Barbados is on the bucket list for rums lovers across the world. It’s the island where rum was invented centuries ago, home to the oldest commercial rum distillery, and the location of three unique rum experiences.
At the Mount Gay Distilleries Visitor’s Center, guests get the opportunity to learn about their rum and sample products like Mount Gay Black Barrel and Mount Gay XO. The additional cocktail experience is a budding mixologist’s dream come true. Saint Nicholas Abbey offers tours that give a detailed look at the history and heritage of Barbados as well as artisanal rum production that was typical of the past. Most rum aficionados enjoy both Saint Nicholas Abbey and Mount Gay for their premium rum, but consider a visit to the Foursquare Distillery the experience of a lifetime due to the praise constantly heaped on the company for their releases.
The Seale family has been blending rum since 1820; this means that over two centuries of expertise go into everything that comes out of the family-owned Foursquare Rum Distillery in Barbados. This includes products like Real McCoy Rum, Old Brigand Rum, Crisma Rum Cream and more. The work of fourth-generation owner and master-distiller Richard Seale is appreciated across the rum community, from his efforts in promoting and preserving traditional methods in rum production to his “Exceptional Cask Selection” vintage series rums that are sought by enthusiasts all across the world.
It was definitely an honor to be given a tour of the Foursquare Rum Distillery and Heritage Park by Gayle Seale, Richard’s wife and rum-ambassador.
The tour begins in their facility that was constructed in 1996 shortly after Richard took over the company. Gayle points out the giant steel tanks where yeast and molasses are combined and left to ferment producing “molasses wine” in the tanks and a rich aroma of rum that fills the entire warehouse. On display nearby are samples of yeast, molasses and freshly distilled rum as well as examples of several Foursquare Rum products. Just like at Mount Gay, rum at Foursquare is distilled in either a copper pot still or a twin column still and then blended to achieve an ideal balance.
Batch distillation with a pot still is the most ancient and artisanal form of distilling a spirit. Twin column stills are more recent, but they still represent a more traditional way of making rum compared to the modern methods used to make the majority of the world’s rum.
While staying true to time-honored rum traditions, the distillery is also incredibly forward-thinking. The first column of the twin-column still operates under a vacuum so that the “molasses wine” boils at a lower temperature. This low temperature distillation means that less energy is consumed while also achieving better quality rum. Waste products from distillation go on to find use in agriculture as either fertilizer, animal feed or irrigation, and even the carbon dioxide that the distillery produces is purified, liquefied and recycled.
The tour continues to their ageing facility where over 40,000 barrels hold blended rum. The warm Caribbean climate means that rum throughout the region often achieves considerable maturity in just a few years. As Richard Seale says “a five year old rum easily has the maturity of a ten year old scotch whisky.” Bourbon barrels are by far the most used for ageing rum across the industry. This is mostly a matter of convenience since bourbon can only legally be aged in “charred new oak containers” so after a single use holding whisky in America, these barrels find a new life in the Caribbean as a vessel for rum.
In centuries past, rum was more commonly aged in casks that brought Madeira, Port, or Sherry to the West Indies. This was during the age of sail, when British vessels would stock provisions at Portuguese ports before the long journey to the West Indies. Foursquare has re-embraced this tradition by using various wine casks across their entire range. We will soon explore the entire range since the next part of the tour is at the “Copper Still Bar” for an in-depth Foursquare rum tasting.
We begin with ESA Fields white rum; this rum is mostly un-aged and is actually the most popular rum in Barbados. It’s clean and clear with a surprisingly bold molasses finish. We continue to Old Brigand Rum, possibly the only rum with a pirate gimmick that manages to deliver quality at a good price. It’s molasses forward with light citrus and floral notes.
We then move on to the Doorly’s range of rums. This brand was created by Martin Doorly as a response to the 1906 Rum Duty Act that only allowed distillers to sell in bulk. Many trading companies in Bridgetown began buying this bulk rum and bottling it under their own name. These companies included Alleyne Arthur, John D Taylor, Martin Doorly, and R.L. Seale. This was the beginning of rum brands in Barbados.
All Doorly’s Rum Bottles feature a Macaw illustation on the label and an age statement; they span the light and delicate Doorly’s Three Year Old all the way to Doorly’s Twelve Year Old with a luxurious and long finish. This tasting is effectively a lesson on the influence of oak on a spirit. Proceeding from the youngest rum to the oldest truly gives an understanding of how maturity leads to a more smooth and complex rum.
Doorly’s XO is double aged; first in American whisky barrels then in Oloroso Sherry casks. Lively notes of marmalade and candied almonds as well as a mild sherry aroma demonstrates how the first fill of a cask still plays a role in the character of the spirit that comes after.
The Foursquare rum tasting concludes on a high note with the opportunity to try some of the most lauded rums on the planet. R.L. Seale 10 Year Old, and four bottlings from the Exceptional Cask Selection simply known as “ 2004 Vintage”, “Zinfandel Cask Blend”, and “Port Cask Finish”.
The understated vintage series bottles stand in stark contrast to the glossy-black, lop-sided decanter that holds the R.L. Seale 10 Year Old. This unique design is a tribute to the leather pouches used by sailors in the past to store their rum.
The rum itself is definitely deserving of such ornate packaging; it’s full-bodied and the aroma is reminiscent of fruits simmering in butter and brown sugar. We move on to the “2004 Vintage”, and although it’s only one year older than the previous rum, it’s bottled at a higher proof that allows spicier notes to come to the forefront. Bottled at cask strength, the first few sips are initially harsh, but in time it becomes clear that a higher proof rum allows for a more interesting tasting experience.
Zinfandel and Port are typically enjoyed at dessert, so it’s fitting that we end with rums that were finished in these wine casks. The smell and color of the Zinfandel Cask is reminiscent of a fruity rose wine, while the Port Cask brings nuances of cocoa, dark fruit, and oak. Both are initially sweet with long and dry finishes.
We end the visit to Foursquare Distillery and Heritage Park with an introduction to an indigenous Bajan liquor called “Falernum”. At one point all of the major rum bottlers in Bridgetown sold their own brand of Falernum, but now only two of those brands still exist and the Foursquare produced “John D. Taylor’s Velvet Falernum” is the only one available internationally.
There are complicated Tiki recipes that combine rum, falernum and countless other exotic syrups and cordials, but there are also simple recipes like the Corn n’ Oil or Bajan Champagne that rely on a few easy to find ingredients.
The Barbadian Swizzle is the Bajan take on a classic rum cocktail; The Swizzle. It uses rum, falernum, a touch of lime juice and Angostura Aromatic Bitters.
Bajan Champagne is even easier, just add some Taylor’s Velvet Falernum to 10 Saints Beer! 10 Saints Beer is a Lager that spends a few months maturing in Barbadian Rum casks. The result is a smooth beer with mild notes of rum and oak. It’s the ideal beer for relaxing on the beach in the island where rum was invented.
Visiting the Foursquare Distillery in Barbados is certainly different from a tour of the Mount Gay Visitor’s Center but they’re both educational experiences that involve tasting and understanding the Barbadian Rum Style.
Visiting Barbados was done in collaboration with 10 Saints Beer, a lager beer aged in rum casks that’s perfect for relaxing on the beach on the island where rum was invented.