Old Barrels at the Port Vale Sugar Factory used for starting the boilers.

Barbados Rum Trip 2

The Rumelier had just got back from the Miami Rum Renaissance in May 2010 when he was asked if he wanted to go to a Mount Gay Rum conference in Barbados, staying four nights at the Barbados Hilton. After very little thought he volunteered for another rum adventure to the beautiful southern Caribbean country of Barbados. Unfortunately The Rumelier only had one day, a Saturday, to do some rumming after all his official functions had been completed. As it was "slow season" all of the rum distilleries were closed on Saturdays to visitors, so he was limited in what he could discover on this, his second trip to the "home of rum".

The Rumelier had however managed  to make contact with the organizers of the upcoming "Caribbean Rum and Beer Festival", which is scheduled to take place in November, 2010. Two of the organizers of the Festival very kindly volunteered to be The Rumelier's guides around the island for the day.  A generous offer, very gladly accepted by The Rumelier. ( http://www.rumandbeerfestival.com/ ) 

Even though all of the rum attractions were supposed to be closed on Saturdays the small group of rum adventurers did manage to access three of the islands top attractions, even if on just a limited basis. As well there were always well over one thousand rum shops to visit, which would keep anybody busy for a day. Apparently there are as many rum shops as there are churches! This rum adventure along with The Rumelier's official visit to Mount Gay made for another great visit to Barbados, even if a fairly short one.

The Mount Gay Aging and Blending Warehouses

The Rum Refinery of Mount Gay.
The Rum Refinery is situated alongside the Blending and Aging Warehouses.
Entrance sigh to the Rum Refinery of Mount Gay.

The main reason for flying to Barbados was that The Rumelier had been invited to attend a Remy-Cointreau seminar in Barbados for two full days, where he was to not only learn a great deal about Mount Gay Rums but also about Remy Martin Cognacs, which he learnt were distilled and aged very similarly to rums in the Caribbean.

However, his first official function was a tour of the Mount Gay Aging and Blending Warehouses in the parish of St.Lucy, situated in the northern part of Barbados, a long drive from Bridgetown. The Rum Refinery of Mount Gay is a seperate sister company that is situated alongside the blending and aging warehouses on top of a hill, overlooking the surrounding fields full of sugar cane, at various stages of growth. Once the rum is distilled at the refinery using both copper pot stills and column stills it is then pumped via pipes to the blending and aging facility nextdoor. Once the rum arrives at the blending warehouse, the double distillate rum from the copper pot stills and single distillate from the column stills is stored in huge tanks (pictured below) until it is ready to be blended and stored in oak barrels for slow aging for up to 30 years.

Large Rum Storage Tanks.
The distilled rum is pumped to the blending warehouse from the nearby distillery.

The small group of Mount Gay distributors arrived at the facility eager to learn as much as possible about one of the world's most famous rums. Once they were inside the compound they were greeted by their guide for the tour,Mount Gay Master Blender, Allen Smith (pictured below). This was a special treat for the group, to be given a tour by a master blender is a rare occurrence that few receive, especially as tours are not usually given of the facility.
After the welcoming greetings were over the group were briefly shown a view of the rum refinery next door and given a brief explanation of the distillation processes used. The group could see the molasses tanks and the still house from the blending warehouse. Next the group was taken inside to see where the rum is blended in even larger tanks (100,000 gallons) before it is pumped into the used Kentucky Bourbon barrels. The same location is also used for emptying the barrels after the rum has been aged for several years.
The same area was also used as a staging area for all the "new" Kentucky Bluegrass barrels that arrive in 40 foot shipping containers. The new barrels were much cleaner than the older barrels that are sometimes stored for up to 30 years in one of the three huge aging warehouses.

Allen Smith, Master Blender at Mount Gay Rum.

