Grenada’s oldest rum manufactory


Mozart had not yet composed The Magic Flute and the industrial revolution was just taking off, but the water wheel in northern Grenada was already turning and continues to do so today. For more than 235 years, the power of the Antoine River has been pressing the sweet juice from Caribbean sugar cane, from which, in the course of a traditional process, the organic rum is created that can only be found on the Caribbean island of Grenada.

Antoine Rivers Rum-Brennerei in Saint Patrick, Grenada / © Foto: Georg Berg
Antoine River’s rum distillery in Saint Patrick, Grenada / © Photo: Georg Berg
Wirkt nicht von dieser Welt. Ein ausrangierter Druckbehälter auf dem Gelände der ältesten Rum-Manufaktur Antoine Rivers / © Foto: Georg Berg
Seems out of this world. A discarded pressure vessel on the grounds of Antoine Rivers’ oldest rum distillery / © Photo: Georg Berg

Good things look even better old

This manufactory is not only old. It looks almost dilapidated and has many places that have only been repaired in a makeshift fashion. But it has been in operation longer than anywhere else, and that is a source of pride for the entire workforce. To keep everything running smoothly, each employee has to perform several functions, one of which is especially important: firefighting training. This is urgently needed because open fires are burning in many places. And it is very close to the containers in which the substance is produced, which is not allowed as luggage on airplanes because of its fire hazard.

Unter dem Siedekolben lodert das Holzfeuer. Die uralten Sicherheitsbestimmungen reichen wohl immer noch aus / © Foto: Georg Berg
The wood fire blazes under the boiling flask. The age-old safety regulations are probably still sufficient / © Photo: Georg Berg

The Antoine Rivers Distillery on Grenada may not be the oldest rum factory according to the documents. On the neighboring Caribbean island of Barbados, Mount Gay rum has probably been produced since 1703. But the Antoine Rivers Manufactory is legendary and looks just as old as it is. It is certainly the oldest where you can witness the manufacturing process as it was established at the time.

Zuckerrohr wird auf Grenada das ganze Jahr über geerntet / © Foto: Georg Berg
Sugar cane is harvested all year round in Grenada / © Photo: Georg Berg

Every day, workers heave sugar cane onto the conveyor belt, which, like the press, is driven by the water wheel manufactured in England almost 300 years ago. The construction works reliably and has proven its durability for 235 years. Several men supervise the pressing process, during which some sugar cane is pressed through the roller, even several times.

Hoch oben auf der Maschine beaufsichtigt der Pressmeister die kontinuierliche Zuckerrohr-Zufuhr / © Foto: Georg Berg
High up on the machine, the pressmaster oversees the continuous supply of sugar cane / © Photo: Georg Berg

In the dry season, the sugar cane in Grenada is more concentrated. However, the press then also has a lower output because the mill wheel is only driven with less water. So both factors balance each other out, and it is up to the talent of those responsible to achieve the usual quality through processing. The squeezed sugar syrup flows through an open channel into a hall where it is further processed.

Im laufenden Betrieb werden einzelne Zuckerrohrstücke ein zweites Mal durch die Presse geschickt. Kaum zu glauben, dass diese Maschine schon zu Goethes Zeiten zuverlässig gearbeitet hat / © Foto: Georg Berg
During operation, individual pieces of sugar cane are sent through the press a second time. It’s hard to believe that this machine was already working reliably in Goethe’s day / © Photo: Georg Berg

Behind the pressing plant, a huge mountain of pressed stalks (the bagasse) piles up, which are dried in the sun and used as fuel to heat and thicken the sugar solution containing molasses. By-products, after all, have their uses and need not be considered waste. There is also something organic about the processes here.

Auf der einzigen 50 Meter langen Bahnstrecke Grenadas wird die Bagasse, das ausgepresste Zuckerrohr, auf einem klapprigen Wagen über die Halde geschoben / © Foto: Georg Berg
On Grenada’s only 50-meter rail line, the bagasse, the squeezed sugar cane, is pushed over the dump on a rickety wagon / © Photo: Georg Berg

Old-fashioned: all 80 jobs are safe

At the Antoine Rivers Rum Manufactory, 80 employees have been producing 500 bottles of rum a day for years, satisfying only the demand of the island of Grenada with its population of just over 100,000.

