This event was on our radar a while ago, but we were only able to confirm our availability a few days before. Thankfully, we were able to sneak a couple of leftover tickets and make our first trip to the Beachcomber in Bayswater.
The event started at 7pm, right about the time the bar opens, so we weren’t able to sample their cocktails beforehand. Anyway, keen arrivals at 7, we were welcomed by a smiling Vanessa Bolosier, half Guadelopéenne, half Martiniquaise, consultant chef at the Beachcomber, French Caribbean food writer (author of Creole Kitchen) and agricole rum fan.
Shortly after, our fellow attendee arrived, Julie from Malaysia and Vivian from Hong Kong.
We learnt about the geography of Guadeloupe – its volcanic soils, the different islands and the butterfly-shaped main island; and the rum and food traditions, which we worked our way through.
To train our noses and tastebuds, Vanessa had prepared a platter of spices and fruits for us to smell and taste and we had to try and identify the flavours in the first plate of nibbles: Creole popcorn (chili, thyme and garlic, the classic Creole base) and cumin-spiced bokit dippers (deep fried dough), served with an avocado and saltfish dip. Yes, from early on, Guadeloupe was looking like our kind of destination.
Through the evening we also snacked on saltfish fritters with sauce chien, yes, ‘dog sauce’ – a mix of tomato, onion, garlic, herbs and chili – and Colombo wedges (another Creole spice mix) served with chilli mayo and a fresh coconut coleslaw.
Vanessa had picked out four rhums to accompany the food and chat. First, Rhum Bielle, a white unaged agricole from the island of Marie-Galante. Clear in the glass, with the classic mellow, sweet and grassy aroma of agricole. It’s bottled at 50%, but was smooth, mild and creamy in the mouth, with a short finish. It’s packaged in a plastic bottle, so tourists can save on vital luggage weight on inter-island flights.
Rhum Bologne, another 50% unaged white agricole was next. Aromas were sweet, floral, peachy and a little saline. In the mouth it was dry, with citrus notes and a short finish. Again, much more mellow than expected for a fairly high abv.
Third was Rhum Bologne VSOP. Amber in the glass and vanilla and oaky on the nose, it was oily in the mouth. It wasn’t too oaky either, which we sometimes find to be the case with aged agricoles.
Finally came Darboussier Rhum Vieux, from a now defunct distillery. Marked as ‘hors d’ages’, it’s an XO, with at least six years of aging. Also amber in the glass, on the nose was cherry and vanilla, with oakiness developing after exposure to the air. Oily in the mouth, the initial fruitiness gave way to oak, which perhaps became too pronounced after it had rested a while.
In true French Caribbean tradition, we also got to make a ti punch, with the three components (lime, sugar and rhum) tailored by the drinker in true local style. The ti punch is firmly ingrained into Guadeloupe culture. The day starts with a ‘sec’, a small rhum at breakfast, a ti punch for elevenses, another in mid-afternoon (‘la mort du Christ’), another before dinner (‘un petit pape’), one after dinner (a CRS – the initials for the police service, but also citron, rhum and sucre) and a nightcap. Again, Guadeloupe is selling itself very well. Vanessa also told us of seasonal twists: hibiscus at Christmas and even crab macerated with the lime and sugar at Easter.
We had a great night of food, rhum and company, with time flying by in our tiki environs. We enjoyed it so much, we’re heading back for a pre-carnival feast at the weekend.