A Colourful Mount Gay Rum Shop in Barbados.
Seeding Sugar Cane in Barbados c.1890.

Barbados Rum Trip 
The Rumelier and Mrs. Rumelier travelled south to the Caribbean island of Barbados in 2006 for ten days of much deserved vacation, to an island that is considered by many to be the home of rum.
Of course, if The Rumelier is going to visit another island, there has to be some rum attractions to see to make the trip worthwhile. This was certainly the case in Barbados. There were three distilleries to visit as well as endless sugar cane fields, old windmills, sugar mills, hundreds of rum shops and of course a deep rooted rum culture. All these exciting attractions were waiting to be discovered and explored, a rum lovers fantasy come true.

The Rumeliers decided to stay at the Sea-U Guesthouse in beautiful Bathsheba, on the East coast of Barbados. This amazing location overlooked the Atlantic Ocean, with the next landmass east being Africa.

Bathsheba is a small fishing village that is also known for its beautiful beaches (shown below) and great surf. It is far from the more popular Bridgetown on the West coast or other tourist destinations, but is a quiet retreat at the end of a busy day sightseeing. The perfect way to end the day was swinging in a hammock, with a glass of Mount Gay Extra Old on the rocks, and watching the monkeys playing in the coconut trees, the stuff of dreams.

Cutting Sugar Cane in Barbados, c.1960.
Cutting cane by hand was the only method used for centuries.

Rum on the Island of Barbados

Whether or not rum originated on Barbados is not certain, but the oldest known commercial distillery, Mount Gay, has been producing rum since 1703. The island was initially settled in 1627, and distillation of rum from the island's sugar cane probably began in the 1640s. Rum quickly became an important export, and was known as "Barbados water" in London by the end of the century. It also became a staple on British war ships, and has been associated with seafaring ever since.

Sugar cane was brought from Brazil to Barbados by Pieter Blower in 1637, and originally was used to make rum. But soon after this small island country was reaping great profits from sugar production and the hard work of the local slave population. This gave a boost to the slave trade between the Dutch and Portugese, and the plantations grew, so boosting the local economy. Barbados rapidly became the envy of many a Caribbean colony.

Today sugar cane still flourishes across the island's 166 square miles, and the aromatic molasses produced from the cane becomes the distilled drink of choice for Bajans and tourists alike. Barbados rum is carefully crafted, and the premium labels are double-distilled. Kentucky Bourbon white oak barrels are more-often used to age the rum, and the final product can be as soft and complex as any fine whiskey.

Connoisseurs look for hints of vanilla, coffee, chocolate, banana and almond, and favourites are debated in rum shops and restaurants across the island. You will find a wide variety of colorful brands available in the rum shops and liquor stores, including Cockspur, Doorly's, E.S.A. Field, Malibu, Mount Gay and Old Brigand.

Bajan rum distillers tend to use both old fashioned pot stills and the more modern column still to produce their rums. The first column still was introduced to Barbados in 1926, so increasing efficiency, but subsequently reducing flavour, resulting in a need to keep the pot stills for more flavourful rum. The distillers later blend their rums from a combination of both column still and pot still rums to make a very smooth, medium bodied rum that Barbados has become internationally famous for.

The Atlantic Ocean Meets Barbados at Bathsheba.

West Indies Rum Distillery
The first stop on the rum voyage of discovery was the West Indies Rum Distillery in Black Rock, St. Michael. This distillery is most famous for making Malibu Rum and has the logo painted in numerous locations around the visitor centre. Cockspur Rum, a fine example of a Bajan style rum is also produced in this location. This is the only distillery located on a beach in the Caribbean, an idyllic location for a distillery tour, lunch and a few cocktails. Life was already beginning to slow down to island time.

Malibu, the only distillery on the beach.
The Rumelier waiting for his guided tour of the distillery.
Molasses Arriving from the Dock at Malibu.
Once in the tank the molasses is pumped across the road to be fermented.

The West Indies Rum Distillery was established in 1893 by the Stades brothers who were Germans by birth. The main purpose for the building of the distillery was to export the rum they produced to their homeland. Even though the brothers did not keep the distillery for a lenghty period of time, they were pioneers in the scientific production of rum. They introduced the first continuous still to the Caribbean, vastly increasing the ammounts of rum they were able to produce. This method proved much more productive than the time tested method of copper pot still, single batch distillation.

