Feelin' groggy: Cocktail star Tony Abou-Ganim hits Dallas for interactive rum workshop

Rum cocktail by Tony Abou-Ganim

The First Mate, my favorite of Abou-Ganim's three rum cocktails

Tony Abou-Ganim has been behind bars for the last 30 years. Rum-pa-dum-pum.

The joke was his, and here was a dude whose wit and charm were well steeped in experience. Last week, the Las Vegas-based cocktail veteran – author of The Modern Mixologist: Contemporary Classic Cocktails – was in Dallas, leading an interactive mixology seminar with rum as the main course.

The event marked the launch of a six-city tour promoting Shellback Rum, a new rum line produced in Barbados. It was one of the better interactive cocktail events I’ve been to, with each attendee presented with a well-stocked mixologist’s mise en place loaded with bar tools, fruit, syrups, glassware and, of course, the prime ingredient, rum.

Tony Abou-Ganim,

Abou-Ganim, author of "The Modern Mixologist: Contemporary Classic Cocktails" (David Grote Photography)

Abou-Ganim, personable and as bald as an Academy Award, has been around. In 1998, Steven Wynn hired him to develop the cocktail program at Bellagio Las Vegas, and four years later he won the Bacardi Martini World Grand Prix (according to his biography, one of only two Americans to ever do so). He’s appeared on TODAY, Iron Chef America, Fox News and Good Morning America. (Back when he wanted to be an actor, he was also in an Alka-Seltzer ad.) Most recently, he’s author of Vodka Distilled, in which he labors to clear vodka’s typically bad name among serious craft bartenders.

He arrived in Dallas a day early, and being fortunate enough to happen upon him at Uptown’s Standard Pour (where barman Eddie “Lucky” Campbell was throwing down), I then accompanied him and his crew to the recently opened Establishment, where we found the Cocktail Enthusiast himself, Kevin Gray. Good times.

But of course it was the workshop Abou-Ganim was here for, and by the next evening he was at Dallas’ Marc Events venue in comfy red Crocs and signature toque. He dropped a bit of rum history, including the origins of “grog” (the watered-down rum that sailors drank with lime – to avoid scurvy – and sugar) and the term “shellbacks” (mariners who safely crossed the equator).

Drink mixing station at Shellback Rum event

One of the workshop mixing stations (David Grote Photography)

Then he led us in mass preparation of three of his own rum recipe twists using the weapons laid before us. We muddled, we shook, we poured. Someone broke a glass. By the end of the evening, we’d made and tried three commendable drinks – the Milestone Mojito, the Deck Hand Daiquiri and my personal favorite, the First Mate (recipe below), made with Shellback’s crème-brulee-like spiced rum.

The tour will continue throughout the spring and summer in San Francisco, New York, Chicago and Miami, finishing up on August 16 – National Rum Day – in Los Angeles.

FIRST MATE — Tony Abou-Ganim

1½ oz Shellback spiced rum

1 oz cinnamon simple syrup

2 oz apple juice (unfiltered works best)

1 oz lemon juice

Ginger beer

Put rum, syrup and juices into a shaker, then add ice and shake until well blended. Strain into an ice-filled Collins glass, top with chilled ginger beer and stir to mix. Garnish with lemon spirals and a “fan” of thin apple slices.

— Marc Ramirez, @typewriterninja

Milestone Mojito, rum cocktail by Tony Abou-Ganim

Abou-Ganim's Milestone Mojito, making delicious use of Clementines

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