Sunday, December 19, 2010

Barbados Rum: A Tour of Tours

Home >>Barbados Rum: A Tour of Tours
When unique opportunities present themselves, such as a trip to Barbados, one need not deliberate much on the course of action. What wasn't there to look forward to? A few days engulfed in intimate tours of rum distilleries, sitting the tasting panel at the Caribbean Rum and Beer Festival and enjoying some great rums with other RumXPs. Not enough? Throw in some white sandy beaches, turquoise water and Barbadian rum shops a plenty. So, I went and am back here to tell the rum tale.

Barbados is a small, but unique island. It measures just 21 miles long by 14 miles wide, is made of limestone coral and is part of the Lesser Antilles bordering the Atlantic Ocean. Most importantly it has the oldest recorded rum distillery in the world. It is appropriate then, that The Rum Collective's first post begin with place of origin of rum as we know it.

The Rum Refinery Of Mount Gay Limited

The site of Mt Gay Rum appears almost hidden from the road, as the entrance is lined, quite fittingly, with sugar cane fields. Upon arrival, Oscar, provided us an insider's tour not only detailing each area of site, but discussed new developments and interesting facts along the way. For example, the origin of the present name has a interesting story behind it. During the purchase of the the brand Mount Gay, the term "refinery" was  overlooked and used instead of "distillery". One can only wonder, was little tipple of rum was involved?

(old fiberglass tank)
Pot Still - 100 years old
(made in Edinburgh)
Upon visiting each area, one gets a sense of the rich history and authenticity from the fiberglass fermentation tanks to century old pot stills. Things of yesterday were built well!

One recent development is the construction of new stainless steel fermentation tanks. These will allow for more control of the fermentation process and improve efficiency and product yield.
New Fermentation Tanks
In addition, a relatively new boutique rum is being crafted on site, called Mount Gilboa. Although the pronunciation of "Gilboa" varies, its meaning does not. Dr. Frank Ward Jr., descendant of the patriarch Aubrey Ward and creator of Mount Gilboa, informs us that this was the original name of the geographic area now known as Mount Gay. We are told that if you look at old maps of St. Lucy, Barbados you will find Mount Gilboa, not Mount Gay. Mount Gilboa is a triple-distilled pot still rum presently only made in small quantities. What a gem! Unfortunately, it is not yet available in the US market.

Thank you Frank and Oscar for your time, generosity and the informative tour!

A short distance away by car (or Rumbus if you were there) you will find the Mount Gay Distillery and Visitor Center. Here, you can take their guided tour or just head directly to the bar for some refreshing rum punch first! On tour, we viewed some old memorabilia in the Brand Museum, experienced the film "The Rum That Invented Rum" followed by a tasting in their "Rum Shop". Next, after a short walk teased by rich and delicious scents of rum, we had bird's-eye view of the aging, blending, bottling and distribution areas. At the end of the tour, the bar and restaurant served some tasty flying fish and of course more Mount Gay Rum. Don't forget to stop at the gift shop for your souvenirs! Any trip to Barbados should include this tourist attraction.

So, to summarize and possibly clarify any confusion, Mount Gay Rum is distilled at The Rum Refinery of Mount Gay and then sent to the Mount Gay Distillery & Visitor Center for blending, bottling and distribution. I found that the relationships between brands, distilleries and bottling on Barbados are not simple. Let's move on to the next rum distillery!
West Indies Distillery / Cockspur Beach Club

We arrive in the morning, get our hair nets and hard hats in order and begin touring the site where Cockspur Rum is made and now owned. Rett, who is a soft spoken engineer and our tour guide greets us and we follow closely. Don't let the beach front fool you, this distillery is
Holding Tanks
(Brighton Beach in background)
strictly business producing the majority of the rum on the island. Their fermentation and distillation processes are finely controlled with computers to achieve their qualitative and quantitative goals and maximize efficiency. Rett informs us that this technology was
developed in India. I am not surprised coming from the land of Microsoft. Although column distillation is used as their primary distillation method, pot stills are also used albeit to a less extent.

Tasting Room

The next segment consisted of a unique tasting experience involving several different labeled and unlabeled rums, both pot and column distilled, organized according to age. Comparative tastings of this sort provided a useful contrast, allowing you to detect the subtle changes the rum gains over time. On the way to the bottling area, we stop for a short time at the aging warehouse. The bottling plant, like the rest of the distillery is very efficient and a bit mesmerizing. The tour illustrates that West Indies Distillery is a powerhouse, producing and bottling rum, not just for their recently acquired brand Cockspur, but for others as well. Next Stop...Cockspur Beach Club!

The Cockspur Beach Club, formerly the Malibu Beach Club & Visitor Center, is located across a short path from the Distillery. After a few Cockspur Rum based cocktails, we are greeted by Tia Best, Brands Sales and Marketing Manager, for a warm reception and photos. What a great setting to drink Cockspur Rum and lay in the sand. Rumtastic!

I would like to thank Rett and Tia for their time and a wonderful tour!

