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.
Making your own syrups at home yields some amazing, fresh flavors for your cocktails. Plus, you get to tell the story of how you made it yourself when someone asks what’s in that mystery bottle you’re pouring into their drink!
Simple Syrup really is simple. Over medium-low heat, mix one cup of white sugar with one cup of water, stirring until sugar is dissolved. For Rich Simple Syrup, use one cup of sugar to a half-cup of water. You might find the richness of turbinado or demerara sugar works better for certain drinks, where plain white sugar provides brightness and snap – experiment and see what you like. Keep refrigerated. Will last about two months.
Real pomegranate grenadine is miles above the common artificial kind and can be made easily at home. If pomegranates are in season (typically December through January), and you don’t mind a mess and a pain in the ass, you’ll get best results by using fresh. Cut pomegranates in half and break apart sections by hand, separating the juice-filled arils from their bitter white membrane. Place the arils in a small saucepan with a bit of water and simmer, covered, over medium-low heat until the arils burst and release their juice. You may need to crush some reluctant ones with the back of a spoon to get them to pop – you should get 1/4 to 1/2 cup of juice per pomegranate. Strain the juice and discard the arils. Mix one cup of fresh pomegranate juice (or 100% unsweetened pomegranate juice like POM brand in the off-season or when feeling lazy) with one cup of white sugar. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. When it’s cool, add one and a half teaspoons of orange flower water – easily found at Middle Eastern markets or online. Adding an ounce of 100-proof vodka will keep it from spoiling too fast. Keep refrigerated. Will last about three months.
In a heavyweight Ziploc, smash up 2 1/2 cups whole, raw almonds – just enough to break them into large chunks, not totally crushed into powder. A mallet, rolling pin, or even a muddler works well. Arrange in a single layer on an ungreased baking sheet (use parchment paper if you like) and toast in a preheated oven at 400 degrees for 10 minutes. When finished toasting, in a saucepan, combine the crushed, toasted almonds with 2 cups of sugar and 1 1/2 cups of water. Bring to a simmer, then cook 10 minutes, stirring. Remove from the heat and let cool, then pour into an airtight container and let the mixture steep, unrefrigerated, for 24 hours. Strain the mixture through a cheesecloth-lined strainer into a jar or bottle (it’ll take a while to slowly drip out), then add 12 drops of orange flower water, 12 drops of rose water, and 1 oz of overproof vodka to help reduce spoilage. Shake to blend. Keep refrigerated. Will last about three months.
In a saucepan over medium heat, lightly toast 50 cloves, 1 tablespoon whole allspice berries, and 1 whole nutmeg (crushed, not ground). Combine in an airtight container and add 8 oz 151 demerara rum, the peeled zest from 8 limes (being careful to not include any of the bitter white pith), and 1/2 cup grated fresh ginger. Infuse for 24 hours, then double-strain the infused rum to remove ingredients and small particles. Make a rich simple syrup of 2 cups sugar and 1 cup water and let cool. In an airtight container, combine the infused rum, the rich simple syrup, and 10 drops almond extract. Stir to combine. Let rest two weeks, refrigerated, for the ginger to mellow. Keep refrigerated. Will last about six months. (recipe adapted from Kaiser Penguin.)
Lightly toast 1/4 cup whole dried allspice berries just until fragrant then crush to break up, but not completely turn to powder. In an airtight container, combine the allspice with 1 1/8 cups 151 demerara rum (Lemon Hart). Let steep 10 days in a cool, dark place.
After 10 days, strain the infused rum through cheesecloth, then a coffee filter, to remove allspice. In a saucepan over medium-low heat, combine 1 1/2 cups water with 2 1/2 cups brown sugar. Stir to blend until sugar is completely dissolved. Let brown sugar syrup cool, then add the infused rum. Funnel into an airtight glass bottle or jar and let sit 30 days in the refrigerator. This will level out the heat of the allspice. Keep refrigerated. Will last about six months.
In a saucepan over medium heat, lightly toast 3 cinnamon sticks, crushed lightly to expose more surface area to the heat. Crush again, but don’t pulverize. Add 1 1/2 cups sugar and 1 1/2 cups water, then simmer 10 minutes, stirring to dissolve sugar. Cool & let steep two hours, then double-strain through a couple layers of dampened cheesecloth into an airtight container. Keep refrigerated. Will last about two months.
Honey Syrup keeps honey from freezing and seizing when mixed in cocktails. Just mix 3/4 cup honey with 1/4 cup hot water over low heat and stir to combine. Keep refrigerated. Will last about three months.
Split 2 vanilla beans lengthwise and scrape out the seeds. Over medium-low heat, mix 1 cup white sugar with 1 cup water, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Add vanilla seeds and bean pods, whisking to distribute evenly. Simmer on low heat for 10 minutes. Cool, then pour into an airtight glass container and let steep, refrigerated, overnight. Strain through a couple layers of dampened cheesecloth to remove fine particles and store in an airtight container. Keep refrigerated. Will last about two months.
Bourbon & Branch, San Francisco, 2008
Here’s a fun little drink that sits between worlds: sort of a sour, sort of a tiki drink, and none of the above. Good aged rum with lime and spiced syrups plus a dose of bitters sounds straight out of Don the Beachcomber or Trader Vic’s, but this is from San Francisco’s Bourbon & Branch, a password-protected speakeasy deep in the grubby Tenderloin. These secret-entry bars are sometimes more show than substance – startup spots trying to capture some of the magic of places like Bourbon & Branch, Please Don’t Tell, or Noble Experiment – but when done right, the barrier to entry serves a good purpose. In the neighborhood full of bums surrounding Bourbon & Branch, the tiny, 24-at-a-time, subterranean room of PDT, or the weekend AXE-effect shitshow in San Diego’s Gaslamp around Noble Experiment, a speakeasy makes good sense. It controls the experience, adds drama, and cuts down on the riff-raff.
With a perfect balance of spirit, sour, sweet, and spicy, the Rum Crawl is a sure-hit crowd-pleaser, especially for those who may not care for more spirit-forward cocktails. It’s also an opportunity to use more of that homemade Falernum – its holiday spices of ginger, clove, and allspice plus the fragrant cinnamon and Angostura bark in the Fee Brother’s once-a-year bottling of Whiskey-Barrel Aged Bitters are a perfect match for fall and winter entertaining.
Hardware: Shaker, Jigger, Vegetable peeler
Ice: Ice cubes
Glassware: Cocktail glass or coupe
Spirits: Aged rum (recommended: Appleton Estate Extra 12)
Mixers & Liqueurs: Falernum, Ginger Syrup (recommended: B.G. Reynolds’)
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Lime juice, Whiskey-Barrel Aged Bitters (recommended: Fee Brothers), Orange twist
Chill a cocktail glass or coupe in the freezer at least ten minutes. In a shaker about a third-full with ice cubes, add:
2 oz aged rum
3/4 oz lime juice
1/2 oz falernum
1/4 oz ginger syrup
2 dashes whiskey-barrel aged bitters
Shake well to blend and chill, then strain into the chilled glass. Pinch an orange twist over the drink to express oils onto its surface, then rub the twist around the glass rim to coat. Garnish with the twist laid across the surface of the drink.