Our friends at Bridport’s renowned rum and cocktail bar, DarkBear, invite us back for a special Doorly’s Rum event marking Barbados Independence Day, hosted by UK Brand Ambassador Pete Holland. Happy to accept any invitation to visit our favourite South coast bar (especially when it means Pete is going to be chatting away), we head on down, and are delighted to find out that Pete has also brought along some of the hard-to-come-by Foursquare Exceptional Cask Selection releases…
DarkBear is one of the finest rum havens in the UK due in no small part to its co-founders David Smith and Lloyd Brown. With over 20 years of bar experience between them and a passion for rum and cocktails, the pair decided it was high time to make their stamp on the industry. DarkBear’s first popped up in a café in March 2018 and quickly caught the attention of locals, gaining a solid reputation for its collection of over 100 rums and specialty cocktails. The bar found its forever home at The Bridge House Hotel (read our review of the hotel here) during the March 2020 lockdown, settling into the subterranean den and bringing its loyal fanbase of rummies with it.
Doorly’s & Foursquare Exceptional Cask Selection Rum Tasting at DarkBear
The rum-loving public has already begun to assemble, surrounding the wonderfully eclectic array of furnishings and edging ever closer to the table displaying the bottle line-up. David hands us a welcome cocktail made by bartender Alden Mckechnie – a foamy highball comprising Doorly’s XO, banana liqueur, pineapple juice – and we settle in, just as Pete appears and begins his introduction.
Doorly’s is a brand from the world-famous Barbados producer, Foursquare Rum Distillery (read more about Foursquare here). Founded in the 1920s, Doorly’s was the first rum to ever be exported from Barbados. In 1993, the company was taken over by R.L. Seale (the family-run business behind Foursquare Distillery), which continues to produce amazing rums under the Doorly’s name 100 years on. (Read more about the history of Doorly’s here).
First in today’s tasting glass is Doorly’s XO – a flagship expression for the distillery and easily one of the most versatile, all-rounder, high quality rums yet insanely well-priced rums available in the UK [You can fight us on this if you wish, but we don’t rate your chances of converting us].
Doorly’s XO is made up of a blend of pot and column still rums that benefits from dual maturation: five years aged in ex-Bourbon casks followed by one to three years in ex-Olorosso-sherry casks. The result is a 43% ABV expression packed with heaps of spice, milk chocolate, sultanas, vanilla, poached plums and pears, clove-studded orange, red apple, walnut, sherry, fruitcake, ginger, toasted coconut, barbecued banana, dried pineapple, Weetabix, Shreddies Honey, warm toffee and a touch of liquorice. Sweet fruity notes build along with baking spices and an appealing integration of wood that adds dryness without being overpowering. This is an insanely balanced rum that is dangerously drinkable and wonderfully complex, making for a delicious sipper and fantastic addition to cocktails and mixed drinks (read more about Doorly’s XO here).
Pete explains that, any age statement on anything that comes out of Foursquare Distillery will denote the youngest rum in that blend, in a manner similar to Scotch labelling. This is not the same throughout the rum world (you can read more about this labelling controversy here) but it is a key principle of Doorly’s, as is the fact that,
“No sugar or flavouring is added to Doorly’s products – it’s just rum.”
It is worth stating however that the Doorly’s range does have a touch of caramel (e150a) colouring that is used to bring the rum back to cask colour after dilution and to ensure aesthetic consistency for consumers. The range is also chill-filtered to prevent the liquid hazing up at low temperatures due to fatty acid esters clumping together to form visible deposits. These deposits are not harmful or a sign of a bad product at all, but some consumers find them unnerving so the choice has been made to remove them from the more commercial Doorly’s range.
Doorly’s 12-Year-Old (43% ABV) is a cask blend as opposed to a dual maturation. This means that a 12-year-old ex-Bourbon cask rum is blended with a 12-year-old ex-Madeira cask rum, in a ratio devised by Master Distiller and Blender, Richard Seale. Chewy toffee, tobacco and dry wood spice meet cooked banana, candied orange, red apple, dried plum, caramalised pineapple, and a hint of smoke, in this delicious number.
As Pete goes deep into the history of Barbados rum, rightly setting it within the unpleasant but very important backdrop of slavery, colonialism, and what that meant for production and exportation of rum to various countries around the world, David pours us our next tot.
