients rather than mixes.”

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Cisneros’s sweet but sophisticated piña colada forgoes slushy frozen pre-made mixers in favor of fresh pineapple juice and coconut purée (he buys his from www.perfectpuree.com). To make his favorite, the mai tai, he uses both a high-end, richly flavored, aged rum and the more rustic blend known as rhum agricole.

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Even when blended with top ingredients, rum cocktails are meant to be fun, so Cisneros isn’t above kitsch for presentation. “I’m happy to do an umbrella,” he says, “as long as you’re getting an excellent drink.”

Here are Cisneros’s picks:

■ White rum is the most basic variety. Made from molasses, it is aged briefly and then filtered. Cisneros likes the sweet but clean-tasting Banks Five Island ($29 for 750 milliliters, www.banksrum.com).

■ Spiced rum is rum infused with spices and then aged. Cisneros recommends Sailor Jerry ($22 for 750 milliliters, www.sailorjerry.com).

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■ Rhum agricole, a rustic style made in the French West Indies from pressed sugar cane rather than molasses, has sweet, salty, and sour notes. Try Rhum JM Vieux V.S.O.P. ($55 for 750 milliliters, www.rhum-jm.com).

■ Dark rum is inky black and often mixed with ginger beer to make a dark and stormy. Best known is Gosling’s Black Seal Bermuda 80° ($21 for 750 milliliters, www.goslingsrum.com).

■ Aged rum can be sipped neat. Often the numbers on the label indicate how many years the liquor has spent in oak barrels. Cisneros’s choice: Zacapa Rum 23 ($45 for 750 milliliters, www.zacaparum.com).

MODERN MAI TAI

Makes 1

1½ ounces aged rum

½ ounce rhum agricole

¾ ounce fresh lime juice

½ ounce almond cordial

½ ounce Curaçao of Curaçao

Freshly crushed ice

Mint sprig, for garnish

Shake rums, lime juice, cordial, and Curaçao briefly in a cocktail shaker. Pour into a tumbler over ice. Garnish with mint sprig (and umbrella if desired). Courtesy of Frank Cisneros

Find dozens of refreshing rum cocktail recipes at www.marthastewart.com/rum.

Adapted from Martha Stewart Living.