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Saturday, 06 February 2010 00:00
Discover The Taste Of Black Gold
It's a claim made by one of Jamaica's newest contenders in the rum world. Blackwell rum is the realisation of the creative genius of Chris Blackwell, the very same man who founded Island Records in 1959 and brought Bob Marley and reggae to the attention of the world. 40 years later, there is so much more to the man and his personal empire, but the focus of this article is to bring to the attention of the gentle reader, the rum that shares his name. In the video I'll be directing you to later on, you can hear the relaxed tones of Chris Blackwell calmly tell us that he's "Not a big follower particularly, but if it's something (he's) discovered or found and that really turns (him) on, then that's how (he) judge's quality. First it was Reggae. Now it's Rum"
The Blackwell family is no stranger to rum. Anyone who lives in Jamaica would be more than familiar by default, but Chris' maternal Grandfather owned J. Wray & Nephew and when he died in the mid-fifties, his sons sold the business and so Chris was free to follow his destiny, the rest is (as they say) history.
Blackwell rum is a dark, golden rum. The promotional material I've picked up indicates that whilst most rums consumed today are white or pale in colour, the research Chris had carried out was that Jamaicans prize the deepest, darkest golden rum and that became the object of his focus. It was a goal well achieved, the rum is packaged in a dark brown glass bottle, but when you unscrew the cap and pour yourself a measure, you can see that the liquid is indeed perhaps darker than you'd expect. In his video Chris tells us a lot about the manufacture process. More than anything, you will be pleasantly surprised by the smoothness of this rum. It is quite happy on its own, and does just fine mixed into your favourite cocktails. It is the flavour of the rum that has Blackwell most excited. "Sure, maybe people like a bit of the history and things I've done" says Blackwell, "but I'm really only connected to this product because I think it's a truly great tasting rum".
The label on the back of the bottle tells us '...Fine Jamaican Rum, taken from time-honoured and secret recipes. Blackwell's deep, rich, fragrant, black gold liquid is aged and infused with tropical flavours...'. I can certainly say the first part of that made me chuckle as I read it - "time-honoured and secret" - very nice. We understand that rum has only aged a single year, but even that doesn't worry me much. The label is telling us that they infuse with 'flavour' and in this case there's definitely coconut amongst the tropical fruit flavours. So where does this leave us? A Jamaican friend at RumFest (for this was the first place that we came across Blackwell's), told us that 'Chris Blackwell is selling a rum like its premium, but it doesn't taste premium!' Now I've studied the print and I can't find that 'premium' statement anywhere. Certainly - the word 'fine' can be found, but that's not such a grandiose statement. The whole package is rather honest on lots of levels - a refreshing change as some elements of the rum industry have a tendancy to conceal.
TheFloatingRumShack.com took its Christmas holidays in Jamaica. Mostly to get over what had been a tough few months in the 'day' job, but also to check out the rum scene in Jamaica. For us the drive from Montego Bay to Calabash Bay (a three hour cruise/crawl in awe of the scenery, terror at the driving and excitement of leaving behind the frankly awful masses of the all-inclusive) reveals a lot about the place. If Blackwell rum is hoped to be part of the Jamaican rum scene, then it needs to be affordable.
We were told, whilst enjoying a drink at Dougie's Bar at Jake's Resort, that the cost of the bottle of Blackwell's was twice that of a bottle of Appleton Special (red cap - now forever known as red rum to TheFloatingRumShack.com). Red rum is cheap, it's the mass produced entry level rum of the Appleton range. The prices of the Appleton range quickly go up, the older it gets. In a general cost/placement exercise - Blackwell's is a tough one to judge.
Island Outpost was started by Chris Blackwell in the mid nineties and now comprises a chain of resorts around Jamaica and the Bahamas' that are as different to the all-inclusive as they can be. They are pretty much different to each other as well, comprising the world famous Goldeneye (home of James Bond's creator, Ian Fleming), Strawberry Hill, The Caves, Geejam and Jakes in Jamaica (along with lots of other villa's too numerous to name) and Pink Sands in The Bahamas'. We stayed at Jake's and had a fantastic time. Even though Jake's is owned and run by the rather dynamic Jason Henzell, it comes under the Island Outpost banner and so seeing a bottle of Blackwell's on the back bar wasn't a surprise. The fact that the only other place we saw Blackwell rum was in duty free was disappointing, so I'm glad we made the most of it. The word was that Blackwell's was more like a brandy and I see the connection. I drank mine with ice, or occasionally with ginger ale - the local brew being more like a ginger beer, I think it would have been better with an easier flavour ginger ale.
As I write this I've been sipping a glass or two straight up - well I am back in the cold UK and when drunk neat it's a little more warming than I needed in Jamaica. I liked it then and I'm really liking it now. A smooth rum, with plenty of flavour and as I'm finding it quite easy neat, it ticks all my personal boxes. We will be experimenting with some cocktails, a few of which are contained within the little booklet hung around the bottle's neck. It has Firefly Colada, Strawberry Hill Daiquiri and the one that I'm going for first - Goldeneye - along with several others. The important thing though about my statement "I've been sipping a glass or two" is that unless you've brought one back for yourself from Jamaica, then you are going to have to either wait until it becomes available in the UK (as it's not yet been released) or get yourself on the guest list of an event that involves Chris Blackwell. Blackwell rum was released in 2008 in Jamaica, but despite an appearance at the 2009 RumFest, the UK release date is still not on the cards, red tape is blamed - although nothing is rushed in Jamaica, so why would this be any different.
Why have I got a bottle? Fortunately mine is to help me write about the rum... But I'm not just the only lucky one; the good news for the reader is that we have another bottle that is destined for a UK rum fan. We will be publishing the details of the competition which will give you a chance to win your own bottle of Blackwell rum, courtesy of Island Outpost in the next couple of weeks. This article might well help you improve your chances of winning (and it might not), but I'll say no more for now.
We would very much like to thank Siobhan Randles - the UK face of Island Outpost and apart from being forever in her debt for the gift of fine rum, we think we've found a rum-fan in the making. Self confessed novice in the rum world, we can see a person keen to learn and get involved. Siobhan admitted that bringing the rum to RumFest was something of an last minute thing. RumFest is not just 100% rum - it's all about bringing the spirit of Caribbean and other rum producing countries (South America etc) to the UK. Island Outpost was there and fortunately for us, so was the rum. I've now got the rather cool pleasure of watching this rum hit the UK and develop. I've been lucky enough to catch rums at their UK launch or shortly after, but this is the first that is pre-launch! I'm very pleased to be sharing this with you.
So, watch this space for details of the competition and of course the release date, cost etc. as we will be aiming to share it with you once we have it.