Greta Harper and Greta Harmon oversee the bar programs at two of Pittsburgh’s newer restaurants, Pirata and Bar Frenchman [full disclosure: Greta Harmon is my boss]. Aside from having nearly identical names, they also share a wealth of knowledge on all things bar-related. I posed a few questions to them about rum, a frequently maligned and misunderstood spirit.
What’s Pittsburgh’s relationship with rum? We don’t seem to embrace it as readily as other spirits.
HARMON: By and large, what most people have been exposed to locally are drinks where it’s cheap rum mixed with a whole bunch of fake fruit juice and sugar, so it’s all like candy…
HARPER: ... And they’re like, “That’s not what I want.” But then they go somewhere that makes a proper, classic cocktail that’s well balanced, and they say, “That’s what I like! I don’t want that fruity stuff.”
What’s the biggest misconception about rum?
HARPER: Rum is not always sweet.
HARMON: Everybody also thinks that all rum is either Captain Morgan or Bacardi.
What are some ways to change the negative perceptions of rum?
HARPER: Take all the pretension out of it. The biggest thing with rum is that it’s fun. To me, it’s the most fun of all the spirits.
HARMON: And diverse.
HARPER: It can taste like anything under the sun. You can get a rum that tastes like whiskey, tequila or vodka.
If someone is interested in tasting rum, what’s your approach?
HARPER: I ask them exactly what they’re looking for. Do they like sweeter-style rums? Do they want something super funky? Sometimes people say they want spice. I’ll give them a Spanish style, an English style, and an agricole [distilled directly from pressed sugar cane], and see what they like.
HARMON: Being a barrel-aged spirit, there’s a lot of flavor aspects in rum that are similar to whiskey. So, it’s really easy to switch that around with people who like whiskey and find them a rum that will be similar.
If you had to choose a rum-based cocktail as a “gateway drink” for a newbie, what would it be?
HARPER: Daiquiris all the way. If you make a perfectly balanced daiquiri, you have no idea what’s in it. It’s just a good drink.
HARMON: A nice rum Old Fashioned. Use a good dark rum with a touch of falernum, maybe a little bit of simple syrup, and some orange and Angostura bitters. It’s so simple and perfectly spiced. It’s just really delightful.