Foursquare Rum: Compelling Texture And Great Length, Though Lacking A Swashbuckling Name
by Ken Gargett
Names like El Dorado, Ancient Mariner, Captain Morgan, Santiago, and Zacapa all sound perfect for rums: swashbuckling, mysterious, and more than a hint of the pirate life.
Foursquare? The name really doesn’t cut it.
Of course, it all comes down to what is in the bottle, but it isn’t a great start. Quite why this moniker was chosen, I’ve not yet discovered.
The current owners of the Foursquare Distillery, the Seale family, have a long history with Barbados dating back to the 1650s, though the connection to rum production only dates back to 1820 – still not bad.
At that stage, it was buying and blending rather than distillation. Local laws prevented traders from selling rum directly to consumers at the time, so early in the twentieth century Reginald Seale established a distribution business. Others did likewise, though few as successfully as Seale.
His descendant, Richard Seale (the only son of the only son of the only son of the founder), currently holds the reins. He was the first in all generations to distill rum rather than just trade in it. From the very start, he has insisted on quality and that his rums will see no additives for color, sweetening, or anything else.
From the 1960s to the early 1990s, the firm engaged in a program of expansion incorporating a number of brands; Doorly’s is probably the best known. In 1995, Seale purchased a run-down sugar factory – some of its buildings dating back to 1636 – and turned it into the Foursquare Distillery. These days, it is, of course, unrecognizable from its former decaying self.
Three column stills are used for the lighter rums in the portfolio, while a pot is still in use for the small-batch heavier examples, which are distilled from fermented molasses. Richard is the master blender as well as chief distiller, making the decisions as to the extent these two styles are blended in any particular rum.
They are then matured, mostly, in small American white oak casks that originally came from a rather well-known Tennessee bourbon distillery, though it is not explicitly named. A state-of-the-art bottling line has also been built.
Foursquare has enjoyed an amazing rise to prominence. In 2017, after just two decades, it was named the International Spirits Challenge “Rum Producer of the Year,” and individual expressions have picked up various “rum of the year” awards as well.
Foursquare offers a fine range of different rums, including some vintage bottlings, which do not hit the shelves until they have had at least a solid decade of aging in barrel. Prices obviously vary, but it seems AUD$100 to AUD$150 will cover most of the portfolio.
The first of the vintage releases was the 1998, but the 2004 is the one that is considered to have really attracted the attention of aficionados. Foursquare also does various others, such as Principia, Triptych, Port Cask, and Zinfandel Cask. These usually form part of Foursquare’s Exceptional Cask series, of which there have been eight rums to date, including three in 2018: Premise, Dominus, and the 2005.
Many of the Caribbean rum producers restrict themselves to barrels formerly holding bourbon, which are certainly suitable for a second life housing rum. Foursquare uses its fair share of these but also uses some that once contained sherry, port, and various types of wine. All up, the distiller has some 40,000 barrels quietly maturing at its facility.
The aging of rums in the Caribbean
It is worth touching on the aging of rums in barrels in the Caribbean. The climate, being considerably hotter and more humid than that found in the whisky-producing districts of Scotland, means that rums mature much more quickly there than spirits might do in cooler climes. So eight to ten years’ aging in the Caribbean might be the equivalent of 15 to 30 years in Scotland. On the downside, the “angel’s share” – the percentage of the spirit that evaporates each year during production – is nearly ten percent, compared to around two percent in Scotland.
The problem of Foursquare is not so much the price, for I suspect most would agree that these are very reasonably priced for quality rums; indeed, one might consider that given the quality they are some of the great bargains in the world of fine spirits. Rather, it is availability. Word is getting out and stocks are far from inexhaustible. Any time you see a bottle, grab hold.
This problem was greatly exacerbated when an article appeared declaring Foursquare to be the “Pappy of rums.” I’ll bet every Foursquare fan groaned out loud.
For those not up to speed, Pappy van Winkle bourbon was a small-production, highly regarded spirit, one of the first long-term aged bourbons. It had a small but devoted following, which has, in recent years, exploded beyond measure.
Bottles are now offered by lottery and resell for thousands of dollars. Fair to say that Foursquare has not taken that road just yet, and hopefully it never will. It is, however, undoubtedly a superb producer of brilliant rums. Track down whatever you can; they don’t gather dust on retailers’ shelves.
Some tasting notes for a few recent Foursquare rums.
One from the Exceptional Cask series, a blend of pot and column-distilled rums. It has seen three years in bourbon casks and was then transferred to sherry casks for another seven years.
At 46 percent ABV it is no shrinking violet, though to be honest, while there is a touch of a spirity note, it is so well balanced that it is negligible.
I thought the nose glorious. Florals, ginger, orange rind, white chocolate, stone fruit, vanilla, and old teak. A lovely complex, balanced spirit with impressive length, power, and surprising elegance. An absolutely cracking rum.
Another from the Exceptional Cask series, this is a darker rum, and at 56 percent ABV not to be taken lightly. A blend of both pot and column-distilled rums, ageing initially took place in bourbon barrels for three years and a further seven in cognac casks.
Again, floral and ginger notes. Dark chocolate. The palate is a touch more tropical, passionfruit and pineapple emerge. Spices. Some honey on the finish. Real intensity here. An incredible texture. A serious and a superb rum.
Many will throw up their hands in horror at the slightest suggestion of not sipping this neat. I fully understand, but for me a few drops of water helps open up the rum and release some of its glories. Especially at this level of alcohol. That said, rather than adding a few drops of water, I prefer an ice cube or two. The water releases more slowly into the rum but gives the similar effect, and dropping the temperature a few degrees is a personal preference.
A real “hairs on the chest for the sophisticated pirate” rum.
If asked for a preference between the Premise and the Dominus, I suspect that I would answer differently tomorrow as to today. It would simply depend on what felt better at the time. That said, I do have a fondness for that extra degree of elegance that the Premise exhibits.
Brilliant stuff. You may be fortunate and find it or you may you may have to go with the 2005 or even later, but, and I say this without yet having had the opportunity to taste those subsequent to the 2004, the standards this distillery has set would suggest that you won’t be disappointed.
A blend of pot and column-still rums, aged for eleven years in bourbon casks. At 59 percent ABV, one needs to take some care. Again, a few drops of water or a few ice cubes are recommended. It is not for the faint-hearted.
Dried fruit notes, spices, orange marmalade, Madagascan vanilla bean, creamy caramel, this is wonderfully complex with an ever-evolving array of flavors. It could hardly fail to be just a bit fiery/spirity. Compelling texture and great length.
Two things here. First, if this doesn’t convince one that quality rum can comfortably sit with the very finest spirits, I despair to think what might.
Secondly, anyone who tries this rum and remains unconvinced that this distillery is doing some very special things might just need palate recalibration.
For mor information, pleas visit www.barbados.org/foursquare-rum-distillery.