Barbados is regarded as the birthplace of rum and many of the top things to do on the island actually involve rum. A popular pastime is to relax on the beach with a local rum cocktail like the Barbadian Swizzle or Black Barrel Rum Punch. Even the best beer on the island, 10 Saints Beer is a premium lager that’s aged in rum barrels.
Visiting a rum distillery is also on the Barbados Bucket List for many visitors.
Foursquare Rum Distillery has a self-guided tour that ends at their Copper Still Bar where guests can taste and buy some of the rum that is produced, blended, and aged on location, including what many experts consider to be the best rum in the world.
Mount Gay Distilleries offers a variety of tours at the Mount Gay Visitor’s Center in Bridgetown. After learning about the historic origins of the oldest rum brand in the world, guests can learn how to make Mount Gay cocktails or indulge in an unlimited Bajan Buffet Lunch.
Barbados is also noted for the many heritage sites on the island.
Tourists sometimes walk around Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison, exploring streets lined with well-preserved Colonial buildings without even realizing that even the ground has historic significance. Streets in Bridgetown were often paved with ballast bricks that arrived on the island in the 17th and 18th Century. Many structures from the early Colonial period also remain intact on the island, preserved and protected by the Barbados National Trust.
Heritage and Rum come together at Saint Nicholas Abbey, one of the most unique tourist attractions in the Caribbean. Built in 1658, the Abbey is among the last Jacobean Mansions in the Western Hemisphere. It’s a well preserved great house that also produces artisinal rum on site.
In its long and storied history, the Plantation went through a variety of owners and name changes.
One of the most notable owners was Sir John Gay Alleyne; the man who was so adept at managing the production of rum that the world’s oldest brand of rum is named in his honor.
Unsurprisingly, Sir John introduced rum production to the Plantation as a way of making it economically sustainable. He was also responsible for several changes to the house, including a staircase made by the notable cabinet maker Thomas Chippendale.
While visitors are not allowed to walk up the stairs, they can look up and observe the Grandfather Clock that has stood on the landing since 1759.
At the time that Sir John owned the Plantation, the name was actually Nicholas Plantation. The Saint Nicholas Abbey name came about when owner Sarah Cumberbatch married Charles Cave and the couple decided to combine the existing name with the place where the couple married; “Bath Abbey” and the name of the Parish that the Cumberbatch family originally hailed from.
Every room in the Great House is fully furnished with antique furniture. In the dining room, a Coal Port Porcelain set is laid on a table built with Barbadian Mahogany in 1850. Each piece in the set was hand-painted with an Amari Pattern taken from Japanese silk.
Another interesting piece of furniture is the Burlington Gentleman’s Chair, manufactured in 1935 by Foot & Company. It’s capable of fully reclining and it includes a stand for a book, a footrest, a reading lamp and more. It was advertised as the “Ideal Easy Chair” during its limited production.
Outside of the Great House, Ballast bricks pave the walkway leading to the Terrace Café and Souvenir Shop. The walkway is shaded by a thorny Soapbox tree that’s over 400 years old.
The Terrace Café serves Barbadian Street Food like fish cakes as well as plates of molasses cookies accompanied by freshly brewed tea and Bajan rum punch. On entering, the waitress hands everyone a cup of rum punch. I decline for now since I’m more interested in tasting the premium rum that’s produced on the estate.
Saint Nicholas Abbey uses syrup that comes from the Estate’s cane fields to produce rum in a modern pot still. By using only a pot still, their methods are different from both Mount Gay Distilleries and Foursquare Rum Distillery and reflect a more traditional approach to rum making. In keeping with their traditional approach, freshly cut cane is hand-fed into a steam mill where it’s crushed so that the sweet cane juice can be extracted and then evaporated.
“Speyside Gold” a yeast developed for grain whisky is added and the syrup is allowed to ferment for a few days before being transferred to their German hybrid still, affectionately called “Annabelle”.
Batch distillation methods means that their rum can be considered to be “pure single rum” and because their syrup comes from one estate, it is a “single estate rum”. Their aged rums are also filled from a single cask at a time, making them all “single barrel rum”. It’s easy to understand how every single bottle of rum produced is unique.
Their entry-level product is Saint Nicholas Abbey White Rum; an unaged and unfiltered spirit that captures the essence of traditional Old Bajan see-through rum. Regarded by many as one of the best white rums in the world, it has a sweet aroma and a taste dominated by light minerality.
Saint Nicholas Abbey 5 Year Old Rum is matured on location at the estate. Like their other aged rums, visitors who wish to make a purchase have the option of hand-filling their custom engraved bottle and then sealing it with a stopper carved from estate-grown mahogany. This rum has the same sweet notes as the White Rum but there’s a spicy aroma and each velvety smooth sip showcases incredible depth and complexity for such young rum.
The final rum sampled is completely different to the previous two. Saint Nicholas Abbey 12 Year Old Rum is not made on the estate, instead it was distilled and blended at the Foursquare Rum Distillery where it also spent eight years maturing before being re-casked and moved to the Abbey.
It’s quite similar in character to other rums from Barbados like Doorly’s 12 Year Old, Mount Gay XO or the Foursquare Exceptional Cask Series. Notes of caramel nuanced by a spicy oak subtleness manage to showcase the best of the Barbadian Rum Style. This same molasses based blend is also used in their older products; Saint Nicholas Abbey 18 Year Old, and Saint Nicholas Abbey 20 Year Old Rum.
With a cup of rum punch finally in hand, it’s time to explore the estate properly. Nearby, Guinea Fowl roam the flower and herb garden. Further away, expansive fields of cane rustle in the evening breeze. Distant Hills with towering palm trees seem like the perfect place to relax and think about rum.
Visiting Barbados was done in collaboration with 10 Saints Beer, a lager beer aged in rum casks that’s perfect for relaxing on the beach on the island where rum was invented.