These days the distillery is mostly owned by a local Bajan company called Goddard Enterprises Ltd. This company continues to use the original continuous still along with a very modern four column continuous still, as well as two old fashioned pot stills. This allows the company to produce a large variety of different rum marks, either for aging or for bottling directly.

Today the company has sixty two employees working in its Distillery, aging  and distribution warehouses and bottling plant. The distillery can produce up to nine million litres of pure alcohol a year and has warehousing space for one and a half million litres of bulk rum in stainless steel tanks, which is exported to different locations around the world. They also have over twenty thousand, two hundred litre, American White Oak barrels of rum aging in their warehouses. Of all this rum they bottle about one hundred and fifty thousand cases a year. The company not only bottles rum, but also gin, vodka and water.

The Entrance to the Malibu Visitor Center.

One of the most famous rums to be produced in Barbados is Cockspur. This rum is distilled at the West Indies Rum Distillery and then purchased by Hanschell Inniss Ltd. which was founded in 1884 by Valdemar Hanschell. The rum is then transported to Fontabelle, north of Bridgetown, where it is blended and bottled before it is shipped all over the world, either in bulk containers or in bottles. It is also bottled in several other countries around the world, after it has arrived in bulk containers.

Even though many rums from the West Indies Rum Distillery are sold to different bottlers, there is much variety in what is being bottled, due manily to the large range of rums they produce from their different distillation stills and also the difference in the aging barrels used.

West Indies Distillery on the Beach, Barbados.

Mount Gay Visitor Centre
The Mount Gay Rum distillery operates a visitor center 5 minutes north of Bridgetown, the island's capital, and just a short walk from the cruise ship terminal. The center is open from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, Monday through Friday, and offers hourly tours beginning at 9:30 am. A basic tour lasts about 45 minutes and costs $7 U.S. Two expanded tours are also offered, one that includes lunch on the veranda after the basic tour, for $40 U.S., and a cocktail tour that is offered in the afternoon for $30. The centre attracts about 25,000 visitors every year.
The Rumeliers decided to opt for the lunch tour, which included a superb buffet of local specialties, including the famous Barbados flying fish, and of course several glasses of Mount Gay Extra Old, one of The Rumelier's all time favourite rums.
The tour starts off on the veranda with a complimentary rum punch, which is followed by a guided walk through a replica of an old Barbados rum shop and into a museum of interesting artifacts of the company's history and rum production. A video presentation delves deeper into the history of the company. There is also an opportunity to touch and smell the essential elements (sugar cane, molasses, and distilled unaged rum) used in the rum making process. This was then followed by a tour of the aging and bottling warehouses. Unfortunately the coopers were not working during this visit, usually a highlight of any distillery tour.

The Mount Gay Visitor Center.

After the informative guided tour it was off to the retail shop to buy some t-shirts and bottles of rum. Here the Rumelier was welcomed by Peter Marshall, Sales and Marketing Director for Mount Gay Distilleries Limited, who presented The Rumelier with one of the company's prestigious red sailing caps, amongst other goodies. Then it was off to have lunch with Peter and a few well chosen drinks.
The lunch was excellent, made even better by the location, close to the waterfront. This was a true island experience, not to be missed on any visit to Barbados.

The Old Aging Warehouses, Mt. Gay Visitor Center.
Welcome to the Mount Gay Distillery, St.Lucy.

Brief History of Mount Gay
Mount Gay Rum is thought to be the oldest rum company in the world and can trace its history through legal documents as far back as 1703. This document lists various pieces of equipment necessary for the production of rum, which obviously conveys that rum was already in production before 1703, probably as early as the 1640's. Barbados was first settled by the British in 1627, which made it one of the last Caribbean islands to be settled by Europeans.
A famous saying says, that wherever the British settled they built pubs or taverns first, the Spanish built their churches and the Dutch built forts. This may explain why there are well over a thousand rum shops on this small Caribbean island and why there is a deep rooted rum culture instilled in the local population. The Bajans make a point of consuming their fare share of the national beverage, from the cradle to the grave. The birth of a baby is toasted in rum, as are birthdays and marriages, aswell as funerals where sorrows are often drowned at a favourite watering hole or rum shop.
The Mount Gay Distillery lies on a ridge situated in the north of Barbados, in St.Lucy Parish, far from the visitor centre. An ancient law in Barbados from 1904 prohibits the aging and bottling of rum at the same location as the distillation. This means that the rum gets to travel all over the island before being exported or sold locally. About 80 to 85% of Mount Gay's total rum production is exported, with about 40% of all exports going to the U.S.A.
Mount Gay are the only one of the three main rum distillers in Barbados that do not bottle or sell bulk rum for private labels. They however, do ship rum in bulk containers to Kentucky, U.S.A. where it is in turn bottled by the Jim Beam Company as Mount Gay Rum. It is cheaper to ship liquids in bulk, rather than the finished product in bottles. In turn, Jim Beam send their used Bourbon barrels to Barbados, where they are reassembled by a cooper, who uses cane lily plants to seal the spaces between the staves. Mount Gay Rum acquires much of its flavour from the Jim Beam that was previously aged in the barrels.

