Distilled: Rum done right

Jesse Tigges, Columbus Alive

Rum isn't liquor I'm particularly knowledgeable about. So I sat down with Grass Skirt Tiki Room owner/operator Carmen Owens and Matt "Kuku Ahu" Thatcher, co-founder of the Fraternal Order of the Moai and cocktail consultant for the bar, for a bit of an education. (And if you hadn't noticed, this week's cover story is about summer cocktails, and Grass Skirt serves tropical drinks year round.)

Thatcher created - and shares his (nick)namesake - of Grass Skirt's Ahu's Navy Grog #2, and his tropical cocktail expertise and personal recipes run throughout the cocktail menu. The finest aspect of Owens and Thatcher's collaboration is how it presents rum to the uninitiated in a whole new light.

Thatcher compares rum to beer, in terms of the vast diversity of options available. The problem is many of us aren't aware of the superior brands/bottles - not Captain Morgan nor Bacardi - and how they can be used to create complex cocktails.

"I've heard people say, 'I had Jack Daniels so I don't like whiskey,'" Thatcher said. "Well that's not reasonable to assume."

"A lot of people think of rum as like college - woohoo, I drank a lot of Bacardi and juice - and they go, 'I don't like rum.' Oh no, you're just doing it wrong," Owens said.

Well, Grass Skirt is doing it right by serving cocktails with bold, multifaceted flavor profiles. The Caramelized Pineapple-Coffee Grog, using a pineapple-coffee infused rum, angostura bitters, lime juice and simple syrup is extraordinary - best described by Owens as "an alcoholic gobstopper." Ahu's Navy Grog #2 is just as diversely flavorful, but in a different way due to the herbal fernet-branca, mint and dark rum.

While using better-quality rums is key, the infusions at Grass Skirt are just as significant. Along with the Caramelized Pineapple-Coffee Grog, the Pele's Curse - a cocktail Owens is particularly proud of - uses a black pepper-pineapple infused rum resulting in a combo of spicy and sweet.

And the infusions don't apply to only rum; exotic in-house creations are the standard. The nutmeg liqueur and lime-cardamom liqueur, which is used in the secret gem (i.e. off-menu) Zombie Bride, were cited as the standouts.

Grass Skirt Tiki Room

105 N. Grant Ave., Downtown