Heading inland and away from the beautiful beaches of Barbados may seem strange. But, there’s one word on the island that makes it OK to reschedule a beach day – rum. Now that I have your attention, let me welcome you to St. Nicholas Abbey.
Tucked away in the countryside of northern Barbados sits the historic St. Nicholas Abbey. One of the island’s oldest surviving plantations, the Abbey encompasses 400 acres of cane fields, gardens and mahogany groves.
Built in 1658 by Lt. Col. Benjamin Berringer, much of the original structure of the still stands, lovingly restored in recent years by present owner, Larry Warren. Stepping inside feels like a trip through time. Artifacts from the ages include a Sheraton sideboard (dating back to the original owners), a Grandfather clock shipped from London hundreds of years ago (that still keeps time!) and pristine Wedgwood tea sets.
Touring the house you can easily envision Margaret, Berringer’s wife, sitting in the drawing room pining for the affections of her forbidden lover, her husband’s business partner, John Yeamans. Rumor has it that Yeamans had Berringer poisoned so that he and Margaret could marry. And indeed, within months of Berringer’s death John and Margaret were married, their homes joined and the property re-named Yeamans Plantation. The stain of the scandal lived on through the generations, until the property was passed to one of Berringer’s descendants, Susanna Nicholas, who renamed it Nicholas Plantation (later again the name was changed to St Nicholas Abbey).
In the mid 1800s, the property was sold to eminent Barbadian politician Sir John Gay Alleyne, the first person to bring rum distillation to the property (he also managed the Mount Gay plantation that was named in his honor), and rum has been made at the plantation every since.
Colourful history aside, the Abbey has become renowned for its rum. Produced entirely on site, the process from barrel to bottle is quite fascinating. Visitors to Barbados in December–May have the opportunity to view the traditional steam mill in action grinding the sugar cane. From there the cane juice is converted into syrup which is stored until needed for production. Then, ‘Annabelle’ takes over–this is where the magic happens.
‘Annabelle’ is like no other woman you will ever meet. She’s the Abbey’s pot still, and holds pride of place in the distillery. According to Eddie, the Distiller, when this piece of equipment was bought, it was advised to name if after the plantation or after the owner’s wife, to avoid 100 years of bad luck and bad rum. So, to avert a crisis, Mr. Warren named it after his wife, Anna.
Annabelle was specifically designed for St. Nicholas Abbey to produce highly distilled, light rum. Eddie monitors the gauges carefully at all times to ensure proper ‘cutting’ of the distillate. The distillate is divided into 3 parts: the Heads, Heart and Tails and cutting it to capture the best part for drinking is truly an art.
The new white rum produced at the end of the distillation process is then placed in American oak barrels for ageing, for 10 or even 15 years. Once it is ready the aged rum is bottled in special French bottles which are numbered, dated and sealed with a crafted mahogany stopper with leather inlay. Special engravings can be created on request and I decide to mark my bottle with the appropriate words, “Time flies when you are having rum.”
The Abbey also sells a number of other locally made products in their gift shop including sugar, molasses cookies, rum truffles and grapefruit and rum marmalade. After sampling a few (maybe a little more) glasses of both the white and dark rum, I grab a table at the on-site café (rum truffles in hand) to have a cup of coffee and some lunch. “This is what makes the Abbey special,” explains my tour guide Heather, “it’s the total package. Guests can spend the day reliving the history of this old plantation, tasting high quality rum and seeing how it is made as well, as sharing lunch on the terrace or strolling through the gardens.”
I couldn’t agree more. The atmosphere of the Abbey is intoxicating (literally) and provides a unique trip through history, that captures the imagination as well as the tastebuds. Of course, no story about rum would be complete without a delicious rum cocktail. Thanks to my friends at Tapas and bartender Ray Carter for whipping up this ‘so pretty you don’t want to drink it’ special:
Ray’s Blue Evening Stroll
1 pt White Rum
1pt Dark Rum
Pour a small amount of grenadine in the bottom of a tall glass. Combine 1/2oz of Blue Curacao with 1pt White Rum, 1pt Dark Rum, a dash of lime juice and 1 cup pineapple juice in a shaker. Shake vigorously and pour over ice, top with Blue Curacao. Garnish with a slice of lime, and for extra sweetness, add a square of pineapple and a cherry on top.
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