The history of rum from Barbados

The small island of Barbados was colonized late by the English, in 1625... Read more

The history of rum from Barbados

The small island of Barbados was colonized late by the English, in 1625. Rarely in the new world, it will not pass through other hands until its independence in 1966... Read more

The history of rum from Barbados

The small island of Barbados was colonized late by the English, in 1625. Rarely in the New World, it did not pass through other hands until its independence in 1966.

Sugar cane was introduced in 1637. Barbados was easy to cultivate because it was relatively flat, which made it an ideal sugar island. As early as 1640, the dreaded Kill Devil, a kind of rudimentary agricultural rum, began to be made there. Then quickly, the production of sugar started so it was natural to turn to molasses and the scum from cooking the juice.

The cradle of rum

One of the first documents using the word " Rum ", and dating from the middle of the 17th century, comes from Barbados. This written testimony explains why this island is considered the cradle of Caribbean rum. It is here that modern rum as we know it today was developed.

At the end of the 17th century, the island was one of the largest producers of rum in the Caribbean. It was dotted with small and medium-sized distilleries, then equipped only with pot-stills.

The quality of its rums only improved at the turn of the 18th century. This led it to become the second largest producer of rum, after Jamaica, in the mid-18th century. Most of the production was then consumed locally.

The modern era

At the end of the 19th century, many distilleries closed. There were several reasons for this: first the abolition of slavery, competition from other islands, and then a significant increase in taxes in response to protests from brandy producers on the old continent. From an economic point of view, the planters also realized that it was sometimes more interesting to sell their molasses to the numerous distilleries located in the United States, rather than distilling it themselves.

As everywhere else, a beginning of concentration of the means of production started to take place. At that time, it was the WIRD(West Indies Rum Distillery, still called West Indies Rum Refinery ) that was the most successful, with the introduction of the column which allowed it to remain competitive. It was responsible for more than half of the local production at the end of the 19th century.

The century of the merchants

However, management problems led to the company being bought out by other local players. It was mainly its customers (brands, assemblers, traders) who took over. Among them are well-known names such as RL Seale or Doorly. It should be noted that at the beginning of the 20th century, the lobbies of the merchants were powerful and had obtained a law which imposed to the distilleries the sale in bulk. This forbade them to bottle their own wine and sell it directly to the consumer. By buying the WIRD, the merchants secured their supplies and probably saved some money in the process.

There was a sharp drop in local consumption around 1930, but this was also the beginning of a great wave of exports (notably caused by prohibition in the United States). This export trend has continued to grow, and even experienced a meteoric rise from the 1980s. The success of Mount Gay in the 1970s is partly responsible for this.

Today, something rare in the Caribbean, one drinks as much white rum as old rum. 1500 Rum Shops (the equivalent of the famous Jamaican rum bars) dot the island and continue to delight tourists and locals.

The distilleries of Barbados


The distillery was founded in 1893 by two German engineers. It quickly became a monument, and has always been the largest distillery on the island, supplying all the blending brands in Barbados. In the 1990s, contracts were signed with Malibu and Captain Morgan. Such was the success that the distillery struggled to keep up, until it invested in a new column.

Most of the molasses used comes from Guyana. Fermentation lasts 24 hours. The distillery uses 4 distillation units: 2 multi-column complexes (one with 4 columns and the other with 6, the latter being able to produce heavy rums using only part of its capacity) and 2 pot-stills. An old chamber still, the Vulcan, was restored in 2018 and reproduces the old style of the distillery.

The distillery still supplies many blending brands, as well as independent bottlers such as SBS or Duncan Taylor. It also has its own brand called Cockspur.

The Cognac-based Maison Ferrand, owner of the Plantation brand, among others, bought WIRD in 2017.

Mount Gay

It is the oldest distillery in Barbados, with the first written record dating back to 1703. Originally named Mount Gilboa, it was renamed in 1852 in honor of Sir John Gay Alleyne, who developed the distillery considerably. At the beginning of the 20th century, it belonged to the Ward family. The latter had the astuteness to circumvent the law that forbade distilleries to sell directly to the consumer, by creating its own blending brand. This made Mount Gay the first distillery in Barbados to bottle under its own brand.

This brand was bought by the Rémy Cointreau group in 1989. After difficulties causing a brief closure of the distillery in 2013, it was finally bought back in 2014 by the same group.

It is a relatively small producer, but which puts almost all its rum in ageing, and which thus has very consequent stocks of old rum.

The fermentation of the molasses lasts from 22 to 48 hours in wooden vats. The distillation is done with 3 pot-stills and a Coffey column (introduced only in 1976). The distillates are then blended after aging.

Mount Gay is renowned for the balance of its blends such as Mount Gay XO or the 1703 vintage.


This young distillery was established in 1996. The Seale family had been present for a long time as blenders and brand owners, before deciding to be autonomous in rum production. This is in line with the fact that at the same time, WIRD started to have difficulties in supplying its customers other than Malibu and Captain Morgan. So RL Seale took over the old Foursquare sugar factory and turned it into a distillery.

The molasses benefits from 44 hours of fermentation. It is distilled in a double copper column, and in a typical Caribbean pot-still (with a double retort that allows only one pass, a time saving compared to the repasse distillation). The distillates are blended as soon as they are put in casks. 90% of the production is aged, mostly in ex-bourbon casks. However, many experiments have been conducted in recent years with Port, Sherry or Madeira casks(Triptych, Destino, Port Cask, Principia...).

RL Seale 's has acquired several brands from blenders and merchants, so that many brands are derived from its distillery. There are for example RL Seale's, Doorly's, or Foursquare, its own brand. It also works with other brands like Sixty Six or Real McCoy. The brands ESA fields and Old Brigand are only available on the island.

St Nicholas Abbey

St Nicholas Abbey was founded in 2006. The distillery was created to preserve the heritage of a venerable historical plantation. It has its own cane fields, its own house and of course its own production site.

It is a distillery that works all year round because it uses cane syrup (cooked cane juice). Fermentation takes place over 5 days and the temperature is regulated by the regular addition of fresh water. The Annabelle still has been custom designed with a modern and scientific approach. The distillation of the 600L vat is a process that lasts 20 hours! A fairly light rum has been produced here since 2010. Prior to that, the brand's aged rums were from the Foursquare distillery (which is still the case for their oldest rums). Read less

Special feature