Sunday, July 1, 2018

Yo Ho Yo Ho a Pirates Life for Me!

By Kathy

Time to learn about rum!

It is a pirate’s life when it comes to rum in the Caribbean. After cruising the Bahamas for the season we have acquired a taste for rum. Rum in the islands is usually the cheapest drink around. Even cheaper than buying soda in a grocery store! There were no rum distilleries where we cruised in the Bahamas so we were looking forward to visiting some in Grenada. There are three rum makers on the island – Clarke’s Court, Westerhall and River Antoine. We chose to visit River Antoine since it was one of the most historic distilleries in the islands. They are still making rum the same way, using the same equipment from the 1700’s. 

When you first arrive at the distillery you are amazed at the amount of sugar cane husks around the parking lot. I did not know much about making rum before this visit so I was very curious.  You also notice the really old buildings and water wheel as soon as you drive up. 

The view out of the car window of the sugar cane husks.

Piled high! 
The water wheel.

We were greet by Lyons as soon as we got out of the car. He is an employee at the distillery and has been working there for 17 years. We were told a tour would be $2 per adult and it includes an all you can drink rum tasting at the end. Another lesson that you always go to your location and get a local guide instead of booking a tour. Lyons walked us around the distillery and started our tour with the water wheel since that is where the process starts. The water wheel is used to extract the sugar cane juice used to make the rum. The water for the wheel comes from a local river and is used to power the crushing machine. The process is very hands on and several workers will crush sugar cane 8-10 hours a day. Sometimes the sugar cane has to go through the crusher twice and this is all decided by the guy standing over it as the husks come through. No automation here! 

Sugar cane going up the belt that is powered by the water wheel.

The guy standing on the table is checking to see which ones ones need to run through the crusher again. You can see the cane juice being funneled to the left in the little trench. 

Before we move on with the juice let’s talk about the sugar cane husks or “bagasse”. It is overwhelming the amount that is piled up around the building. After the juice is extracted the bagasse are loaded into a hand cart and piled around the building. Here it will dry and will be used for fertilizer or for fuel for the boiler room. All parts of the sugar cane will be used. 

You can see the cart behind Emma. That is a lot of bagasse!

The sugar cane juice is then funneled into another building and put into large boilers. Once the cane juice reached the first caldron in the room it will be hand ladled over to the next one as it starts to thicken. Each caldron will be hotter than the last one. After the boiler room the juice that is now a syrup will move over to the fermentation room. It will sit in large containers and ferment without yeast for up to 10 days. 

The boys heading down to the boiler room.

The boiler room. He is  hand ladling the juice from one caldron. 
The fermentation room.. You could feel the heat coming off of the syrup. 

Once you have fermented syrup you are ready to make rum! River Antoine uses two Vendome pot stills to make their rum. Both stills are identical so they can have two batches going at the same time. They have to have workers keep the fire going 24 hours a day to produce the rum. Once the rum is made it will go down into another set of containers. One for each still. The alcohol content will be checked and they will run it through the distiller again if they need to make it stronger. I think I may have forgotten to mention that River Antoine makes some of the strongest rums. So strong you cannot even have it on an airplane. 

The Vendome pot stills. They have been making rum for a while! The science is amazing behind this process. 

The fire that has to keep burning!

The finished rum is kept under lock and key by the tax collector until all documentation is completed. Once it is ready to be bottled the rum is moved to the highly sophisticated orange igloo coolers for bottling by hand. Yes, the coolers are the same ones we have at sporting events.

The tester for the alcohol content in each batch.
Everything here is done by hand!

The grand finale of the tour was the all you can drink tasting. It only took one sip to realize why it was all you can drink. It is because you can’t drink but a little bit. I couldn’t even finish a couple of sips. The rum is so strong. I have never tasted lighter fluid but that is was I think it would taste like. Most rums are 40% alcohol by volume, the River Antoine rum is around 80% alcohol by volume! 

Time for the tasting!

It is amazing to see a process that has changed very little since the late 1700s. This tour felt like you walking through a working museum.


  1. Wow! That’s really interesting. Love that they use the same process sine 1700’s.

    1. Hi Sandi. It was very cool. These are my favorite kind of tours. There is another one that we went on that Emma is writing about that was pretty amazing.

  2. You are all looking really relaxed. So fabulous! All the best. Andrew and Ruth