Doorly’s 14-Year-Old is another cask blend of ex-Bourbon and ex-Madeira rums, this time aged for 14-years each, and bottled at 48% ABV (read more about the production of Doorly’s 14-Year-Old here). The slightly higher bottling strength delivers the flavour with a bit of extra punch. Ginger, cold coffee, raisins, prunes and fruitcake are second to hefty dry oak on the nose. The initial sip is full of ginger and oak spice, treacle into toffee, cinder toffee, honeycomb wax, vanilla, and a gentle background funk. The mouthfeel is beautifully smooth with good viscosity and lingers on the tongue for a long time. Further sipping reveals banana, pain au raisin, dark chocolate, preserved orange, a touch of char and some echoes of Madeira. It’s a delicious and complete rum that deserves to be taken its time with.
With the 14-year-old happily kicking around in our bellies, we take a step away from Doorly’s and travel up to Foursquare’s Exceptional Cask Selection (ECS) – the pinnacle of the distillery’s offerings. These releases have picked up a cult following amongst booze nerds meaning getting your hands on a bottle can be very very difficult, with many expressions selling out the same day they become available online. If you’re interested in getting them for yourself, you’ll have to be very vigilant and quick, which is why being able to taste a few together is such a treat! (Find out more about the ECS from Richard Seale himself in our Foursquare Cask Selection Vintage Release Tasting at DarkBear article).
Foursquare Indelible hasn’t been released in the UK yet, with the launch date hoping to be some time in January 2022, making this a very special addition to today’s DarkBear tasting event. It is the 18th release (Mark XVIII) in the ECS series and marks the return of the unicorn Zinfandel casks that followers of the brand have been waiting for with bated breath for the past six years. Spoilt as we often are by our good friend Pete, this marks the third time we’ve tried the new expression so far and we can only say, it does not disappoint!
“The connection to the ECS Mark IV release runs deep. The original bottling contained a dual maturation of a five year old ex-Bourbon cask American white oak rum, that was given a further six years in ex-Zinfandel cask from a Californian winery. A portion of that dual maturation remained under-utilised from the original bottling, and has now been used to great effect in Indelible, in that it is now blended with a different eleven year old ex-Bourbon cask matured rum to echo its predecessor.”
Bottled at 48% ABV, it is a non-chill filtered, Single Blended Rum (a blend of heavy and light marques rums distilled in the copper double retort pot still and the continuous twin column still at Foursquare), that is free from sweeteners and flavourings.
From first nosing, dense strawberry compote jumps up alongside zesty clementine, dried pineapple, desiccated coconut, sultanas, vanilla bean, and walnuts. The tart and zingy flavours are conveyed onto the palate alongside black cherries, bitter orange marmalade, plump raisins and maple syrup. Dried ginger and hazelnuts meet pencil shavings and menthol. As we sip and nose, more delicious nonsense gets thrown out: crispy bacon fat, dark chocolate covered cherries, black pepper, and boozy figs, all rolling around in an oily mouthfeel and ending with crisp vitality.
Next up on Pete’s whirlwind tour of Foursquare’s latest bottlings is Foursquare Shibboleth. Richard Seale is known for many things in the spirits industry. Two of the main ones are his blending genius and his outspoken stance on key matters within rum, including transparency and education. However, another (granted less important) fun fact is his proclivity for choosing grandiose names for his ECS expressions. To many of us, the decision to attach monikers such as Nobiliary, Sassafras, Sagacity, and Plenipotenziario to the ECS may seem highfalutin, however it would seem that Richard rarely does anything without a reason, even if that reason is an inside joke with himself.
Shibboleth is no exception. The word denotes a “custom, principle, or belief distinguishing a particular class or group of people.” Some may find this belief outmoded however, Foursquare Shibboleth stands as a testament to its veracity. The belief in this case is impressed on the bottle label:
“It is Barbados Rum, if and only if, it is fermented, distilled, and matured in Barbados.”
This is something that Richard and many producers in Barbados whole-heartedly believe, however there are others at home and internationally – who are of the opinion that long-ageing in the tropics ruins a rum and that in order to “save” a rum, it needs to be moved to cooler climes. This is quite frankly ludicrous and condescending colonial hangup that negates the centuries of ageing knowledge and expertise that runs through the Caribbean. Foursquare Shibboleth is therefore a subtle dig at those who hold such opinions.
As a 16-year-old, fully tropically aged rum matured in ex-Bourbon casks, naysayers would claim this should be akin to sucking on a barrel stave – tannic, over-powering, and just gross. However, the team’s skill and practice at long-ageing means it is anything but. The liquid was laid down with ageing in mind; after 10 years, a batch was gathered, the ABV dropped ever so slightly and then re-casked for an additional six years. The result is uncompromisingly delicious.
