At the River Antoine distillery, they’re still making fiery rums like it was 1785. It’s a spectacle well worth seeing, and the end product is mighty strong…
Some tours of rum distilleries in the Caribbean can be very slick. Expensive audiovisuals, ubiquitous branding, trays of samples to taste, a wisecracking patter from your guide – oh, and please exit through the gift shop. That’s not how they do it at River Antoine, the most engaging of three working rum distilleries on Grenada – which is a pretty good number for an island with just 107,000 people. You’ll find it in the far north east near La Poterie – not far from the much visited Belmont Estate.
Here a mighty 8m (26ft) high water-driven wheel stamped “G Fletcher of London & Derby” resolutely crushes locally-grown sugar cane while wood fires heat up huge cast iron pots and copper stills.
You feel a bit drunk just breathing in the alcohol-infused air here, and the words “Health and Safety” have clearly never been uttered at this archaic distillery that looks like something out of a Hieronymus Bosch painting. Visitors who turn up independently may well be left to make their own way around, discovering a tableau of sweating labourers, blazing fires, wandering goats and huge stacks of bagasse (leftover cane).
But this is the taste of history. The method of production here, all done by hand, seems to have hardly changed down the centuries. In 2009 the wooden vats used for storage were replaced by cement tanks because they became too costly to maintain, but by and large they’ve been making rum like this since before the French Revolution.
The current range of Rivers rums includes one so strong and potentially combustible at 75% proof it can’t be taken on aircraft. Cannily, there’s a 69% proof alternative that just sneaks past such restrictions. Tours incur a nominal charge and end with a brief tasting, and what hits your throat is a true blast from the past. It’s worth remembering most Grenadians prefer to drink such rums neat, but if you find it too much try it with a little coconut water and an ice cube.
Images: © The Coconut Times