Old Fashioned Rum
- March 31st, 2012
- in Yachting
Rum the Old Fashioned Way
A couple hundred feet from the beach in Cane Garden Bay, the Callwood Distillery exists as a transport back through time. Located on what was once known as the Estate Arundel, the distillery still produces rum almost the same way it was done more than 300 years ago. Outside, soiled stonewalls bear the scrawled Callwood name, and cane trees grow semi-toppled adjacent to the distillery. Inside, things appear to have changed even less. Wooden barrels filled with aging rum line the walls, and large glass bottles called demijohns carry the unfiltered, clear cane product. The damp and musty air and deafening enclosure make it easy to picture the place in the days of planters and pirates.
The historic still reputedly stands as the oldest distillery continually in operation in the Caribbean. Today, droves of cruiseship tourists visit the distillery by safari bus to hear the story of its fascinating history, and to sample the sought after Arundel rum. Upon entry, guests are asked to donate a dollar, or buy a bottle of rum ($10-25), to hear one of the Callwoods, or resident guide Kervin Joseph, revisit the story of the distillery’s past.
“My name’s Kervin, the one who makes the rum, sells the rum, and drinks the rum,” the 10-year employee said, speaking to a crowded room of about 10 tourists. The process of distilling the rum, he explained, starts with inserting cut cane into the pressing mill, where the juice is extracted. From there, the juice flows through receivers into coppers, which are actually large iron cauldrons where the juice is then boiled on a fire made with dry cane husks. The fermented mixture is boiled again until it reaches a temperature high enough for alcohol to be produced and then run through a coiled cooling system. The rum is then stored in barrels to be aged. Rum is stored for four or ten years in the oak barrels to produce a smooth dark rum, or for a brief period in the demijohns for the pure, white cane rum.
“If you want to get wasted, you drink the white rum,” Kervin explained as he poured samples for willing guests. He then produced a bottle of four- and ten-year bottles, which contain the smoothly spiced and aged rums. “The ten year—my favourite—is smooth, like water going down,” the rum expert explains. “And since it’s made from sugar cane, the best part is you won’t get a hangover.”
The timeless rum distillery has become an iconic fixture within Cane Garden Bay for both tourists and residents alike. The rum is sold exclusively through British Virgin Islands vendors as a definitive local product. The Callwoods purchased the distillery from the Arundel’s more than 200 years ago, and the company has remained family owned and operated since.
Fourth-generation owner Michael Callwood has fond memories growing up and helping his father and grandfather in the cane fields and at the still.
“Growing up, it was what I knew to do through high school,” he said as he sat on the familiar stoop outside the distillery’s entrance. “Now I’m 58, and I can pass that work down to my family—I would hope, but you never know with young people these days.”
Today, Michael’s children, Melanie, 18, and Michael, Jr, 19, both work at the distillery. They both voiced their interest in attending school and traveling, but have plans to keep the distillery operating under the Callwood name.
Callwood distillery, after more than 300 years of beachfront operation, doesn’t appear to be going anywhere fast. Its seemingly archaic equipment and rustic setting only add to the allure and richen the quaint community. In the BVI, a place where ruins often crumble and go overlooked, it’s encouraging to see a family such as the Callwoods holding culture and tradition close, all in the name of smooth, cane rum.