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Americans Are Rediscovering Rum

By Jason F. Cousins

Rapidly innovating technology is making our lives, our communication, and our means of production easier and faster, giving us unprecedented access to information, products, people, and cultures. While this is an amazing time to be alive, there is also a sense that we have lost, or are on the verge of losing something of value. We find ourselves longing for sense of place.  In this context of longing, Americans are populating their dining tables with grass-fed, farm-raised, or locally produced foods. And this trend is spilling over into our drinking culture.  If you haven’t noticed, over the past few years, vodka sales in the U.S. have been on the decline, giving up ground to brown spirits. Americans are embracing flavor again. We want richer, fuller, deeper flavors in our glasses. Quantity is overrated; we are searching for authenticity, quality, and connection to our roots.  In this search, it is only natural that more and more American drinkers are rediscovering rum.  

While Bourbon is often credited as being America’s “official” spirit, the country was largely founded on rum. These rum roots run deep from New England to the Caribbean island of Barbados –which is why in March of this year, I found myself in some of Barbados’ finest distilleries: St. Nicholas Abbey, R.L. Seale & Co., and Mount Gay Distillers.

Barbados Distilleries: St. Nicholas Abbey

In the north of Barbados, in the charming parish of Saint Peter, lies the sugar plantation of St. Nicholas Abbey – where it has been since 1658.  Recently restored, St. Nicholas Abbey takes full advantage of Saint Peter’s growing tourism industry, where lush landscapes and pristine white-sand beaches attract many visitors every year.  Walking onto the distillery grounds is like stepping back in time – much of the Jacobean mansion house has been recently restored (starting in 2006) and is open to visitors as a museum of colonial Barbadian life, with set tables, historic portraiture, and cornerstone chimneys and fireplaces.  As part of the restoration process, the distillery called on Master Distiller Richard Seale of R.L. Seale & Co. (more on him in Part 2) to help develop a signature rum recipe for St. Nicholas Abbey, while at the same time providing carefully selected casks of Richard’s own rums to age in American oak, in St. Nicholas Abbey’s uniquely cooler, highland elevation.  This collaboration has yielded impeccably smooth, flavorful 10 and 15-year single cask rums.

St. Nicholas Abbey is now producing truly amazing estate rums in the traditional style, using a steam-driven sugar mill (made in 1890), syrup evaporator, and a gorgeous custom hybrid pot still.  Everything about their rums and how they are made appeals to those seeking quality and authenticity.  The distillery has eschewed the modern, mass-production style of distillation in favor of small batches, with painstaking attention to detail in every aspect of production: from the harvesting and pressing of the organic, estate-grown cane, the fermentation of pure cane spirit (no molasses here), distillation in 600 liter pot stills that literally purr, maturation, to the individual bottling and labeling – all done on property.  Unfortunately for Americans, these rums are not yet distributed in the States – for those of you who are looking for delicious, truly authentic, terroir-driven sipping rum you may want to book your own trip to Barbados.

“The views expressed above are the opinions of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of WIRSPA Inc”. 

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