I’m all for experimentation in the world of rum, but I feel a need to simultaneously oppose experimentation without purpose, or fusion for the sake of sheer gimmickry. It was hard to know if that’s what I should expect, looking at a bottle of Equiano Rum Original, which is a blend of rum from Barbados and the tiny African island nation of Mauritius. Why bring together such seemingly disparate influences? Is the familiar Foursquare rum simply a salve to get the audience to try more exotic rum from Mauritius? I had to at least mull over those questions.
In truth, though, The Equiano Rum Co. is bringing both an interesting story and an engaging product to the table here. Marketed as “the world’s first Afro-Caribbean rum,” this is a lovely product that works both as a neat drinker and cocktail component, highlighting Mauritius’ diversity in rum production while also having a relevant story to tell.
Equiano, which I initially (and rather foolishly) assumed had something to do with being “equatorial,” is rather named for Olaudah Equiano, a crusading abolitionist born in modern day Nigeria in 1745, before being enslaved and sent to the Caribbean, where he toiled for several decades. He was eventually able to purchase his freedom in 1766, at least partially with profits from selling rum, before settling in the U.K. where he became a prominent abolitionist and author. There, he married an English woman and wrote an influential autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, which was republished in nine editions and helped push for the eventual passage of the British Slave Trade Act of 1807, which abolished the slave trade in the U.K. Suffice to say, a truly remarkable man, whose life was connected to both rum and the Caribbean.
So with that said, what’s in this bottle? Well, Equiano Rum Original consists of the following:
— 10 year old Mauritius rum from Grays & Co Ltd., presumably from the New Grove brand, which is matured in ex-cognac casks for 10 years.
— 8 year old Barbados rum from the venerable Foursquare, matured in ex-bourbon casks. The rums are then blended and bottled at 43% ABV (86 proof), with no added sugar, color, or flavorings. As it should be.
In that case, let’s get to tasting.
On the nose, Equiano Original is rich but also somewhat delicate, with pronounced notes of brown sugar cookies, molasses, baked apples and hobby store cinnamon brooms. Ethanol is nicely subdued, allowing traces of spicy toasted oak and coconut to emerge. It smells pretty similar to a classic blended (pot and column still) rum from Barbados of moderate age, with some spicy oak flourishes.
On the palate, the molasses richness jumps out at you, with moderate residual sweetness and a slightly syrupy texture, before the flavor profile turns increasingly in the direction of spice. I’m getting cinnamon and some spicy ginger, along with aromatic oak and more delicate dried fruit impressions (a little estery funk), plus some coconut. There’s a bit of heat, curiously felt on the back of the throat rather than the palate, and a slightly peppery, chile-like quality that makes it seem a bit hotter than it actually is. A subtly dry oakiness, meanwhile, closes each sip. All in all, it’s very drinkable neat, featuring an elegant balance between complexity and accessibility.
All in all? I quite like this, even more than I thought I likely would. Equiano Original has enough intense caramelized sugar flavors that it would probably serve well in a classic cocktail like the Jungle Bird, but it also has enough complexity to be quite pleasant as a neat dram. I can’t really fault it on anything—it doesn’t aim to blow the doors off on assertiveness of its flavors, but is very nice and composed.
It certainly makes me curious to try other Equiano expressions such as Equiano Light, a blend of molasses and unaged sugar cane juice (agricole-style) rums that I’m hoping co-opted the “light” name mostly as a marketing tool to get people to try it. I’ll be keeping an eye out for Equiano in the future, and if you’re a fan of this profile I’d suggest doing the same.
Distilleries: Grays & Co., Foursquare
Regions: Mauritius, Barbados
Style: Blended aged rum
ABV: 43% (86 proof)
Availability: 750 ml bottles, $60 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident beer and liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.