Distillery focus - Foursquare Rum
Foursquare Distillery has been garnering attention in the rum world. find out how they are changing the status quo by going back to the roots of rum production
Like any other spirit, the rum limelight is usually hogged by the big players or those with big marketing dollars. In recent years however, a number of smaller producers have crept up the news ranks. Chief among them is Foursquare Distillery from Barbados, which even boasts its own (very active) Facebook fan appreciation page.
Part of the distillery’s rising profile is undeniably linked with that of its master distiller and fourth generation owner Richard Seale. With a reputation that seems to precede him for being outspoken, Richard presents as an unlikely ambassador for a category that in Australia at least, has seen its marketing more aligned with loud rambunctious times than the serious sipping culture he espouses. Not afraid to share his opinions (both online and in real life) in a way that would likely make any public relations executive want to run screaming from the room, we were naturally curious (and excited) when news broke of Richard and his wife Gayle’s inaugural visit to Australia to host a series of tastings. Here was our opportunity to understand and witness first hand why this particular brand has been causing a stir.
At first impression, Richard’s mild demeanour belies a caustic and forthright manner when it comes to talking about rum in general, and about Foursquare. Don’t be fooled however; he presents his arguments methodically, matter of factly and convincingly without relying on any theatrics or gimmicks. That same approach is evident in the marketing of their rums, which eschews all things flashy in favour of something more understated.
But who or what is Foursquare? (and no, it’s not that search app)
As a rum business, the Seale family has been operating in Barbados since 1920s as R L Seale & Co. If you’ve never associated the island with rum making, you certainly should. Richard pointed us to evidence of Barbados being the cultural home of the spirit since at least 1640, including a reference in the Oldmixon History in 1708 to Barbados being called the home of rum. As an English colony in the early years, Barbados’ rum making flourished ahead of French and Spanish colonies in the Caribbean due mainly to the latter colonies having to dial down their production when France and Spain banned rum importation.
Like many other rum traders on the island, R L Seale & Co initially bought rum from Bajan distilleries and bottled it to sell under their own label. Over time, the company acquired the assets (and labels) of certain fellow rum companies, including Martin Doorly & Co (which owned the brand Doorly’s with it’s distinctive macaw illustration on the label)
As a distillery in itself, Foursquare is fairly new, having only established its distilling operations in 1995 after the Seales purchased a disused sugar factory in Barbados and refurbished it to make rum. Since then, the Seales have moved all of the rum making in house with operations overseen by Richard himself. Aside from its own brands, Foursquare also continue to supply rum in bulk to other companies under contract, facilitated largely if not solely through the world’s largest rum trader E&A Scheer in Amsterdam. Today, Foursquare produces roughly 300,000 cases of rum a year - not a small number compared to most Australian distilleries but small enough to be considered boutique compared to the 16.8 million cases of rum sold by Bacardi in 2017.
Over the years, the distillery has also released the Exceptional Cask Series, which is self described as an “experimental projects” range that allows it to test the boundaries of rum making and explore new frontiers. Additionally, there is Foursquare’s collaboration with independent bottler (or as Richard describes, importer) Velier. It is these two series that have piqued the interest (and at times frenzy) of rum drinkers in the know across the globe, leading some to dub the brand the Pappy (van Winkle) of rum. A slew of industry awards has done nothing to quell the spotlight, including the honour of being the first rum ever to take out the title of Supreme Champion Spirit at the International Spirits Challenge in 2018.
Never mind that - is the rum any good?
But all this would just be hype if the rum itself didn’t stand up to scrutiny. And the thing is, the Foursquare juice is good. Really good. At a tasting hosted by Richard for Sydney Bar Week in September 2018, we tried a range of releases from the distillery ranging from the staple Doorlys XO through to a few from the Exceptional Cask Series and finishing with a soon to be available Destino from the Velier collaboration. If you are used to drinking the lighter style rums from the big sellers in Australia such as Bacardi and Havana Club, these rums will likely mark an evolution of your palate. Unlike the multi column still method that produces those lighter style rums, Foursquare uses a mix of pot still and column still distillates, the former being the more traditional way of production and creating a richer yet elegant spirit. And despite being the hub for sugar cane plantation originally, sugar production has waned on the island so the distillery’s molasses now come from Guyana.
The key thing to note about all of the Foursquare releases however, is that they are unadulterated. Which means no sugar, additives or flavourings are added to the liquid. Much like the debate over the use of E150 (caramel colouring) in whisky, the use of sugar and caramel in rum is a hot topic in respect of which Richard is well known as a very vocal “no” advocate.
With a perfumed sweetness and enough complexity to tantalise the tastebuds, all the rums we tried were certainly a good example of what unadulterated rum can be, and easy enough to sip. In fact, if you’re looking for something special, the rums from the Exceptional Cask Series would well challenge any fine whisk(e)y, and probably be more value for money given the prices being charged for some of the whiskies nowadays. If you find it hard to believe that rum could be anything premium, just remember that up until the 19th century, rum actually commanded a superior status to spirits like whisky.
So if your idea of rum has always been to throw it back or drown it in Coke, try something different and reach for one of these rums the next time you feel like a spirit to savour.
The good news for those of us down under is that the Foursquare range is relatively easy to buy in Australia. You can find the Doorly’s, R L Seale and current releases from the Exceptional Cask Series from Australian rum distributor Quittin Time here. The releases from Foursquare’s collaboration with Velier is available from Liquor Mojo here. Naturally, if you’re ever headed to Barbados, you can pick up the full range as well as their domestic only labels like Old Brigand. Be sure to visit the distillery if you’re in the area.