Nosing throws up plump raisins and sultanas, juicy red apple, flowering red currants, pineapple panna cotta, coffee grounds, almonds, prunes, dates, Cola bottle gummies, boiled sweets, and smoked hay. At 56% ABV it’s full and fruity with no singeing of the nose hairs. On the palate, a lovely body houses a well-constructed ABV and dried mango funk. Deep but aromatic sweetness of poached pears with boozy caramel drizzle, held in check by dry woody depth, eucalyptus, marzipan, and apple strudel with cinnamon. A touch of citrus zest throws itself forward, accompanied by white and pink peppercorn, and banana on warm buttered toast. This ends with rounded caramel, something charred, and coffee. Surely this will show those who doubt full-tropics maturation! *cue daydream image of Richard shouting “Shibby!” at a spirits conference before dropping the mic and walking off stage*
We come to the Foursquare 2009 vintage release, a pot and column blend distilled in the named year and aged for 12-years in ex-Bourbon casks. The 2004 vintage release changed the game for Foursquare – and some might say the high-strength premium rum category as a whole. Pete tells us how it was a bit of a gamble, and that Richard bottled it at 59% ABV as he thought anything over 60% would scare the Americans. The 11-year-old rum was released at 59% ABV for around £40 – insane value for money if you think about the time that went into production, Angel Share etc. People went ga-ga over it, and since then Foursquare bottles have been sought after by spirits nerds and collectors alike, with a single bottle of the Foursquare 2004 now selling for hundreds, if not more.
Foursquare 2009 continues the vintage line and is more complex than the unicorn 2004 due to there now being more aged stock to draw on, as well as Richard honing his craft further, and choosing to up the ABV to 60% for this 12-year-old. The nose is immediately familiar (very “Foursquare” for those who drink it regularly). Oaky with wafting stone fruit and vanilla plumped up by raisin, black cherry, strawberry, blackcurrant, plum, and peach. Ginger and white pepper tickle along with sweet oak spice. A decided richness and depth of flavour are instantly apparent on the palate, which has a robing mouthfeel, even at full strength. As we sip on, we’re struck by the sheer fruitiness and warm oak, revelling in this stunner of a tot.
Our final port of call is Foursquare Redoutable. With liquid distilled on both pot and column stills, it comprises rum that has been aged for 14 years in ex-Madeira casks and rum aged in ex-Bourbon casks – similar in blend make-up to the Doorly’s 12-Year-Old and 14-Year-Old. Bottled at a sexy 61%, it’s a name meaning “Formidable, worthy of respect” says it all.
Redoutable marks the second time in the history of the prestigious International Spirits Challenge (ISC) that a non-whisky has been crowned ISC Supreme Champion – a title achieved when all the heads of all the different spirits panels within the competition agree on a particular product. The first time a non-whisky was crowned king was in 2018…and yes, it was also a Foursquare release.
Foursquare Redoutable wafts up from the glass, throwing out aromas of banana foam sweets, candied ginger, apricot Danish, Sherry, candied sweet violets, coconut, lime Starbursts, spun caramel, homemade vanilla pod syrup, cinnamon, and Manuka honey. Sipped, the rum is lighter, drier, and a touch more tannic than the honeyed nose suggested but not in an unpleasant way. Dark fruit, black cherries, dates, raisins, rye spice, black pepper, oak spice, light smokiness, walnuts, tart cranberries and bitter dark chocolate all come together on the palate with perfumed and easy-going character. We’re left with notes of vanilla, coconut, woody, and a profound sense of joy over our tasting this evening.
Tots seen off, we head to the bar to enjoy more Doorly’s and Foursquare cocktails from the DarkBear team, revelling in rummie glory and nerding out with fellow patrons until we feel sleep whispering our name and head upstairs to our cosy room in The Bridge House Hotel. For those new to Foursquare Distillery, Doorly’s is a fantastic way, with abundant complexity and character available at great prices. What’s more, these expressions are far more easy to get your hands on than the Foursquare ECS; even as firm avid Foursquare imbibers, we still absolutely love the Doorly’s range and it always has pride of place in our home bar.
If you are looking to sample more of Foursquare Distillery‘s ranges, DarkBear is the place to be! With possibly one of the most comprehensive Foursquare portfolios in the country (in a bar, at least), a visit here gives you the opportunity to sip through many rare and impossible to find rums, all under the expert guidance of the team.
DarkBear is one of the best rum bars in the UK and a definite favourite of ours to visit. This would be the case if it were anywhere else as the service, back-bar, and cocktails are a true delight…however, their positioning in a gorgeous hotel where we can sneak off to bed once our favourite cask strength expressions have gotten the better of us, makes us love them even more. Until next time, Bears!