There is surely no better way of passing the time than by doing nothing at all, fuelled by a large well-chilled drink. Nothing beats hanging out with a couple of similarly empty-headed chums in a warm patch of sun, glass in hand, watching the world go by.
It turns out that those past-masters of taking it easy, the Barbadians – or Bajans – have a term for this excellent use of one’s time: liming. And given that Barbados is home to the world’s longest-established rum distillery – the peerless Mount Gay, in operation since 1703 if not before – it’s all but impossible to lime without the aid of plenty of rum.
Visitors to Barbados might choose to drink this wonderful spirit in cocktails or punches but the locals knock it back neat and, if you want to blend in, do as they do. Head to a roadside or beachside bar and buy the local rum by the bottle and grab the proffered glasses, cans and bowl of ice. Find a suitable spot under a gently rustling palm and proceed to hang out, chill and relax – or lime – as you drink said rum neat followed by a shot of water, Coke, Sprite or even beer. Time will pass, a silly grin will grip your face and before you know it, you’re sliding slowly but happily to the sandy ground as your legs wave goodbye to your brain.
It can be powerful stuff, rum and most of what is on offer in such places will have come off the still that week and will be white rather than gold or dark (having had no time to pick up colour from maturation in oak) and will quite likely be served from plastic flagons. I’ve had some terrifyingly potent examples, the punchiest of which I encountered at the 250 year-old River Antoine distillery on Grenada. At 75%vol, the rum is so heady and so combustible that it’s illegal to take on aeroplanes. A couple of shots and I was wittering on like an idiot. Heaven knows what it does to one’s liver.
As you know, rum is distilled from fermented sugar cane juice or molasses, using either a pot still or a column still (or both as in the case of Mount Gay), and it’s produced wherever sugar cane is grown, with those rums made in and around the Caribbean considered the best. It’s currently the trendiest of spirits, resolutely ‘in’ and beloved of bartenders and barflies everywhere. Forget gin, it’s all about rum these days.
Indeed, if anything signalled to me the eclipse of gin by rum, it was the remarkably fine Negroni I was served a while back at a bar in London, in which the statutory gin was substituted by a hearty slug of Appleton Estate Signature Blend Rum from Jamaica. I love a fine Negroni and this was as fine as I’d had, the toffee notes of the rum contrasting with, and the candied orange notes matching, the bitter orange of the Campari. It was so tasty that I’ve barely had gin in my Negroni since.
Some rums are perfect for sipping on their own, such as the sweet, spicy and chocolatey Dictador XO Insolent from Colombia, the majestic, velvety soft Santa Teresa 1796 from Venezuela or the wonderfully complex Havana Club 15 Year Old from Cuba. I like to enjoy them as I would a fine single malt whisky, armagnac or cognac, as a ruminative treat to be lingered over after dinner.
My current go-to nightcap is the brand new and completely captivating Eminente Reserva seven Year Old Rum from Cuba. Rich and fruity, it’s a post-prandial delight although I’ve recently found I like it best in my tweaked version of the Hotel de Nacionale Special cocktail.
To make, simply shake 40ml Eminente, 15ml apricot brandy, 15ml lime juice, 10ml sugar syrup and 50ml Cawston Press Apple & Ginger over ice (the original recipe uses pineapple juice) and strain into a champagne flute. Delicious!
If you’re not too busy liming – as it takes some preparation – let me recommend the perfect rum punch for the fag end of summer. I came across it in the fabulous Helvetica Bar in Perth, Western Australia, where it is a celebrated staple.
To serve four to six people, mix 60ml Angostura 5 Year Old Rum, 30ml Martell VS Cognac, 30ml peach liqueur, 30ml sugar syrup, 45ml fresh lemon juice, 100ml soda water in a large jug or jar and stir well over ice. Top up with 60ml sparkling wine and garnish with fresh peach and lemon slices. Find a nice liming spot, knock back with delight, relax, repeat.