The spirit of Barbados
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The spirit of Barbados

Barbados' sugary sand beaches, aquamarine waters and cheek-caressing trade winds are merely the appetisers - it’s also where some of the world's finest rums are produced. Travel journalist Andy Marshall and his photographer brother Paul, explore the island's rum culture plus other attractions and activities...

The island of Barbados, twenty-one miles by fourteen, dangles on the far-eastern tip of the Caribbean Island chain, a coral charm dangling along a volcanic necklace. This popular tourist destination may be relatively small in size, but in the world of rum, it's massive. In fact, Barbadians were the first to concoct the hearty cane liquor in the mid-17th century – and it was around that time, that the word 'rum' - an abbreviation of 'rumbullion'- was coined in the 'tippling houses' of the capital, Bridgetown, where life was certainly rumbustious.

It's estimated that back then, the average man on Barbados drank around 75 litres of rum per year. Today, if a Barbadian asks you to 'down a booze', 'fire one' or 'have a snap', it’s an invitation to one of the local rum shops - colourful watering holes that convey the local spirit as fluently as Dublin's pubs speak of the Irish and Paris cafés parlez Francais.

There are around 1,500 rum shops on Barbados, give or take (ask anyone and they will give you a different answer) - and they're found in every village and town, and at almost every crossroads or street corners where people pass by. As we begin to explore the island, driving along narrow, winding country lanes often fringed with billowing stalks of sugar cane, we can't help but notice these vibrant establishments that dot the roadside.

It's a Saturday afternoon in Barbados’ northern-most parish St Lucy, and we stop off to check out one of the island's typical rum shops. Inside Kiddie's Bar, accompanied by a reggae soundtrack it’s a bustling scene – customers play cards, dominoes or warri (a version of backgammon), while others hang out at the bar ordering drinks and chatting about cricket. “The traditional way of drinking rum is to have a 'snap' poured into a shot glass, and then straight down the hatch,” says Kiddie's regular, Rupert London, who lived in his namesake city for a dozen years. “Barbados' pub scene has some similarities to London's - but it’s a lot warmer and more colourful here." He orders a flask of Mount Gay Eclipse and proudly slides a couple of full glasses across to his new acquaintances.

Rum shops, contrary to the name also sell beer and double up as convenience stores offering foodstuffs (for example tinned goods, crackers and corned beef etc), but some also sell local dishes such as 'rice and stew', 'cou-cou and flying fish' and 'fish cakes and cutters' to mention just a few. The majority of rum shops are sponsored by big name drinks companies like Guinness, Heineken, Banks (the island's own hugely popular beer), Johnnie Walker, Absolut and, of course, Mount Gay. Shop exteriors are often painted with huge, brightly-coloured logos, and interior walls are festooned with posters of scantily-clad models beckoning patrons to enjoy their brands. "It’s to encourage people to try other drinks, but most people end up sticking to rum or beer," Rupert tells us.

Barbadians are gracious and approachable people, and visitors can drop into any bar anytime to ‘lime’ with the locals. Liming is a word we hear plenty of times as we travel around the island, and means recreation, socialising and relaxing with friends. Every rum shop has its own character and its own set of patrons, and a few worth checking out include: Skeete's Beach Bar at Martins Bay, Braddie's Bar (located on the outskirts of the popular St. Lawrence Gap), John Moore Bar (idyllically located beachside in Weston, St James), Gaggs Hill Rum Shop (in Bathsheba), and Iris' Bar, perhaps the smallest and most intimate on the island (opposite Browns Beach just outside Bridgetown). Along Baxter's Road just north of the city centre you'll find a concentration of watering holes where the drinks flow freely, sidewalk vendors fry up fish, and rum shop-hoppers stay late into the night.

No Barbados rum experience is complete without learning how the precious elixir is created. On the outskirts of Bridgetown, amid the palm-fringed turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea where the trade winds blow and the water is crystal clear is the Mount Gay Rum Distillery & Visitor’s Centre - where the world's oldest rum brand was born over three centuries ago. A displayed legal document dated 20th February 1703 specifies "two stone windmills...one boiling house with seven coppers, one curing house and one still house" on the Mount Gay Estate - all equipment essential for making one thing: rum.

“Barbadians still love their rum," says our tour guide Janelle Jones as she walks and talks us through the various stages of rum production in which high-quality sugar cane and Barbados spring water are distilled and then aged in charred oak barrels. After the tour, she announces with a twinkle in her eye, that there will be a taste test in the distillery bar and an opportunity to sample a selection of rums.

Behind the distillery bar stands Samuel L. Jackson lookalike, Christopher Breedy, who possesses a manner and line of patter as smooth as the liquor itself. "There are three basic steps in evaluating a rum," he tells us. "Appearance, aroma and taste." He holds a glass of Extra Old up to the light. “Look at the legs on this. Some people call them tears, but we like to look at legs round here. "Sweet perfection in a glass." ...

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Attached Files

“THE-CROP-OVER-FESTIVAL-ON-BARBADOS-IS-THE-BIGGEST-STREET-FESTIVAL-IN-THE-CARIBBEAN-–-IMAGE-CREDIT-BARBADOS-TOURISM-MARKETING-INC”-.jpg
“THE-CROP-OVER-FESTIVAL-ON-BARBADOS-IS-THE-BIGGEST-STREET-FESTIVAL-IN-THE-CARIBBEAN-–-IMAGE-CREDIT-BARBADOS-TOURISM-MARKETING-INC”-.jpg
The-spirit-of-Barbados.rtf
The-spirit-of-Barbados.rtf
“Barbados Food and Rum Festival – Image credit Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc”
“Barbados Food and Rum Festival – Image credit Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc”
“John Moore rum shop – Image credit Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc”
“John Moore rum shop – Image credit Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc”
“Surfing at Bathsheba – Image credit Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc”
 “Surfing at Bathsheba – Image credit Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc”
“Beautiful beach on the island's west coast – Image credit Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc”
“Beautiful beach on the island
“A local walks past a wall advertisement for Old Brigand Barbados Rum – Image credit Andrew Marshall”
“A local walks past a wall advertisement for Old Brigand Barbados Rum – Image credit Andrew Marshall”
“The bartender evaluates a glass of Mount Gay Extra Old rum inside the Visitor Centre bar – Image credit Paul Marshall”
“The bartender evaluates  a glass of Mount Gay Extra Old rum  inside the Visitor Centre bar – Image credit Paul  Marshall”
“Braddy’s Bar by the beach – Image credit Paul Marshall”
“Braddy’s Bar by the beach – Image credit Paul  Marshall”