There is a club in Phnom Penh called the Heart of Darkness where I spent a couple of memorable evenings back in August. I drank Guinness and Tequila Slammers. The environment was a confused medley of Cambodian elites and their gun toting body guards (the doormen were very selective when searching customer for weapons), local foreign residents, higher class working girls (since the working girls apparently had to pay a fee to get in), and bemused looking tourists. It was lots of fun, but not really a sit-back-and-savor-your-drink type of environment. I have no idea if Heart of Darkness served Martinique rum. I discovered the dry and complex tasting Martinique rums at some other bars in Cambodia, most notably Riverside in Battambang, which gives huge pours of the excellent St. James Ambre for just US$1.
I met an interesting girl in the Heart of Darkness. She was easily the best looking girl in the place and for some reason ended up hanging around me for most of the evening. She spent most of the evening gyrating around me in a manner that I am sure would have made the Bunnyhug, however lewd it may have been, look very tame indeed. Since I don’t dance I settled for sipping my Guinness with rhythm. I think it worked better than it sounds, certainly better than me actually dancing. In any case, she was attracting plenty of attention all by herself. The Tequila Slammers were her idea and she even paid for them, adding to the surreal nature of the situation. A elderly Scandinavian couple looked gratifyingly shocked as she writhed around me and theatrically knocked back tequila. Meanwhile, I kept an eye on the door waiting for an irate boyfriend, pimp or husband to burst in and gun us both down. Learning that each of her numerous pieces of jewelry had come from a different guy, each representing a different country, did nothing to reassure me.
Cambodia is a small country, and while drinking St. James rum at Riverside in Battambang I met an Italian girl who knew the Heart of Darkness girl. My concerns had not been totally unfounded. The Heart of Darkness girl had recently married a French guy living in Vietnam. His friends had all warned him to have nothing to do with her, but she had promised to give up her life as a working girl and he had believed her. He spent a lot of time in Vietnam for business, and whenever he was away she would be out in the bars again picking up customers. It was definitely the same girl. The Italian told me that her long her long fake blonde hair was in fact a wig, and sure enough when I was back in Phnom Penh I saw the Heart of Darkness Girl in another bar without her wig. I was probably lucky that the French guy wasn’t the gun-toting type.
While in Cambodia I decided that the Heart of Darkness would make an excellent name for a cocktail, and that the drink should include St. James Ambre rum. Planning the drink in my mind I decided it should include St. James Ambre and Marie Brizzard Crème de Vanille (something else I picked up on my holiday there). In reality though I found the taste of the Crème de Vanille was not strong enough to come through in a drink using a strong tasting rum. The Marie Brizzard Crème de Vanille is more a vanilla perfumed syrup than a strong vanilla liqueur. I also found Martinique rum quite hard to mix with because of its strong taste. I considered another couple of other possibilities but basically forgot about the idea for a while.
Recently however, I picked up a bottle of Poire William and started thinking about what I could do with it. I decided to try and make something rich, spicy, and a little exotic. Poire William has a very strong taste and I decided it would pair well with a strong, dry rum like St. James. I used Dolfi crème de cacao to add some sweetness. For further complexity and to bring everything together I tried Italian vermouth and then Dubonnet. The slightly bitter Dubonnet works very well.
The Heart of Darkness
2 parts St. James Ambre
1 part Dolfi Poire William
1 part Dolfi dark crème de cacao
1 part Dubonnet
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Stir over ice and strain into a cocktail glass.
The result is dry, fruity and spicy. It tastes a little like a fruit cake made with rum. My original recipe had equal parts of the four main ingredients which makes for a fruitier drink, but I think a drier version with more rum is better. I may play around with the recipe some more, but this seems good enough for now.
I tried it out on a couple of friends. The first friend liked it and the second friend suggested cutting back the bitters. Obviously I no longer speak to the second friend. Still, if you were to change the recipe you could try reducing the bitters for starters.