SUGAR AND SPICE
St Nicholas Abbey in Barbados specializes in single-barrel, limited-edition rums of the highest quality
The great Jacobean plantation house of St Nicholas Abbey is one of the architectural treasures of Barbados. It also produces one of the world’s finest rums, named St Nicholas Abbey after the 17th century house. The drink is produced using fresh sugarcane, distilled to a traditional recipe and sold in elegant glass decanters with mahogany-topped corks.
“We want everything we do to be of the highest quality,” says the house’s owner Larry Warren, who drinks his rum neat. “It is about attention to detail, so our consumers aren’t just buying a product, they are buying an experience. This is a very fine quality, traditional rum but it is also about imagination. If you have a good product and add a story to it, that product becomes exceptionally enjoyable.”
Larry bought St Nicholas Abbey in 2006 to ensure it did not suffer the same fate as another iconic building in Barbados, Sam Lord’s Castle, a Georgian mansion which was bought by a hotel chain and which burnt down in 2010. As an architect, Larry wanted to preserve St Nicholas Abbey for the island and, following careful restoration, it was opened as a heritage site in late 2006, complete with a Chinese Chippendale staircase and authentic period furniture. Sales of rum support the property and showcase the plantation’s rich history.
The rum is made from fresh sugarcane following a traditional recipe. It is distilled in small quantities in a traditional pot still with a distillation column and aged in bourbon oak casks for a minimum of five years. The drink is then hand-bottled in unblended form. “There is a lot of adulteration and blending with rum, but we don’t do it that way,” says Larry. “Some of our barrels are 30 years old and every one of them is unique, and that makes every bottle we sell a limited edition.”
The rum is produced in limited batches of 6,000 bottles per year, a small number of which are exported. Most are purchased by visitors. “The rum is a product that you can take with you as a memory when you leave the island and it’s an important ambassador for the whole plantation and what we are trying to do,” says Larry. “It is about the integration of heritage and manufacturing. We show people all the different stages of the production from field to bottle. By integrating tourism with manufacturing, we are giving a meaningful experience that goes beyond sand, sea and sun.”