Jonathan Ray

Letter from the Caribbean #2

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Jonathan Ray gets his head around how to create the perfect rum cocktail.

I’ve lost count of the number of different rum cocktails I’ve had over the last few days hopping round the islands of the Caribbean. Each cocktail consumed purely in the interests of research of course. I’ve had some classics; some twists on classics and several ‘signature’ or ‘house’ cocktails. Oh, and plenty of rum punches.

I’d hate you to think that I’d been sitting idly by however and so I’m proud to report that one or two of the more tolerant barmen allowed me to create my own cocktails, some concoctions being rather more successful than others. (My dark rum, spiced rum, cranberry juice, lime juice and Angostura bitters really didn’t cut it at all; all grind no pepper. I still drank it though.)

Of the cocktails that I can blearily remember, stand-outs in Barbados include the fabulous rum Negroni (one third each of Mount Gay Eclipse Rum, Campari and Cinzano Rosso served over ice with a slice of orange) I had at the Tamarind Hotel and the thirst-quenching Ragged Point (Mount Gay Black Barrel Rum, apple juice, fresh ginger, lime juice and simple syrup) and the long and refreshing 1887 (Mount Gay Eclipse Rum, raspberry liqueur, strawberry purée, cranberry juice, sugar, basil and black pepper) I had at The Crane. The Bajan Green Monkey (Mount Gay Eclipse Rum, mango juice, fresh banana and Bols melon liqueur) I had at the Mount Gay visitor centre was also absurdly drinkable.

Oh, and I loved the Painkiller (Pusser’s Rum, pineapple juice, orange juice, cream of coconut, grated nutmeg) I had at Golden Rock on Nevis.

I also had some wonderful rum punches, although these varied dramatically in quality. Some, quite frankly were dreadful: too watery, too sweet or too fiery, thanks to too much cheap white rum. On the whole, though, they were ridiculously moreish, especially the ones I had at St. Nicholas Abbey in Barbados, Esther’s Bar (Grenada) and at Paradise Beach (Nevis). Crikey, I even enjoyed the rum punch I had at Barbados airport, which at first I deemed no better than a mix between cherryade and something you’d put on a cut, but which by the third glass had rather grown on me. The plane was two hours late you see and I had to fill the time. At least I now understand why folk claim that local airline LIAT’s initials stand for Leave Island Any Time or Luggage In Another Terminal.

Anyway, drawing on all such selfless and in-depth research, please allow me to suggest a few cocktails you can make at home, ideal for lightening the British winter gloom.

But first some words of wisdom. While visiting Mount Gay’s distillery I was taught their mantra for the perfect rum punch. It goes thus: 1 of sour, 2 of sweet, 3 of strong and 4 of weak. In other words 1 of lemon or lime juice, 2 of simple syrup or concentrated fruit nectar, 3 of rum or other strong liquor, 4 of soda water or fruit juice.

And if you do intend to start making cocktails at home, I strongly recommend that you get yourself a Boston shaker. You can pick them up (the glass and tin version anyway) for barely a tenner. Heavier glass and steel ones are much more, whilst retro-chic ones can cost the earth. But you can’t hope to make a decent Margarita, for example, without one. Oh, and you’ll need a proper Hawthorne strainer to go with it. You know, the one with the coiled wire round the edge. You can buy these in any catering suppliers for peanuts or online at And you’ll need a jigger spirit measure, one with 25ml and 50ml measures at either end.

At Paradise Beach in Nevis the incomparable Mervan behind the beach bar made me a fine, thirst-quenching but gratifyingly potent punch from 75ml of Myers’s Original Dark Rum, 25ml of grenadine, 25ml of fresh orange juice and 25ml of fresh lime juice served over ice with a wedge of lime. It had a greater depth of flavour than many punches thanks to the dark rather than white rum.

Mervan then let me try my hand. I came up with 75ml of Myer’s Original Dark Rum, 75ml of Grand Marnier topped up with ice, lemonade and fresh lime juice in a tumbler. It was darn good, though I say it myself.

I then did a bit of a Caribbean tweak to my very own patented Shot in the Dark which I originally conceived many moons ago with cognac in mind but here made with dark rum instead. Simply pour 50ml of King’s Ginger Liqueur (available in the UK at Berry Bros & Rudd) and 25ml each of Myers’s Original Dark Rum, freshly squeezed lime juice and maple syrup into a Boston shaker. Shake over ice, strain and pour into a Martini glass, serve and knock back and pretend you’re far, far away from gloomy old Blighty.

And as for the rum punch, everyone has their own take on it and having tried dozens, I’m not sure that mantra is correct: there’s too much weak. I favour 25ml fresh lime juice (1 of sour), 50ml simple syrup or grenadine (2 of sweet), 75ml of Mount Gay Eclipse (3 of strong) and then 25ml each of pineapple juice, orange juice and coconut water (which comes out at 3 of weak rather than 4). Stir or shake over ice in a large glass or Boston shaker, add several dashes of Angostura bitters and strain into a tumbler with plenty of ice, serve with grated nutmeg on top and enjoy.