Rum & Magic: The tangled story of James Bond, Jamaica and a visionary record label
Chris Blackwell, the man behind Blackwell Rum, is a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and his connections to Ian Fleming and James Bond are far-reaching: Blackwell’s mother, Blanche Blackwell, was Ian Fleming’s Goldeneye neighbour and the pair developed a close relationship. She was a muse of Fleming’s as he wrote the James Bond novels.
Ian Fleming, best known for his James Bond novels, first went to Jamaica on a Naval Intelligence assignment during the Second World War when he fell in love with the beautiful island. Fleming returned to Jamaica three years later, in 1945, to buy a piece of land and build a house.
At the time, Fleming was reading Carson McCullers’ novel Reflections in a Golden Eye and had been involved in an operation called Goldeneye during the War, so he decided to call his three-bedroom Jamaican getaway GoldenEye. Not only did Fleming write every original James Bond novel at GoldenEye, but both Dr No (1962) and Live and Let Die (1973) were also filmed near the estate.
Chris Blackwell, the man behind Blackwell Rum, is a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and the owner of Ian Fleming’s former residence, GoldenEye. His connections to Ian Fleming and James Bond are far-reaching: Blackwell’s mom, Blanche Blackwell, was Ian Fleming’s neighbour next to GoldenEye, and the two of them developed a close relationship. She was a muse as he wrote the James Bond novels.
Blackwell was born in London in 1937 and first visited Jamaica when he was just six months old. A descendant of one of the island’s oldest merchant families, he spent his childhood absorbing Jamaica’s mysteries and marvels and observing his parents’ lively social scene featuring Noel Coward, Errol Flynn and Ian Fleming.
Expelled from school at 17, Blackwell expected to take over his family’s famous rum distiller, J Wray & Nephew Ltd, until his family unexpectedly sold the company. Learning to live off his wits, he briefly worked as an aide to the British Governor of Jamaica, Sir Hugh Foot, rented scooters, sold air conditioners, and taught water-skiing at Half Moon Hotel in Montego Bay.
Blackwell is probably best known as the founder of the ground-breaking independent record label Island Records. He helped internationalise reggae music, bringing the island’s culture to the world, signing amongst many others Bob Marley and the Wailers, Jimmy Cliff, Toots and the Maytals, Burning Spear, Third World and Black Uhuru. Diversifying into British folk and rock, Island Records also signed and developed Steve Winwood, Robert Palmer, Free, Nick Drake, Cat Stevens, Roxy Music, Melissa Etheridge, nurtured early U2, and then worked with such classic ‘Island mavericks’ as Tom Waits, Grace Jones and Marianne Faithful and the iconic African artists, King Sunny Adé, Salif Keita, Baaba Maal and Angelique Kidjo.
Blackwell sold Island Records in 1989 but remained on the company’s Board until 1997 and his enigmatic influence is still felt at the label.
In the early 1990s, Blackwell created Island Outpost, extending his interests into leisure and hospitality, while applying principles learnt in music to running hotels. He contributed to South Beach’s resurgence by renovating the iconic Marlin Hotel and then turned to The Tides and The Kent.
He went on to open Pink Sands and Compass Point hotels in the Bahamas, and never straying far from Jamaica, opened Strawberry Hill, tucked into the Blue Mountains above Kingston in 1994. The Caves on the dramatic cliffs in Negril followed in 1997.
A year later, he decided to develop the historic oceanfront GoldenEye.
Set along the pristine coast, among lush tropical gardens and around the calm waters of the property’s lagoon and secluded beaches, the 52-acre estate now encompasses 45 units — nine beach villas, two lagoon villas, six lagoon cottages, 26 beach huts, one oceanfront villa and The Fleming Villa. That’s not all: guests can book Fleming’s own private two-bedroom villa — with three guest villas, where his writing desk still stands just as he left it.
Returning to his family roots, as one of the oldest rum-producing families in Jamaica, Blackwell launched his eponymous Blackwell Rum in 2008, based on a family recipe, increasingly a favourite with rum connoisseurs and leading international mixologists.
Blackwell co-founded the company with advertising industry guru Richard Kirshenbaum. Blackwell Rum is distributed throughout the Caribbean, North America, the UK, and parts of Europe and has won many awards.
Chris Blackwell is, more than anything, a lover of Jamaica, its people, its culture and its style. Endlessly fascinated by how this small island’s music has had such a deep-reaching effect on all genres of music, he’s consistently determined to find new ways to show it off to the rest of the world.
