St. Lucia Rum Trip
Before deciding to visit Barbados for an exciting rum trip, The Rumelier was lucky enough to win a travel voucher at a local telephone company's promotion. It was decided to put this voucher to good use, and while in Barbados spend a day flying over to St.Lucia. The Rumelier sent out a few e-mails and before long had organized a tour of St.Lucia Distillers Distillery in Roseau, St.Lucia.

The Famous Piton Mountains in St.Lucia.

On the day of trip to St.Lucia The Rumelier and Mrs. Rumelier had a very early start from their hotel on the east coast of Barbados, for their taxi ride to the airport. While a fairly long journey, it was very relaxing to be travelling through endless fields of lush green sugar cane, swaying gently in the early morning breeze, and even passing a working sugar mill, still lit up with night lights.
After the short flight over the clear Caribbean Sea to St.Lucia, it was off to the hotel in Rodney Bay. The Rumeliers stayed the night at Sandals Halcyon, which is situated right on the water in beautiful Rodney Bay.
After check-in and lunch a representative from St.Lucia Distillers picked up The Rumeliers from their hotel for the drive through continuous fields of Bananas to the Roseau Valley. Bananas have replaced sugar cane as the main agricultural crop in St.Lucia, meaning the distillery now imports all of its molasses from Guyana. At the time of The Rumelier's visit to the distillery they were experimenting with growing their own sugar cane, trying various different strains of sugar cane. The idea for the near future was to produce a French style Agricole Rhum.

Bananas Have Replaced Sugar Cane in St.Lucia.

Once The Rumeliers had travelled through the beautiful and fertile Roseau Valley, they arrived at the entrance to St.Lucia Distillers. Once passed the security gate they were introduced to Michael Speakman, Sales Manager for the St.Lucia Distillers group of companies.

After the introductions The Rumeliers were given the "Rhythm of Rum Tour". The tour starts with a brief video presentation, which is held inside a replica of a ship hold. The video describes how rum is produced, its connection to the island and the distillery's family beginnings.

After the video presentation The Rumeliers were given a guided tour of the distillery. This started by walking through the main part of the distillery, passed the large molasses vats and into the fermentation room. Inside the fermentation room there were several open vats of fermenting molasses. The guide proceeded up to the top of the vats so that the molasses can be seen inside the vats, being eaten up by the fast acting yeast and turning it into a week alcohol mixture. This was probably the most intriguing visual experience of the tour.

Copper Pot Still with Retorts.

The aroma of fermenting molasses filled the air. This was the first time The Rumelier had seen molasses fermenting in large concrete vats, more often than not these days this important part of rum production is performed in large stainless steel tanks or vats.

Next to the fermenting tanks were the copper pot stills and in the distance the column still. The copper pot stills (pictured left) are amazing pieces of engineering and are used mainly for the heavier flavours they give to a final rum blend. They are not as economical as their close cousins, the column stills. Pot stills are single batch stills, making them less cost effective than the continuous column still, that can distill fermented molasses non-stop.

Just as The Rumelier entered the still room one of the copper pot stills was being filled up to distill another batch of rum. It was interesting to see and feel the still starting to heat up. This was a first hand experience of rum being made right in-front of your eyes, an amazing experience for any rum lover. The still room is the heart of any distillery and sometimes the most closely guarded secret. In the case of St.Lucia Distillers it was wide open to see and take photographs, a rare occurrence.

Copper Pot Still at St.Lucia Distillers.

After finishing the tour of the still room it was off to see the bottling line. Unfortunately this could only be viewed from the outside, for health and safety reasons.

Many people's favourite part of the tour and usually the last stop was next. This was the tasting or sampling bar. Here there was a wide array of rum bottles on display for sampling. Small plastic cups were provided, as was a water fountain, to help cleanse the palate. There was easily twenty different rums and liqueurs waiting to be sampled.

