The Wray & Ting is the unofficial national cocktail of Jamaica and we’re mixing it for the official holiday of Independence Day. Jamaica Independence Day is celebrated on August 6 annually, beginning in 1962 when it became independent. The Wray & Ting recipe is dead simple, a two-ingredient highball that is perfect for warm summer months.
Jamaica and Independence
Back in the 1500s, European powers started to sail across oceans to trade, conquer, colonize, and plunder. That led to all kinds of hijinks, like we talked about with the East India Cocktail. Jamaica was one of the first stops in the so-called New World. Spain showed up when Christopher Columbus arrived in 1494 looking for gold, but none was to be found and it languished as a backwater. Nonetheless, a few settlements were set up, natives were enslaved, African slaves were imported. In the early 1600s the island population was around 3,000.
The British also decided they wanted a bigger share of the Caribbean, so in 1654 Oliver Cromwell launched forces against Spain’s colonies. By 1655 they captured Jamaica and more than 300 years of British rule followed.
Cromwell increased the European population by sending indentured servants and prisoners, as well as those leaving Ireland due to wars there. Slave importation from Africa also picked up and by 1800 more than 3,000 slaves were there. In 1862 the civil governor delivered a proclamation from the King that gave the slave population the same rights as English citizens. Not quite what it sounds like, though, as indentured servitude wasn’t abolished until 1834.
Jamaica joined the West Indies Federation, a political union of various British colonies in the Caribbean as the Empire fell apart in the 1950s. They also amended their constitution to permit greater self-government and a Prime Minister. By 1961 Jamaicans were dissatisfied with the Federation and passed a referendum to leave. This resulted in the passage of the Jamaica Independence Act by the UK Parliament. On August 6, 1962, the British government granted them independence and the Jamaican flag flew.
We obviously need a drink to celebrate.
The Wray & Ting
Our astute readers already know that a drink celebrating virtually anything in Jamaica is going to be rum-based. After all, the British brought over rum production from Barbados. Other than finally abolishing indentured servitude, it was clearly the best thing they did.
Like most rums (other than Rhum Acricole and Cachaca) Jamaican rum is made from molasses left over from the process of crystallizing sugar by boiling the juice. What makes it distinctive, as we talked about with the Kingston Negroni, is using pot rather than column stills. That results in a rum with a distinctive funkiness known as “Hogo”. The word comes from the French term Haut Gout that refers to meat a bit on the gamey side or any other strong yet desirable flavor.
By 1893 some 90% of the acreage used for sugar can cultivation belonged to owners that operated their own distilleries. At that time there were about 148 different producers, which shrunk to 25 by 1948. There are currently five, but they produce some mighty fine rum.
Over the years the Wray & Ting, partly by commercial effort, has become the unofficial national drink of Jamaica. It’s also a perfect addition to your warm-weather arsenal of highballs like the Mountain Suze or Finnish Long Drink.
The Ting Conundrum
Making a Wray & Ting in its defined form may not be the simplest thing in all cases. The drink specifically calls for Wray & Nephew White Overproof Rum and Ting. While a good liquor store will have the Wray & Nephew, Ting is a grapefruit soda from Jamaica and may be hard to find unless you have a significant Caribbean population in your area. It is at least available from Amazon.
If you find yourself in the difficult position of being Ting-less we would recommend substituting Jarritos grapefruit soda. The runner up to that, but a bit distant, is Squirt soda. But if you also don’t have an overproof Jamaican white rum handy we’d advise celebrating Jamaica Independence Day with a Kingston Negroni and cueing up your Bob Marley playlist.
Wray & Ting
- Collins or Highball Glass
- 1½ oz Rum By definition you want to use Wray & Nephew Overproof rum, which is a strong white rum. Substitutions are allowed when necessary, but do use a Jamaican rum which is quite different from that of other Caribbean islands.
- Ting soda If you can't find Ting soda look for Jarritos grapefruit soda or, in a pinch, Squirt.
- Fill highball glass with ice.
- Add rum and top with Ting soda.
- Queue up your Bob Marley playlist.