Rum Legend, Richard Seale (Master Distiller and Blender at Foursquare Distillery), returns to London to take a chosen few industry rummies through his latest releases at the Black Parrot bar. Never ones to miss an opportunity to preview Foursquare’s bottlings, we head on down to see what he has created this year.
This evening, the dark and brooding Black Parrot is crammed with excited rumheads, expectantly clutching empty glasses and gazing up at Richard Seale, who stands casually in front of the bar, caressing a bottle of Doorly’s. Eyes follow his every movement as he gesticulates with unhurried Barbados style, using the bottle to conduct his captive audience. He knows why we’ve all come here and is experienced enough to wait until the opportune moment to pass around the first drams, knowing he’ll lose our attention to the liquid once it is delivered.
First thing, however, is first – a bit of history.
Richard takes us through a few centuries of Barbados rum’s history starting from when it was considered “the drink of the island” during the same period English coffee houses came up and the demand for sugar grew. Barbados dominated in both sugar and rum, becoming the biggest producer of spirits in the world at 900,000 gallons of rum per year. “Barbados boasts about being the home of rum”, says Richard, not because it was the first to ever produce it, but because it was the first to distil it for the purpose of drinking as opposed to something you’d buy from an apothecary.
Barbados traded enormous quantities of rum to the Americas up until around the 1780s, but this arrangement collapsed shortly after the American Revolution. By 1830s, the American public had been converted to whisky and had started to buy its rum from Cuba. Barbados continued to make rum but no longer exported it.
The late 19th century brought about a fundamental change in the industry. Whilst previously, sugar cane had been grown, processed and made into rum on estates, it now began to be sent to centralised factories. These did not make rums but instead sold molasses to newly devised rum brands. This, Richard explains, is how the modern rum industry was born.
Licensed distillers couldn’t sell directly to consumers so they sold to traders who blended and bottled rums. Mr Doorly was one such blender. Foursquare was one of the central factories for sugar and molasses that closed in the 80s, only to be bought by Sir David Seale and his son Richard and turned back into a rum producer in the 90s. Since 1996, the family has been developing complex and award-winning rums that speak to Barbados’ past and pave the way for its future.
Tasting Notes: Foursquare Rums 2018
With that lesson learnt, Richard puts us out of our misery and gives the go-ahead to Brand Ambassador, Pete Holland, to start pouring out the first drink of the evening, Veritas White Rum – a collaboration between Richard and Hampden Estate’s Luca Gargano.“This rum has been distilled, aged, blended and bottled in the Caribbean. It is the first real collaboration that doesn’t have European input”, states Richard proudly. The idea behind it was to “make the kind of rum that might be in a Daiquiri in the 30s”, before white rum became mainly bland, and they have certainly succeeded.
Created from a blend of Coffey column still rum from Foursquare and pot still rum from Jamaica’s Hampden, the aroma is gently vegetal and ever so slightly smoky, with a rich and rounded body and woody palate full of aniseed, ripe tropical fruit, green bananas, straw and a hint of saline. The pure power of the sugar beet sings through and the creeping warmth of the 47% ABV keeps the spirit alive in the throat for longer than expected.
Not missing a step, Doorly’s 14-Year-Old Rum is poured out to the now nerdily raucous crowd. Aged in ex-Bourbon and ex-Madeira casks, the new Doorly’s has an impressively full and warm caramel and toffee nose. Deep Demarara and Muscovado-style sweetness combines with wood and toffee apple before it hits the lips. Once tasted, a full and smooth mouth-feel delivers light smoke, nutty wood, dried fig, raisins, candied fruit, cinnamon, dark plum, white pepper and nutmeg. A delicious rum all round.
When greeted with the sounds of satisfaction, Richard says,
“I make what I want to make and then I try and find a consumer. I used to listen people and do the opposite and, as a small producer you can’t do that. You can’t compete with the big guys. You need to do you.”
We couldn’t agree more, and as Foursquare Empery splashes into eager glasses, it seems abundantly clear that Richard has found the following he was looking for. Matured in a combination of ex-Bourbon and ex-Sherry casks for 14 years, this cask strength blend of pot and column still is part of the ninth release of the Exceptional Cask series. With a powerful nose filled with toffee, red plum, baked red fruit and cinnamon, this is a rum to take your time with. The taste is gorgeous and complex. Coffee, dark chocolate, cocoa husks, cocoa butter, spice, pepper thick charred caramel, burnt miso and a whisper of chilli are amongst the flavours that jump off the palate of this well-structured beauty. We attempt to restraint ourselves and sip slowly but excitement gets the better of us and we instead prepare ourselves for the next.
We needn’t wait long as Foursquare 2007 comes around quickly. The single-vintage releases are the core of what the distillery does and this turns out to be an 100% ex-Bourbon cask, pot-column blend that stands proud at 59% ABV. It is colder and more reserved on the nose than Empery, with less toffee and more vanilla. The high-ABV dryness is matched by the complexity, length and fullness of the palate’s vanilla, dried fruit and cinnamon.
As we’ve come to expect from the Foursquare Distillery, all the rums have been beautifully blended with inimitable character and charm. It is therefore no real surprise when Richard responds to the question of which is his favourite with “It would be easier to choose my favourite child than my favourite rum.” We’re approaching the end of the evening however Pete has a surprise to announce – the launch of Foursquare Hereditas, an exclusive bottling (only 2,520 available worldwide) for The Whisky Exchange!
Naturally, we jump at the chance to try it and are rewarded with a bold tropical expression bursting with raisins, ripe banana, toffee, fruit cake, vanilla and cloves. Matured in a combination of ex-Bourbon and ex-Sherry casks, the Sherry is dominant, with an underlying woody char from the Bourbon tangible after deep nosing. There is so much fruit and spice on the palate that it feels like it will ever end. However, when a conclusion is reached, it comes in the form of earthy depth with chocolate-covered sultanas and star anise. This is an absolute stunner and a true bargain at £79.95 (remember, there are only 2,520 that will ever be made – if this were a whisky, it would be well into the £100s per bottle)!
We come to the end of the tasting, with one final rum, which turns out to be our favourite of the evening. Foursquare Patrimonio is a true revelation that showcases the diversity of distillery in a single bottle. Lighter than expected on the nose with a floral honey character, the taste starts off as we’d expect of a Foursquare rum, but then takes a turn. Olorosso sherry comes through with a bigger emphasis on baked red fruits than previously ever tasted. Baked spiced rhubarb, burnt chocolate, vanilla, ginger, nutmeg, tobacco, oak and caramel are a delicious combination that have some ties to Foursquare Empery but that are taken further. Only 6,000 bottles of Foursquare Patrimonio are available worldwide, with a small percentage available in the UK as of yesterday, so it you’d like to get your hands on this rare gem of a bottling, you better act quickly!