So sieht Nachhaltigkeit aus: Das Schienenfahrzeug erfüllt seinen Dienst seit mehr als hundert Jahren / © Foto: Georg Berg
This is what sustainability looks like: The rail car has been doing its job for more than a hundred years / © Photo: Georg Berg

It’s good for the workforce and the brand that there are no plans to increase production. After all, modernization would entail a huge reduction in staff. The company, it has been calculated, would manage with only eleven employees. But could the rum then still be as legendary as its history?

Der Zuckersaft kommt im Hauptgebäude der Manufaktur an. Dort werden die festen Pressreste heraus gesiebt / © Foto: Georg Berg
The sugar juice arrives at the manufactory’s main building. There, the solid press residues are sieved out / © Photo: Georg Berg

Craftsmanship animates the rum spirit

The juice pressed from the sugar cane is scooped back and forth between several copper bowls with huge spoons until it is concentrated enough for fermentation. Under the coppers, a fire generates the necessary heat from the dried bagasse.

Wenn die erste Melasse ausfällt, kann umgefüllt werden / © Foto: Georg Berg
When the first molasses precipitates, decanting can begin / © Photo: Georg Berg
In jedem Kupferbehälter herrscht eine andere Temperatur und Konzentration. Im vorderen Behälter brodelt schließlich ein Sirup, der aus der Luft die für die Gärung notwendigen Hefen aufgenommen hat / © Foto: Georg Berg
Each copper vessel has a different temperature and concentration. Finally, a syrup bubbles in the front container, having absorbed from the air the yeasts necessary for fermentation / © Photo: Georg Berg

At the Antoine Rivers Manufacture, no yeast is added to the brew, as it continues with the culture that has been native to the building for centuries. After eight days of fermentation in large concrete tanks, the sugar and molasses are converted to alcohol and the typical rum aromas.

In Betontanks brodelt bei tropischer Raumtemperatur leise acht Tage lang der gärende Zuckerrohrsirup / © Foto: Georg Berg
In concrete tanks, the fermenting sugar cane syrup quietly bubbles at tropical room temperature for eight days / © Photo: Georg Berg

After the fermentation is complete, the alcoholic liquid enters large copper flasks that are heated over a wood fire. Because of the greater heat required, a fire made of sugar cane residue (bagasse) is no longer sufficient.

At the beginning of the distillation process, unwanted methanol evaporates and is discharged with a loud hiss when its boiling temperature is reached. The following phases are collected in several intercooling steps until finally the 75 percent white rum collects in the last collecting vessel.

Lediglich eine Betonbühne ist nachträglich unter die Zwischenkühler gebaut worden. Die Gefäße der Destillationskolonne haben immer noch die Form aus dem Gründungsjahr 1785 / © Foto: Georg Berg
Only a concrete platform has been subsequently built under the intercoolers. The vessels of the distillation column still have the shape from the founding year 1785 / © Photo: Georg Berg

As in every country, customs in Grenada keep precise records of the amount of alcohol produced. All bottles are finally filled manually from a small refrigerated filling container and labeled by hand. In the sensory tasting, the 75 percent overproof rum was particularly convincing; it has a very round finish and is surprisingly much milder than the rum diluted with water to 69 percent.

Links der „slightly overpoof“ Rivers Royal Grenadian Rum. Rechts die Exportvariante, die aus Sicherheitsgründen nur weniger als 70 Prozent Alkohol enthalten darf. Antoine Rivers Rum-Brennerei in Saint Patrick, Grenada / © Foto: Georg Berg
On the left, the “slightly overproof” Rivers Royal Grenadian Rum. On the right, the export version, which for safety reasons may only contain less than 70 percent alcohol. Antoine Rivers Rum Distillery in Saint Patrick, Grenada / © Photo: Georg Berg

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