An interview with Four Square Rum Distillery.
Whisky drinkers are in prime position to recognize an authentic product when they see one – claims Pete from Four Square Distillery. The sweetened spiced version, which is usually served dumped in an iced glass with sugary coke or ginger beer, does not even fall into the same category as a genuine rum product under EU regulations. Comparing real rum and spiced is like comparing gin and vodka, so it is imperative to think of them as entirely separate entities. However, some rum brands do add sugar – making the spirit excessively easy to drink, especially compared to a peaty, oily dram.
While the make-up of rum is different, the steps of its production is identical to whisky. Rum is made from sugar cane, either from the juice which comes from the crushed plant, or molasses, a by-product of sugar production. It strictly must be made from sugarcane – nothing else counts as rum, so it is easy to see why the Caribbean and the tropics have got the monopoly on this exotic spirit. When you’ve got the materials, it’s fermentation, distillation, maturation – with whatever yeast blows in, whatever still one likes. In Barbados, maturation isn’t even necessary to make rum, and the finished product can come straight off the still. As any regular spirit drinker knows, styles of rum are incredibly diverse, from the crystal-clear classic of light white to the heavy, rich, molasses dark, and everything in between.
Four Square’s Doorlys XO, gives beautiful peaches and cream on the nose, with a refreshingly dry palate. The first blend put together by Richard Seale with dual maturation, it gains its sweetness from five years in bourbon casks, then between one to three in a sherry cask, all varying in conditions – some new, some used, with no fixed age. Being produced in Barbados with its warmer climate, the interaction with barrel occurs more quickly, which makes the rum mature faster than in a colder climate. For example, Doorlys 14-year-old mature spirit would be the equivalent of 30+ years in colder climates. Though it’s not all good news – there is frighteningly expensive evaporation going on, with 8-12% being lost to the angel’s share, opposed to the 1-2% per annum you would lose in a whisky distillery in Scotland, say.
Up until recently, Four Square had been purchasing their molasses from local farmers or exports. However, the last few years they have been making changes to grow their own cane on land acquired around the distillery. The building and land on which they work was a sugar production facility dating back to the 1600s. Of course, back then sugar was an abundantly valuable crop, with plenty being grown, making a very few rich. Production was driven by appropriate pricing, the industry struggled and work dried up.
The rum production for R. L. Seale’s company, the founder of Four Square, started in 1926, which mainly involved buying rum from operating distilleries and blending the products together. However in the mid-1990s Seale’s wanted more control, wanted to make their own rum from scratch. Four Square’s sugar site was a stone’s throw away from Richard Seale’s father’s land, who decided to buy and turn the old sugar facility into a distillery, continuing the legacy of industry.
Keeping true to the history, Four Square named one of their range Doorlys after Martin Doorly, one of the contemporaries of the R. L. Seale company back in the 1600s, a merchant blender who exported his brand from the island, selling to merchants in England and Scotland. To export his own brand, Macaw, from his own company was quite an honour, and after the Seale company bought rights to the company, continuing the name (and the bright image of the macaw on the bottles) is Four Square’s way of preserving their connection to the past. What may look disparate within the Four Square brand is historically significant to Barbados.
The remnants of the sugar-making process can be seen at the gorgeous distillery today. Anyone in Barbados can take a look around, either independently or by paying a few dollars for a guided tour, even with the privilege to see inside the working distillery! Rums can also be purchased at their Copper Still Bar onsite, at a significantly better price than you could get in the UK, representing a wonderful value for money. Doorlys XO is perfect for mixing with cocktails, while the Four Square limited editions are where the company gets to play around with experimental spirit-making, using rare casks too low in numbers to use in more commercial offerings – these are the bottles for spirit lovers, which regularly sell out on the day of release, leading to plenty of their avid and devoted fans taking to complaining on Twitter.
Four Square wants rum to be the next big thing, but the more people know about it, the more their product is going to sell out! Looks like there might even be a Clandestine rum special issue, as Pete talks tantalizingly on the Barbados Rum Experience in November 2022 – a week long deep dive into all things Barbados rum – the culture, connection with sugar trade, the dark history of slavery. A full on experience, in the prime time of weather in the Caribbean – sign us up!