I have spent most of this year working in Canada, away from all the great rum that you were able to taste this year. My time in Canada has come to an end and I‘ll be traveling to the Caribbean in a few days before heading back to Germany. I‘d like to follow the example of my fellow Rum Travellers and will try to share as many impressions with you as possible.
As I‘m not travelling alone I‘ll have to see how much of a priority rum will be But I only had seven different rums since mid February, so I‘ll do my best.
Let‘s start slow before we get to the more exciting parts:
I am in Costa Rica right now. The rum landscape here is not very interesting. You can find Flor de Cana from neighbouring Nicaragua and Ron Centenario everywhere. Most of it is available in Europe as well and surprisingly it isn’t much cheaper here, so I didn’t bother trying anything. Cacique is another local sugarcane based alcohol from Costa Rica. It’s available from 2€/bottle but is just a relatively neutral alcohol used for mixing etc.
Looking for something rum related I found a surprisingly tasty canned Cuba Libre:
Today I was able to try some Contrabando, Costa Rican moonshine, which some families produce illegally. The people who let me try it mixed it with a bit of coconut juice. It was quite tasty and was complemented well by the coconut flavours. But the alcohol content of the drink must have been above 50% and wasn’t integrated well which made it burn more than any Overproof I‘ve had.
Enjoy the last of your trip and thanks for sharing Henry. Looking forward to the rest
Cool start with the moonshine
Looking forward for your next rum experience!
Enjoy your vacation and I’m keen to read more about your experience
Enjoy the tour and safe travels!
I’m sure a lot of us would be excited to hear about your impressions of the landscape, the people and of course; the distilleries and rums
Looking forward to this thread! Have a safe trip!
enjoy the trip and the time. Looking forward to reading more, salute
Barbados ist zwar erst später dran, der Duty Free Shop regt aber schon mal die Vorfreude auf die bei uns nicht erhältlichen Abfüllungen an.
In der Flughafen Bar gab es auch schon mal den Plantation Cut & Dry aus dem stilvollen Plastikbecher zu probieren. Gerade im Abgang etwas zu süß für meinen Geschmack, aber wer Kokos mag kommt hier definitiv auf seine Kosten.
Falls der irgendwie nach Caroni schmecken sollte: Die chemische Weichmacher-Note könnte auch vom Becher kommen
Today we started off with a visit to St. Lucia Distillers and it is certain that that won’t be beat and will be the rum highlight of this trip!
I don’t know how we deserved this special treatment, I guess a mixture of luck and a lot of great, passionate people willing to share their love for what they make. We got a tour that ended up taking 3.5 hours instead of the regular 1 hour tour for tourists.
First we met Margaret Monplaisir, the CEO, in the administration building who welcomed us and had organized that tour for us. She then led us to the visitor area where we watched a short film about the distillery. We also noticed that she seems to know and get along well with all of the employees, which was great to see.
Afterwards Lennox Wilson, the Production Manager, picked us up to show us around the site. He wasn’t just a very nice guy but had incredible knowledge of the whole process and was very good at explaining all the steps to people like us, who are not involved the industry.
We started at the famous molasses tank (with more, newer tanks behind it). To the right of it, behind the building you can see on the picture, you will find water tanks, fed by rain and surface water and treated on site by reverse osmosis. Inside the building are three steam generators, running on recycled ship oil from the cruise ships frequenting the island. They had some technical issues with them recently which made them shut down the operations on weekends, but they are returning to normal operation right now. But of the eight (don’t hold me to that) open fermentation tanks only one was filled. The propagators where all in use though.
The whole fermentation and distillation takes place in the building that you can see on the left. We‘ll come to that in the next part of my report.
Lucky! It sounds like you got a VIP tour great in depth description.
Welcome to the Distillery
Lennox led us through the process in chronological order, so we started with the tank where the molasses is pumped into to be diluted with water to bring the molasses down from 82-85 Brix to 18-20 Brix.
Afterwards it is being moved to one of the big propagators where yeast and ammonium sulphate are added. The latter is needed to supply nitrogen for the yeast. Some distilleries use something else that SLD doesn’t like to use. I forgot about the exact names and the reason behind that decision (it was a lot of input). A quick google search didn’t help, but I leave this article here if someone wants to dive into that: L. Fahrasmane (1989): Sulfur Metabolism in the Rhummerie – Boston Apothecary.
When the fermentation starts, first in the propagators then in the open vats, it is being circled through a temperature control system to keep the temperature high enough for the yeast to be active and low enough for the yeast to survive. That temperature is around 30-31 degrees usually.
