Bajan flavour: Barbados’ best rum distilleries

Bajan flavour: Barbados’ best rum distilleries

by Great British Chefs 27 May 2016

Rum and Barbados go hand in hand – after all, it was first made there over 300 years ago. Learn more about the spirit's Barbadian heritage and the best distilleries to visit on the island.

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews.

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews as well as access to some of Britain’s greatest chefs. Our posts cover everything we are excited about from the latest openings and hottest food trends to brilliant new producers and exclusive chef interviews.

There are over 1,000 rum shops on Barbados – an island which is only 166 square miles. It’s a place where rum is intertwined with the local culture, where Barbadians will happily spend the day sipping rum cocktails with friends while looking out onto the beautiful ocean and where you can find some of the best tasting rum in the world. Surprisingly, however, there are just four distilleries on the island, each of which has its own methods, techniques, equipment and style, offering plenty of variety to both locals and visitors.

Back in the seventeenth century, soon after people discovered molasses could be fermented to create alcohol and eventually rum, it was said there was one rum shop for every twenty people on the island. While the population has grown a bit since then, you’ll still see all sorts of shacks and small brick buildings along the sides of roads, brightly painted with a few tables and chairs out front. These little shops are a cultural icon themselves, but if you’re after a more in-depth experience, head to one of these distilleries to discover how rum is made and learn about the incredible history of the sweet spirit.

The distilleries

Mount Gay Rum

As the world’s first established rum distillery (since 1703), Mount Gay Rum has over 300 years of heritage and experience to fall back on. The huge distillery has its own dedicated visitor centre, where you can learn all about the rich history of the company, see how the rum is made today and – of course – taste your way around the different Mount Gay expressions.

There are three tours offered by Mount Gay Rum – the standard ‘Signature’ tour, a ‘Cocktail’ tour which includes plenty of rum-based drinks as you walk around the distillery with a lesson in mixology at the end, and one that also includes a traditional Bajan buffet for lunch, so you can taste the foods and other flavours found on the island.

Foursquare Rum Distillery

On the site of a seventeenth century sugar factory, Foursquare was fully restored in 1996 and is now home to some of the most advanced rum distilling equipment in the world. The tour is free and self-guided, so you can go at your own pace, exploring the various buildings and the history behind them. As well as the distillery, there are museums that bring to life Barbados’ local culture and its sugar growing heritage, as well as a glass fusing studio, so it’s quite easy to spend the whole day here.

Rum distillery
Some rum distilleries sit right on the Barbadian coastline
Food & Wine and Rum Festival
The island plays hosts to events of all sorts celebrating rum – most notably the Food & Rum Festival

West Indies Rum Distillery

Iconic brands such as Cockspur Rum and Malibu are produced at the West Indies Rum Distillery, which is located in the southern parish of St Michael. It was originally set up in 1893, and now produces all the alcohol for every other bottler on the island (except Mount Gay Rum). During your tour, you can taste the various rums produced at the distillery, comparing those made using modern techniques with those produced in the traditional pot stills. With over nine million litres of pure alcohol being produced on-site every year, this is one of Barbados’ largest distilleries.

St Nicholas Abbey

Based in a 350-year-old plantation, St Nicholas Abbey is one of the most tranquil and beautiful places in all of Barbados; the fact that it also houses a rum distillery is an added bonus. The tour includes the main house – a Jacobean mansion from 1660 – as well as a rum and sugar museum, steam mill and distillery. The rum itself is aged for either ten or fifteen years, made to a traditional, authentic recipe with organic sugarcane and distilled in small batches. It’s one of the finest rums on the island, and to see it being created is a rare treat.

Food & Rum Festival: 17–20 November 2016

The island of Barbados is world famous for its exceptionally rich culture, history and remarkable landscapes. As the only Zagat-rated Caribbean island, it’s also home to incredible chefs who put innovative spins on local delicacies and traditions. It’s the perfect stage for world-class events and, in collaboration with American Express, the country has been home to the Food & Rum Festival since 2010.

At this year’s festival, guests will be able to mingle with international chefs, who will be serving up a variety of seafood including the island’s national dish, cou-cou with flying fish. There’s also the chance to pick up new cooking techniques at the demonstrations and relish the complexities of Barbados’ legendary rum, gaining expert knowledge on a range of hand-selected wines.