There's been some chatter about boozy ice creams within the last 2 years due to established international brands, most notable Haagen Dazs, venturing into the concept, but the Caribbean has been keeping the flame alive for decades with Rum Raisin!
To be more colloquial, it's Rum 'n Raisin, West Indians always involve the "and" though elsewhere around the world the two words come together. Technically "and" is not appropriate, as the process of extracting the flavours involves soaking the raisins in rum, not adding rum as well as raisins. The Caribbean has never been too concerned with being appropriate it seems.
The origin of Rum Raisin is a bit difficult to pin down. Fruit soaked in alcohol as an element of desserts can be traced all the way back to the Victorian era, while when it comes to alcohol, raisins and ice cream, Sicilians were the first to soak their particularly sweet Malaga raisins in their local Marsala wine and then mix them into vanilla gelato. We do not grow grapes in the Caribbean so we have no claim on raisins, but the use of rum is where the Caribbean can step up, as the story of rum is squarely ours.
Rum was first made from fermented and distilled molasses, most likely on the island of Barbados, where plantation slaves discovered that molasses could be fermented into an alcoholic beverage and then distilled to remove its impurities. Rum distillation abounded in Jamaica, Barbados, and Trinidad where world-class rum was produced, and continues to be produced to this day.
There are accounts of rum 'n raisin ice cream enjoyed in Trinidad during 1930s wartime, and older West Indians describe ice cream carts on street corners always having the flavour. These carts still exist to this day, and the flavour has held its place as well. So much that many of our people will assume the flavour originated in the Caribbean, it feels like a piece of our heritage and evokes considerable nostalgia. It's more likely that we took ahold of it after being introduced by the American influence during the war which saw heavy presence of US forces on Trinidad. According to FoodTimeline.org, alcohol and ice cream were “pondered in the 18th century; commercially achieved in the USA during the 1930s.” A 1932 newspaper display ad in the Ardmore [Oklahoma] Daily Admoreite of January 14, 1932 declared, “Extra Special. Rum Raisin Ice Cream. Entirely New.”
Little official documentation exists until the early 1980s when Häagen-Dazs launched the flavor, adding it to their line at that time of chocolate, coffee, strawberry and vanilla. This will surely surprise some people that the fifth flavour was not Pistachio, Cookies & Cream, Caramel, Chocolate Chip, Cherry, Peanut, or Mint... it was Rum Raisin. It's popularity in the American market has waned, and alcoholic ice cream is now more strongly associated with cream liquer, such as Bailey's. The issue, it seems, is not the rum but the raisin, which has become decidedly unsexy, largely replaced as a snack by dried cranberries and other options. This bit of insight is perhaps confirmed by the fact that Haagen Daz has now launched an entire line of Spirits Ice Cream, first in Canada and now in the United States that combine strong alcohol flavours with appealing, modern desserts; Irish Cream Brownie, Rum Tres Leches, Bourbon Vanilla Bean Truffle, Stout Chocolate Pretzel Crunch, and Bourbon Praline Pecan. Each contains less than 0.5 percent alcohol per volume.
As providers of flavour solutions we at Stuart Brothers are looking on at this development with great interest. We feel very connected to this idea of boozy confectionery and stand ready to help those who want to explore it further, perhaps the time is right for the return of Rum 'N Raisin or Rum Cream on it's own? Or... let's talk over a rum and coconut water, see what we come up with.