The Unexpected Liquor You Should Pair With Cream Soda

I've spent the majority of my adult life working in bars, and if there's one thing I've learned (other than how to clear a room with an ear-splitting playlist), it's that the age of elitist cocktails is over. You're a diehard old fashioned drinker? No sweat. You swear by a fruity sex on the beach? No shade (pun intended). But, at large, today's discerning drinkers are thirsty for the intersection of maturity and accessibility. 

The negroni sbagliato had the internet in a chokehold last year after going viral on TikTok. The addition of bubbly prosecco opened the door for novice cocktail fans to enjoy the otherwise strong, bitter classic negroni, and that's just one example. The espresso martini dominated the cocktail scene last year and the year before, a siren song to sippers with a sophisticated flavor that's still easier to enjoy than the pucker-inducing dry martini. Or, consider the Aperol spritz's aggressive emergence onto the brunch scene; nowadays it's as common as a bloody mary or a mimosa.

That's why, today, we're exploring the unexpected liquor pairing that keeps the mature-meets-accessible cocktail train rolling. For easy yet impressive cocktails that inexperienced palettes can enjoy (and fledgling home mixologists can master), pair cream soda with spiced rum. For an approachable, dimensional drink, take a cue from the proportions of another classic two-parter cocktail,the G&T, and combine three parts cream soda with one part spiced rum.

Spiced rum is the perfect match for cream soda's fizzy sweetness

Why does it work? Spiced rum is sugarcane-based white rum infused with warming spices and then aged in oak barrels. Cinnamon, allspice, vanilla, clove, star anise, cardamom, ginger, pepper, and nutmeg are all common ingredients, making this spirit a natural fit for cream soda's sweet, vanilla ice cream flavor. Some cream sodas also have caramel or butterscotch flavorings, which also work with the fragrant spices in spiced rum. From a visual standpoint, cream soda is colorless, golden, or light tan, which makes an aesthetic match for spiced rum's light brown hue.

To assemble your cocktails, handle that carbonation with care. Never put a carbonated ingredient in a cocktail shaker. Instead, always stir gently, and pour the cream soda in last, after the spiced rum and any other ingredients are already in the glass.

To achieve the best fizzy mouthfeel every time, swing by your local grocery store and pick up a six-pack of canned or bottled cream soda. Cracking a fresh bottle every time is preferable to using a large two-liter bottle of soda, which goes flat shortly after opening. If you can find them, mini soda cans work great for building cocktails.

Selecting the right tools for the job

I've found that Dr. Brown's cream soda works the best for pairing with liquor. It's been around since 1869 when the eponymous Brooklyn-based physician started selling it to the metropolitan masses and they've been drinking it ever since. Its velvety texture and smooth finish would be well complemented by the darkness and depth of spiced rum.

Since cream soda is a pretty flavorful ingredient, there's no need to use your best sipping rum here. Still, as a general rule, it's never a good idea to build a cocktail with a liquor you wouldn't drink on its own. Captain Morgan, Sailor Jerry, and Calypso, all make affordable spiced rums with quality that holds up for the price. If you're willing to spend a little more, English brand The Salford makes a killer small batch, mid-range-priced spiced rum with top notes of vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger.

According to a study in the journal Chemical Senses, our brains associate vanilla with creaminess on a subconscious level, whether or not any dairy is present at all. As you brainstorm cocktail ideas, keep your ingredients' flavor profiles in mind to capitalize on that automatically luxurious sensory appeal. We've rounded up a few ideas below to help you get started.

The spice of life meets vanilla cream dream

Try making a spiked New York-style egg cream with cream soda, spiced rum, and creme de cacao liqueur. Or, whip up a "grown up" Shirley Temple with cream soda, spiced rum, a splash of grenadine, and some maraschino cherries. Add a splash of orange juice or orange blossom water to that reimagined Shirley Temple and you've got a rum sunset. Or, add a squeeze of lime juice and a peeled knob of fresh ginger to your cream soda and spiced rum two-parter and you've got a vanilla dark & stormy. 

You could also make a rum punch with cream soda, spiced rum, and a whole cinnamon stick to garnish. Bonus points if you hit the glass with a cinnamon sugar rim. Got a box of store-bought chai concentrate in your fridge? Feel free to add a splash of that into the mix, as well.

If you're feeling adventurous, you can use spiced rum and cream soda to make an unforgettable hot buttered rum. Just combine the rum, cream soda, a few tablespoons of room-temperature butter, a pinch of salt, and a little nutmeg in a large pitcher, then top the whole thing off with boiling water. The cream soda will lose its carbonation, but the heat and butter will deepen its natural sweet vanilla notes for an intensely luxurious, round aromatic profile. Plus, this mature, classic cocktail is also easy and impressive to batch for a crowd at your next dinner party.