Paul McGee pours OFTD rum to make a cocktail Credit: Julia Thiel

“There’s not too many times you see your face on a bottle and you’re still alive—it’s usually reserved for dead folks,” Lost Lake beverage director Paul McGee says. Actually, he’s paraphrasing Maison Ferrand proprietor Alexander Gabriel, who invited McGee to collaborate on the creation of Plantation OFTD Overproof Rum (Plantation is produced by Maison Ferrand). But McGee seems to agree with the sentiment. The other five faces on the bottle belong to fellow tiki bar head honchos Jeff “Beachbum” Berry (Latitude 29), Martin Cate (Smuggler’s Cove), Paul McFayden (Trailer Happiness), and Scotty Schuder (Dirty Dick), along with cocktail historian and author David Wondrich.

Detail of the bottle
Detail of the bottleCredit: Julia Thiel

It’s been more than a year and a half since Gabriel contacted the group of cocktail luminaries to ask if they’d join forces on Plantation’s next overproof rum. He wanted the input of the people who’d be using it, and tiki bars go through a lot of rum. After some discussion on an e-mail thread about what qualities each participant was looking for in a rum, McGee says, the group converged in New Orleans during the Tales of the Cocktail conference in July 2015 for a “secret meeting” in a back room at Arnaud’s French 75. Along with rums that Plantation had made, Gabriel brought along samples of historic overproof rums from as far back as the 1930s. “We weren’t trying to re-create something from the past,” McGee says, “but taking notes on what overproof Guyanese rum in the 1930s was like and what was missing in the [current] marketplace.”

Quite a few more e-mails and several months later, the group met again in Cognac, France, where Maison Ferrand and Plantation’s offices are. This time Gabriel had come up with five blends of rum based on the previous conversations, but according to McGee, he and his comrades thought they were close but not quite right. The rum from each Caribbean country has defining characteristics, McGee says: Guyanese rum has a richness and a little smokiness; Jamaica’s open fermentation process gives its rum “highly aromatic ripe fruit notes.”

The bartenders were leaning towards a blend of rums from the two countries, McGee says, but it was the cocktail historian who stumbled on the missing element while the group was touring the facility. “David Wondrich was like, ‘What’s in that vat over there?’ It was a really young Barbados rum, and it was kind of the binding element that brought the two rums together.” The result was OFTD, which officially stands for Old-Fashioned Traditional Dark (or unofficially, Oh, Fuck, That’s Delicious) and weighs in at a hefty 69 percent alcohol, or 138 proof. Released last November, it’s widely available in the U.S., including Chicago.

Exactly what they were looking for is hard to describe, but, “I think we all like big, bold flavors when it comes to rum,” McGee says. “A lot of overproof rums are just heat, very neutral, and not that interesting. What’s unique about this rum is that it stands up on its own.” One of the drinks McGee wanted to use the OFTD for at Lost Lake was the old-fashioned, a drink that’s just rum with a little sugar and bitters, which meant the rum had to be good enough to drink on its own.

The OFTD Swizzle
The OFTD SwizzleCredit: Julia Thiel

“It’s kind of amazing that this kind of collaboration even happened,” McGee says. He’s never heard of anything similar before. “It’s one thing if it’s a one-off limited edition—we’ll do 100 cases, and once it’s gone, it’s gone. The fact that this is in their regular product line and will be available worldwide is pretty nuts.”

In the end, McGee put the rum in not only Lost Lake’s old-fashioned, but also two other drinks. You won’t find any of them listed on the menu, but McGee says the bartenders can make them anytime. One is a swizzle with lime juice, simple syrup, Angostura bitters, and a little absinthe; the other, which McGee created for December when Lost Lake transformed into Sippin’ Santa’s Surf Shack, is a flip, the recipe of which is below.

1.5 oz OFTD rum
.5 oz demerara syrup spiced with cinnamon, clove, allspice, and nutmeg
.25 oz Stumptown cold-brewed coffee
One egg
Nutmeg and cinnamon (for garnish)

Add all ingredients to a shaker and shake; add ice and shake again. Double strain into a coupe glass and grate nutmeg and cinnamon on top.