Miguel’s trip to St. Lucia Distillers (part I)
The whole team behind the ACR campaign and training is a nice pack of commited people, we know that. Best of things is we get the chance to go to the Caribbean to see and feel what the making of rum is about, who makes it and try to interpret that into what we enjoy later everywhere in the world. Barbados was our central base in our first trip as a group there, we then split out to different countries of the region to explore more in depth. This is my visi to St. Lucia and St. Lucia Distillers where Chairman’s Reserve and Admiral Rodney, among others, are made and bottled.
Type of country: volcanic and one of the most mountainous islands in the Caribbean (northwest of Barbados and south of Martinique). Tropical weather.
It has switched from French to British hands several times (seven times French + seven other times British). A population of 174.000 (70% Roman Catholic) lives within its 617 m2. Although their official language is English, 95% of them speak patois (a French Creole tongue). It became independent from the UK in 1979 and it’s now part of the Commonwealth.
Two Nobel prizes (Economics in 1979 and Literature in 1992) were awarded in the island. They play cricket and host one of the biggest Jazz Festivals in the Caribbean region.
VISIT – FIRST APPROACH
A two-person film crew and I went together. Andre Francis (sales & marketing manager) was our host —a remarkable one, in fact— upon arrival and through the whole visit to the island. After leaving our stuff in the hotel, he took us for dinner and drinks to Delirius, a modern and fancy restaurant bar, with fantastic food and a nice cocktail bar, where Dunkan, its owner, gave us quite a cordial welcome. The venue works as a Chairman’s Reserve rum embassy. Aperitif before dinner was already rum, neat or on the rocks (Chairman’s Reserve White) and so was the rest of dinner as it developed (Chairman’s Reserve Forgotten Cask). The soiree went by along with fluent, easy conversations on diverse topics; from European and St. Lucian gastronomic preferences to our personal daily duties, through our professional and personal backgrounds and the way we approached the Authentic Caribbean Rum campaign in Europe. Andre has great conversational and people skills. He’s particularly concerned with our point of view on the rum scene in Spain and how we’ll outline the ACR campaign.
Alva Preville is the headbartender at Delirius and winner of various bartending and cocktail competitions throughout the Caribbean. He takes good care of us as he speaks about rum being pretty much everything he’s seeing for almost a lifetime. After that, Andre took us to Happy Day, a very popular bar in the area that has changed ownership a few times in its 4-5 years. This one is a lot less fancy and modern, more local, more “authentic”. There we drank rum as they usually do, neat again, maybe with ice. Chatting with Andre and Ashley, the owner, we found out that the drinking preferences in St. Lucia are, in order:
3º Campari (who would have thought!)
Their most popular dish, in fact for which they’re most well known, is green banana with saltfish, but they also eat quite spiced, sort of curryish and the like. Then we went on a sightseeing tour by Gros Islet, a very authentic, native village to the north of the island, with a population of just over 20.000, to get a closer feel of what the really local mood looks and smells like, hitting the end of our evening.
VISIT – DISTILLERY
We woke up in a comfortable, nice looking hotel, with no unnecessary, fancy luxuries but without missing any needs. Swimming pool at less than a foot from the bed, nice breakfast (including salt fish, of course) and then Andre picks us up; it is 8 o’clock and we’re on the road, with the filming gear on and on our way to St. Lucia Distillers plant.
St. Lucia Distillers
Founded in 1972, when Dennis Barnard and John van Geest (and their companies, respectively) got together to form it, produces various rum brands: Chairman’s Reserve (first blended in 1999) [aged, white, spiced and forgotten cask], Admiral Rodney, Crystal, Bounty, Strong Rum (bottled at 80% abv) and bulk rum for Elements Eight (bottled in the UK).
The plant works for 40 weeks a year and stops for maintenance for 14 weeks. About 140 people work there and depend on it for their living.
Introductions and greetings in all the right places, we get to meet the ones responsible for the making of their rums. All of them working in the plant are very friendly, sociable, of natural smile and human touch. The first one guiding us through the plant is Andre Winter, who’s been working there for 38 years and doesn’t hesitate to give detailed technical explanations to anything you might ask.
In the next post, I’ll have some cool details on the making of their rums.
To be continued…