Why you should care
Because over the teeth and past the gums, look out, stomach, here it comes.
“Would you like some rum?” The speaker is Chris Blackwell, of Bob Marley, U2, Grace Jones and Island Records fame. The digs are 14 floors above New York City, a summer breeze blowing through the open windows as the man hates air conditioning. “It’s not made me many friends, but I abhor it,” he says as he ambles off to the kitchen to make some drinks.
Calling them “some drinks” doesn’t quite capture the enormity of what’s going on. Not only is Blackwell serving drinks, but the lifelong Jamaican resident is serving drinks he’s made. That is, he’s made drinks with rum that he manufactures, mixes and sells. And while that sinks in, glasses are clinked, cheers are raised and we’re on the verge of thinking we’re going to have to fake being good guests by politely commenting on what, most assuredly, is some vanity brand of booze that Blackwell built out because, well, he was bored.
Except it doesn’t go that way. Not at all. Blackwell’s rum is a revelation. Abso-fucking-lutely.
“Do you like it?” Blackwell asks in what sounds like a lead-in to a joke. Specifically because “like” doesn’t even come close. But, you know, the first few sips could have been aberrations. They could have been statistical anomalies. They could have been blips on a screen, much like the fact that in 2015, 2014 and 2012, Blackwell Rum won a gold medal at the Rum XP Awards and a gold from the Beverage Tasting Institute and was a finalist in the Ultimate Spirits Challenge.
In a glass with ice are two shots of Blackwell, two shots of pineapple juice and a squeeze of lime, a drink that Blackwell calls a Goldeneye — named after his resort, as well as the James Bond novel that Ian Fleming penned there while romancing Blackwell’s mother. It plays across the tongue in a way that hits what other rums just hint at. No wonder pirates killed for this stuff. Blackwell’s family, which has doing business on the island since 1625, rum being one of those businesses, has probably seen a few more pirates than most.
“Rum is a much more varied genus than most people realize,” says Richard Sterling, a Cambodian-based American expat and Lowell Thomas Award–winning travel and food writer. Sterling’s favorite ingredient, and the not-so-secret ingredient, found in the rum he favors, agricole, gives rum a lighter, white-wine-like grassy profile. His favorite, though, despite all the Blackwell hoo-ha, remains Negrita Rum, a rum that only goes back to 1847. “It’s made from freshly pressed sugarcane juice rather than dark molasses,” Sterling says, “so it doesn’t have that usual sweet vanilla signature.”
Which we mention to Blackwell in hopes of finding out precisely what is in his rum. His answer comes from the company itself and is as short as it is almost sweet: “The rum is a secret, proprietary family recipe.…” Blackwell’s doesn’t taste like molasses, though, and its light touch also suggests agricole. One glass later, Blackwell is asking if we want another glass.
Yes and no. Yes, because, well, Blackwell’s. No, because someone’s going to need to stand up and walk and speak some version of English to end the evening. But there’s a catch. You can only walk into stores in 13 states to actually buy Blackwell’s. Big states like California, Florida and Texas, but still. Scarcity, rarity and that taste? We’re sold, we’re sold.