“James Bond has been a big part of my life, from my childhood lunches with Ian Fleming at GoldenEye to being a location scout on the first movie, Dr No,” says Blackwell.
Fast forward to 2019, and Chris Blackwell was once again involved with a James Bond movie, shot in Jamaica as well.
For No Time to Die, the 25th James Bond movie (released on 1 October 2021), Chris Blackwell collaborated with Eon Productions on the latest shoot in Jamaica.
Blackwell worked alongside the No Time to Die production team to provide Blackwell Rum for the set and in Bond’s house in Jamaica. Now he is celebrating the release of the 25th Bond film, with a special 007 Limited Edition release of his Blackwell Fine Jamaican Rum. Side-note: Blackwell Rum is not currently available in South Africa, but in the US, Canada, UK, Denmark, Czech Republic and Italy.
A meeting of music, rum and magic
Blackwell Rum can trace its roots back to when Chris Blackwell’s ancestors came to Jamaica in 1625 and became one of Jamaica’s most important merchant families — exporting bananas, coconuts, and rum.
Its lineage continues to the beginning of the 20th century when Cecil and Frederick Lindo (Chris Blackwell’s grandfather) bought J Wray & Nephew — Jamaica’s most important distillery — and created its star product, Appleton Rum, considered the world’s leading premium rum. This is the same distillery that makes Blackwell Rum.
It’s safe to say that Blackwell and Island handled some of the most important music of the past 60 years. So how is it possible that one man could be behind Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, Toots and the Maytals, Burning Spear, U2, and so many other iconic artists of our time?
According to Bono, when he inducted Blackwell into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001, the answer to this question is magic: in the same way that Island Records was the vehicle that Blackwell used to share the magic of music with the world, Blackwell Rum has become his vehicle for sharing the magic of Jamaica through sipping rum and cocktails like the Ginger Mojito, Jungle Bird, Black’ N’ Ginger, and much more.
The Golden Eye Cocktail: A signature drink
Not only is the GoldenEye quick and easy to mix, but it is guaranteed to leave a lasting impression on you in the same way that hearing “No Woman, No Cry” or “Where The Streets Have No Name” for the first time.
60ml Blackwell Rum
60ml Pineapple Juice
Lime or pineapple for garnish
For the pineapple juice
Although off the shelf pineapple juice is easily accessible, most of these are blended, and some contain added preservatives, so I highly recommend juicing your own pineapples. The easiest way to do this is by using a juice extractor. Alternatively, you could use a blender and strain the pulp using a strainer or cheesecloth.
Shake together and strain into a chilled glass.
Garnish with lime or pineapple wedge.
For the South African interpretation of the GoldenEye Cocktail, I used Elephantom Rum. This dark rum is triple distilled from fermented cane molasses in a copper pot still and aged in bourbon casks. Elephantom has a rich, rounded and fruity flavour, inspired by the legend of a famous bull elephant from the Knysna Forest on the southern coast of South Africa.
For those who are feeling adventurous, please try the Goldeneye Cocktail recipe from Shaken: Drinking with James Bond and Ian Fleming, which I included below with permission from Ian Fleming Publications Ltd, the Ian Fleming Estate, the authors Edmund Weil, Bobby Hiddleston & Mia Johansson and the publisher Mitchell Beazley.
40ml Jamaican rum
20ml lime juice
20ml simple syrup
20ml pineapple juice
1 teaspoon passion fruit syrup
For the passionfruit syrup, makes 175ml
125g caster sugar
Pulp and seeds of 4 passion fruits
2 pineapple leaves
½ passion fruit
To make the passion fruit syrup, combine all the ingredients in a small, heavy saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 15 minutes until the syrup is reduced to 175ml. Allow to cool, then strain.
To make the cocktail, measure the ingredients into a cocktail shaker and top up with ice to the brim. Shake vigorously, then strain into a frosted sling glass over large ice cubes. Garnish with two pineapple leaves and ½ passion fruit. DM/ ML
Shaken copyright © Ian Fleming Publications Ltd and the Ian Fleming Estate 2018, quoted with permission of IFPL. James Bond and 007 are registered trademarks of Danjaq LLC, used under licence by Ian Fleming Publications Ltd. The Ian Fleming signature and the Ian Fleming logo are trademarks owned by The Ian Fleming Estate and used under licence by Ian Fleming Publications Ltd.
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