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The Original Micro-Distillery

Our research trip to the Virgin Islands continues with a jaunt to Cane Garden Bay, Tortola and a tour of Callwood Distillery, the oldest distillery in the region.  Enjoy.

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Cane Garden Bay is one of those idyllic little bodies of water in the Caribbean.  The lush green hills of Tortola roll steeply from the turquoise waters below and give way to bright blue sky above.  The beach is a perfect crescent and dotted with colorful shacks that sell stiff rum drinks, Caribbean beers and rent beach chairs.  On either end of this stretch are a few decent beach bars and the setting is laid back 365 days a year.

We slowly approach the anchorage at Cane Garden in the Naughty Nymph, the boat that has been our rum research vessel for the last week.  We’re not here for the beach, though it makes a beautiful backdrop.  We’re here to visit Callwood Distillery, the oldest facility of its kind in the region.

The weather is a bit breezy today and our captain, Bahama Bob, waves us off and decides to stay with the Naughty Nymph in these unsettled waters.   We pack our gear and cameras into my bright yellow dry bag and jump in for the quick swim to shore.  We hit the beach and walk parallel to the water’s edge for a hundred yards, duck between a few houses out to the main road through town and take a left at the Callwood sign.  We’re there….. wait, are we? Callwood is an OLD distillery and doesn’t look like much on approach, but is indeed cranking out Arundel Rum the old fashioned way and is a must-visit spot for anyone traveling through the area.

There were once over twenty rum distilleries in the British Virgin Islands, but now there is just one. This property was constructed more than 400 years ago and has been in the Callwood family since the 1800s.  The old stone buildings that house the distillery have seen better days, but the ruin-like motif adds a lot to the feel of this weird little place.  The Callwoods have been distilling rum on this property for more than 200 years and it shows. 

We enter a dark doorway of the main distillery and immediately smell the sweet aroma of rum.  Aging barrels are stacked around the small room and racks of shelves hold several demijohns, blown glass containers that hold unaged rum.  

We meet Curvan, the gentleman who makes the rum, gives distillery tours and runs the tasting bar.  He tells us about their simple and traditional method of making rum.  They use local pressed cane juice that is boiled, settled and naturally fermented without yeast.  The “wash” or “wine” is then distilled in an ancient pot still and barreled for a minimum of four years before it is ready for bottling.  

Curvan pours samples of their line of rums and we immediately become fans of this old place.  Their white unaged rum is surprisingly smooth and I imagine would be great for mixing cocktails, but the 10 year Cane Rum really stands out. He is generous with the samples and we joyfully buy a couple of bottles for the boat ride back to St. Thomas. 

We bid farewell to our new friend and make the quick walk back to the beach at Cane Garden Bay.  The Naughty Nymph crew is anchored out and wave to us as we pack the dry bag and ready for the swim back to the rum research vessel.  It’s only 10:30am, we’ve sampled 5 different rums at an ancient distillery (one of them several times) and the whole day is ahead of us.  We take one last sip of Arundel 10 year and all agree that life in the BVIs is treating us very well.  Cheers!

Stay tuned for more island rum action…