The Rumelier's gladly obliged, and started the enjoyable self-service tasting session. The were all diferent types of rum to be sampled. There were premium, gold, white, overproof, spiced, flavoured and liqueurs of every description. St.Lucia Distillers are a fairly small distillery, but they produce one of the largest rum portfolios in the world.

After The Rumelier's had over indulged in the rum sampling they were invited to meet the director of St.Lucia Distillers, Mr. Laurie Barnard, upstairs in the company's offices. After introductions, there was much discussion about rum production and future plans for the company, aswell as tasting some more fine rums produced at the distillery.

Mrs. Rumelier Tasting Some Rums at the Bar.

Brief History of St.Lucia Distillers Group
The history of rum in St.Lucia, as elsewhere in the Caribbean, is linked like twins, to the production of sugar and it's waste products. This story is told over and over in countless Caribbean islands.
Rum production can be traced back to the establishment of the first sugar plantations in the late 1700's. Along with the sugar plantations came a vast influx of imported African slave labour. These slaves were needed to maintain and grow the labour intensive sugar cane crop. African slaves were later replaced by indentured Indian labourers, who were promised land after their contracts were finished.
The ancestors of these imported foreign labourers today provide a great deal of the local population.
Sugar was the main agricultural crop in St.Lucia for decades to come, most of which was exported to its colonial master, England. Many of the sugar plantations supplemented their income from sugar production with small amounts of rum.
The first loyal customers to this unaged, raw form of alcohol were the slaves who cultivated the cane themselves. This rum did not resemble the fine rums that are produced today, but it was considered a cure all and aided the slaves to survive their miserable existence in the hot, humid cane fields.
In 1922, the Barnard family, which had previously been involved in the coaling industry in St. Lucia, purchased the large sugar estate in Dennery. The Dennery Estate is located on the east coast, in the valley of the same name. Ten years after the Barnard family purchased the estate Denis Barnard founded a rum distilery and used their own molasses to produced rum.

St.Lucia Distillery.

By the middle of the last century sugar production in St. Lucia was on the decline. The demand for sugar in Europe was on the decline, mainly due to the growth of sugar beet production in these colder northern countries. The new crop of choice in St. Lucia was bananas. This also meant the decline of the small rum distilleries was imminent, as expensive imported molasses would now have to be used to produce a local rum. At the the end of the Second World War there was only three distillers surviving, Cul de Sac, Roseau and Dennery. In 1959 giant Dutch banana producer Geest purchased the Cul de Sac and Roseau Valleys and started producing bananas on a huge scale in these fertile valleys. The Dennery company had also stopped growing sugar cane in 1957 and were using imported molasses to produce their rum.

The St.Lucia Distillers Group of Companies is a company that was formed in 1972 as the Geest Industries and Dennery Factory Company Limited joined together to form one company, with one distillery. They intially produced a rum called Denros Bounty Rum, that has since been discontinued, when they moved their operations to the current site in the Roseau Valley. The Roseau Valley was chosen for its deep water harbour, where the molasses could easily be transferred to the distillery. 

The Barnard family had been producing rum at the Dennery Factory for generations and were known for making strong, overproof rums.

Fort Rodney on Pigeon Island, Rodney Bay.

In 1992 the Barnard family bought out the Geest shares and in 1997 sold 24.9% of its shares to the Trinidad and Tobago based Angostura Limited, which helped in gain a bigger presence in the region and enabled to company to modernize and upgrade its distillery. A new bottling line was built in 1998 which enabled the company to blend and botle a wide range of diferrent rums and liqueurs. They also added new copper pot stills to compliment their two column continuous still, which also complimented the new bottling line and allowed the company to produce a wide range of different of rums.

In 2005 the Barnard family, who had been planters and rum distillers for over a century sold the company to CLICO. Laurie Barnard stayed with the company as Managing Director and has hepled guide to company to producing the most diversified collection of rums produced by any single company.