Very Strong Rum
Sandy Bay (St. Vincent), St. Vincent and the Grenadines
I was changing minibuses in Georgetown (a larger village south of Sandy Bay) a week or two ago, when a scent on the breeze caught my attention. I happened to be with Ben at the time, who remarked there was a rum factory/distillery nearby. I made a mental note.
Yesterday, on the way home from an Internet run, I decided to check the facility out. Only knowing the vague direction of the factory, I jumped off the main road and darted down one of the side streets. The smell got stronger as I followed a small dirt path, cutting between the beautiful, ivy-covered ruins of unidentifiable structures. I could see something from the trail, the remains of one of the largest buildings I've seen in the area.
In comparison to other structures, the rusting giant looked like the skeleton of a hanger for dirigibles. Equipment and pieces of machinery were littered about, slowly dissolving into the earth. I later found out this was a former sugarcane factory, abandoned over two decades ago.
Directly next to the former factory was another building, still in operation. I followed a dated chain-link fence until I reached the main gate. This was the spot, the sign (St. Vincent Distillers) and smell in the air confirmed it. With a quick look around for a security detail, I entered the grounds and began walking about the outside of the building.
The structure was old. Gray stone and mortar were showing through the chipped and faded white paint. Etched in a keystone at the top of one of the walls was a date: 1925.
I was poking around the building for a while before I ran into a group of employees. They were a friendly bunch, and pointed me in the direction of the office when I inquired about a quick tour of the plant.
Even though it was growing late in the afternoon, a nice office worker was helpful enough to authorize me to enter the facility with Mr. Pitt, the senior plant manager, as my tour guide.
I was asking a lot of inquisitive questions. Mr. Pitt couldn't quite figure out what my story was, wondering if I ran my own factory back in the the States, or if I just had a fascination with rum—something tells me they don't get a lot of visitors up here.
Mr. Pitt lead me into the factory, and up three flights of steel-grated stairs, to the epicenter of production. The bitter-sweet smell was strong, you could taste it. It was there that I continued to politely probe about location history and production. A few interesting facts:
- The plant, in operation since the early 1980's, is the only rum factory in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
- Molasses is the principle ingredient used to create rum—theirs comes all the way from Guyana in South America.
- Over 1,000 gallons of rum are produced at the facility daily.
- A building (barn) at the rear of the grounds is used to age the rum inside seven, 6,000-gallon tanks.
- They're known for their production of the popular Sunset brand of Very Strong Rum—a liver-busting 169 proof (84.5% alcohol) spirit.
- Twice a week, for just a few hours, the plant opens its gates for bulk sales of rum to any average consumer. A gallon of rum, straight from the tap, costs EC$55 (US$20.50)—about 50% off the street price. People like to show up with plastic jugs and gas cans.
I've seen bottles of Sunset rum in the stores, and think it's pretty neat to have taken a peek at the country's only rum factory. Mr. Pitt says I need to take a shot of Very Strong Rum before I leave St. Vincent—I think I'll take a chaser with that.