Barbados - The Home of RumBarbados is just 21 miles, by 14 miles (167 square miles) and is serviced by a number of regular bus routes that cost little, but will allow you to really experience the island.
If you opt for a taxi, make absolute sure that you negotiate a rate before you set off as prices will quickly escalate otherwise. The easiest option is to hire a car and move at your own pace, although this does rather limit the amount of Rum sampling you can partake in…
Mount Gay – Making Rum Since 1703The trail to Barbados is a well beaten one for the tourists and has been for many years. Lots of tourist options and a Rum trail worth treading.
The Mount Gay visitors centre has been the main draw from the tourist office, and probably still is – however they are currently developing things that will surely be amazing in years to come as they have been purchasing land and are looking for a ‘ground to glass solution’ for their Rum making. When that happens, I’ll bet you a dollar it will be a wonderful, interactive experience.
Authentic Rum from FoursquareThe Foursquare Distillery is another excellent destination. A well signed trail leads you through the distillery in a surprisingly open access way, and is explorable at your own pace.
The Rums from Foursquare (brands such are Doorly’s, R L Seale, Foursquare and Rum Sixty-Six) are winning all the awards these days, so it’s advisable to go check out where the magic happens.
Historic St Nicholas AbbeyA ‘must see’ is St Nicholas Abbey for all those that want a glimpse at both Barbados history and an increasingly successful, genuinely small batch distillery.
Make sure you get along when they are crushing the locally grown and harvested sugar cane to ensure to experience the full array of aromas associated with Rum production. The Rum produced at St Nicholas Abbey might well be on modern equipment, but it’s as authentic as it gets with its single estate approach.
Martinique - La Route des RhumsFor the average Brit, or American, the notion of heading to the French Caribbean might not be the most obvious. The choice of flights might not be the widest and (let’s be honest), the island doesn’t market itself very well in the mainstream (outside of France).
But with a little bit of careful travel planning this beautiful extension of mainland France is well worth checking out. Ensure you’ve got a wallet full of euros and (for the Europeans), bring your European Health Insurance card – yes – that’s right, all the trappings of home are a ‘thing’ in this corner of the Caribbean.
From the moment you touch down, you could be forgiven for thinking you aren’t necessarily in the Caribbean, and it’s not until you get outside of Fort-de-France that the unmistakable signs of the Caribbean reveal themselves in the form of fields of sugarcane and banana plantations, and for those familiar with the ‘English’ Caribbean, then you’ll find Martinique compellingly different. Fortunately, the one thing that it does share with the rest of the Caribbean is it’s love of Rhum!
Sugar Cane R(h)um & TerroirWhilst it’s not impossible to conceive of a spirit being made from fermented molasses on Martinique, the island is all set up for the production of Rhum from sugar cane juice.
So much so, that in 1996, the Rhum producers implemented an Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée, or A.O.C. that defines all aspects of production, ostensibly to offer a minimum standard of production quality, but also to define the Rhums produced in Martinique as being of a certain style.
The extra ‘h’ is simply the way that Rum is spelt in French, but the Agricole style of production makes for a spirit of a very different flavour profile to that of ‘typically’ English style, molasses Rums.
For an island as small as Martinique (43 miles x 19 miles / 439 square miles), you’ll find at least 10 Rhum destinations to explore, all offering their unique take on the A.O.C., each taking advantage of the widely differing terrain that Martinique offers to imprint a different taste and style on their Rhum.
The north of the island is dominated by Mount Pelée; a semi-active volcano that has shaped the chemistry of the soil and directly influces the sugarcane grown locally. It’s a hot, humid region that gets a lot of rainfall.
Compare and contrast to the relatively flat lands in the very south of the island and perhaps you’ll start to get a sense of the notion of terroir that cane juice spirits can offer. With that in mind you’ve a wonderful sense of exploration ahead of you!
Rhum Producers…The most developed tourist locations such as Habitation Clément, may not produce the raw distillate anymore, but the facility shows every aspect in wonderful detail.
For the geeks, the cut away sections of the creole column stills might well be the coolest thing you see but everyone will surely enjoy the aroma of the ageing houses and the opportunity to buy the full range of Rhums at wonderful prices.
Some locations such as Rhum J.M. might be a long way off the beaten track, but this beautifully located, small facility allows you to see all aspects of production, from cane crushing to fermentation, distillation and maturation.