The new barrels are previously used bourbon barrels which are filled and emptied from the side of the barrels, where the bourbon is usually poured into a tank in the ground when they are emptied. At Mount Gay, and like many other rum distilleries, the new barrels have a hole drilled into the top of the barrel so that the barrel is filled and emptied standing upright. This means the barrels are also stored upright to avoid leaking, as opposed to bourbon barrels that are usually stored on their sides. At Mount Gay 6 barrels are stored and transported on special hardwood pallets that originate from Guyana in South America. The pallets are only stacked 5 high due to the weight of the rum and barrels. To stack the rum any higher the pallets would have to be wider to avoid any swaying of the stacks of rum.
Currently Mount Gay have three aging warehouses, with each one storing approximately 9000 barrels. There are plans to build another one in the near future, as all the warehouses are filled to capacity with aging rum at the present time.
The whole pumping, filling and blending process is completely computerized from a control room situated on the second floor of the warehouse building. This was the next stop for the small group during their tour of the facility. Once inside the much needed air conditioned room Allen Smith demonstrated how the computer system worked and showed how the rum was pumped from one location to another.

"New" Oak Barrels from Kentucky at Mount Gay.
The Barrels are stacked on special hardwood pallets from Guyana.
Barrels Waiting to be Filled with Rum at Mount Gay
Bourbon Barrels are filled from the side and are usually re-drilled on top at rum distilleries.
A Tanker being filled with rum headed for Brandons

The Mount Gay Visitor Center

Sign at the Mount Gay Visitor Center.

The Mount Gay Visitor Center is one of the most popular tourist attractions on the island of Barbados. It's close proximity to the cruise ship terminal and main harbour make it a must see destination for many visitors, and of course the free samples of rum always help to make this one of the top attractions in Barbados.
This was The Rumelier's second visit to the center, courtesy of Mount Gay. The previous time was during a vacation several years before. The small group was unfortunately too late to partake in the buffet lunch as they had got delayed at one of the islands plentiful rum shops.

The oldest pot still in the world.

After brief introductions a small group of tourists joined The Rumelier's group for a guided tour of the small museum that is situated in a building designed to look like a typical Barbados rum shop. The guide was very knowledgeable and informative as she showed the group many of the historical items in the Mount Gay Museum. There were several old copper pot stills on display along with numerous old Mount Gay bottles.

The group also got to watch a short documentary movie about the history of the company from the early beginnings in Barbados to the present day.  

Mount Gay Ambassador Chester Brown, left.
A flight of Mount Gay Rums.
Mount Gay, the Rum that Invented Rum.

The West Indies Rum Distillery

Beachfront view of the West Indies Rum Distillery.

The West Indies Rum Distillery was the first stop on the day of "rumming" with the organizers of the Caribbean Rum and Beer festival, Cheryl and Glyn. The distillery is best known for producing both Malibu and Cockspur Rums.

On arrival at the distillery, which is situated right on the beach at Brighton, Black Rock, it was noticed that all wall murals that once advertised Malibu (see previous page) rum had been removed. The walls were now bare and unpainted. Across from the closed visitor center are numerous aging warehouses and the molasses storage tanks. Here the molasses is unloaded from large trucks that bring the molasses from the harbour. The molasses is poured into a hole in the ground where it is transferred into large open storage tanks. There was a strong smell of molasses around the tanks and it was possible to actually taste some of the molasses by reaching into the tanks.

Where the molasses is unloaded in the ground it was actually fermenting (shown below) using natural yeasts found in the atmosphere and rain water. This was an amazing sight for the group who could not resist the temptation to taste some of the naturally fermenting molasses. A very unique experience for any rum enthusiast.

Molasses Underground Tank.

Behind the molasses storage area were several rum aging warehouses. All of the outside walls of the warehouses had a black residue covering them, a familiar sight at many distilleries around the Caribbean.

Outside one of the warehouses were several sections of old stainless steel column distillation stills. The group were very interested to see inside the different sections of the stills lying on the ground. The distillery now has a huge four column still enclosed in a tall steel building. (pictured below) It can be guessed that these were parts from a previously used still(s).

It was not possible to enter any of the warehouses as they were all locked up for the weekend and were most likely under government control and bonded. After the short tour around the warehouses the group then crossed over the road to the closed visitor center. Around to the side of the center it was possible to access the inside of the visitor compound where the distillery tours commence and finish.

Still House at the WIRD.