Over the gullies and through the mahogany forests to Larry Warren's plantation we go! His Jacobean style mansion is rare, one of three remaining in the Western Hemisphere. What a place to make rum! Larry meets us in the Courtyard and takes us through the ground floor describing some of the house's architecture and many of amazing vintage pieces that still remain. A Rum punch is served upon entering the museum where one can view vintage maps, measuring devices (see photo) among other artifacts.

Old British Measure
(1 Gallon)

We are invited to watch a film describing life on the plantation in Barbados circa 1935. Amazing footage! Quality is a word that comes to mind throughout this tour. After the film, we step into a room known as the Rum and Sugar Bond for tasting and discussion with Larry and his son Simon Warren. Barrels of Rum line the room surrounding a table where the etched bottles are on display. Simon is quite knowledgeable and quick to throw in a witty joke.

Me, Ian Burrell and Simon Warren
(Rum and Sugar Bond)

The Terrace Cafe serves a delicious flying fish sandwich and we had lunch here before making our way down to the Boiling House. As a Seattelite, I will mention they also serve fine espresso. Let me restate again that quality craftsmanship is apparent throughout. It was awarded "Best Rum Package" this year at the Golden Rum Barrel Awards and for good reason. I learned that each bottle is labeled by hand, sealed with a mahogany wood cork with leather inlay. If that wasn't enough the orientation of the leather inlay symbol to the bottle's front label is identical for each! (see photos)

St. Nicholas Abbey Rum

St. Nicholas Abbey Rum


The Boiler House contains the Steam Mill, Syrup Plant and the Distillery. Larry speaks with passion about his work at St. Nicholas Abbey and it is a pleasure to listen and be part of the tour. Once inside the Distillery, we had the opportunity to preview some sugar cane juice based products (rum and cane syrup) and ogle at Annabelle. Annabelle is made of both a pot still and rectifying column (see centerfold below). The copper is so clean and reflective it resembles a piece of art! Stunning!



Touring St. Nicholas Abbey was a pleasure. Cheers to Larry for his craftsmanship and quality rum! I highly recommend it and am looking forward to my next return. Thank you!

The final day of my rum adventure began with a tour of Foursquare Rum Distillery. The tour layout is well planned and clean and am told it can be done without a guide. However, we had the opportunity to learn from a tour guided by Richard Seale himself! At the start of tour, old bottles are showcased with some informative reader signs. As we move from the fermentation area to the stills, Richard provides insight into some of the modified processes he is using to make a better product. For example, he discusses the chemistry of using lower pressure distillation and reduced temperature to prevent the formation of certain chemical byproducts that result from higher temperatures. In addition to the smart ideas going on the inside of the distillery, the heritage park hosts green friendly designs. A gazebo composed of reused machinery parts (see photo).
Green Friendly Gazebo
In addition to making Foursquare Rum as the signs indicate, the distillery produces quite a few others, by the names of Doorly's XO, R.L. Seale's Old Brigand, R.L. Seale's Finest Barbados Rum, Rum Sixty Six and Tommy Bahama to name a few. Again I am sorry to inform my Seattle readers that only the Tommy Bahama Rum is available in Washington State and not for much longer. The on site tasting of Tommy Bahama Rum brought some smiles and positive comments. Get this brand while you can, as it is being discontinued soon. At the end of the tour, Richard entertained some open thought provoking discussion on the rich rum history specific to Barbados. Listening to some of Richard's comments on making rum and direction of industry after touring several distilleries in the past few days filled a few knowledge gaps. Following the tour in an adjacent room, several rums were poured for more tasting and the rum discussion continued. Could it get any better?!

Before continuing with the "Seale Tour", I wanted to thank Richard for his time, thoughtful commentary and generosity!

Barbados East Coast Tour

After the Foursquare Distillery tour we were fortunate to have Gayle Seale (Richard's wife) provide us with a local's tour of the east coast of the island. Gayle is great company
and very excited about photographing the natural beauty and interesting sights found along the way. The scenery is picture perfect. We visited several sandy coves, one of which was the setting for a Tommy Bahama Rum advertisement, an old uninhabited mansion and a lighthouse. We stopped for lunch at Roundhouse, a restaurant with a decent rum selection and a glorious view. Sipping some homegrown Bajan Corn and Oil cocktails (Gayle's recommendation) over lunch and looking out over the Atlantic Ocean with friends made for a memorable experience. 

Morgan Lewis Sugar Mill
On our return we visited the Caribbean's oldest working windmill. The Morgan Lewis Sugar Mill is still being used periodically to power sugar cane milling today as it was in earlier times. Gayle also introduced us to tamarind balls, a Barbadian candy made of tamarinds and sugar rolled into a ball...yum!

A big thanks to Gayle Seale for sharing her time and passion for Barbados with us.
An outstanding tour!! 

Barbados is a beautiful island, full of amazing sites for those interested in rum and its rich history. Many of the rums from Barbados I mentioned and a few I didn't mention here will be reviewed in upcoming posts. Stay tuned...


  1. i remember my first drink in barbados 1972 sugar cane brandy last drink in a rum shop in belleplaine 1999 alleyne arthur special

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