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Friday, November 16, 2012

Organic and Crude versus Fancy Pants


The Rum Museum in Martinique sprawls with
pristine exhibits through two 2-story
buildings in its quest to cover
Martinique’s rum history, the
evolution of the distillation process
technology and St. James’ Rum brand.

While Wayne and I joke that our fantasy for this trip is to drink cheap rum drinks, dancing to a live steel drum band on a moonlit beach, rum is seriously big business in the Caribbean; in Antigua and Barbuda it's represented nearly 30% of the country's export products.

Sugar cane production’s nolonger a sweet indulgence here; it’s primarily used to fuel high-octanerum.  Rum (or as they sometimes call it, “Rhum”) distilleries are prominently promoted on tour maps, in guide books and in tourist offices.  Like beer, local brews are a source of cultural pride.  At the 

In our quest for knowledge and cheap entertainment, we figured checking out a distillery was a no-brainer.

Fancy Pants:  The Rum Museum

In Martinique, we combined our island road trip with a stop at The Rum Museum, aka St. James Rum, in St. Marie.  It was a free, self-guided tour.  We were unable to see “the crush” part of the process as the sugar cane harvest season was not due to resume until December; we were there in November.  We also missed the factory tour, which we didn’t know was every morning at 11:30 am, we suspect in conjunction with a packed cruise ship bus.

St. James boasts a centuries-old legacy, and produces a staggering array of rums.  It was breifly part of the Cointreau family.  We opted to try what we saw sold in large quantities at Leader Price (a European-based grocery store found in larger French territory Caribbean towns with lots of store brand products at excellent prices), as well as their older, premium aged rum.  We liked the premium rum, but weren’t up for buying a large quantity for something I would sip rarely; Wayne is far less fussy and is just as happy with cut-rate rum I wouldn't touch.  We bought a less premium rum, as it was one of the few available for purchase in a small, “fifth” size.

At Macoucheri, in Dominica, we were
given a private tour.  There were
no canned displays.  Everything
in the process was very
manual, but organic farming methods
were used.
Organic & Crude: Macoucheri Estates
When we anchored in Salisbury, Dominica, between the capital, Roseau and Portsmouth, there wasn’t a whole lot of activity options nearby.  Mostly, it was just a decent anchorage roughly halfway between Roseau and Portsmouth.

We walked down Salisbury’s two-lane, mostly shoulder-less rural highway, to check out Macoucheri Estates.  We were confident a tour there would be a vastly different experience than the glitzy St. James Rum Museum.  Once we spotted the faded sign, we ambled up the dirt road to Macoucheri Estates.  Cautiously, we ignored the dog appraising us, as we knew we had nothing to offer the mildly curious hound. We figured, correctly, the ramshackle wooden out-building where a couple guys were operating some ancient, mechanized equipment (doing maintenance, we later discovered), was part of the “factory” but not the starting point to engage a tour.  We took our best guess at where the office was in a plain, weathered stucco, wood and metal building. Ambling up the cement steps to the second story, we entered a good-sized, mostly empty room.  In it was a staffed desk, a tablecloth covered card table, topped with several rum bottles.

Within a few minutes, the receptionist / secretary connected us to a nice fellow who promptly took us on tour.  Our guide explained weeds growing amidst the sugar cane fields were hand-picked.  At Macoucheri their fields were not burned, and the cane was composted.  Much of their equipment was water powered, from water running through the Estate.  Rum production quality tests appeared to be geared more around achieving the correct alcohol content, than the correct flavor.

The tour lasted about 15 minutes, including small sips of two of the few rums Macoucheri produces. After a few sips, we selected a favorite and decided to purchase it.   Then we discovered the tour was not free, though that was not mentioned in our guidebook, there were no tour cost signs, nor were we told until our tour was completed and we took out cash to purchase rum.  We had no money left after paying (about $4.50 each US) for the tour to buy the very affordably priced and tasty Macoucheri rum.

Rum-Didly
Two rum “factory tours,”each quite different, though neither of which were producing anything at the time.

Our fantasy to drink cheap rum drinks, dancing to a live steel drum band on a moonlit beach, lives on.  Most likely, the rum will be neither St. James nor Macoucheri.