On a previous visit to the once called Malibu Visitor Center The Rumelier had been given a brief guided tour of the distillery followed by lunch and several samples of rum. Unfortunately as the center was now closed it was not possible to access the distillery for a full tour. However, the small group did manage to view the inside of a small storage area that held some old copper pot stills and several old barrels and other distillery equipment. This was followed by a stroll down to the beach for a beach-side view of the distillery. This is the only beach-side distillery in the Caribbean, a unique location indeed.

Once finished with their self-guided mini tour of the visitor center the group proceeded along the road that runs parallel to the distillery to view the huge still houses and other sections of the distillery. At the end of the distillery the road turns down to the beach. Here a large group of locals were bathing in the warm water being discharged from the distillery into the sea. Apparently the warm water is supposed to have healing powers for the human body. Unfortunately the group had not bought their bathing suits with them to experience yet another very unique experience at the West Indies Rum Distillery. 

Aging Warehouse at WIRD.

While the distillery was not officially open for tours the small group of rum enthusiasts did manage to get a sneak view of various parts of the distillery. The Rumelier is not sure of what plans there are for the visitor's tour if any.

There were several unique sights to be seen and enjoyed which would have been made even better witha few samples of rum produced at the distillery.

It was now time to leave the beautiful beach-side distillery and head off to the next rum attraction, the Portvale Sugar Factory, the location for the upcoming Caribbean Rum and Beer Festival. 

Barrels at the West Indies Rum Distillery.

The Portvale Sugar Factory and Museum

Entrance to Portvale Sugar Factory.
Sir Frank Hutson Sugar Museum at Portvale.

The next stop on the tour of rum attractions was the Portvale Sugar Factory. This was The Rumelier's first visit to a working sugar factory and proved to be very interesting. Unfortunately the sugar factory was not producing sugar at the time of the visit as it was outside of the short sugar harvesting season. Instead the factory was in maintenance and clean-up mode.

Once again this attraction was closed to the general public, but as the organizers of the Caribbean Rum and Beer Festival that is due to be held at the sugar factory were acting as guides for The Rumelier there was no problem persuading the security guards that they were not a threat to security and were allowed in through the ornate steel gates.

The site of the Caribbean Beer and Rum Festival.
Storage Tanks at Portvale.

The Rumelier had previously read many books and articles about sugar factories, but he was very impressed to see a factory first hand. The size of the equipment and building in the factory were very impressive. The whole factory was also in very clean condition. There were signs around the factory reminding employees that this was after all a food factory and should be kept clean and safe.

Even though this had been a short unguided tour of the sugar factory the organizers of the Caribbean Rum and Beer festival proved to be a wealth of knowledge, explaining what most of the machinery was used for and the whole sugar production process. The Rumelier believes that this will be a very interesting location for the festival to be held in November 2010. There cannot be rum without sugar, so the connection will make for a very unique location to sample the Caribbean's best rums available.

Old Machinery at Portvale Sugar Factory.

Even though this had been a short unguided tour of the sugar factory the organizers of the Caribbean Rum and Beer festival proved to be a wealth of knowledge, explaining what most of the machinery was used for and the whole sugar production process. The Rumelier believes that this will be a very interesting location for the festival to be held in November 2010. There cannot be rum without sugar, so the connection will make for a very unique location to sample the Caribbean's best rums available.

 The small group took their time and visited the small sugar museum (pictured above) located inside the factory grounds. Outside the museum there were numerous pieces of old machinery once used at the factory. Unfortunately the museum was not open, meaning The Rumelier would have to return at a future date to see the historical artifacts and photographs inside. 
This museum is a permanent record of how sugar was produced in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The museum now stands as a tribute to Sir Frank Hutson, who with assistance from the Barbados National Trust, collected the items in the museum.

The history of sugar cultivation and production is displayed in this attractive museum which is located in the yard of the Portvale Sugar Factory.

The museum is open throughout the year but if you visit during the reaping season (February to May), you can compare the machinery of previous times with the modern machinery of the Portvale factory.

The Foursquare Rum Distillery

The Foursquare Distillery.

The final rum attraction to be visited by the small group was the Foursquare Rum Distillery, located in St.Philip. This large ever expanding distillery and Heritage Park cover an area of 8 acres.
Foursquare, the name of the factory inspired by the Square pond in the area was a sugar plantation as far back as the 15th Century and the site of rum production during the 17th Century.
The entrance to the distillery is surrounded by sugar cane fields (shown below) where visitors make the long drive up to the distillery and park.

