A little beyond the tunnel is Georgetown. Just past the center of town and north of the river is St. Vincent Distillers Ltd. About 65 years ago, Bentinck Estate Ltd. built a distillery here to make use of the readily available molasses from the sugar mill next door.
In 1963, the distillery became St. Vincent Distillers Ltd. Also in that year, the fields that had been planted with sugar cane were turned to bananas and the sugar mill shut down. Transportation routes had developed so that sugar could be imported at a lower cost than it could be produced locally. When the sugar mill closed, molasses for the distillery had to be imported.
In 1983, a new crop of sugar cane was planted, and hopes were restored for an inexpensive, domestic source of molasses. The sugar mill, which had been all but torn down, was refurbished with equipment from Trinidad, while the new crop of cane was beginning to cover the mountainside. With the promise of cheaper raw material and renewed economic optimism, new distillation equipment was ordered from John Dore and Co. in England.
On June 11, 1985, the first rum from the new distillery was produced. Unfortunately, the sugar mill next door had already closed and bananas were once again taking over the landscape.
Today, the bananas that fueled the economy over the last 30 years are threatened by foreign competition. But rum is beginning to emerge as a viable source of foreign trade.
Fitz-Stephen Pitt, the distiller, learned his trade at this distillery. He is responsible for mixing the wash of molasses, water, and yeast and then fermenting it in the 5000-gallon steel vats for two to three days. Tubes in the ten fermentation vats carry cool spring water and maintain the proper temperature without additional energy or polluting the river water.
Once fermentation is complete, the brix, as the fermented wash is known here, is fed to the two-column stainless steel still. The first column, or distillation column, produces alcohol at about 72% by volume. This condensate is redistilled in the rectifying column to 89% alcohol. This raw rum is condensed and leaves the distillation area at room temperature. The steam for the process is produced by a diesel-fired boiler since there is no bagasse to burn.
Three rums are bottled here at the distillery. The local taste tends to favor Sunset Very Strong Rum bottled at 48 over proof - 84.5% alcohol by volume. If you are in the market for ten gallons or more of this strong rum, bring your container here on a Tuesday or Friday morning - the busiest times of the week.
The balance of the production is diluted to 54% alcohol and aged in 45-gallon, once-used oak casks. After aging, the rum is blended and bottled as Captain Bligh or Sunset Red. Sunset Red has an essence added to give it a unique flavor and was chosen as the winner of its class in the Caribbean Week Rum Testing Competition in 1993. Captain Bligh was second in 1992 and 1991, a record of which Mr. Macintosh, the managing director, is justly proud. S.V.D.L. also bottles Rum Punch,a blend of rum, passion, and other tropical juices.
Although there is not yet a set tour I have always enjoyed my visits to this distillery and I am sure you will too.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines are truly to be experienced, but be sure to get your rum early on Friday or you may have to drink some imported spirit. And that would be a shame.
While you are in St. Vincent and the Grenadines remember that most bartenders favor the local taste and mix Sunset Very Strong Rum in their rum drinks. More than one tourists has drunk more rum than they thought they were drinking after only a couple of drinks.