I won’t go into too much detail of the distillation process as there’s more information on the internet about that part.
Here are pictures of all four stills they‘ve got. They were a bit smaller than I expected.
It was great to have someone that knowledgeable walk you through the process. And he definitely was able to fill some knowledge gaps that I had, including everything about low wines, high wines and retorts. I also wasn’t aware of the fact that they are in fact artificially creating a reflux effect on their column still to increase flavor.
Then we went to the cane fields and to the place where the juice is pressed out of the cane. Nothing too special if you‘ve seen sugarcane grow and someone making it out of it. It was surprisingly small which made me appreciate the manual labour behind it even more. Very interesting however was that the fermentation tanks for the cane juice are located right next to it, relatively far from the rest of the distillery. The reason behind that is that they don’t want the fermentation of the juice impact the fermentation of the molasses.
RumX came up while walking through the distillery, not just with Lennox. I had the impression that nobody really knew what it is, but everyone had „heard the marketing people talk about it“. When I told them more about it they appreciated the idea and were curious.
When visiting one of the barrel houses Cyril Mangal, cellar master and the guy behind the forgotten casks, stepped in and told us about the barreling process, topping up barrels, managing them etc.
They are working on some new products to see how customers react. After noticing demand for wine barrels (I think especially port) they will be releasing a limited port cask release from 2005 (if I recall correctly). Also they are experimenting with other barrels, there is definitely rum aging in Cognac and Mezcal casks, there was more, but it was a lot of input at that stage
As the last step in our behind the scenes tour we went to the blending facility and the lab.
Blending for most rums takes place in the huge tanks to the right. On the left side, not visible on the picture, are slightly smaller ones, used for the forgotten casks for example. The small tanks on the top are used for the 1931.
Then Lennox took us to the lab where Denny Duplessis, the very passionate Master Blender and Quality Control Manager, took over. We didn’t take many pictures in the lab area because listening to the most scientific part of the tour after all the input took our whole concentration. (No alcohol consumed at this point.) This and the fact that I am not having a background in biochemistry is why I can’t tell you too much about that part of the operation. Everything looks very scientific and they are testing everything at every stage. Testing the molasses before buying it helps them make sure that they can work with it. Testing it before using it enables them to react at an early stage if something is a bit off from what they are used to working with. That becomes ever more necessary as they are not buying molasses from Guyana anymore but having to buy it from wherever it is available due to an increasing lack of high quality molasses. These are just some examples.
Of course they are using their own senses as well. Both to monitor the rum along the way and to blend the final product.
I know that spiced rums are not the favorites of us rum geeks, but it was great to see how passionate Denny was about extracting and blending all the flavours for their spiced rums. And you could feel and see the effort going into it. We noticed that spiced rum is quite important for St. Lucia Distillers a bit earlier already. Lennox was telling us about an upcoming meeting with the Caribbean rum producers to discuss sugar in rum. He said that it’s not easy to regulate, because on the one hand they want to avoid becoming like Venezuela and keep the sugar out of the rum while also producing spiced rum products.
We were also able to try some of the components. The most special for me was definitely the ability to try their rum made from sugar cane juice without it being mixed with molasses rums. We tried it unaged and at 6 years. I can tell you that it’s a wonderful spirit that I would happily drink on its own. But the unfortunately the amount of sugar cane juice rum is restricted by the cane growing on the island. They are trying to expand their fields, but I doubt that it will ever make it to a sugar cane juice only release.
We also tried the unaged molasses rum which was very interesting to taste in comparison to the cane juice rum from the same still (JD1). And we also had a 12 year old molasses rum that would make a great master selection release.
After taking us to the public tasting area and going through all their releases Danny took us back to the administration building where said goodbye.
I have to say that our visit to the distillery couldn’t have been any better and that I am very grateful that these people have taken some time of their busy days to show us around the distillery.
It so cool, you lucky guy!
When we were there in May, we got the standard tour only, and it was not really extensive.
Thanks a lot Henry! That was a special tour. St Lucia Distillers is one of the most interesting distilleries in my opinion and it was a pity that Jarek got the tourist impression only. This rum nerd deep dive was very interesting - especially with all the production details that are not in the focus of the regular rum discussions.
Unfortunately, when visiting you don’t know which tour you’ll get. Probably, the tourist one.
Thank you so much for taking us on this tour - and for your detailed descriptions, @Henry !
It’s always nice to see how rustic (in a positive way) the distilleries are set up. With these pictures in mind, the rum tastes twice as good.
Darn those are good pictures and descriptions