Rum diary: Junction’s mix master shares his secrets for a winning cocktail

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Junction bar manager Alec Spidalieri. Photo by Sanjay Suchak Junction bar manager Alec Spidalieri. Photo by Sanjay Suchak

As I walk through the doors of Junction, bar manager Alec Spidalieri beckons me to the upstairs area, adjacent to the kitchen. He’s got something cooking that he can’t leave for very long. In fact, one of the ingredients he’s making is the brown butter-washed rum for the Rum Communion, the winning cocktail in C-VILLE’s inaugural Hooch Dreams bracket contest.

When Spidalieri heard that the daiquiri-style drink had taken the top spot, he was surprised. He knew Junction was up against Lost Saint in the first round, and says he honestly thought they’d get knocked out early by the West Main bar. But, if you’ve followed our cocktail bracket matchups online or on social media, you know why we had to name this drink the winner. The judges’ comments consistently praised the Rum Communion for its sweet yet tart notes, butterscotch undertones and creamy mouthfeel.

The daiquiri is one of Spidalieri’s favorite drinks—“I love rum,” he says—as it represents the holy trinity of the Caribbean: rum, lime and sugar. It may sound simple, but it’s more than the sum of its parts. And the possibilities of riffing off those three main ingredients to create new and seasonal drinks is endless, he says. The idea for the Rum Communion was born out of an online recipe for a rum cake; Spidalieri knew the pineapple and brown butter elements could be shaken up and turned into a cocktail.


His drinks of choice

“Wine, I drink a lot wine—probably too much wine, but I don’t drink as much as people would think. I love most wines unless it’s overtly poorly made. I cannot name a favorite.”

“I like Scotch a lot and I love rum, I really do. I’ll sip those neat mostly.”

“I’m very nomadic beer-wise. I’m not a huge hop-head, but I like porters and dark beers.”


Even though the drink is one of the most time-consuming to make in his repertoire (see below for the full recipe), Spidalieri says he doesn’t mind. And his attention to detail is evident, from the list of hundreds of potential cocktail names he keeps on his phone, to his near-constant rotation of homemade shrubs, syrups and cordials he has brewing and steeping. The laid-back black T-shirt-and-jeans-wearing bartender swears most of his job involves moving boxes around (he mentions his love of spreadsheets at least twice during our interview), but his passion for creating a great drinking experience is obvious.

“It’s a hobby,” he says. “It doesn’t feel like a job.”

When he was conceptualizing the restaurant’s new spring menu, he toyed with replacing the Rum Communion with another daiquiri, but—don’t worry—he kept it as one of the restaurant’s staple drinks. He says he might add another daiquiri on the summer menu, because, really, can you have too many well-balanced drinks that for a brief moment make you think you’re lying on a warm beach next to turquoise water? We don’t think so.

“That’s my job—helping people unwind every day,” Spidalieri says. “It’s really a pleasure to do that for a living: Give people happy juice in glasses.”


WINNING WORDS

In the final round of our cocktail bracket, the Rum Communion squared off against Tavola’s Alpha & Omega.

“As a small child, I was once found under the Thanksgiving table scooping handfuls of sugar directly from the bag into my mouth, so it’s safe to say I don’t shy away from a little sweetness. And while, yes, Junction’s Rum Communion is more dessert-y than some of the other cocktails in our booze bracket—that brown butter-washed rum! that pineapple!—it’s full and creamy and smooth enough for multiple glasses. Don’t stop until you’re under the table.”—Caite White, Knife & Fork editor

 


Rum Communion. Photo by Sanjay Suchak

RECIPE

Junction’s Alec Spidalieri says he first heard of the brown butter-washing technique at Belmont neighbor Tavola, when its former bar manager, Christian Johnson, put a brown butter-washed bourbon drink on the menu. After trying it, Spidalieri said to himself, “I gotta do this sometime.”

Although he says the recipe for the Rum Communion looks intimidating, it’s more of a passive process where you let ingredients sit for a long time.

His words of wisdom: “Don’t burn the butter. Pull it off the heat when it starts to turn caramel brown.”

 

Rum Communion

2 oz. brown butter-washed Pusser’s British Navy Rum (Blue Label)

1 oz. grilled pineapple cordial

.75 oz. freshly squeezed lime juice

Add all ingredients to shaker, add ice, shake aggressively until well-chilled. Double-strain into a chilled coupe/cocktail glass. Garnish with a floating lime wheel.

 

Brown butter-washed rum

1 750ml bottle Pusser’s

1 lb. unsalted butter

Slice the butter into smaller cubes and add to a medium-sized sauce pan. Heat butter at low heat, then turn up to medium heat when it is all melted. Whisk the butter continuously and keep over heat until it browns (should take about 10 minutes), being careful not to let it burn or boil over. Remove from heat. When the butter stops steaming, add rum, while whisking rapidly for 20 seconds to homogenize. (After this point, stop stirring the mixture; you don’t want it to break.) Let the pot sit out for two hours at room temperature, then put it in the freezer overnight. Once it’s frozen, separate the layer of butter fat that has frozen at the top (it’ll be a disk shape) and discard or repurpose. Fine-strain the remaining liquid and put back into the original bottle. Doesn’t hurt to keep it refrigerated, and give it a nice shake before use. Warning: You will lose about 15 percent of the original amount of rum in this process.

 

Grilled pineapple cordial

1 pineapple

1 tsp. salt

1 tbs. citric acid

3 cups sugar

1 cup dry white wine

1 oz. vodka (to further fortify)

Yield: about 1 quart

Skin pineapple and cut into planks. Grill evenly on two sides, about four minutes on each side; there should be a good char. Combine with all remaining ingredients in a bowl and let macerate for three hours (with salt and sugar covering everything). Blend with an immersion blender on its high setting and then fine strain, pressing against the strainer with the back of a spoon to extract all the liquid. Store in a clean container and keep refrigerated. Should keep for a month or more.

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