Streetfighter at Playa
Maybe it's silly to feel jealous of a cocktail, but I found that when describing Playa's Streetfigher ($12) to a friend, I felt a little twinge of envy. After all, this complex drink is golden-hued, stunning, and rich. The color comes from turmeric, which also gives it some savory low notes, and plays nicely off the richness from coconut cream and the sweet tartness from a burst of pineapple and a hint of aromatic mint. But the anchor of the drink is truly the rum, which cuts through these powerful flavors, balancing them and adding a final characteristic to this enviable cocktail—it's strong.
The Evening Glass-Off at the Spare Room
I thought I didn't like mai tais until I tried the Spare Room's smoky, spicy, utterly delicious version ($13.88), which was crowned L.A.'s best of breed by Los Angeles Magazine. Made with a blend of spiced and light rums, orgeat, and chipotle-infused pineapple, it brings some savory to the tiki standard without veering too far from the classic. An added bonus—it's potent enough to provide a solid excuse as to why you made a sorry showing in the bar's hipster bowling alley.
Real McCoy at The Tasting Kitchen
The Real McCoy ($13) is, in fact, the real deal. Simple and not too fussy, it's a frothy, easy-to-sip potion of rum, citrus, and a healthy dose of sweet, nutty orgeat syrup. But as gentle as it is going down, it finishes with a solid, clean kick that can only come from a well-mixed rum drink.
Ray's Swizzle at Stark Bar
Ray's Swizzle ($10) might be my go-to cocktail the next time I feel a cold coming on. With lime juice, pineapple syrup, muddled blackberries, and oranges, it's got to be packed with vitamins, right? There's plenty of pulpy rum-infused fruit to be enjoyed once you reach the bottom of the glass. And despite all the fresh fruit and syrup, the drink skews more tart than sweet, which allows the subtle but smooth Don Q Cristal rum to shine through at the finish.
Zombie at 1886 at the Raymond
So powerful is this Pasadena speakeasy's take on the classic tiki cocktail the Zombie ($14), that it comes with a bar enforced limit—two max per customer. To be sure, the drink is potent, made with three kinds of rum, including a 110-proof demerara, but it's sharp and clean tasting with lots of citrus notes from fresh lemon, lime, and pineapple juices, and sweetness from passion fruit and demarara syrups. Topped with an ample scoop of flaky crushed ice, this drink is a slow, refreshing sipper.
The Avocado Project at Picca
Called The Avocado Project ($12) because it was such a project to concoct, mixologist Julian Cox's cool, refreshing elixir was worth the effort. Avocado is mashed with a bit of agave nectar and some ascorbic acid to preserve color, and then combined with Banks 5 Island rum and fresh lime juice. The mixture gets an extra long shake for added dilution and then is double strained to give it a viscous but clean mouthfeel. A sprinkle of finishing salt cuts the sweetness from the agave and the fruit, and though the drink is frothy and creamy, the rum cuts through it, keeping it from flirting with avocado smoothie territory.
Tabacco Vanilla at Rosé
For his entry into the L.A. cocktail scene, mixologist Alex Ott chose an unlikely venue—a St. Tropez-themed restaurant named after a kind of wine. And while many of the drinks have a light, breezy French Riviera flair, surprisingly Ott's rum drink does not. The blend of spiced Bacardi, fresh fig and pear, tobacco-infused honey, sandalwood and fresh lime, is described as an "intensely fragrant men's drink." Not one to let gender barriers stand in my way, I tried this masculine drink and pretty much loved it. It's smoky and robust but in an unexpected floral, fruity way—much like pipe tobacco can smell smoky and sweet all at once.
Hemingway Daiquiri at La Descarga
This dimly lit, Cuban themed speakeasy is ground zero for rum drinks, with over half of the cocktail menu's real estate devoted to the spirit and an entirely separate bar for sipping rums and cigars—it's tough to narrow it down to just one favorite rum cocktail here. But with some hard work and advice from the bar staff, the Hemingway Daiquiri took the prize. Made with Bacardi 1909, grapefruit juice, and maraschino liqueur served up, it balances an effervescent, citrusy beginning with a surprisingly earthy finish.