‘There’s a time and a place’ is the slogan of the oldest rum in the World – Mount Gay Rum from Barbados. The birthplace of the Caribbean’s favourite liquor is definitely the ‘place’ to try it for the first time or enjoy it for the 100th time. Whether you’re visiting for a few days or a lucky few weeks; there is plenty of time to get in the spirit!
How did it start?
Rum is a huge part of the Bajan history and culture with many cultural heritage sites to discover the story of sugar and rum. Due to the islands mainly flat landscape and good soil, Barbados has successfully grown sugar from mid-17th century. Rum was actually first created, in very early form, by plantation slaves as they discovered that molasses (a byproduct of the sugar refining process) could be fermented into a crude liquor called ‘rumbillon’ In 1703, an English businessman set up the world’s first properly commercial rum distillery in Barbados which refined the liquor into delicious rum…That man was Sir John Gay, with the now world renowned Mount Gay Rum.
Not surprisingly, rum is a big part of any celebration or festival in the Caribbean. ‘The annual Food, Wine and Rum Festival’ a 4 day foodie and booze fuelled event celebrating the best culinary and alcoholic delights – from pairing food and wines to cooking demonstrations, pop up food stalls and of course beach parties!
The most popular festival, completely dedicated to sugar and rum is Crop Over Festival. These attracts thousands of visitors all over the globe for 3 weeks of events and parties, originally created to celebrate the end of a good sugar crop season. If you can only visit for a short period during this festival then make sure its for the big finale, The Grand Kadooment. This when you will see the famous colourful headdresses, feather crowns and huge crowds dancing in the streets to the early hours!
Distilleries and tours
The most popular choice of distilleries to visit is the Mount Gay Rum Visitors Centre which is located in Bridgetown’s Port. Here you will have a tour guide explaining the distillery’s history, watch a short film and rum tasting throughout. We recommend spending a little extra for the Cocktail tour that finishes with a cocktail making masterclass with the mixology masters of rum! Top tip – Buy your rum to take home here, it’s cheaper than at the airport!
In the hills of St Peter you will find St Nicholas Abbey you will find the oldest plantation house in Barbados. This stunning building has a rich history of rum production and the current owners still produce their own rum. You get to explore the Jacobean style house (built in 1660) filled with antiques and a small cinema showing you how island life was in the 1930s….and more rum tasting of course!
Finally, in eight beautiful acres of former plantation land you will find the Foresquare Rum Distillery which occupies the former St Philip sugar factory dating back to 1636. This is a fantastic entertainment venue with the landscaped parks and perfectly restored plantation buildings. There are several attractions on the grounds including he sugar machine museum, folk museum and bottling plant. Self guided tours are free, allowing you to wander at your leisure on the signposted walking tour.
You will find Bajan rum served all over the island, usually accompanied by calypso music and a big smile…at any time of day! There are more than 1500 rum shacks across the island, which equates to more than one in every village! These rum shops are simply made and brightly painted with a drink brand and are as much as a part of the Bajan culture as pubs are to the Brits!
Pick up a shot or small bottle of rum as you enjoy some home cooked island food and get to know the lovely, friendly locals and even get challenged to a game of dominos! Why not see the best rum shacks on offer and experience a fun afternoon on a Rum Shop Tour.