What Overproof Rum Is And How To Use It In Cocktails

When mixologists build tiki cocktails with greater dimensionality than a syrupy-sweet, grown-up milkshake, chances are they're reaching for a bottle of overproof rum. Bartenders use overproof rum as a tool for cutting through the citrus juices and viscous syrups that are quintessential to the tiki oeuvre, adding depth, maturity, and welcome kick to tropical faves. Technically, any rum with a 45% ABV (90-proof) or higher can be classified as overproof. In the U.S., standard liquors (rum, whiskey, tequila, vodka, and gin) are bottled at 40% ABV, while a commonly held industry position sets the benchmark for the overproof rum category at 50% (100-proof) ABV or higher.

The heavy-hitting stuff is still made from distilled sugarcane, but lends fiery heat, intensity, and funk, warming up the palate and interesting the nose. Compared to regular white rum, overproof rum is profoundly expressive and sweet-tart with a spicy finish for a dryer take on sweeter favorites. Some of the most recognizable rum cocktails, like the mai tai, painkiller, and mojito, are all elevated with overproof rum. The ingredient is essential for counterbalancing coconut cream, orange juice, and pineapple juice in a painkiller cocktail recipe, and it's the reason why Zombie and El Presidente cocktails clock such a formidable potency. Swapping regular-proof for overproof also adds instant character to beloved (yet oft-one-dimensional) tiki classics like the piña colada, Bahama mama, and blue Hawaiian. It isn't just tiki drinks either. Overproof rum is the key to Amaretto Sours with a kick, smashing the disco drink's dessert-like reputation.

Let this strong spirit do the heavy-lifting to counterbalance your sweet tiki faves

Using overproof rum to build impactful cocktails is all about balance — as such, if you're making a cocktail with overproof rum, don't make it too sippable. You should be able to taste the punchiness of the liquor rather than try to mask it entirely with bold ingredients. The spirit should be showcased as an Oscar-worthy supporting actor, letting the heat and funk come through.

To incorporate it into your own drinks, start with the cocktail's usual ingredient ratios and adjust from there. Feel free to experiment with extra mixer or more crushed ice for increased dilution. Or, simply reduce the amount of rum you'd normally use by ½ ounce. In the case of the mai tai, which traditionally uses 1 ounce of white rum and ½ ounce of dark rum, you could use ½ ounce each of overproof white rum and 80-proof dark rum. For a "darker" dark and stormy, swap the Goslings Black Seal rum for Goslings 151-proof at 75.5% ABV (and maybe scale it back from 3 ounces of rum to 2 ½ ounces, adjusting to taste from there). 

Or stick to the regular cocktail recipe for a bolder, fiery tiki cocktail. You could also add the overproof rum on top of drinks as an aromatic float, bringing the nose to the forefront. Floats can be a great way to showcase funky, grassy overproof Jamaican rums, which would work especially well in an understated lime-mint mojito.