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When Hola Arepa opened in 2014, its rum-heavy cocktail menu raised eyebrows.

“Some people were a little apprehensive,” said Birk Stefan Grudem, one of the owners. “They thought of rum drinks as something really sugary. We just told them, ‘Trust us. You’ll like it, and if you don’t, we’ll get you something else.’ ”

Three years later, Grudem doesn’t need a sales pitch.

Interest in the brown spirit has exploded, thanks to its increased availability, low price and an ever-swelling enthusiasm for craft cocktails. Rum selections are multiplying and tiki-influenced drinks are taking over menus once reserved for more polished liquors. Around the Twin Cities and beyond, rum is enjoying a full-fledged renaissance.

Why rum? Why now? Local bartenders and distillers say it’s high time: We’ve done whiskey. We’ve done gin. And now we’re ready for something new.

“Since about 2005, people in the industry have been making predictions that rum was going to be the next hot thing at bars,” said Dan Oskey of Tattersall Distilling. “And it never was.”

Until now, that is.

For a long time, rum had a bad rap. It was what you drank at the beach or the pool, swirled into a frozen sugar bomb that acted merely as a vehicle for getting sloshed.

In the Midwest — where the most Captain Morgan’s is consumed in the nation, according to Info Scout, a consumer insight website — rum was spiced and syrupy, tossed into plastic cups of Coke and downed at frat parties. It certainly wasn’t a serious spirit.

But beyond our borders, rum has been long appreciated as an extremely varied liquor with an affordable price tag.

The flavor of rum, originally developed in the islands off South America, can vary substantially based on whether the batch is made with sugar, sugar cane juice or molasses, how the sweetener was fermented and whether it was aged (and in what kind of barrel).

“It’s the most varied category of spirit out there,” Oskey said. “There are just so many really different kinds of rum.”

Almost as inspiring? It’s cheap. Rum that has been aged for 20 years can often be found for between $30 and $60 a bottle. A whiskey of that age would be closer to the $80 to $100-plus range.

“There are so many distilleries that have these really awesome products that are really cool and interesting, but aren’t going to break the bank,” Grudem said.

That’s allowed bars to accumulate greater selections to experiment with — sometimes including as many as three different rums in a single drink. It’s also encouraged patrons to try a variety of rums, all of which are affordable.

Hola Arepa started its cocktail program with about a dozen varieties of rum. Now, it boasts almost 40. Other bars have followed suit. In Minneapolis, Spoon and Stable is serving a rum old fashioned, a drink traditionally made with whiskey. Marvel Bar is whipping the spirit into blender drinks. At the Commodore in St. Paul, you can sip flights of rum. And local distilleries, including Tattersall and Norseman, are getting in the game, too.

“The spectrum of what people look for, are interested by, is so much different from it used to be,” said Keith Mrotek, beverage director at Norseman Distillery. “People just have a desire for knowledge and want to try different things.”

The craft cocktailing explosion is unlikely to fade anytime soon, and drinkers are eager to hop on the latest booze train.

It just so happens that for now it’s rum.

Equinox

Serves 1.

Note: To make the honey syrup, combine equal parts sugar and honey. To make a simple syrup, heat equal parts water and sugar until sugar is dissolved, then cool. Creamier brands of canned coconut milk, such as Choakoh, which you can find in Asian grocery stores, work best. From “Rum: the Manual,” by Dave Broom.

• 3/4 oz. (1 1/2 tbsp.) white rum

• 3/4 oz. (1 1/2 tbsp.) gold rum

• 1/2 oz. (1 tbsp.) fresh lime juice

1/2 oz. (1 tbsp.) falernum (a sweet syrup for tropical drinks)

• 1/2 oz. (1 tbsp.) honey syrup (or substitute simple syrup)

• 3/4 oz. (1 1/2 tbsp.) coconut milk

• Ice cubes

• Long strip of lime peel, twisted, for garnish

Directions

In a cocktail shaker, combine white and gold rum, lime juice, falernum, honey syrup and coconut milk. Shake together with ice cubes. Strain over fresh cubes into a rocks glass. Garnish with lime peel.

Nutrition information per serving:

Calories 205 Fat 4 g Sodium 5 mg

Carbohydrates 19 g Saturated fat 3 g Total sugars 18 g

Protein 0 g Cholesterol 0 mg Dietary fiber 0 g

Exchanges per serving: None.

Jungle Bird

Serves 1.

Note: If Jamaican rum is unavailable, any aged rum will do. This recipe calls for a simple syrup made with 2 parts sugar to 1 part water, unlike the traditional 1:1 ratio, but regular simple syrup will work in a pinch. To make a simple syrup, heat water and sugar together until sugar is dissolved, then cool. From “Rum: the Manual,” by Dave Broom.

• 1 1/2 oz. (3 tbsp.) aged Jamaican rum (see Note)

• 3/4 oz. (1 1/2 tbsp.) Campari

• 3/4 oz. (1 1/2 tbsp.) fresh lime juice

• 3/4 oz. (1 1/2 tbsp.) simple syrup (see Note)

• 1 1/2 oz. (3 tbsp.) pineapple juice

• Ice cubes

• Pineapple wedge, for a garnish

Directions

Shake all the ingredients together and strain into a rocks glass (or specialty glass) with 1 cube. Garnish with pineapple wedge.

Nutrition information per serving:

Calories 240 Fat 0 g Sodium 5 mg

Carbohydrates 28 g Saturated fat 0 g Total sugars 24 g

Protein 0 g Cholesterol 0 mg Dietary fiber 0 g

Exchanges per serving: None.