Tuesday, December 4, 2012

River Antoine Estate: Touring Grenada part 2

Entrance to River Antoine Estate
The road from Grenada's south coast to the River Antoine Estate was long and windy, but worth every hair-pinned curve. Stopping at a rumshop going through the hills for a Stag or Carib Beer was all part of the Rum Bus journey and a brilliant way to start off what turned out to be a rumtastic day! We arrive with the ocean to our right and turn left to witness a page of living history that hasn't changed much in the past few hundred years. Welcome to River Antoine Estate!

River Antoine Estate

River Antoine is the oldest rum factory with a functioning water wheel in the Western Hemisphere!

Tour Guide and Water Wheel
We receive a brilliant tour of the site from our guide, beginning with their famous water wheel. River Antoine Estate began in 1785 and little has changed here. Today, the site has 3 owners and employs 95 local people. Local workers, local brand and the oldest working water wheel, pretty cool eh? It is glorious to see a distillery, operate for the most part, self-sustainable, without electricity or significant oil consumption. Yes, we are talking green, sustainable and organic, case in point. The water wheel was and is still the tool harnessing the energy from water of natural river located about a 1 mile away. The diverted water from the river turns the wheel at 15-17 revolutions/minute creating the mechanical energy necessary to crush the cane. The charm of its 18th century character is something to behold today, just as it was, back in time.

River Antoine Estate Water Wheel

Experience the Glory!
The water wheel's center extends through the wall. The mechanical energy captured from the water wheel is transferred via grooves connected to the adjacent wheel, turning the gears that ultimately end in crushing the sugar cane.

Pure energy!
Water Wheel connection to gear wheel for Cane Crusher
The River Antoine Estate is located in St. Patrick, a parish in the Northeastern part of the island. It encompasses 450 of the original 500 acres of plantation that the Frenchman named Antoine acquired in 1656. At present, 40 of those acres are used for cultivating sugar cane. The most recent sugar cane samplings were planted 20 years ago and consist of a new species variety that yields more juice. The age old methods of cutting sugar cane by hand into bundles and crushing the sugar cane twice using the water wheel's energy alone are remarkable. Due to the limitation of the wheel running only a few hours each day, it takes 3 days to crush the cane.
Cane Crusher

Once the sugar cane is crushed and its juice extracted, the crushed sugar cane, known as Bagasse, fills an old box cart. It is then pushed down a track and emptied to join the other overflowing piles left to dry in the Grenadian Sun.
Cart full of Bagasse
 The Bagasse is not wasted. It serves two important purposes, by providing energy to the Boiler House and mulch for the soil around the plantation.
Full load coming through!

Full cart of Bagasse being pushed by a worker

Holy Bagasse!
Bagasse drying in the Sun
Off to the Boiling House...

The Boiling House is where the fresh pressed sugar cane juice undergoes a process of sequential heating to become sugar cane syrup. It was built in 1785 and last renovated in 1950. The sun dried Bagasse is used as the energy source to fuel the fire (see photo). It is burned underneath the coppers (or rather iron bowls) holding the steaming sugar cane juice. The juice first enters the hottest copper and moves sequentially away from the fire pit underneath it into 3 additional coppers each decreasing in heat. After the juice is heated to a thick syrup it is transferred by pipe into a cooling tank where it cools for one day before being transferred to the fermentation containers.

The aromas of the heated sugar cane juice inside are not to be missed...

Fermentation Container (Cement)
There are eight cement fermentation tanks inside the cement building adjacent to the Boiling House. They allow the sugar cane syrup to ferment in open air with natural yeasts for 8 days; one tank for each day of the fermentation process.
Old Fermenting Vat (Wood)

Just outside we get up close and personal with the dual pot stills!

Pot Still (side view)

Dual Pot Stills
(firewood for heating the stills in the foreground)
The two pot stills we see are more recent and are both made in Kentucky by Vendome. Previously, they were being made by an outfit in the UK. The energy source for the pot stills is local firewood instead of Bagasse due to the heat produced. The wood burns at a higher heat and for a longer period of time. Approximately 300 gallons are made per batch. We are told their present output doesn't even satisfy the local market!
Pot Still
After entering the lower area, we witness the hydrometer, underground collection for bonding, and their hand bottling station. Wow! We then walk to their restaurant bar for a royal River Antoine Rum tasting experience including lunch.
Gotta love quality assurance!!
Rivers Rums & Local Fruits and Spices
We taste Rivers full line with jugs of fresh coconut water for mixing.
We are also invited to taste an unreleased aged expression (see oak barrel in photo). The Rum had been in the cask for approximately a year, weighing in at about 80% ABV.
Nothing short of awesome...even at 160 proof!
River Antoine Estate Barrel Aged Cask Tasting

When talking about rum at River Antoine Estate...
"Don't Say Rum, Say Rivers"
Their punches are delicious and despite my hesitation about ready-to-drink punch mixes, they drink up surprisingly nice over ice. Rivers Royal Grenadian Rhum Punch with Sorrel was lovely!
Sorrel (Hibiscus sabdariffa)
Witnessing the water turn the wheel and workers oversee the sugar cane being cut and crushed on vintage machines is like a living picture out of a history book. They also illustrate the natural beauty of sustainable organic rum by their independence from the limited resources of modern world. Moreover, the mastery of man over his dominion by implementing hard work and intelligence in pursuit of the age old Caribbean craft of rum production, holds a timeless attraction. Rum may be one of mankind's simplest treasures and finest rewards when done right; River Antoine Estate seems to have captured the essence of that for all to see.

River Antoine Estate

Cheers to River Antoine Estate and a big thank you for an incredible guided journey back in time!

 On our way back aboard the rum bus it was necessary to stop off at a few rum shops.
In Grenada, rum shops have a home made spiced rum called "under the counter" and it is literally under the counter. We stopped for a beer and some "under the counter" at The Grand Etang House.
The Grand Etang House

A drink and a view....
 And a couple of monkeys across the road
John Gibbons and Mona Monkey
 Interesting resemblance?
The Mona Monkeys are not native to Grenada, but were brought over on slave ships from Western Africa during the 18th Century.

Mona Monkeys

Stay tuned for the final article in the series on Grenada...coming soon!

1 comment:

  1. That area has some historical places and the machines that you can still see there, Indeed it reminds of the old times. It was nice to see the pictures of the place.