Rum punch is the loftiest destiny to which any rum can aspire.
bar, where the rum punch comes in a tulip glass so perfectly chilled that beads of condensation immediately form on the outside. Where Daphne’s represents the chic Caribbean playground of the rich and beautiful, my next stop encapsulates the island’s more, shall we say, rustic side. Although you’d never mistake it for fancy, the sleepy fishing village of Oistins is transformed on Friday nights into the best party on the island. Experience tells me to abandon my taxi several blocks before the market, as traffic has ground to a halt. The carnivorous smell of dozens of barbecues and the low thud of bass notes is all the map I need to find my way there. There’s a dance battle going on, with half a dozen limber young dancers throwing moves to an irresistible Rihanna remix (a nearly ubiquitous choice here, on her home island). I grab a rum punch from the nearest vendor. Poured from a plastic bottle, it isn’t a glamorous version, but it’s mighty powerful and has an honest, unpretentious flavor that is very Bajan. I head back for a second and a third. Before the night is through, I’ll pick up a few new dance moves of my own. The next afternoon, headache slowly dissipating, I cross over to the northern part of the island and seemingly go back in time. The narrow road is lined on both sides with the thick stems of towering sugar cane. In the distance the heavy coral tower of an ancient windmill, now shorn of its blades, comes into focus. I turn up a long driveway onto the grounds of St. Nicholas Abbey, lush with large philodendrons, mottled orchids and ancient mahogany trees. This Jacobean mansion, one of only three in the Western Hemisphere, has been turned into a living museum that provides a snapshot of how life was lived here in the 17th century. I’m here to see how rum used to be made. The Abbey recently started to make its own rum in a new distillery in an almost historical way, which contrasts with the state-of-the-art production facility at Mount Gay. When it comes to rum, it doesn’t get much more old school than a working steam mill, which is exactly what I find on the grounds behind the house. The Rube Goldberg-esque arrangement of gears and cogs is used to extract juice from sugar cane. The syrup-thick liquid flows directly into fermentation pots where it rests until it’s ready to be distilled in customized copper pots so polished and shiny they reflect the palm
PHOTOS: SUSAN SEUBERT (OISTINS, ST. NICHOLAS ABBEY); JILLIAN DICKENS (BARMAN, RUM PUNCH RECIPE)
CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT A Friday night fish fry at the colorful night market in Oistins; a bartender mixes punch at the Mount Gay distillery; rum ages in former bourbon barrels at St. Nicholas Abbey.
Fairmont Magazine winter 2012, International edition