There are more than 50 legal distilleries across the Caribbean islands, from historic farmhouses to postcard-worthy plantation houses. These 5 are considered the best of the best:
River Antoine Rum Distillery, Grenada
Contact: +1 473-442-7109
The way rum is produced at River Antoine has barely changed in the 230 years since production began at the distillery in 1785. Today’s crew uses the same centuries-old water mill (the oldest working water wheel in the Caribbean) to crush the same organic sugar cane which continues to be grown on the premises. Visitors can even observe the traditional methods in action, including the cooking, fermenting, and distilling in old pot stills.
River Antoine’s famed “slightly overproof” bottle, with its 150 proof alcohol content, is so popular locally that there’s not enough to export. And that’s a very good thing because such a high level of alcohol — almost twice the strength of a typical rum — makes it a combustible fluid, so it is not even allowed on airplanes. As one visitor noted on TripAdvisor: “I think it would cure any bacteria that may have been brewing in your system!” Made from sugar cane syrup, it’s potent but surprisingly smooth.
St. Nicholas Abbey, Barbados
Contact: +1 246-422-5357 | +1 246-422-8725
Barbados is the island that is said to have created rum around the 1650s, as sugar cane production took off. St. Nicholas Abbey was built around the same time, in 1658, and is one of just three Jacobean-style mansions remaining in the Western Hemisphere. Decorated with gables, grand arches, and cedar-paneled sitting rooms, it is hands down one of the finest historic sites in Barbados.
The distillery, meanwhile, is the newest on the island, built in 2009. Among the handful of rums St. Nicholas produces is the excellent, honey-colored 12-year-old, made from molasses and aged in old bourbon barrels. A visitor comments on TripAdvisor that “The Abbey is a beautiful estate that you could spend hours wandering around. Seeing how sugar cane becomes rum is like being in an episode of how it’s made on discovery channel.”
Appleton Estate, Jamaica
Contact: +1 876-963-9215 | +1 876-963-9216
The first known documentation of rum production on the Appleton Estate is dated 1749, but experts believe the origins of the distillery date back to Sir Francis Dickenson in 1655. Now, Appleton, is one of the big names in the rum world.
The company recently spent $7.2 million to renovate the estate, which features eco-friendly distilling. Visitors can try their hand at distilling, juicing the cane, and boiling “wet sugar.” Afterward, it’s sample time: Don’t miss the 50-year-old offering. This is the oldest barrel-aged rum in the world, with powerful, smooth flavors of vanilla.
One enthused visitor said this on TripAdvisor: You are greeted with a rum and finish with a rum with plenty of rum in the middle Experience eating raw sugar cane, try molasses and crush your own sugar cane juice then taste it.
Diamond Distillery, Guyana
Contact: +1 592-265-5019
Guyana is technically in South America, yet it’s part of the Caribbean Community (Caricom). In the 17th and 18th centuries, there were over 200 small distilleries operating in Guyana, each attached to the existing sugar plantations, and each with its own special blend of rum. Following years of consolidation and amalgamation, there remains just the one unrivaled distillery at Plantation Diamond.
The Diamond Distillery is truly a mecca for rum geeks. Set on the banks of the Demerara River, the distillery uses some of the oldest and unique rum stills in the world. A visit here feels like time traveling. The distillery is able to produce more than 26 million liters of pure alcohol annually, and is the largest supplier of bulk rums and alcohols from the Caribbean to brand owners in Europe and North America. Here are some review on TripAdvisor.
Rhum J.M Distillery, Martinique
Contact: +596 596-78-9255
Martinique has nine rum-producing distilleries. The Rhum J.M estate is one of the oldest and most beautiful, dating back to 1790. The brand itself was founded in the 1840s and is located in Le Macouba, at the base of Mount Pelée, an active volcano on the northern tip of the island.
Rhum is made only during harvest time (January to June) and is strictly controlled by French A.O.C. standards (e.g., fresh sugar cane juice only). Aside from touring the distillery at your own pace, you can sample offerings of agricole rums, a funky, earthier, more vegetal spirit than your typical piña colada boozer. Rhumerie de Fonds Préville, Macouba.
According to a review on TripAdvisor, the North of Martinique is quieter than the South and JM is a nice addition to any activity there. They offer a guided tour of the plantation where you learn about local plants and agriculture.
Ian Burrell: Global Rum Ambassador
This article would not complete without introducing you to Ian Burrell, the Global Ambassador of Rum. The Jamaican-born Burrell is indeed the rum industry’s spokesperson, hired by spirit brands to spread the good word. He travels around the world, teaching consumers and industry professionals about rum, from how it’s made to inspired ways to drink it. He has even transported his mobile tiki bar as far as Antarctica in the name of education. What a life!