Facts About Rum Runner Cocktail

11 Enigmatic Facts About Rum Runner Cocktail

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What is a Rum Runner Cocktail

The Rum Runner is a tropical, fruity rum cocktail that was allegedly invented in the early 1970s by bartender John Elber at the Holiday Isle Tiki Bar in Islamorada, Florida.

According to the legend, Elber created the drink by combining various leftover spirits and liqueurs – light and dark rums, banana liqueur, blackberry liqueur, grenadine, and fruit juices – into a blender to make room for fresh inventory. He named it the Rum Runner as a nod to bootleggers who smuggled rum in the Florida Keys during Prohibition.


While recipes vary, the key ingredients that define a Rum Runner are:

  • Light rum
  • Dark or navy strength rum
  • Banana liqueur
  • Blackberry liqueur
  • Grenadine
  • Pineapple juice
  • Orange juice

Some modern interpretations include other tropical fruit juices or spices like coconut rum.


The most common way to prepare a Rum Runner is to combine all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice and shake vigorously. It can also be blended with ice to make a frozen drink.

Most recipes call for equal parts rum and liqueurs, rounded out by fruit juices to taste. The drink is usually served over ice in rocks or hurricane glass and garnished with fruit.

Facts About Rum Runner Cocktail

Facts About Rum Runner Cocktail

1. Multiple Origin Stories

There are several rumored stories about who invented the first Rum Runner and where. One account credits John Ebert (aka “Tiki John”) at the Holiday Isle Tiki Bar in Islamorada in the Florida Keys during the early 1970s. As the story goes, Ebert was trying to clear out old inventory and dumped the remaining bottles of rum, liqueurs, grenadine, and juice into a blender to create the concoction.

However, other sources cite the 1937 cocktail book Famous New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix ‘Em by Stanley Clisby Arthur as having a very different early recipe for a drink called a Rum Runner made with light rum, pineapple juice, and Peychaud’s Bitters.

So while the true inventor may never be known, the Rum Runner has evolved while keeping rum as its base spirit.

2. Smuggler-Inspired Name

The cocktail’s moniker itself has mysterious origins. Ebert allegedly named his blended tropical drink after the rum runners who smuggled rum into the United States from the Caribbean during Prohibition in the 1920s and early 1930s. South Florida was a prime spot for rum running given its proximity to Cuba and the Bahamas.

So while the fruity cocktail itself doesn’t resemble hooch smuggled in the middle of the night, its name conjures up intrigue and images of secretive alcohol trafficking.

3. Key Ingredients

While recipes can vary, several key ingredients are essential for making an authentic Rum Runner:

  • Light and dark rum: Aged and unaged rum provide depth and dimension of flavor.
  • Banana liqueur: Adds sweetness and tropical fruit essence.
  • Blackberry liqueur: Contributes berry flavors and richness.
  • Fruit juices: Pineapple, orange, and other juices supply tangy, sweet notes.

4. Creative Riffs

The basic template of the Rum Runner allows for delicious experimentation. Creative mixologists have put their stamp on the drink by tweaking the fruit liqueurs, juices, rum types, and garnishes.

Some popular riffs are:

  • The Fancy Rum Runner with spiced rum and added orange and sweet & sour mix
  • The Islamorada Rum Runner with white rum, a float of 151-proof rum, and extra grenadine
  • Mojito-style Rum Runner with muddled mint and lime

5. Beachside Favorite

The Rum Runner’s sweet flavors and vacation-worthy presentation have made it a beloved warm-weather cocktail. It’s practically synonymous with waterfront bars and poolside lounging.

In particular, the Rum Runner has become iconic in the Florida Keys where tales claim it originated. Visitors flock to places like the Green Parrot Bar for this fruity, quintessential beach drink.

6. Pop Culture Cameos

This exotic cocktail has turned up in various pop culture spots through the years:

  • It was the signature drink in the 1988 Tom Cruise film Cocktail
  • Jimmy Buffett mentions it in his song “Boat Drinks”
  • Hunter S. Thompson’s book The Rum Diary references rum-running
  • Don Ho crooned about this libation in “Rum Runners”

7. Boosted Rum Production

As the Rum Runner surged in popularity in the 1950s and 1960s, demand for high-quality rum also grew. Distillers responded by stepping up production of aged and spiced rums suitable for Rum Runners over basic white mixing rums.

So in a sense, this cocktail helped revolutionize and expand the entire rum market.

8. Global Following

From Australia to Italy, this tropical tipple has developed an international cult following. These days, you can sip Rum Runners at beach clubs in Spain, rooftop bars in Singapore, or resorts in Mexico.

It may have originated in the Florida Keys, but the Rum Runner now belongs to cocktail lovers across the globe.

9. Enhanced Brand Value

Having the Rum Runner on their cocktail lists has boosted many bars’ images. It’s developed an identity as a “must-order” item that gives drinkers a taste of the exotic.

Some establishments even use it as their signature drink, like the Rum Runner Bar & Grille in Key West, to reinforce their brand.

10. Variations Galore

There seems to be no limit to the flavor combos mixologists have dreamed up for Rum Runners. Some examples include:

  • Raspberry Rum Runner: With Chambord and raspberry liqueur
  • Espresso Rum Runner: Featuring Kahlúa and a float of cold brew coffee
  • Spicy Rum Runner: With muddled jalapeños for a kick of heat

11. Enduring Mystique

Much about the early days of the Rum Runner remains uncertain or disputed. But this cocktail’s air of mystery and intrigue seems to only enhance its legendary status.

It will likely continue to evolve while holding onto its signature sweet and fruity essence. And beachside bars will keep spinning tales about this tropical, rum-fueled concoction as thirsty guests sip Rum Runners into the sunset.


Who invented the Rum Runner cocktail?

The true inventor of the Rum Runner cocktail is debated, but it is often credited to bartender John Elber at the Holiday Isle Tiki Bar in Islamorada, Florida in the early 1970s.

Why is it called a Rum Runner?

The Rum Runner cocktail is named after the rum runners who smuggled rum into the United States during Prohibition. The name pays homage to these bootleggers.

What are the key ingredients in a Rum Runner cocktail?

The key ingredients in a Rum Runner cocktail are light rum, dark or navy strength rum, banana liqueur, blackberry liqueur, grenadine, pineapple juice, and orange juice.

How is a Rum Runner cocktail prepared?

A Rum Runner cocktail is prepared by combining all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice and shaking vigorously. It can also be blended with ice to make a frozen drink.

Where can I find a Rum Runner cocktail?

Rum Runner cocktails can be found in beachside bars, waterfront establishments, and poolside lounges. They are particularly popular in the Florida Keys but can also be enjoyed at various locations worldwide, including beach clubs, rooftop bars, and resorts.


The Rum Runner has beguiled people with its backstory and flavors for over 80 years now. As this list of facts illustrates, there are so many intriguing dimensions to this cocktail’s past and present. It launched rum production, wove its way into pop culture, and built passionate fanbases from Key West to Bali.

Here’s to unraveling more secrets behind this enduring tropical drink in the years to come! Just be sure to enjoy the search with a Rum Runner in hand.

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