A rum that can be appreciated by any palate; delicious, sweet without being sugared, and easy-going, while also having enough body to please even the full-proof-only crowd? Writing this makes me feel like I’ve been drafted onto a spirits marketing team.
I was definitely intrigued when I heard from Ian Burrell, the self-proclaimed global rum ambassador, that he would be releasing his own rum blend. This was probably the only celebrity-endorsed spirit I’ve ever dared to have some hope for. That said, I became a little more reserved when I heard it would combine rum from two distilleries, one of them Foursquare Distillery in Barbados.
Now, I’m sure you’ve heard of Foursquare—and possibly Richard Seale—by now, but if you’ve been face down, deep in the barley fields and haven’t, that’s okay: John’s got you covered.
My reservations about this blend were not because I think Foursquare lacks the wherewithal (the sheer volume of praise from reviews will attest to their quality), but rather, that there seems to be a glut of their distillate on the market right now. It exists within multiple distillery lines, blends, and independent bottlings, as everyone turns reptilian to bask in a bit of the limelight that’s on ‘the Pappy of rum’.
You can then understand my hesitation to even bother to source a bottle, especially since there isn’t any vacancy on my Foursquare shelf (the glut is real). However, the addition of rum from Gray’s Distillery in Mauritius alleviated some of my apprehension; not quite enough to pony up the cash for a whole bottle, but enough that when I got the opportunity, I ordered a small sample from The Whisky Exchange.
Gray’s Distillery is not known much outside of niche rum circles, but you may have seen their distillery bottlings, New Grove and Lazy Dodo. They are a vertically-integrated single-estate rum producer approaching a century of existence, but have only been creating house brands for export since 2003. The rum they create is made from a molasses-based wash and is distilled on a French-style creole column still. Hopefully, I can source some more rum from them for a more in-depth writeup in the future.
In terms of liquid provenance, the contents of the bottle consists of Gray’s distillate aged in French Limousin and ex-Cognac casks for at least 10 years, which is then sent to Foursquare, where it is blended with Foursquare distillate that has been aged at least eight years in ex-bourbon. The blend is vatted for a short time to consummate the marriage, and then it is proofed down to 43% and bottled there in Barbados before being sent off to the world. This is available from The Whisky Exchange for £46.95, or Master of Malt for £44.94.
In my research into the brand, I came across the statement, “Rich and deep flavours come from the barrels in which we tropically mature our liquid,” which feels odd in that it seems to dismiss the quality of the distillate itself. Perhaps they’re trying to say to the layman, “You won’t believe it’s not sugar!”; we’ll talk more about the apparent sweetness of the rum later.
The inspiration for the name comes from Olaudah Equiano, a man who was enslaved in Africa, taken to Barbados, and eventually settled in the UK after freeing himself. During and after this time, he was also known for pursuing the abolition of slavery. Interestingly, the rum itself takes a somewhat parallel path.
The bottle does more than share his story; 5% of profits are donated to the Equiano Foundation, an organisation founded by the brand to disperse the funds to the appropriate ‘ground level equality projects’.
Curiously, I could find no link to the foundation on the website, nor any information outside of the vague write-up. A direct message inquiry on their Facebook page directed me back to the website; I’ve yet to get a reply from the contact form on the website itself regarding this issue. I don’t have reason to believe there’s artifice afoot, but I believe it would be prudent for a brand claiming to be making charitable donations to be a little more transparent about where those funds are going. I will certainly update this article if more knowledge surfaces.
As a new brand, I think it’s worth pointing out the well-crafted box and bottle: the design is elegant and simple, with the clear glass that allows the rich copper-y tone of the rum to serve as contrast to the teal labelling, and clean, white embossed lettering. I also think it’s a bold move to not bother with an obviously marked age statement, but rather just mention it subtly in the small print. All that said, you’re not here to hear me get glossy-eyed over bottle design.
Equiano Rum – Review
On the nose: there is some initial toasted coconut, then in comes some very dark chocolate, black cherries, and a whiff of freshly roasted coffee beans. It reminds me a bit of a spirited Black Forest Cake, but a better quality, less mass-produced variant. The fruit aroma fortifies and I pick up some bright jamminess in addition to fruity gummy candy, like wine gums.
On the palate: the fruity presence comes first, apricot and coconut flesh, followed by cacao, more dark berries from the nose, then the oak and baking spice, such as allspice, nutmeg, and a touch of cinnamon, with a little even heat. The finish is of medium length with more baking spice, wood, and a final touch of tobacco leaf. The spirit is not incredibly nuanced, but has a few lovely and singular notes.
