I recently had the good fortune of visiting Barbados to see how Tommy Bahama Rum
is made. I found myself immersed in a sugar-fueled economy. Sugar cane cultivation began on the limestone-coral island around 1640 after the arrival of the British, and as the making of rum has been going on for millennia, it's safe to guess that the Barbados rum industry is over 350 years old. There are a number of Barbados rums available, and countless more are created on neighboring islands and throughout the Caribbean. Yet strangely, there is little-to-no quantifiable information about what makes one rum better than another. Anyone can make a list of tasting notes, but there are no international appellations for type and quality.
The region in which the cane is grown and the island on which the rum is made don't seem to affect taste -- just the age, what it's aged in
, whether it's made from molasses or directly from the cane, and whether anything has been added to it. Rum has long been the common drink of the common people in the Caribbean, and so the concept of a "premium" rum has been somewhat slow to form. So, what exactly makes a rum premium?
I visited the famous Foursquare Distillery where Tommy Bahama and a number of other premium rums are made and had a tour, a tasting and a long chat with Richard Lawrence Seale, a fourth generation distiller whose great-grandfather, Reginald Leon, is the man for which R.L. Seale's rum is named. Foursquare has been in the Seale family since 1995; prior to that, it was a sugar factory. Parts of Foursquare date back as far as the mid 18th century. Needless to say, a tour is good fun -- and it's one of the only places in the world where you can see the process of making rum from molasses to bottle. The tour is free and open to tourists.
As I mentioned, the source of the molasses doesn't really have an effect on the taste. Foursquare gets theirs partly from Guyana, as there isn't enough sugar on Barbados to support the rum industry. The first step of making a premium rum comes from monitoring the fermentation.