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June 2010

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Rockin’ Rum Cocktails
By Baroness Sheri de Borchgrave


Every Friday night on the south coast of Barbados there's a sizzling party fueled by rum, the island's proudest export. Crowds converge on Oistins, the main seafood market, for a big fish fry and jamboree. It was there that I tasted my first Corn N Oil, a rum-based cocktail with an addictive mix of butterscotch, almond and walnut flavors.

(click photo for larger view)

I'd been to Barbados on a mission to sample the best potent drinks. Passing fields of sugar cane blowing in the tropical breezes, I made my way to the island's most historic distillery, Foursquare. Since 1926 this producer of molasses-based rum has been run by the Seale family, with the role of distiller passed down over four generations; the latest distiller is Richard Seale.

Early in 2005, liquor magnate Sidney Frank made a similar pilgrimage to Barbados. He, too, visited Foursquare, where he met with Seale and his father, Sir David. Frank, the mastermind behind Grey Goose—which kicked off a revolution in the ultra-premium vodka category—was angling to launch a new mega-brand. This time around though, he was targeting rum.

Raised in Norwich, Frank first hit it big importing Jägermeister from Germany. A marketing whiz, he transformed what had been a traditional octogenarian nightcap into the hottest shot among young, hard-drinking Americans. The Jäger windfall helped finance the launch of Grey Goose, a brand that made Frank into a billionaire (he sold it to Bacardi for some $2.3 billion).

'Maryland crab cakes and coconut shrimp with Thai chili sauce are the two favorite appetizers that people pair with their Tommy Bahama Tinis,' says barkeep Michael Campanelli, of Stonebridge Restaurant in Milton. 'It makes a great summer duo.'

Frank decided that rum was ripe for the same ultra-premium treatment he'd brought to vodka, and he enlisted the Seales to help him achieve it. After signing a licensing deal with Tommy Bahama, a clothing brand, he cooked up a rum based on the products produced at Foursquare.

According to Seale, Frank wanted to strip rum of its "Rodney Dangerfield problem" and help it finally achieve some respect. "When rum is very good, people often compare it to cognac or scotch," Seale says. "It was time for rum to shed its lower-class image—its pirate, navy, seaman stigma." The new brand, launched three years ago, a year after Frank passed away, has already helped put rum on the super-premium map.

What distinguishes Foursquare from rum-making behemoths like Bacardi is small-batch fermentation and distillation in old-fashioned column and pot stills. The final product is aged for two to 12 years in ex-bourbon barrels. While the Seales are among the smallest distillers on Barbados, they have the largest reserves of aged rum on the island, some 25,000 barrels.

Two parts Tommy Bahama White Sand rum
One part pineapple juice
One part cranberry juice
Squeeze of lemon juice
Pour all ingredients into a shaker with ice.
Shake and strain into a chilled martini glass.
Garnish with a lemon wheel.

Through Frank's company they released two types of Tommy Bahama: White Sand, aged two years, with light, tangy, tropical notes; and Golden Sun, aged three or more years, an amber sipper with a fuller body and flavors of coffee and nuts. White Sand is unique among white rums; although it's aged, giving it more flavor and texture, it's also stripped of its color.

Both Tommy Bahama rums make a variety of knockout cocktails. Corn N Oil, which is one part rum to one part Velvet Falernum (a Caribbean sweet syrup with hints of ginger, almond and clove) is the quintessential Barbados cocktail. It promises to be the new drink sensation all over the place.

White Sand and Golden Sun also make a devastatingly good Dark N Stormy, and a very fine Basil Smash, Barbados Cobbler and Mai Tai—all updated classics I tried on Barbados. These libations don't hide the character of these quality rums, and they help to finally give the spirit the respect it deserves.