The old-fashioned is the Doric column of the cocktail world. A sturdy and simple pillar of whiskey, sugar, and bitters, it doesn’t cry out for experimentation. But here’s a bit of heresy: It does work surprisingly well with the South’s first spirit—rum, which was imported from the Caribbean long before corn decided it wanted to be liquor.
With rum experiencing a new golden age, now is the perfect time to be adventurous. Creative Southern producers, such as Richland in Georgia, are making aged variations robust enough to pair with bitters, and even such larger traditional brands as El Dorado are releasing more refined expressions. The right rum can mimic the steadfast appeal of the whiskey original while adding a bright underlayer of tropical notes—always welcome on a winter’s night. And opt for orange bitters if you have them. They send up small fireworks of understated festivity.