Grenada Rum: Take the Tour

The waterwheel at River Antoine Estate as it was 200 years ago. Photos Rosie Burr

Rum is as diverse as the methods used in making it and the islands it comes from; white, gold, light, dark, over-proofed, aged, spiced, flavoured or blended, it is the most varied of distilled spirits. On the small island of Grenada, rum runs through the veins of the islanders and visitors alike. Taking a tour of the rum distilleries both old and new gives you a peek into the island’s culture and heritage, from the sugar cane that was once the island’s largest industry to the rum itself, the famed tipple is synonymous with island life. What is interesting today is how differently the local rums on the island are made.

The River Antoine Estate is the oldest and only functioning waterwheel-powered distillery in the Caribbean. Located in the NE corner of the island, it produces rum the same way it did over 200 hundred years ago. Locally grown sugarcane is crushed and turned into cane juice. It is then hand-ladled from caldron to caldron as it heats up and thickens into syrup. From there it is directed into the fermentation tanks where it ferments naturally before it is carefully distilled in the centuries-old method of ‘pot stilling’. The rum produced is ‘rum agricole’ because it is made from cane juice. The pungent smell of the distillery burns your nose but not as much as the rum burns your throat at the sampling table at the end of the tour. Rivers rum can be as much as 180 proof, that’s 89% alcohol by volume and is so potent that airlines refuse to serve it on their flights. The only way this rum leaves the island is to water it down to 69% alcohol content. Rivers produce two different strength white rums, a chocolate rum and a mango rum. The estate is open for tours Monday to Friday and costs $5EC/pp. Call: +1473 4427109.

 

Grenada Rum
Photos Rosie Burr

 

Grenada Rum
The syrup is ladled from cast iron pot to pot to thicken the syrup. Photos Rosie Burr

 

Clarke’s Court is the biggest and most modern rum distillery on the island and dates back to 1937. Formally known as The Grenada Sugar Factory, it produced sugar, molasses, rum and methylated spirits.  Since 2003, due to the reduction of sugarcane production on the island, molasses is now imported from Guyana and Panama. Clarkes Court produce ‘rum industriel’ – rum made from molasses. The molasses is distilled, aged and blended on the premises. Oak barrels previously used for whiskey are shipped in from the USA, where the rum ages between one and 12 years. It is from these barrels and the length of time the rum spends in them that the drink gets its distinctive gold or dark hue – or the addition of caramel (burnt sugar), which also gives it a slightly sweeter taste. Barrels are only used once and after are recycled into pieces of furniture as seen in the hospitability centre. Clarke’s Court produces 19 different varieties of rum. You can take a $7ec/pp tour around the main distillery – and the obsolete but well maintained machinery – and sample their line up of rums in the hospitality centre. Call +1473 444 5363

 

Grenada Rum
The old steam engine wheel and machinery at Clarke’s Court distillery Photos Rosie Burr

 

Westerhall Estate, although no longer a distiller, originally produced citrus fruits, cocoa and bananas in the 1700s. It moved to sugarcane and the production of rum to take advantage of the waterwheel powered by the diverted St Louis River. Things changed and the old waterwheels were decommissioned in the mid 1970s. Today the remnants of the distillery lie in ruins. These vestiges, however, only enhance the natural beauty of the well-kept gardens reminding you of a bygone era. Although the estate plans to start growing small crops of sugarcane in the future, today they import the base product from Angostora in Trinidad (not unusual in today’s rum industry), and have earned themselves a name in blending and ageing. Onsite there is a small museum with an eclectic display of items including manacles, vintage sewing machines and one of the first cars on the island, a 1915 Willys imported from Panama. The Westerhall Estate bottle, blend and produce seven rums. They are open Monday – Friday, 9am -3pm. Tours cost $7EC/pp call +1473 443 5477

 

Grenada Rum
The old pot still on the Westerhall Estate. Photos Rosie Burr

 

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