We head up to St. Patrick’s Parish for a look at one of Grenada’s most interesting distilleries, River Antoine Estate.
Grenada is an island with a rich history of distilling rum, moonshine and bush spirits. Of the three existing (legit) distilleries on the island, the most scenic, historic and unchanged in its 228 year history is River Antoine.
Located in the beautiful northern parish of St. Patrick’s, River Antoine has been making their legendary high proof Rivers Rum since 1785. Their age-old techniques and antique equipment have remained, making a tour of the facility like walking through a working rum museum.
River Antoine proudly makes their pure cane juice rum from locally grown, hand cut, organic sugar cane. The juice is extracted by crushing the stalks multiple times in a waterwheel-powered cane crusher. The steady rush of water that turns the wheel is diverted from a local river and depending on whether it’s rainy or dry season, is only allowed to flow for a few hours per day.
Once the cane is crushed, the spent stalks or “bagasse” is loaded onto a wooden hand cart and dumped onto giant mounds around the property where it is allowed to dry in the warm tropical sun. It is later used as a natural fertilizer in local agricultural fields, but mostly burned and used as the heating source in the distillery’s boiler house.
As the freshly pressed cane juice enters the boiler room it passes through a basic set of filtering screens before being deposited into a series of boiling caldrons. The juice is hand ladled from the coolest caldron to the hottest and becomes a thicker syrup in the process. This stage is strictly powered by gravity and manual labor and heated by burning bagasse.
From the boiler house, the cane syrup is transported next door to the fermentation room. It is pumped into large concrete vats where it is allowed to ferment naturally, without adding yeast, for up to 10 days depending on the climate.
River Antoine uses two Vendome potstills to produce their rum. They are both heated using locally cut hardwood and the temperature is skillfully controlled by the amount and type of wood burned.
After distillation, the fresh rum is gravity fed to a neighboring room where its ABV is verified and the tax man keeps it under lock until proper documentation is made. It is bottled using a Rubbermade water cooler with a spigot, then hand sealed and labeled. The entire process is very green and almost unintentionally “artisan.”
River Antoine operates throughout the year and enjoys a very strong local following. Like regional beer snobs in the States and Europe, Grenadians often choose their rum brand by where they live on the island. Rivers fans are so loyal, in fact, that the company is not able to export any rum – they just cant make enough. 100% is consumed by locals who proudly stick to one brand.
There is a popular adage in the north of Grenada, “DON’T SAY RUM, SAY RIVERS.” It’s pretty clear that in nearby taverns and rum shops, people are enthusiastically saying RIVERS over and over again.
*River Antoine Estate is easily accessible by cab, bus or car. They offer daily tours and have a wonderful restaurant and tasting bar for large groups. Be sure to pay them a visit.