A Rum Drink Just in Time for Spring: Bertita's Special

March--a trying month to be sure. As winter loses its grip, a great impatience flourishes inside me, a restlessness stemming from the wearisome months of dark sky and early night. Accompanying this is a longing for all things bright, shiny, and summer-related. All of this daydreaming is of course helplessly premature. In places that are pummeled with snow and brutally cold temperatures, I imagine this phase occurs in February, when burrowing under layers and inside houses exceeds most people's thresholds for being couped up, mentally as well as physically. Seattle's winter weather at worst functions by erosion--you don't quite feel the pressure of a constant barrage, but little by little it builds up. For me, rock bottom occurs in early March.

I often wonder if our cravings are linked to our view of the passing of seasons, or vice versa. First comes that curious urge for all things barrel-aged that accompanies winter. It is not an unknown phenomenon, colder temperatures and shorter days readily link up with winter warmers usually including whiskey in all its various incarnations. Personally, that usually means rye, though this year I did take a brief sojourn into blended scotch. But restless taste buds can only handle so much of the same. As the season waxed and waned and the temperatures strayed from their lows, giving us teasing glimpses of the Spring, I found myself craving gin in combination with various amari. But at some point it all reaches a head, and drinks that are dark and bitter aren't as satisfying as they once were. So here we are: the days are lengthening, the cherry blossoms are tinting the streets with brilliant dashes of pink, and winter jackets seem a bit too heavy and oppressive. It can mean only one thing: the time for rum, citrus, color and maybe a bit of silliness has arrived. Thus, I flipped the page to Bertita's Special at exactly the right time, when tropical flavors can ease the passing of the last days of dreariness.  

Bertita's Special comes from South of the Border, from the small city of Taxco located in the mountains of Mexico, where many artists and artisans from America took up residence during the early part of the twentieth century "for various reasons, & with varying success." Bertita's Bar, owned by Dona Bertha, has been more famously linked to the creation of another drink, the Margarita. At best, it is one vague claim among many. Bertita's Bar, as Charles Baker notes, is a "dingy, but mildly celebrated place" and he notes that this drink--I am sure it was not the only one--is "poured with a heavy hand," which, considering Baker's taste, is probably why it was included in his tome. I can't help but imagine Bertita's as a spectacular example of a dive bar, with the perfect mixture of local color and lack of polish that makes certain places an unpretentious joy to visit.

Bertita's Special Cocktail (as adapted)

3 ounces light rum
3/4 ounce lime juice
2 ounces orange juice
1 teaspoon grenadine

Shake ingredients briefly with ice. Strain into a chilled Collins glass packed full of crushed ice. Float 1 teaspoon Jamaican rum on top.

Note on Ingredients: I used Cruzan white rum, homemade grenadine, and Smith and Cross for the float. Appleton's Estate V/X makes a fine substitute where Smith and Cross is unavailable.

Baker's instructions called for shaking the ingredients with cracked ice, pouring the contents--ice and all--into a large champagne glass, and then adding the float of Jamaican rum. I decided to shake the ingredients briefly with cubed ice and serve it over fresh crushed ice. In fact, it was very enjoyable and didn't become incredibly watered down.The aroma was full of Jamaican rum, which make sense because it was sitting right there on top. The first taste was also filled with the unmistakable hogo stamp of the Smith and Cross. What a wonderful way to start! Once through the initial sip, however, the lime stepped in. This drink reminded me of a mellowed-out daiquiri--tart, brisk and dry with a good dose of rum. Perhaps it would be more accurate to liken this libation to a mellower version of the Bacardi cocktail, a simple daiquiri with grenadine in place of sugar. With only a teaspoon of grenadine, the orange juice tempered the strength of the lime. The grenadine did, however, provide a nice color as well as a light berry note that became more apparent as the drink warmed up.The rum thoroughly dominated the aftertaste. This cocktail was exceptionally refreshing and really fit with my March mood, but it would also be wonderful during the warmer months.

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