This plateau is also the home to fields of cane. The red soil fortifies the green blades of sugarcane. Daily rumble of mountain thunder, and pure waters from the rains, provide the chemistry for the journey. A few zigs and a zag on dirt roads channeled among seven-foot fields brought me to the rusting gate hanging from white limestone pilasters adorned with only the words "Mount Gay". This was Mount Gay Plantation.
In the open courtyard, life was non-existent. At lunchtime, during a high sun, the employees had found every cool shady overhang that catches those sea breezes. The plantation buildings had been built from Nature's other miracle: thick cut stone slabs. My direction was toward the aged corner building that was whitewash painted.
At the laboratory, Mr. Oscar Waithe, Mount Gay Rumís Plant Chemist, greeted me. Yes, he was dressed in a crisp white lab-smock to the knees. With his out-stretched hand and that warm Bajian smile, he let me enter the lab for my personal tour of the birth of the golden elixir: Mount Gay Refined Eclipse Rum, 89 US proof. In recent years this rum has become the choice of the Caribbean yacht crowd and the Euro-polo set, but it has always been the mainstay of the well-appointed bar of the rum connoisseur.
As a scientist might, Oscar brought me right up to a rack of filled test tubes. He explained that the process begins at the end for me, and in a small hollow on the palm of my hand, he put a puddle of several drops of colorless liquid for me to put against my tongue. Two hundred proof is 100 percent alcohol and just the vapors were enough for me to Cane juice from the many acres are crushed on site, and the many liters are directed into the distillery through extensive hydraulic systems into a series of holding tanks.
The aroma of yeast was unmistakable, but more puzzling was Oscar's explanation of the heat radiating from this brown frothing liquid. In itís rude state, the sugars of the cane, called mash, will break down into a rough alcohol from subsequent tank to tank. I watched as one operator began the transfer process and the requisite skimming of the foamy residue. Tough work! Using gravity, he filled each tank while sending each prior batch on its journey. Claaa-chunk! Claaa-chunk! The 80-year old two-cycle engine pumped the "simple pot" fluids up again to an older and cooler room. Oscar Waithe pointed out that while this method is a more ancient art of distilling, it provides those inherent impurities that are aromatic and produce a flavorful heavy-bodied rum.
The little smile on Oscarís face, as we climbed a final few stairs, kept me in mystery. Was this the secret ingredient or special additive to the formula? It wasnít the burnt sugar or caramel, as Oscar explained to give that pleasant golden tint. It wasnít the aging for several seasons in antique Kentucky oak bourbon barrels, long turned rum barrels, which he was keeping from me. And then, as a few strategic rays of sun filtered down from the high stone cut windows, I read a hint to the secret. Welded in brass was Edinburgh, Scotland 1778, glistening on the copper domes of the two large Scottish stills. They were brought here over two hundred years ago to do a very specific job, and they havenít let us down yet.
Oscar had not let us down either. It was a great tour finished with my favorite:
Mount Gay Rum, Iced Tonic Water, Lime Wedge, and a Dash of Angostura Bitters...ÖCheers!
Mount Gay Rum Visitors' Center
Spring Garden Highway
Tel: (246) 425-9066
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