Rum is the signature drink of the Caribbean and each of the islands seems to have its own rum distillery (or three) where the art of rum making is carried out. Whilst we were on Grenada we went to visit the River Antoine rum distillery, where rum is still made in the traditional manner and has been since 1785.
The first stage of the process is to harvest the sugar cane from the fields. This organically grown sugar cane is harvested by hand on the River Antoine Estate. The cane is tied into bundles to make it easier to transport and handle and taken to the rum distillery.
Next the cane is crushed to squeeze out the cane juice and this part of the process is powered by the water powered cane mill. This machinery is ancient (like something from the earliest years of the industrial revolution), but it’s effective. The cane goes through the crushing machine twice to extract as much cane juice as possible and the resulting liquid is then channelled, through open gutters, to the boiling room. There’s no waste in this process because the leftover plant material (the dried out, crushed cane, known as bagasse) is put to good use as a fertiliser in the local fields. Some of the bagasse is also used to fuel the fire in the boiling room that is home to the next stage of the process. As you walk around the site you are stepping on the drying bagasse.
Boiling up the cane juice helps to thicken up and concentrate the sugar levels of cane juice. The juice is filtered by the workers who scoop out any bits of cane material with their ladles. The juice is ladled through a succession of big, cast iron basins (known as coppers), with increasing sugar concentrations, until it is brought to the boil in the last one in the line. Once the correct sugar concentration has been reached to allow for a good fermentation, then the boiled cane juice is ladled into another sluice which runs into the fermentation tanks in the next room. I don’t think I’d want to work in this room on a hot day as I’d imagine it would get very uncomfortable. It takes about an hour for the cane juice to make its way through the boiling house process.
The next stage is fermentation. This is where the sugar changes to alcohol. I was surprised to hear that no yeast is added and that they rely on the natural yeasts in the air around us to do the job for them. This fermentation stage takes about six days and they have two large tanks. One tank is filling while the other is fermenting. Then one is emptied ready for refilling, while the other one starts its six day fermentation.
The next stage is distillation. This is where the rum is concentrated in the still until it reaches 75 per cent proof. If it isn’t the right concentration the first time, it goes back through until it is. The fire under this boiler is heated by wood. The wood comes from all over the small island of Grenada. Basically, if you want a tree chopped down, you call out the brewery people and they come do it and take the wood away for their still.
Once the rum is 75 per cent proof, it’s ready for bottling. They also dilute some down to 69 per cent proof for visitors that want to take a bottle home with them (you can’t export 75 per cent proof). We then got to sample a little of the finished product. It will really blow your socks off. Alternatively, you might want to try the rum punch which is a mere 20 per cent proof.