Amongst rum cognoscenti, Jamaica’s Hampden Property is held in exceedingly excessive reverence; a go to to the distillery is a ceremony of passage for hardcore rum geeks. Past simply the extraordinarily funky rums which draw excessive costs and appeal to collectors, Hampden’s distillery is revered as a step again in time a century or extra into rum’s storied previous.
Whereas Hampden is certainly all it’s cracked as much as be, it’s a miracle of modernity subsequent to Grenada’s River Antoine. At Hampden, molasses arrives through truck. At River Antoine, a virtually two century previous water wheel powers the cane mill. The ensuing cane juice is processed the identical manner it was within the 1600s. And whereas Hampden heats it stills with steam, River Antoine burns regionally scavenged hardwood straight beneath the stills.
If Hampden Property is a window into rum making circa 1880, River Antoine takes you again one other century to pre-industrial revolution rum making.
Each Hampden and River Antoine make terribly funky, barn-burning rums able to inflicting the faint-hearted to flee. River Antoine’s rum isn’t in any respect costly however is very sought out by many rum cognoscenti. You gained’t discover it within the most interesting liquor shops in Europe or america. Little or no, if any is exported from Grenada, so hopping on a aircraft is your greatest wager to accumulate it.
Distilleries like Mount Homosexual (1703) and Appleton (1749) began rum making previous to River Antoine’s 1785 distilling begin date, however the Mount Homosexual and Appleton distilleries developed and modernized considerably over time. In distinction, River Antoine seems the way in which it might need in 1785, besides to the extremely skilled eye. That makes Grenada’s oldest operational distillery distinctive within the Caribbean rum world.
In early 2020, I visited Grenada to see the brand new Renegade’s new distillery. Naturally, River Antoine was a necessary cease as properly. Earlier than leaping in what I noticed at this residing museum rum’s early roots, I counsel first studying my Grenada Rum Cheat Sheet for vital context.
Notice: River Antoine wasn’t distilling throughout my go to. The chimney for the fireboxes underneath the pot stills had not too long ago failed, thus offering distillery employees the chance for substantial renovations in quite a few techniques. As such, a couple of of the photographs under of the distillery in operation are introduced courtesy of Marco Graziano, taken throughout his personal earlier go to.
The River Antoine property is positioned on Grenada’s northeast coast close to the river of the identical title. For such an extended working property, early particulars are difficult to seek out in unique sources. Nevertheless, a 1763 file, created shortly after the British takeover, says the property comprised 150 acres and sugar was among the many crops.[i] The identical supply exhibits that the property had grown to 480 acres by 1782.” On an especially detailed 1780 map, the property is represented as “41”, simply south of Lake Antoine.
It’s claimed that 1785 was the primary yr rum was distilled on the property. We don’t know for certain how the primary cane mill was powered (doubtless wind or oxen), however in 1840, the property acquired a brand new watermill, pushed by a viaduct related to the close by river.
In 1856, the property was listed on the market, described as “451 acres of very fertile land, tailored for cane or different cultivation….a wonderful watermill, boiling and curing home, liquor loft and rum retailer….”
An 1878 report proclaims the surprising circumstances of “Coolies” (Indentured laborers from the East Indies) at River Antoine and elsewhere on Grenada:[ii]
Throughout the British colonial period, River Antoine remained a small distillery, not increasing its capability as many different distilleries did. An 1897 handbook[iii] data the property’s output as “75 baggage of cocoa, 150 barrels of sugar, and 2400 gallons of rum.” Manufacturing figures from 1903-1905 are related: 1680, 1301, and 2721 gallons, respectively.[iv]
The property’s longest working house owners have been the De Gale household, who owned it for no less than a century — by means of Grenada ‘s independence and up until the 1980s. Establishing the preliminary buy date by De Gale is difficult, however as early as 1897, Thomas De Gale was the proprietor.
River Antoine performed a outstanding position in Grenada’s labor historical past. In 1959, the property’s employees took over the property in response to claims of mistreatment[v]. Once more in 1980, in the course of the Individuals’s Revolutionary Authorities (1979-1983), a bunch against the federal government took management of the property. [vi] Finally, the property was restored to the De Gale household, who subsequently bought it in 1988 to native traders, together with Shirley Richards, the property’s present Normal Supervisor.
In the present day, River Antoine is amongst Grenada’s hottest vacationer locations. A big restaurant with capability to deal with tour buses was not too long ago constructed for the inflow of tourists. In addition to sugar cane for rum, the property nonetheless grows coconuts and nutmeg — conventional Grenadian crops.
Till River Antoine, each distillery I’ve visited has seen concessions to modernity and repeatability of rum making. River Antoine is the precise reverse. It’s very simple rum making, accomplished precisely the way in which it was centuries in the past. There’s no pasteurization or cultured yeast strains right here. No temperature-controlled fermenting vats. No steam-heated, temperature-controlled distillation passes.
