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St. Nicholas Abbey

Macaws and steam trains aren’t what you’d expect to see at a distillery, but then St. Nicholas Abbey isn’t your average rum maker. A premier tourist attraction in Barbados, the site is home to a restored Jacobean-style mansion, manicured gardens, a museum, exotic birds, and its own mini railway. It’s also a former plantation, and while today it’s a beauty spot on the bright face of Barbados, it’s also a sobering reminder that rum’s story is often an ugly one.

The great house was built by Colonel Benjamin Berringer in 1658, but the first reference of this site’s association with rum dates back to a survey taken between 1717 and 1721 that lists 870 estates and 320 windmills used for sugar production in Barbados, including what was known then as Dottin Plantation. The name Nicholas comes from George Nicholas, husband to the founder’s granddaughter, Susanna. The Nicholas Family sold the plantation to Joseph Dottin and it found its way to Sir John Gay Alleyne (of Mount Gay fame) in October 1746.

St. Nicholas was no longer a functioning plantation by 1947, over 300 years after cane was first cut there. Barbados native and noted architect Larry Warren bought St Nicholas Abbey in 2006, creating a heritage attraction, cultural centre, and self-supporting distillery, complete with bottling line and local sugar cane supply. A restored 1890 steam mill, the last of its kind in Barbados, crushes the sugar cane.
A select variety of sugar cane unique to the plantation is crushed to extract the juice and then fed to a vacuum evaporator which reduces and pasteurises it to create a syrup commonly known as ‘sugar cane honey’. An on-site well and mill pump provide clean water. Fermentations last five days before small batch distillation takes place in a traditional pot still (called Annabelle) with a rectifying column. The rum comes off the still at 92% ABV and is diluted to 65% for ageing.

The new make rests for three months in stainless steel tanks before being transferred into bourbon barrels, which are removed and re-barrelled after three years to ensure an even characteristic to the vintage. Older casks are also preferred for a more subtle interaction. There’s no adulteration whatsoever of the rum, including no blending, and production here is tiny, with the distillery only producing about 40 barrels a year.
There’s no plan to expand as the Warrens have tried to create a distillery that’s part of a wider experience. The rum is delicious though, distinctively different from the kind its island neighbours of Mount Gay and Foursquare make, with creamy and fruity, almost agricole vegetal brightness to it.

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