There’s no better time to visit the Caribbean than now. While your friends are commuting through snow and slush and wearing five layers anytime they go outside, you’ll be in a swimsuit getting a tan, a rum punch in hand at all times. Plus, you can go on a rum tour. Almost every island has at least one distillery where you can see first-hand how they turn sugarcane into liquor — and get a taste of some of the best brands. Check out these top rum distilleries to visit for your winter vacation.
Barbados: West Indies Rum Distillery
In 1893, two German brothers established this distillery, planning to ship the rum back home. That plan changed in 1903 when some locals bought the business. Today you can stop by the practically beachfront distillery in the southern parish of St. Michael to see their column and pot stills, both of which they still use. And once the tour is over, you can sample various rums to see if you prefer rum distilled using column stills or the old-school pot stills.
Grand Cayman: Cayman Spirits Company Distillery
Grand Cayman’s only distillery makes our list for one reason: ocean aging. Yep, that means aging rum on the ocean bottom — at a depth of seven fathoms, hence the name of their rum: Seven Fathoms Rum. On the tour, you’ll see their 1,200-gallon copper pot still and the pot still used to perfect Seven Fathoms Rum. They also make Gun Bay vodka, if you want to mix things up. Afterward, you can sample both rum and vodka, plus their seasonal “distiller’s special,” which is only available at the distillery.
Grenada: River Antoine Rum Distillery
Visit River Antoine to see how rum is really made. This distillery still uses a waterwheel to crush sugarcane, making it the oldest Caribbean distillery to use water power. They waste little, burning the crushed sugar cane (a.k.a. bagasse) in the boiling house, and using that fire to reduce the extracted sugarcane juice to syrup. The syrup is then fermented in open-air containers before being distilled in copper pots. And of course the tour ends with a tasting of their two rums. Be sure to enjoy the 150 proof, since customs won’t let you through with a bottle of it.
Jamaica: Hampden Estate
Rum connoisseurs say Hampden is the place to go for a closer look at how rum is made. They do things right here and kick the tour off with a rum punch. Then you’ll check out the grounds while learning the history of the estate and also visit parts of the factory, including the fermentation room and copper stills. Things wrap up with more rum, including their signature Rum Fire, and lunch.
Martinique: Habitation Clement
Habitation Clement is more than a rum distillery — it’s an immersion into Creole culture. You can tour the botanical gardens, plantation house, art galleries, and old factory, which is set up to show how their rum was made back in the day. Of course, there’s a tasting at the end, and they are known to be generous with those samples.
Puerto Rico: Casa Bacardi
Puerto Rico calls itself the rum capital of the world. If you go, check out Bacardi’s mixology tour. After a welcome cocktail, you head off to tour the distillery, learning about the Bicardi family, company, and how they make their rum. Then it’s time for the best part: learning how to correctly make a Cuba Libre, mojito, and daiquiri — and drinking them all, too.
St. Lucia: St. Lucia Distillers
This is another distillery that gives you access to almost all of their facility. You get to see the rum fermenting, mash storage tanks, and their column and pot stills. Plus they have their own coopers, who you can watch making barrels. And then there’s the tasting room, where you can try classic Chairman’s Reserve or Admiral Rodney, or go for one of their flavored rums, such as banana, coconut, or coffee.
Tortola: Callwood Distillery
If you tend to stay at all-inclusive, high-end resorts, Callwood might not be your thing. This distillery is very small and anything but fancy. But Mike Streeter, a writer for RumConnection.com, says it’s worth a trip. “Right on the shores of Cane Garden Bay, Callwood makes rum with a wood-fired still and primitive bottling facility,” he says. Plus, for $1, you get to try four rums. Try finding 25-cent you-call-it like that at even the cheapest happy hours.
Trinidad: House of Angostura
That’s right — Angostura isn’t only bitters; they also make rum. Their tour includes a historic video, tram ride of the facility, and viewing of the bottling room and the bitters room, the only place in the world where their bitters are created. You also get to see their butterfly collection (it’s pretty massive) and wrap it up with samplings of almost all of their products.