24 April 2009

British Virgin Islands Rum Report

Cruz BayThis is the fifth installation of the Rum Report. Updates will be given from islands in the Caribbean which Sandpiper stops at that have distilleries.

During Sandpipers stop in Tortola/BVI we got the opportunity to stop at the oldest and smallest distilleries that we have had the opportunity to visit in the Caribbean. Once we made our way ashore, we smelled our way to Arundel Estate where the smell of distilling rum was in the island breeze. This distillery has been in operation for over the last 400 years and was in operation when we arrived. Unlike other distilleries that use molasses, the Arundel Estate uses raw sugar cane that is crushed behind their building with machinery that was shipped over from England several hundred years ago. The cane crusher used to be powered by donkeys, but according to our guide he said it was a time consuming process because they had to keep beating the donkeys to keep the machinery going. So now the crusher is powered by a small diesel engine with a long belt that rotates it.

Once the cane is crushed the cane juice is then boiled in open copper pots using the dried cane stalks as fuel for the fire. It's then put in barrels to ferment for 18 days naturally without adding yeast. After fermentation the fermented cane juice is poured into a copper still pot and a fire is lit. Coconut husks, scraps from local construction sites and tree limbs are burnt to distill the fermented wine. It takes all day to boil the alcohol from the ancient still where a pipe runs from the top of the still to inside the building where we could see the pure rum dripping into a well in the floor.

The rum is then hand ladled into large extremely old hand blown glass jugs where it is kept till it is ready to be bottled or barreled to age. This tiny distillery makes only 25 gallons of rum a day. White rum from the glass jugs is diluted and bottled as 80 proof white rum. Or it is barreled and allowed to age for 4 years. Or their top of the line is aged 10 years. This is the only licensed distillery in the Eastern Caribbean that uses a single pot still. Too cool!

There are several other rums around the BVI's such as Pussers Rum that still uses its original recipe from the 16th century. Pusser was the official rum for the British Royal Navy. Each man aboard was allowed a pint a day. But a pint a day is quite a bit to drink and still function. After general disorder and dysfunction throughout the fleet in 1740 Admiral Edward Vernon ordered the ration to be diluted with two parts water, sugar, and lime juice. It then become known as Grog. This tradition continued for over 200 years till 31-July-1970 ("Black Tot Day") when the last Grog was drunk aboard her Majestys Ships.

Pussers Rum is a blend of six different Caribbean rums and now is marketed in Pussers restaurant/bars around the world. We got the chance to visit one of these shops on our stop in Gibraltar before our Atlantic Crossing.

Other rums sold in the BVI's are Foxy's Firewater Rum that he sells at his beachside bar in Jost Van Dyke. It's not bottled in the BVI's. Instead it is a blend of rums bottled in Trinidad and then has his label added to the bottle.

Another rum bottled in Trinidad and labeled in the BVI's are resort blends that are labeled with whatever resort wants to have their own labels.

Stay tuned for the next issue of the 'Rum Report'!!

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