Mandarin Oriental Canouan Bartender Kenton Mason

Mandarin Oriental Canouan Bartender Kenton Mason (Photo by Fran Miller)

It’s always more fun to sample wine or spirits at the source– tasting a lush Brunello while overlooking the sun-dappled vineyards of Tuscany’s Montalcino or savoring a rich Bordeaux within the grand St. Emilion Chateau perfectly enhances the experience. Similarly, rum is at its best when imbibed along the shores of a Caribbean beach.

Reportedly originating in Barbados in the mid-17th century, rum is impossible to escape when visiting the Caribbean.  The sweet spirit is the star of the region’s most revered cocktails, whether a frothy Pina Colada, a gold-hued Dark n’ Stormy, or a minty Mojito. On Canouan Island (part of St. Vincent and Grenadines), the signature libation at the Mandarin Oriental Canouan is the Pepper Bliss, comprised of Vincentian Sunset Light Rum, bell pepper syrup, pineapple and lemon juices, plus orange bitters. But for those in the know, the finest rums, like whiskey, are best enjoyed straight.

According to the Mandarin’s bartender Kenton Mason, the go-to rum is the rich and ultra-smooth Zacapa XO Solera, a blend of young and old rums matured in whiskey and sherry barrels and finished in French oak. The Guatemalan-made rum (yes, Guatemala is considered Caribe, with its 94 lush miles of Caribbean coastline) pairs perfectly with dark chocolate. At the Mandarin’s Rum and Chocolate Tasting, that’s precisely how Mason presents it. With their similar origins- both cacao trees and sugar cane grow in warm, humid regions, normally close to the equator- rum and chocolate make perfect pairings. And when sampled together within Mandarin Oriental Canouan’s Turtles Bar, overlooking a pristine Atlantic Ocean beach, the effect is, well, intoxicating.

The tasting comprises four rums featured with Valrhona white, milk, and dark chocolate. The tasting is done in order- the lightest rum with the lightest chocolate- ultimately finishing with dark chocolate paired with Zacapa served in a brandy snifter. Mason instructs tasters to take a sip of rum, followed by a bite of chocolate and then another sip of rum. The tantalizing and perfectly paired flavors explode on the palate, and I’m encouraged to repeat this experience at home. Despite the truth that wine and spirits are most enjoyed at the source, the beauty of a particularly memorable tipple is its ability to transport. My Canouan Island memories are now awash in every bottle of Caribbean rum.