Welcome to Mt. Gay Visitor Center Mrs. Rumelier.
The small museum is designed to replicate an old rum shop.
Fermentation vats at the Mount Gay Distillery.

The location of todays distillery was once known as Mount Gilboa, which coincidently is the name of a recently launched premium rum in Barbados, and was divided into several small plantations. In the early 18th century William Sandiford bought most of this land and turned it into the 280 acre Mount Gilboa Plantation. After his death Sandiford passed the plantation onto his son, who in turn sold it to an English gentleman, ironically called, John Sober. Sober and his son Cumberpatch rarely visited their estate and entrusted the day to day running of their affairs to their good friend Sir John Gay Alleyne. Sir John Alleyne died in 1801 and Cumberbatch decided to honor his friend for all his dedicated work, by renaming the estate Mount Gay. A mount called Alleyne already existed in Barbados at the time. The Sober family continued to control the plantation until 1860, mainly as absentee landlords.
One of the most influential people involved in the development of Mount Gay Rum was Aubrey Ward, who bought the plantation outright in the early 1900's. He is responsible for introducing new methods to the production of rum, while maintaining the rums outstanding character and tradition. Ward along with his business partner John Hutson also introduced Mount Gay to the international market. To this day you will still Aubrey Ward's signature on every bottle of Mount Gay Rum, so maintaining his lasting legacy.
In more recent times the Ward family continues to be involved with the company, although the majority interest of 90% of the comapny was sold to the French company Remy Cointreau. This has allowed Mount Gay Rum to be distributed extensively all over the world through Remy Cointreau's international distribution network.

Click here to watch a brief video of the Mount Gay distillery.

Rum Aging Slowly at Mount Gay.
Sugar Cane Fields are Endless in Barbados.
The Rumelier at the Foursquare Distillery.

R.L. Seale's Foursquare Distillery
The Hopefield estate in St.Philip Parish, was originally founded in the 17th century, but was forced to cease operations in 1984 when the sugar industry was rationalised in Barbados. In 1996 Sir David Seale, a well known local businessman completely renovated the 8 acre old sugar plantation. The old buildings were restored and the distillery was fitted with the most modern distilling equipment available, rivalling only Bacardi in Puerto Rico. The distillery is highly computerized and can be run by a team of just two men.
The distillery is known as the Foursquare Distillery and Heritage Park, named after Square Pond in the area. Today the distillery is the third largest in Barbados and the first new distillery to be opened since the 19th century.
The distillery is open for self-guided tours, but is well off the beaten tourist track. The distillery is situated inside a Heritage Park, where there are numerous craft shops, an art gallery, an amphitheatre and of course a gift shop, where you can sample the various rum products produced by the distillery and purchase many rum themed items.
Some of the rums produced at the Foursquare Distillery include, Foursquare Spiced Rum, Doorly's, Old Brigand, Tommy Bahama, ESA Field, and Alleyne Arthur.

MounT Gilboa Rum from Barbados.

