Perhaps nowhere else on the planet has sugar so dominated a culture and economy as in Barbados, and the islanders learned more than 300 years ago that cane syrup distilled into rum was worth far more per pound than the raw product.  The syrup was at first shipped back to England for processing, but plantation owners and investors soon began building their own distilleries locally.  The Mount Gay Rum distillery, opened in 1703, still survives and continues to produce one of the world’s legendary rums.

Driving through Barbados' cane fields

Driving through Barbados’ cane fields

It’s around midday on a sunny Sunday when I ask directions of the hotel clerk and set out with friends in a rented car into the island’s interior in search of Mount Gay.

Outside of Bridgetown the roads quickly become country lanes that slice through acre upon acre of sugar cane which stands so tall that we seem often to be driving through green tunnels.

The roads are deserted and the directions seemed straightforward enough, but over an hour later we’re still crisscrossing the cane fields on country lanes so familiar to the natives of an island just over 20 miles long and 15 miles wide that many highway intersections are unmarked.

Our guide-to-be along the roadside

Our guide-to-be along the roadside

We’re just about to give up the search when we come upon a man walking along the side of the road carrying a sack over his shoulder.

We pause to ask directions and he tells us – to our delightful surprise – that he works at the distillery and will gladly take us there in exchange for a return lift.

Mount Gay's famous rums on display near the gate.

Mount Gay’s famous rums on display near the gate.

This happy coincidence turns out to be only the beginning of our good luck, for although the distillery is closed on Sunday he ushers us through a locked gate into an empty compound to begin a private tour.

Mount Gay distillery, Barbados 03

This place is a time machine

Our impromptu guide walks us around the yard before leading us into a laboratory-looking room where the progress of fermentation and distillation is monitored, and quality of the finished product is controlled.

A quick primer on the chemistry of rum

We get a quick primer on the chemistry of rum

This is all very interesting, but what I really want to see is some of this golden elixir in the making, and my wish is shortly granted.

Rum-in-the-making is tested here

Rum-in-the-making is tested here

A  mill tower stand  silent

A mill tower stand silent

 

 

We head back out into the tropical sun, across the yard, and past the silent ruin of an old sugar mill.

Under a simple canopy sit wooden vats that look a lot like giant hot tubs, brimming with a smooth, thick, brown mash.

Rum in the making

Rum in the making

Its surface is broken from time to time by gently surfacing bubbles and the syrupy sweet smell of sugar hangs heavy in the air.

I breathe deeply, taking in the exotic aroma until it seems to fill my head.

On the way back we drop our guide at his destination and continue to marvel at the happenstance which created yet another of many memorable days.

But there’s more yet to see on this island than its size might suggest.  My next Caribbean post takes you along on a a visit to Barbados’ Andromeda Botanic Gardens, where the tradition of English gardens is meets a rainbow of tropical flowers toeye-popping effect.

Click here for the Mount Gay Rum web site

Read more about my visit to Barbados in earlier posts:

Basking in Barbados

Barbados’ great houses

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