Are you ready to get your pirate on? Well strap on your peg-leg and gather your doubloons, because now is a better time than ever to take a rum tour of the Caribbean.
History of Rum in the Caribbean
Let’s start with the basics first. Rum is an alcoholic drink made from sugarcane, which grows in abundance in the heat of many of the Caribbean islands. First, the sugarcane is harvested and boiled down to produce refined sugar. The leftover product is molasses, a gooey, sweet substance that is about 55% percent sugar. Distillers then take the molasses, ferment it and distill it to produce a clear liquid. The liquid is then introduced to oak casks and aged, which gives it a golden color. Rum can be aged for 20 years or more, making it one of the most varied types of alcohol in the world.
Each island in the Caribbean has a different tradition of making rum, giving this tour a diverse and colorful history.
Rum drinkers thirsting for a taste of history should start in Jamaica with the Appleton Estate. A rum producer for more than 250 years, this estate flourishes on tradition. The harvesters still cut down their sugarcane allotment with machetes, just as the first rum makers did when Jamaica was still a British colony.
The estate is located in the heart of the Nassau Valley and is the most well-known producer of rum on the island. They distribute five brands of rum – White, Special, Estate V/X, Estate Extra and Estate 21 Years Old. Each tour includes a private guide, who will lead you around the vast 11,000 acres and show you how their rum is made, before leading you to the tasting room where the real work begins.
One of the most famous producers of rum in the world is located just outside of Bridgetown, the capital of the friendly island nation of Barbados. The Mount Gay Estate has been producing rum for over 300 years on a ridge in St. Lucy’s Parish. Originally called Mount Gilboa, the estate was renamed in 1801 after the late Sir John Gay Alleyne.
The visitor’s center welcomes over 25,000 guests a year and is well-equipped to accommodate any needs. As the “world’s original rum” be prepared for a serious introduction to rum and its history. According to manager Charmaine Hooper, “The bottling facility produces 18,000 bottles of rum per day...700,000 liters of rum are stored in the warehouse...a liter of rum costs $6.60.”
Hooper recommends that visitors try the original rum and coke when they visit the distillery.
Tortola was originally a stronghold for the British Navy, and gained a somewhat sinful reputation for various illegitimate activities that occurred there. According to legend, naval officers were awarded a ration of daily beer, but the problem was that it didn’t keep very well on long sea voyages. Not only that, but sailors weren’t exactly pleased about the idea of drinking a warm beer on a hot day. So the islanders started selling them copious amounts of rum. In 1665 the problem was so prevalent that it led to the Royal Navy doing away with beer completely and allowing the sailors to receive daily rum rations.
It wasn’t until 1970 that the rum ration was called off. However, the rum distilleries were already so legendary that they just kept their shops open.
The two biggest distilleries are Pusser’s Navy Rum, which now owns and operates a tasting room downtown, and Callwood Distillery, which is still operated by the Callwood family. The Callwood’s “Arundel All-Natural Rum” is made without preservatives and chemicals, and makes the bold claim that drinking it will not produce a hangover.
Dominica is for the indie, backpacking rum-drinkers who want to take a step off the beaten path. Whereas a distillery like Mount Gay exports 85% of their rum abroad to over 70 countries, Soca Rum in Dominica is only sold… in Dominica. It’s still a family run business that prides itself on its patriotism and the quality of its rum.
The facility employed about 40 full time workers in the 1960s, when rum was in its heyday. Today, the company employs just 18 workers. The tasting room is only open for two-to-three months a year and according to its manager, “Barcardi probably spills more than we make.” However, locals (and critics agree) say that Soca Rum is some of the most refined rum available, making this out-of-the-way tour a must see.
Antigua is home to the innovative rum producer the Antigua Distillery. As a relatively new distillery (at only 75 years old), the Antigua Distillery has fought hard to establish itself amongst the world’s best rum makers. In 2004, it won several distinguished honors for its Nutpower Peanut Rum Cream and its flagship English Harbour Extra Old.
“We’re more of a boutique rum producer, which means we have to be creative,” says Gerry Bento, distillery manager. “We put oak chips in the casks to add more surface area for better flavor. We’re into product development, like vodka went into flavors.”
Puerto Rico is home to two of the world’s most famous distilleries - Bacardi and Captain Morgan. Both of these producers have tasting rooms in downtown Old San Juan. Many private tour groups offer day tours around the city with rum tastings in different restaurants and bars. For the genuine experience, head over to the Bacardi distillery. They provide free tours with a detailed explanation on how to make Cuba Libres and Mojitos, as well as providing samples of each drink. Remember to tip your bartender, but otherwise the entire experience is free!
Thanks for our Guest Post
AA Accident Attorneys
4700 Teller Ave. Second Floor
Newport Beach, CA 92260
(949) 660-8753 Ext. 272
Thanks to Randy Wilkes
Station Wine and Spirits
4825 Main Street #7
Spring Hill TN
For Their Great Selections of Rums, Wines and Spirits