During this tasting, I had a little rum from both Foursquare and Gray’s alongside as reference points; I believe the individual presence of both is clear if you seek it. I feel that Gray’s distillate, especially with its partial cognac aging, is responsible for the very rich fruity tones coming through, while Foursquare and its use of ex-bourbon is responsible for the chocolate, coffee, and coconut, and it also keeps the profile from getting too out of hand with wild, fruity notes. Even at a lower proof, the spirit still has good body, which I think will make it more useful for those of us with a misgiving for waterlogged spirit.
I think it is a gamble to place it in the entry-level area for premium rum that is currently well-saturated in the UK, but one that could well pay off. I’m not sure about the saturation of their American distribution, but I do think it’s a smarter choice there, as well as in some of the European markets where it is currently for sale.
It will do well with those who only pick it up because it’s a gorgeous bottle; they’ll be glad to find a tasty, honest rum with a few unique characteristics, and a great story, as well.
It will also do well as a ‘gateway rum’ for someone who drinks sweetened or flavoured rums and isn’t quite ready for dry, cask strength throat-melters, or even those who blend a finger of it with a half can of cola; I certainly won’t be offended.
I would venture it would be enjoyed even by you, dear Malt reader, who may want a low-investment foray into rum from whatever grain eau-de-vie you currently enjoy, especially one that is flexible enough for both mixing and sipping neat.
I am hesitant to recommend this spirit on any basis of its charitable record, so you will have to make your own mind up about that. However, the liquid itself is certainly worth it.
From my vantage point, it differentiates itself as ‘not-just-another-Foursquare-blend’, filling its description as a rum for everyone, but only time will tell if my humble perception is actualized.
Photograph kindly provided by The Whisky Exchange and there are commission links within this article if you wish to support Malt and explore rum further.
UPDATE 11/24: I was contacted by Aaisha Dadral, one of the co-founders as well as the marketing director for Equiano, who explained that the foundation would be choosing a different organisation on an annual basis to be a recipient for a grant from the Equiano Foundation; in 2021, Equiano will be supporting Anti-Slavery International, an organisation that works to abolish modern-day slavery. They have consequently updated their website to reflect this information.
Thanks for sharing, Reuben; lots of good intel in this review. Due in no small part to the influence of John’s rum reviews, I recently purchased my first bottle, an Appleton 8yr, and enjoy it enough to keep exploring. Judging by the improving stock at my local shop, I think interest in the spirit is heating up in these parts (upper midwest of the US).
Thanks again; I appreciate the time you spent writing this for our benefit (helps me understand what notes to look for, among other things).
Appreciate the kind words, Tony. That Appleton 8 year is also a great value buy. It’s my current favourite in their standard range, a great balance of flavour and value.
Keep exploring. There’s a wide variety out there. Look for bottlings of Hamilton, Habitation Velier, Transcontinental Rum Line, and Holmes Cay, all amazing bottles at great value.
Great piece, Reuben. I find the score interesting. Based on the feed back I got from other rum geeks, I wouldn’t have expected this score.
Thanks, John; I definitely factored in price here. For a bottle that is inexpensive enough to simply be added to a cart on a whim and be a quality dram, it certainly warrants an extra point. I’d probably give it a 6 based on liquid quality alone.
Nice read Reuben!
Do you have any clue what the “Afro-Caribbean” might mean? Never heard of this one – at least when it comes to rum. Or is this just marketing buzz?
Glad you liked it. I found it way too sweet to my liking, but I am not that much into sweet rum anyhow, and tastes and opinions differ 😉
Cheers to you and keep them coming
Hey Ben. Well, Mauritius is considered a part of Africa and Barbados….well you see where I’m going with this 😉 the idea was also to mirror the journey Equiano himself lived through.
Everything is marketing buzz, always. The key part is whether the job of convincing us of the story is done well and in this case, I think it has been.
Absolutely fair, I’m not specifically prone to sweet tasting spirits either, but we are in the minority, and the perceived sweetness here will appeal to many.
Thanks for the kind words, I’ll be reviewing something a little more controversial very soon.
Great review. I love the idea of including tasting notes of the two components in your comments… Well done! (Though calling it “Celebrity-endorsed” might be a stretch)
Hey Jim, thanks! I think for those of us who’ve tried the majority of what Foursquare has released, an exercise in separating it from a second distillate shouldn’t be too difficult.
As for the ‘celeb’ endorsement, it’s a little tongue in cheek; you know as well as I that there should be no hesitation in regards to a rum Mr. Burrell puts his name to ;).