Mount Gilboa Triple Distilled Pot Still Rum from Barbados
One of the latest rums to be produced in Barbados is Mount Gilboa Triple Distilled Pot Still Rum. The Rumelier discovered this rum while attending the Rumfest in London, England. This is not commercially available in the UK, but the Rumelier did manage to acquire a bottle of this fine tasting rum from the person directly responsible for it's distillation.
Mount Gilboa is situated in the northern point of Barbados, in St.Lucy Parish, where they have been making fine rums for over 300 years. This tradition continues today with this pot still rum, being made by direct family descendants of the distillery founder Aubrey Ward (you will see his signature on every bottle of Mount Gay rum).
Making rum was Aubrey Ward's relentless passion. This passion has continued into his fourth generation descendant, Frank Ward Jr. creator of this unique rum.
The rum is triple distilled using only pot still rum. No continuous still rum is involved in the blend and no caramel or colourings are used in the final blend, so colour may vary from batch to batch.
The rum will only be available at duty free stores in Barbados and will not compete against Mount Gay rum in the local market. It will retail for approximately $50 when available. The rum is being produced by The Rum Refinery of Mount Gay Limited which is a separate entity from Mount Gay Rum, the most famous rum to be produced in Barbados. They make the rum for Mount Gay and later sell it to them. There is a law in Barbados that goes back centuries stating that rum distillers were not allowed to produce, age and bottle their rums in the same location. Mount Gay rum actually puts in many miles up and down the island before it is actually bottled.
This rum continues the long tradition of producing fine rums from the birthplace of rum Barbados.
Watch a video of Frank Ward Jr. talk about Mount Gilboa Rum and rum in Barbados.

A Model of a Barbados Copper Pot Still.

St. Nicholas Abbey Rum
Another newcomer on the Bajan rum scene is St. Nicholas Abbey Rum. This rum is currently being produced by RL Seale at the Foursquare Distillery and then bottled at the Abbey. It is planned for the Abbey to eventually distill and age its own rum from fresh sugar cane juice grown on the 400 acre estate.
The St. Nicholas Abbey is one of only three remaining Jacobean great houses left in the Western Hemisphere, and was built in 1658, just thirty years after the first British settlers arrived on the island. The Abbey is situated in St. Peter, Cherry Tree Hill amongst 400 acres of lush mahogany forests and sugar cane fields and is thought to be the oldest building in Barbados.
Today the Warren family who purchased the estate in 2006 are attempting to restore the Abbey and its estate to its original condition.

St. Nicholas Abbey, recently restored.

The Warren family are trying to recreate an sugar old estate feeling by producing sugar related products, such as sugar, molasses and rum. They are rebuilding an old steam mill that will be used to crush the fresh sugar cane and are building a still house to hold the custom made copper pot stills and distilling apparatus. The rum will be aged in the old stables, where the cool trade-winds will mature the rum.
Currently the rum that is produced by RL Seale is initially aged at 65% alc/vol in used Bourbon oak barrels for eight years. The rum is then watered down to bottle strength and re-barrelled for another two years at the Abbey. Once readyfor bottling the rum is hand-bottled straight from the cask, unblended, into a glass decanter style bottle. The bottle has been etched with a picture of the Jacobean Abbey and is sealed with a mahogany cork. Each bottle is engraved with its individual number and the date of bottling.
In the years to come more of the rum made at the Abbey will be blended into the rum purchased from RL Seale. This means that the blend will ultimately change and eventually only rum distilled at the Abbey will be used. This will be first sugar cane juice rum to be made in Barbados..

The Old Windmill at St.Nicolas Abbey.
A Restored Windmill in Barbados.
Wind was the main source of power for decades.
An old rum magazine ad. for Alleyne Arthur's Rum.
Mrs. Rumelier at the Foursquare Distillery.

Ode to Rum

"The horse and mule live thirty years,

And nothing know of wine and beers.

The goat and sheep at thirty die

And never taste of scotch or rye,

The cow drinks water by the ton,

And at eighteen is nearly done.

The dog at fifteen cashes in

Without the aid of rum or gin,

The cat in milk and water soaks,

And then in twelve short years it croaks,

The modest, sober, bone dry hen

Lays eggs for nogs, then dies at ten.

All animals are strictly dry

They sinless live and swiftly die

But sinful, ginful, rum-soaked men

Survive for three score years and ten."

Poem taken from "The Barbados Book" by Louis Lynch, 1964.

An old photo of Bridgetown Harbour Policemen.
The police were there to control all the traffic in the harbour.
Doorly's Harbour Policeman from Barbados.
Probably the most famous rum bottle from Barbados.
An old postcard of Bridgetown Harbour.
The small lighter boats were controlled by the Harbour Police.
The Highest Rum Shop in Barbados.
Chalky Mount Bar, one of thousands of rum shops in Barbados.

For a beautiful photo tour of Barbados click this link.