The problem with rum Old Fashioneds is that they’re so goddamn boring.
This is not always true—sometimes it’s worth making blanket statements just to annoy rum people, who are a particularly vociferous sort— but I do insist that it’s mostly true. While a touch of bitters and a kiss of sugar bring out the best in a bourbon or rye whiskey, most rum lacks the oaky punch or grainy finish that makes the Old Fashioned template shine. Further, aged rum nearly always has sweetness and spice in those exact places on the palate anyway and adding more just feels like sprinkling sugar on ice cream.
There are ways around this, of course. You could use a rum that’s unusually old, which will bring the oaked complexity you want, or a rum with some unusual measure of personality, like those of Jamaica or the “agricole” rums from the French Caribbean. Or you can do what they do in Barbados, and you can make a Corn N’ Oil.
The Corn N’ Oil is a Barbados classic from at least 100 years ago, made of rum, a lime/clove/almond liqueur called Falernum, bitters and possibly lime juice, but possibly not (more on that below). As far as cocktail names go, it’s about as bad as it gets—“Corn N’ Oil” sounds like a gas station in Iowa, but the best explanation I’ve read (albeit without evidence, but there’s nothing else to go on) is that the name is lifted from the bible, Deuteronomy 11:14, “then I will give you the rain for your land… that thou mayest gather in thy corn, and thy wine and thine oil.”
What’s unusual about the Corn N’ Oil is that while it is definitely from Barbados, there is no definitive account of how to make it, or really even what it is. Some recipes use a full ounce of lime juice, essentially making it a Daiquiri, while some use just a squeeze of lime like the Ti’ Punch and others use none at all. Some people say it should on a big piece of ice like an Old Fashioned, while others recommend crushed ice like a Mai Tai. Many if not most insist on a blackstrap rum, claiming that the blackness of it is the “oil” of the Corn N’ Oil, while others point out that not only does Barbados not typically produce a blackstrap rum, but to quote no less of an authority as Barbadian master distiller and rum legend Richard Seale, “there is no such thing as blackstrap rum.”
All this ambiguity frustrates some people, but not me. In the absence of dogma is opportunity: What should this drink be? How can it be its best self? Personally, I leave most of the lime juice out—leave the Daiquiring to the Daiquiris—but still include a little, a light touch of acidity that, combined with the spice from the falernum, brings the drink to life. This version plants its flag more toward the stirred and boozy realm, territory that pays homage to what I believe are the Corn N’ Oil’s strengths, which is to say, a rum Old Fashioned. One that isn’t so numbingly, crushingly, interminably dull.
Corn N’ Oil
Add ingredients to an Old Fashioned glass with a big piece of ice and stir 10 to 15 seconds to chill. Garnish with a lime peel or lime wedge.
Notes on Ingredients
Rum: The majority of recipes out there advise Cruzan “Blackstrap” rum, which is two-year-old rum from St. Croix to which has been added enough caramel coloring to make it black, and enough sugar and flavoring additives to imitate the dark richness of molasses. This certainly works well enough as a component in this drink, sweet and dark and intense, though it’s too much to use a full 2 oz. and is aggressively non-traditional—Barbadians roll their eyes at the “oil slick” black rum float, which seems to be a strange attempt to reverse engineer the recipe to fit a misunderstanding of the name.
Personally, this is such a Bajan drink, I like to use a Bajan rum, like Mount Gay Eclipse, or really anything aged from the incredible Foursquare Distillery. It has depth but is also mild and friendly. Though if I’m feeling like breaking the rules a little, splicing in about up to an ounce of the big, funky Smith and Cross from Jamaica adds some much-welcome character.
Falernum: Barbadians are humorless about Falernum, which they believe is and can only be a rum-based liqueur with lime, sugar and optional spices, hailing from the noble island of Barbados. They admittedly have the facts on their side there, and as far as brands are concerned, the go-to one is John D. Taylor’s Velvet Falernum, which has all requisite claims for authenticity.
That being said, there are other falernii—or falernum imitations, if you insist—like the boozy modern Brovo and the non-alcoholic Fee’s or B.G. Reynold’s, all of which taste very different from each other but fly the flag of falernum nonetheless. Personally I’m not too strict about the definition, but I still think, in the Corn N’ Oil, the John D. Taylor’s Velvet Falernum tastes better, its lighter spice profile not weighing down a drink already heavy with bitters (NB: If you’re curious about falernum and have 71 minutes to kill, all you could ever want to know is here).
Lime: Just a squeeze. I like a quarter ounce or less. And if you can be bothered to muddle your lime wedge in the bottom of the glass, you’d be better off for it—the lime oil in the peels really adds—but if it feels like too much of a pain, don’t worry about it, it’s still worth drinking.
Angostura Bitters: I suppose it depends on what rum you use, but my blanket recommendation is to be gentle. Their use is necessary, but one good dash is enough. Too much spice becomes too heavy for the lime.
Ice: The drink tastes good however you chill it down, but like all Old Fashioneds, I prefer a big piece of ice. The one caveat here is that it chills more slowly, and your first sip of a Corn N’ Oil that isn’t sufficiently chilled and diluted tastes a little weird, because your palate is unaccustomed to having small amounts of acidity in your Old Fashioned. But as the ice melts, the drink settles into itself, and as with all good drinks, the whole world starts to make sense.