Because of this, what comes off the nonetheless varies broadly in energy, though what’s bottled for native consumption is no less than 75 p.c ABV. To the bare eye, there’s no seen know-how that predates the mid-1800s. My jaw was incessantly agape, seeing issues I’d solely examine in historic texts.
The distillery is located off a small rural highway that hugs Grenada’s northeastern shoreline. There’s no fence or guard gate marking your method. You would possibly suppose you’d wandered onto a luxurious villa’s non-public driveway. However as soon as you notice the drying bagasse masking each inch of floor, you realize you’re shut.
After assembly Shirley Richards, the overall supervisor, my information offered me with the distillery’s primary particulars in the course of the quick stroll to our first cease. Amongst different issues, I be taught that the property has some eighty staff, presumably not all on the distilling facet of issues.
We quickly arrive on the watermill, acquired in 1840 from George Fletcher & Co. of London & Derby, a agency that specialised in sugar processing equipment. The wheel portion is partially encased in a masonry construction. A trough alongside the construction’s high deposits water from the close by river onto the wheel, inflicting it to maneuver.
A niche within the construction’s wall lets the waterwheel’s axle connect with a gear on the opposite facet of the wall. This gear drives the Victorian period cane mill. A separate sprocket elsewhere on the mill drives a sequence related to a conveyor belt which drags cane items up a ramp for depositing within the mill. A corrugated metallic roof covers the milling space, shielding employees from the tropical solar or rain. In fact, if River Antoine isn’t flowing sufficiently that day, no cane will probably be crushed.
The mill rollers draw my consideration as a result of they’re flat, slightly than grooved, like each different cane mill I’ve seen. Grooved rollers are extra environment friendly. My information informs me that the rollers as soon as have been grooved however have worn down over time.
About 85 p.c of the cane usually processed yearly comes from estate-owned cane fields, the opposite from native farmers. Throughout my go to, I noticed a board indicating that cane from Renegade Rum’s CaneCo subsidiary was the final cane crushed. Over the course of a rising season, the milled cane juice varies between 6 and 15º Brix.
Steel tracks close to the mill allow a cart to move the just-crushed bagasse away from the milling space. It’s unfold on the bottom to solar dry earlier than being burned as gas in a boiler. As for the collected cane juice, it travels down a small trough to the boiling home.
Previous to the economic revolution, sugar cane juice processing was a crude, completely handbook course of. The fundamental thought is to warmth the cane juice to partially drive off water and trigger sucrose crystals to type. The sucrose crystals are then strained and picked up. The thick, darkish liquid left behind is molasses.
The standard course of for the above concerned a row of huge, spherical metallic bowls, heated from beneath. The bowls are generally known as coppers, though not fabricated from copper any extra. Cane juice goes into the primary copper, the place it’s heated to vaporize among the water and focus the sugar inside the liquid.
In time, the liquid is ladled to the subsequent heated copper for additional focus. This course of repeats for every copper in pipeline style: Contemporary cane juice enters the primary copper; moist sugar crystals and molasses exit the ultimate copper.
All that mentioned, River Antoine is concentrated on rum slightly than sugar, so its course of differs barely.
River Antoine has a collection of 5 coppers housed in a single a part of a T-shaped constructing just some meters from the watermill. Nevertheless, the boiling home doesn’t take issues to the purpose of separating sugar from molasses. Moderately, focus stops after making a cane syrup at round 14º Brix. This turns into the first supply materials for fermentation.
The heated, thickening juice spends about 45 minutes in every copper. Employees makes use of a bowl connected to an extended keep on with ladle the juice from copper to copper. Timing a and a cautious eye is vital, in any other case the sugar caramelizes which isn’t fascinating for rum making.
As soon as sufficiently thickened, employees ladle the cane syrup right into a trough resulting in a cooling tank, the place it rests for about two days.
River Antoine’s fermentation is totally pure and airborne. No cultured yeast to be discovered right here! Fermentation of the cane syrup from the adjoining boiling home happens in open-topped, concrete tanks.
Fermentation usually takes eight days in one of many 9 tanks. The tanks aren’t scrubbed after every use. Thus, the residue of 1 fermentation batch seeds a extremely bacterial fermentation of the subsequent batch. Bacterial fermentation results in extra uncommon flavors than a “regular” yeast-only fermentation.
Whereas the first fermentation supply materials is cane syrup from the boiling home, a little bit of Trinidad molasses is often added to combine to spice up the brix to 18º and create the next yield. In fact, a 100 p.c cane syrup fermentation will be accomplished upon particular request.
The ensuing fermented wash is often between Four and 4.5 p.c ABV, relying on the season and sugar content material of a given day’s cane crush. Trendy distilleries like Demerara Distillers work exhausting to manage the wash’s energy for distillation consistency. Nevertheless, at River Antione, such broad variations are an accepted a part of life.
