CORN ‘N’ OIL
Barbados (early 18th century)
This is the most you’ll ever hear me talk about The Bible, not just on this site, but ever. Get it while you can.
What that old book has to do with the tiny southern Caribbean island of Barbados, I’ll share in a moment. It’s my grand (and more than slightly half-assed) theory of where this name “Corn ‘n’ Oil” came from. The drink itself is a bit of a love-it-or-hate-it situation, and the drink’s name has encouraged even more dissension, with plenty of ideas about what the hell corn and oil have to do with rum, lime, and Caribbean spices.
Up through the 15th century, the native Arawak people had Barbados to themselves (and most likely created the idea of spit-roasted wood-smoked meat, “barbacoa,” the granddaddy of southern US barbecue). Thanks for that. Spanish explorers (you know, the guys who “explored” the fun to be had with raping and pillaging) arrived in the 15th century. It didn’t take long for the Arawaks to leave Barbados and get replaced by droves of pigs imported by the Spanish, left to graze and be reclaimed for dinner on a return voyage. The English colonized Barbados in the 17th century, and although independent now, it remains part of the British Commonwealth. Some Arawak people eventually returned when the coast was clear of “explorers.”
In the early 18th century, German Protestant missionaries arrived in Barbados. Funny enough, that was around the same time the Barbadians (“Bajans”) learned how to distill rum from the molasses left over from making sugar. And, following the production of rum, they came up with a delightful homemade liqueur of rum, ginger, lime, almond, allspice, and clove they called “falernum.” Now, falernum was the Latin name for the popular and coveted wine grown by the farmer Falernus in the foothills of Mount Mossico in Italy way back in Biblical Roman times. How did the Bajans get this name for their spiced liqueur? It’s gotta be by way of the missionaries.
Here comes The Bible stuff:
“…I will give you the rain of your land in His due season, the first rain and the latter rain, that thou mayest gather in thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil.” — Deuteronomy 11:14
I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to take this Biblical idea of an agricultural tribute sacrifice to God (corn, wine, and oil – they crop up several times in the book) and have the native Bajans adapt it to sanctify their homegrown hooch, their easy punch of rum, falernum, and lime as “Corn ‘n’ Oil.” After all, it may taste devilish to some, like manna from heaven to others.
In 1890, John D. Taylor of Bridgetown, Barbados, began selling his falernum commercially. It’s still commonly available today as “Velvet Falernum” — but I don’t recommend it. Compared to homemade or to the commercial version by B.G. Reynolds, well… there’s no comparison. Likewise, some great rums from Barbados are easy to come by, notably Mount Gay “Eclipse” and Plantation Barbados 2001 — really stellar on their own or in other drinks, but they tend to fade in this particular cocktail. Some fire & brimstone is in order here, and it fell to Murray Stenson to revive this almost-lost drink while he was working at Seattle’s Zig Zag Café, and his idea of using Cruzan Black Strap Rum from the Virgin Islands has become the industry standard. The deep, black, almost sulfurous molasses flavor of the blackstrap balances the sweet spicy ginger of the falernum, keeping the drink from becoming cloying or limp. A bright dash of lime’s acid across the crushed ice gives your lips something to think about while you sip the drink, and helps solidify the cap of crushed ice on top.
The mystery of how Murray learned about the Corn ‘n’ Oil remains, though… I hope to get the answer out of him someday.
The first couple times I tried this drink (using different recipes), I hated it… until I tried the version served at Portland’s amazing tiki bar Hale Pele by proprietor Blair Reynolds (the same guy behind the previously-mentioned B.G. Reynolds line of syrups & liqueurs). Blair was kind enough to share his preferred recipe for the Corn ‘n’ Oil, and it’s turned me into a believer.
Here endeth the lesson.
Hardware: Shaker, Jigger
Ice: Crushed ice
Glassware: Rocks glass
Spirits: Blackstrap rum (recommended: Cruzan Black Strap)
Mixers & Liqueurs: falernum (recommended: BG Reynolds’ or make your own; recipe linked above)
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Lime juice, Lime wedge (reserve from squeezing)
In a shaker about a half-full with crushed ice, add:
1 1/2 oz black strap rum
1/2 oz falernum
Shake briefly to blend. Pour unstrained into a rocks glass. Mound with additional crushed ice. Over the drink, squeeze:
1 lime wedge (one quarter lime)
Garnish with the spent lime wedge.