Oh, and tasting… Let’s not forget the most important aspect of all. Compare and contrast to the la Mauny facility in the south of the island and you’ll see it’s not just about scale of production, your palate will surly discern the difference in growing location and production style.
Open DoorsIn my experience, just about every producer throws open their doors to visitors, with only a couple of ‘production’ only locations (such as Distillery Simone) keeping it to the trade only.
Your problem is how to see them all, as a taxi would be an expensive option. Driving around is easy enough with a sat-nav, but tricky at times when confronted with narrow twisty, turn-ey roads and little in the way of visibility around the next corner due to the encroaching, lush tropical plantlife.
Do take time to visit Neisson, Habitation Saint-Étienne, La Favorite and Depaz. In fact, go see all the locations and make the most of a week or so travelling around the island, but do find time to spend a little time at anyone of the beautiful beaches on Martinique, Grand Anse des Salines being one of the most popular.
Oh, and if you’ve time and or inclination, don’t forget that Martinique is connected to the local islands of St Lucia, Guadeloupe, Marie Galante and Dominica via the l'Express des Iles ferry service. All those islands… so little time…
Jamaica - Authentic RumOf the three locations considered in this article, Jamaica is easily the biggest (4,240 square miles) and therefore most difficult to get around quickly, but for this minor inconvenience you’ll find that Jamaica can offer a route to a distant Rum past that nowhere else in the world can come close to.
Jamaica can offer you real ‘old school’ through to modern, but all with a taste profile that is utterly unique to the island. Jamaica is the home of the pot still – nowhere else in the world will you see so many, large capacity pot stills producing intensely characterful Rum – it’s a rummy-dream-come-true!
Appleton Estate – The Islands Flagship BrandWind the clock back a hundred years and the island would have offered you a hundred or more distilleries to visit. These days, there are only six distilleries, three of which are closed to the public.
The biggest facility — Appleton Estate — is at the time of publication closed to the public for a massive overhaul of its visitor centre, but scheduled to be up and running again in November 2017.
The previous facility was both informative and delicious (in terms of the end of tour tasting), so we can only imagine how much better things will be, come the end of the year.
The Appleton Estate brand is truly global, and so visitors to the island are likely to be familiar with the marques of Rum they produce, but even if this is true for you, going to the estate and seeing first hand where it is produced is still a magical and rewarding adventure.
Truly Authentic – Hampden EstateFor the best chance of getting in touch with truly authentic Rum, then Hampden Estate is your number one destination.
Hampden is the last remaining place that confirms its use of the semi-mythical dunder pit as part of its Rum production process. Without getting into the chemistry of the muck-pits, it’s an integral component in the production of high ester Rum – a trademark of the Jamaican Rum style.
High ester Rum isn’t for the faint-hearted, but it is a real experience and once you’re used to it, nothing else quite measures up. It’s also a process that puts you in touch with the way things would have been done centuries ago.
This is a working facility that allows people to look around, rather than a place that’s redesigned its facilities to make the tourist trail the centre of attention. It’s set in beautiful gardens and surrounded by acres of rolling sugarcane fields. Ask questions and breathe in the history of a company that’s been making Rum since the mid seventeenth century. It’s a must-see for anyone serious about Rum.
A Modern Masterpiece – Worthy ParkFor a modern take on a process that’s been around for centuries you’ll need to keep an eye on developments at Worthy Park.
Just like most of the major Rum producers on the island, Worthy Park first started production back in the early seventeen-hundreds, but due to the crazy situation of an over-supply situation for Jamaican Rum on the world market (which was depressing the price), the estate stopped producing Rum in the 1960’s.
Fortunately, situations change and in 2004, the new owners of the estate decided to install state of the art equipment and start up Rum production again, drawing on the attention to detail and experience demonstrated in their sugar refinery (incidentally one of the most efficient set-ups in Jamaica).
The Forsythe pot still, and hence full-flavoured, characterful Rum is still very much at the heart of things though. Unmistakably Jamaican in profile and a true single estate Rum from field to bottle.
I’m misleading my dear readers a little, at the time of this article being released, Worthy Park doesn’t yet offer a tourist trail, but plans are in place and it won’t be long before something comes online, making Worthy Park a main point of interest on the Jamaican Rum Trail.