Caribbean, Travel and Adventure

The Rum Diary

I have always been a great lover of drinking rum. Whether it be a rum on the rocks or enjoying a Cuba Libre as I watch the sun set from my balcony, it is one of my favourite alcoholic beverages.

When I met Gavin we started a ritual where we would go for a sunset cruise on our little boat in the bay and enjoy a drink or two as we watched the world go by.

Another tradition we have started as we travel the Caribbean is to visit as many rum distilleries across the islands, trying new flavours and watching the many different distillation processes. We have tried a few great ones, a couple of dodgy ones and there are many yet to be discovered. As we continue to travel the Caribbean and indeed the globe, we will carry on our quest to search for our favourite rum.

Below are our tried and tested distilleries and I will add to the list as and when we visit more…

Mount Gay – Barbados

Mount Gay rum has been produced in Barbados since 1703. Originally called ‘Kill Devil’ by the Barbadians who first distilled it.

The sugar in Barbados is some of the finest in the world and in the 18th Century Barbadian molasses was known as ‘Black Gold’. Transforming sugar cane, the raw material used for rum production quickly became more profitable than the production of sugar.

The fermentation here starts with molasses, water and yeast being combined and the process conducted outside under the Barbadian sky. Distillation then occurs in traditional column and copper pot stills, a distillation technique Mount Gay have continuously used since 1703. The rum is then lightly charred in American oak barrels, left to age for 2 to 3 years and then blended.

On the tour you learn about the history of Mount Gay, you get to see the blending and bottling factory and in the ‘tasting’ room, you get to try several rums from the pure silver to the black barrel.

A fabulous day out with a very entertaining and informative tour guide. Highly recommended!

Cruzan – St. Croix

Located on the west end of St. Croix, the Cruzan rum distillery has been producing rum since 1760. The Nelthropp family have crafted rum on the islands for generations using natural ingredients and a unique distillation process.

Aside from the importation of its molasses due to sugar cane not been grown in St. Croix since the 1960’s, fermentation, distillation, aging and blending still takes place on site.

Starting with the fermentation process, the molasses simmers and heats up for 36 hours in huge vats. It is then distilled with its impurities been removed and the alcohol content reduced from 189 to 154 proof.

After distillation, the rum is transferred into old Jim Beam oak barrels to be charred in the aging process.

From here the liquid is then transferred onto trucks and sent to the mainland for bottling.

The factory produces 55,000 gallons of rum per day and is sold all over the states. Only 10% stays in the Caribbean for distribution.

After the tour ends you get sample many of the different flavours of rum either by shot or in a tasty cocktail. Flavours range from raspberry, coconut, black cherry to key lime pie.

A wonderful tour with great guides!

Bacardi – Puerto Rico

I absolutely love Bacardi and was really looking forward to this tour. The factory is located in Catano, located across the water from San Juan.

On arrival you can buy a ticket for a historical tour, a rum tasting tour or a Mixology class. We decided to take the historical tour. Along with the ticket they give you a Bacardi cup and a Bacardi coin.

I must admit I was a little disappointed as this tour wasn’t one where you could go and take a look around the factory and watch as the rum is being made like others we have visited previously. Instead, the tour consisted of firstly being told about the history of sugar cane in the Caribbean. We were then directed into a small room to watch a video about the Bacardi family history and it’s rum making process. From there we entered a museum where there was a recreation of their first ever distillery consisting of barrels, photos, family memorabilia and the original bottles. We also found out that the reason for the brands ‘bat’ logo was due to the original distilleries structure, which was home to fruit bats. It was from there the logo originated. The next room we entered was the bar! Here we thought we were going to get to sample the rum, however we got to watch the barman make a couple of cocktails such as the Mojito and Cuba Libre and were not able to taste any of them.

After the tour we walked back to the main visitor center where the bar was located. Here you could have one free cocktail and a second if you wanted to hand in your commemorative Bacardi coin.

All in all it was a interesting 45 minute tour, however not one of my favourites.

Callwood – British Virgin Islands

Located in the back streets of Cane Garden on Tortola, the Callwood family took over the distillery in the late 18th century and has been producing rum for over 200 years. Rum is produced annually here from March through to August.

Distillation starts by putting the cut cane through the pressing mill. Juice is extracted and flows into the large iron cauldrons (coppers). The liquid is then boiled on a fire made from dry cane husks. The fermented mixture is boiled again until it reaches its production point and then sent through a cooling system. The rum is then stored in barrels for the aging process.

This small local distillery makes just 25 gallons per day. Arundels four rums consist of the unaged white, a four year rum, a ten year blend and the popular ‘panty dropper’.

Michael who runs the distillery is a great host and lets you try all four rums for only $1! Definitely worth a visit.

River Antoine – Grenada

Constructed in 1785, this privately owned rum distillery is the oldest functioning water propelled distillery making it unique to the Caribbean. As you walk around the site it is almost like going back in time to the colonial era, as both the machinery and rum production process go back to the 1800’s and have never been changed since.

The sugar cane is locally grown, hand cut and twice crushed. The cane crushing machine used to extract the juices is powered by a huge waterwheel powered by water channeled from the local river.  The crushed stalks are then placed in an old railway truck and taken to be dumped in mounds around the building to dry out in the sun, a process called ‘Bagasse’ and later used as a fertiliser for the cane fields.

The cane juice is then filtered through wicker mats and ladled through large copper basins. As the juice goes from one basin to the next it gradually heats up and the syrup gets thicker in the process as the water evaporates. The juice is then transported from the boiler house to the fermentation room where it spends up to a week. The juice is left in large concrete tanks to ferment naturally and no yeast is needed. After this process the juice is ready to be distilled. Rum is then poured into large plastic coolers and later hand poured into bottles.

Rivers rum doesn’t export outside Grenada. It is so popular amongst the locals that they cannot even keep up with local demand. The strongest rum which this distillery produce is also so strong that it is not allowed on aeroplanes as it is considered a combustible liquid.

If you manage to head down to the distillery for a tour, be sure to ask for Elon. He is a great guide!

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