How about a tour of Antigua Distillery Limited and a visit to their tasting room for a sample of the English Harbour Rums. Come along.
We pulled slowly into port at St. John’s, Antigua and waited anxiously for another great day of distillery touring and rum drinking. We all knew that this day would be special. We were about to tour Antigua Distillery Limited (ADL), makers of the famous English Harbour Rums and a place that the general public doesn’t normally have access to.
We load into a small, hot, overcrowded mini-bus and we all grumble as we roll slowly through the morning traffic. We anticipate a long, uncomfortable ride to the distillery, but we’re pleasantly surprised when we arrive at the front gate of an industrial site no more than 5 minutes later. The sign reads “Antigua Distillery Limited.” This is it!!
We’re met out front by Anthony Bento, Managing Director of ADL. He welcomes us and describes the interesting history of the facility. Like most islands in the Caribbean, Antigua once had a plethora of sugar plantations and each had their own brand of rum. Estate rum production decreased in the early 20th century and rum shops took over the tradition. In 1934 several of these shops joined forces and developed Antigua Distillery Limited.
Over the years, the new company acquired several estates and a sugar factory. Their own unique, high quality molasses gave their rum a distinct taste and their first official brand, Cavalier, was launched in the early 1950s. Cavalier remains a popular local label on the island, but today ADL is best known for their premium line of English Harbour Rums.
After donning hard hats and hair nets our tour of the distillery began. Following visits to several tourist-friendly sites, it was interesting to see how this one worked, a plant that is admittedly not prepared for tours. We walked single file on steel walkways through tight corridors and passageways to view the fermentation and distillation areas.
One of the more interesting aspects of the plant is their unusual column still. Because of height restrictions, it is stacked in segments, four sections wide, but operates the same as a traditional set up. It is a one-of-a kind piece and shows just a bit of the innovation of everyone involved in this distillery.
We made a brief pass through the rum lab where new blends are designed and current products are tested for quality control. We continued on to the bottling area which consists of a very simple and efficient line that was running full blast with just two employees manning the operation.
We finally congregated at an offsite tasting room where we had a chance to sample all three rums from the English Harbour line. The 5 and 10 year aged varieties are amazing, but the 1981 vintage blew everyone’s mind. At $225us, this is certainly a bottle of rum that belongs in the super-premium category, but our crew saw it as a worthy investment and bought nearly every bottle they had in stock.
English Harbour 5 Year has long been a favorite sipper at Rum Connection headquarters and it was a pleasure seeing where it is made. ADL is an extremely understated distillery. They are low on the usual tourist glitz and glam but heavy on what counts – consistently making wonderful rum.
Thanks to all of our new friends in beautiful Antigua. We will definitely be back to swim in your blue waters, mingle with your friendly people and, of course, drink more of your outstanding rum. Cheers!!