Entrance to the Foursquare Distillery.
Fermentation Tanks in the Foursquare Distillery.

As with the other rum attractions visited earlier in the day this was not supposed to be open for public tours. However, after a quick inspection a side door to the distillery was found open. The small group walked in and to no objections from the small members of staff running the distillery they gave themselves a self guided tour.

The distillery is actually set up for self guided tours, with many information plaques and signs for visitors to read as well as colourful footprints painted on the floor of the distillery for visitors to follow.

The first thing that strikes a visitor to the distillery is it's cleanliness, not normally seen in other distilleries. Everything was clean and freshly painted. All the machinery was modern and in good working condition.

The distillery is very modern and highly computerised and can be run by a very small number of staff. Even though it was the weekend when the distillery was visited it was still in full production. After passing the large fermenting tanks (pictured right) and the barrel filling (pictured below) area the group proceed around to the still house. Inside the still house were a column still and a beautiful copper still.

Barrel Filling Production Line.

The copper pot (pictured below) still helps give the rum more flavour but is more labour intensive than a more economical column still. Foursquare uses the two types of stills which allows them to produce many styles of rum.

The pot still has been altered somewhat from its original design by giving it a longer neck, which again is supposed to be more effective and economical.

Copper Pot Still at RL Seale, recently modified.
One of the Bonded Aging Warehouses at Foursquare.
The Rumelier at the Foursquare Distillery.
Barrels of Tommy Bahama Rum at Foursquare.
Sugar Harvester and Cane Trucks at Foursquare.
The Foursquare Bottling Plant.
Tommy Bahama Rum is Bottled here.

Brief History of Sugar Production in Barbados

Tobacco and cotton used to be the main crops of choice in Barbados before sugar cane was introduced to the island planters in the mid 1600's. At the time of sugar cane's introduction to the island the tobacco industry was on the decline and the planters were looking for a new source of income for their plantations. It was a Dutchman, Peter Blower, who bought sugar cane plants from Brazil. The cane flourished in the ideal conditions of the Southern Caribbean and it went on to be a most lucrative cash crop for the already wealthy plantation owners.

As the sugar export industry grew on the island so did the amount of vast sugar plantations. Much of the land at the time was forested, but most of the trees were felled to make way for more sugar plantations, changing the landscape of Barbados for ever.

Seeding Sugar Cane in Barbados late 1890's.

One requirement for large-scale sugar production at the time was a large labour force. This labour force were imported African slaves. By the early 1800's the population of slaves had reached almost 400,000. They were needed to grow, harvest and process the sugar cane and turn it into raw sugar, that was shipped off to the colonial master, England. Much of this process was performed by hand, before the later introduction of power. Windmills were introduced to reduce the work load of the slaves and remnants of many of these windmills can still be seen dotted allover Barbados.

There were several hundred sugar plantations in Barbados at the peak of sugar production, but today there are only a handful left still producing sugar. Those plantations that no longer produce sugar are often found for sale. One exception is St.Nicholas Abbey, that has started sugar cane farming again, as well as distilling their own rum.

Switching from tobacco and cotton production proved a blessing for the economic growth of Barbados. Sugar cane thrived in the good soil and climatic conditions of Barbados and produced up to 20kg for every square metre planted.

Fresh Barbados Sugar Cane.

The interesting photograph from The Rumelier's collection shown left shows sugar cane being seeded on a sugar plantation in the early 1980's. Today sugar cane is grown from cane cuttings which can be harvested several times after it has been planted. However, each successive crop will yield less sugar and need to be replanted after several seasons of growth.

The cane fields are often set on fire to allow the leaves to be burnt away, which in turn exposes the roots for harvesting. Burning the fields also helps eliminate any unwanted animals, especially snakes from attacking any of the cane cutters. When the cane is harvested by hand with a large knife or machete, the cane is piled into large stacks and loaded onto trucks for delivery to the sugar factory. Mostly in these modern times the fields are harvested using large machines and only the difficult inaccessible areas of fields are still cut by hand, which is also less damaging to the crop than the big harvesting machines. Using large machines is much more cost and time efficient for the large sugar plantations.