Sunset Sip Rum punch is the unofficial beverage of Barbados, and the very essence of island life. We get the recipe for the perfect potion and an ideal vacation.
THE SUN SINKS INTO THE HORIZON AND THE CARIBBEAN
Sea glows a fiery orange, its light edging the tall clouds in bright pink. A few surfers, silhouetted against this backdrop, carve smooth lines down the face of curling waves. A waiter hands me a rum punch the same color as the sky and my vacation officially begins. I’m at Taboras Restaurant in The Fairmont Royal Pavilion on the Platinum Coast of Barbados and I’ve earned this drink. I got in a few rounds of tennis before breakfast this morning and, after repeated dunkings, mastered paddleboarding by noon. Admittedly, the afternoon spent napping on the beach between bouts of crossword challenges wasn’t exactly high-performance sport, but I did swim 20 laps before heading to the bar for my favorite Caribbean drink. Rum punch is the loftiest destiny to which any rum can aspire. The alchemic result of blending the spirit with lime juice, simple syrup, nutmeg and ice turns these basic ingredients into liquid gold. In fact, “one of sour, two of sweet, three of strong and four of weak” is the classic incantation for creating it. I’ve sampled versions all over Barbados – from roadside shacks to five-star resorts – and have developed a personal list of favorites that covers just about all of these bases. I know what I like, but I wanted to learn more about this definitive Bajan beverage. So, on my latest trip to the island, I paid a visit to the distillery of Mount Gay, home of the oldest rum brand in existence. As I wait for the tour to begin, dreadlocked bartender Christopher fields urgent calls for frothy pink drinks, running two blenders simultaneously. I ask him which Mount Gay rum he prefers in punch. “Most people go
with the Eclipse,” he says, referring to the gold-standard dark rum. “But if you’ve never had it with the white Eclipse Silver, you should try it like that.” He’s right: the clear flavor of the white rum softens the sweetness of the drink and sharpens the taste, though it lacks some of the complexity of a dark-rum version. Our tour guide, despite looking like a teenager with her complex and sculptural arrangement of braids, soon whips a motley brigade of sunburned tourists into line and through the in-house museum. She explains that Barbadians have been making rum since 1703 and, while the equipment has changed, much of the process remains the same. Sugar cane is juiced and boiled into molasses before being diluted with water. Yeast is added to this mixture to start the fermentation. After a few days the liquid is heated and the alcohol (which boils at a lower temperature) is separated from the water. This process results in rum, but the aging process in whiskey barrels gives dark rum its distinct character. “Go ahead and put your nose in the barrel,” she suggests. The heady smell of ripe bananas, sweet almonds and vanilla reminds me it’s time for a drink. Fortunately, one of my favorite spots is just up the road. I enter Daphne’s, the Caribbean outpost of the posh London restaurant that captures the proper British vibe that still thrives in pockets on this island. It’s the kind of dining room where I’m not surprised to see a six-year-old with blond ringlets, wearing a ruffled pink ball gown, order the duck breast (“Rare, thank you very much”) as she sips San Pellegrino from a wine glass. I’ll stick to the more laid-back, grown-up
PHOTOS: JENNIFER ALLEN (RUM PUNCH); SUSAN SEUBERT (SURFER)
BY CHRIS JOHNS
Fairmont Magazine winter 2012, International edition