Adjoining the boiling home and fermentation constructing is a coated space. Within the center, perched atop a six-foot excessive concrete platform are two side-by-side double retort pot stills. At the moment one nonetheless is from Kentucky’s Vendome, the opposite from John Dore. I’m informed the pot parts put on out comparatively rapidly as a result of aggressive direct heating.
On one facet of the platform, straight beneath the pots, two fireboxes are recessed into the concrete. Distillation begins by burning regionally scavenged hardwood in these fireboxes, heating the pot instantly above. It’s a remarkably easy association and much much less elaborate than fashionable steam-coil heated pot stills.
The stills every take a wash cost of round 1800 liters (475 U.S. gallons.) Over the course of a run, roughly 77 liters (20 U.S. gallons) of rum collects, usually at round 75 p.c ABV in energy.
Beneath regular circumstances, the chimney for the 2 fireboxes rises up between the 2 stills. Nevertheless, throughout my go to the chimney and fireboxes have been being rebuilt from the bottom up. No distillation was potential, so staff have been additionally performing massive ticket upkeep in a number of areas. It was a hanging sight to see the disassembled pot kettles, necks off, sitting nearly haphazardly on the bottom close by.
Additionally, on the platform close to the nonetheless’s twin retorts are wash-preheaters. They switch warmth from the nonetheless’s sizzling vapors to the subsequent wash batch previous to distillation, saving time and power. Adjoining to the pre-heaters is a pit within the concrete platform. Throughout the pit are a pair of worm coils for condensing the rum vapors coming off the nonetheless. Throughout distillation, water within the pit absorbs warmth from the recent vapors passing by means of the coils, cooling the vapors again into liquid type.
In contrast to at most distilleries, there’s no spirit secure or assortment tanks seen from the stills. Right here, they’re positioned inside a room within the T-building. The gathering tank is sunk into the room’s concrete ground. A dipstick permits checking the tank’s fill degree.
In a single nook of the practically empty room with the rum assortment tank is the bottling line: A ten-gallon Igloo cooler and a small bottle capping machine, a really small concessions to modernity. Employees fill the cooler from the receiving tank, dilute it to the specified energy, then fill the bottle from the cooler’s facet faucet. Wanting dipping bottles straight into the spirit tank, it couldn’t be an easier bottling line.
Grenadian rum bottles are scarce sufficient that they’re reused between River Antoine, Westerhall, and Clarke’s Courtroom. Beforehand used bottles get rinsed properly and have a brand new label is utilized previous to sending it again out to prospects.
For those who’re interested by aged variations of River Antoine, there are none. What comes off the nonetheless is bought nearly instantly thereafter, a lot in the identical manner it was in the course of the colonial period.
Naturally, there’s the query of River Antoine’s rum itself – how is it?
The distillery sells two strengths of Rivers Royal Grenadian Rum, simply differentiated by their label colour. The blue-labeled, lesser energy model clocks in at 69 p.c ABV, slightly below the edge of what most airways enable to be transported. Thus, it’s the selection of vacationer bringing bottles dwelling, myself included.
The upper energy native rum, in a tan bottle with crimson ribbon is assured to be no less than 75 p.c ABV. It may be larger nevertheless, relying on what got here off the nonetheless on any given day. The property additionally bottles a rum punch.
As for the rum’s style, I shall not attempt to impart any kind of detailed tasting notes right here. What got here to thoughts whereas tasting on the distillery was a cross between Hampden’s Rum Hearth and Clairin Le Rocher from Haiti, which for me has a definite, nearly paprika observe. The latter isn’t significantly shocking, on condition that Haiti’s clairin manufacturing seems much like what I noticed at River Antoine.
The quick synopsis is that River Antoine’s rum is strictly the kind of strange, overpowering monster that top ester rum lovers go bananas for. That mentioned, you would possibly suppose twice earlier than gifting a bottle to an unsuspecting co-worker or neighbor upon returning dwelling. YMMV.
Professional tip: Carry native money if you wish to buy bottles on the distillery. They don’t take bank cards or international forex.
As Martin Cate informed me years in the past in a van bouncing throughout the again roads of Jamaica, River Antoine is a transformative expertise for rum geeks, a lot the identical manner Hampden Property is. For college kids of rum historical past or excessive ester zealots, River Antoine may be probably the most thrilling rum experiences you’ll ever have.
I sincerely hope the property can reasonably and thoughtfully broaden its manufacturing, thus making certain future generations of rum lovers can partake of its distinctive connection to rum’s epic and storied previous.
[i] Legacies of British Slave-ownership web site: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/property/view/1361
[ii] Parliamentary papers. 1878-1879;v.51
[iii] The Grenada handbook, listing and almanac,1897
[iv] Minutes of the legislative Council; Grenada; 1906
[vi] The New Jewel Motion: Grenada’s Revolution, 1979-1983