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A Visit to Saint Nicholas Abbey Distillery

A Visit to Saint Nicholas Abbey Plantation & Distillery

An aerial view of Saint Nicholas Abbey in Saint Philip, Barbados

Image courtesy Saint Nicholas Abbey

The Great House

Built in 1658, the Jacobean plantation home now known as Saint Nicholas Abbey was built by Colonel Benjamin Berringer. Sugar had been grown on the estate as early as 1640, and the property has changed hands several times through its more than 350 years. (The plantation was purchased in 1810 by the seventh great grandfather of British actor Benedict Cumberbatch.) In 2006, Saint Nicholas Abbey was sold for perhaps the last time to the Warren family.

The Great House at Saint Nicholas Abbey

An architect by trade, Larry Warren and his wife Anna purchased Saint Nicholas Abbey with an eye on restoration and historical preservation. Today, they operate the plantation as a heritage site that will eventually become a self-sustaining non-profit so that future generations can learn the island’s history through their interpretive exhibits.

Saint Nicholas Abbey Tour Guide, Maureen Phillips

Saint Nicholas Abbey Tour Guide, Maureen Phillips

Products produced on the plantation are overseen by Anna Warren, and include local fruit jams, molasses, and of course rum. The Warren’s sons Simon and Shae also play active roles in the operation.

The living room of the great House at Saint Nicholas Abbey
While walking through the beautifully restored home, I could think of nothing but the poor souls forced to work outside its walls, and marvel at the inequities. African slaves were taken to Barbados in 1627, toiling under bondage in its fields for more than two hundred years until 1834 when slavery was abolished.

Today the Warren family works with the archaeology department at the College of William and Mary in Virginia to unearth and study the artifacts of former plantation inhabitants including indigenous Amerindians and slaves to gain deeper understanding of their lives and honor their memories.The dining room at Saint Nicholas Abbey


The Rum

Saint Nicholas Abbey White Rum

The plantation grows its own estate sugar cane to this day, but instead of using the old windmill to release the juice, an antique steam engine does the crushing. The juice is turned into sugar cane syrup for rum production, and the high grade molasses is sold for culinary use.

Cane crushing wheel at Saint Nicholas Abbey

By boiling the juice into syrup, the distillery can conduct its sugar crushing and rum production asynchronously (the Pasteurized syrup can last three to four years before being fermented, whereas juice would need to be fermented almost immediately).

The cane syrup is fermented in 3,000 liter tanks for a full five days until it becomes a fairly high alcohol wine (17%) at which point it is fed into their copper pot still, named Annabelle. Annabelle was designed and manufactured by Arnold Holstein in Markdorf, Germany. The recipe and still design were developed with the help of fellow Barbadian distiller Richard Seale, who mentors the Warrens in their pursuit of rum perfection.

Rum aging in barrels at Saint Nicholas Abbey

The still holds just 100 liters, so it takes a few days to distill the entire batch of wine. The rum comes off the still at 92% ABV, and goes into the barrel at 65%. The white rum is rested in steel and proofed down to 40% with reverse osmosis permeate before bottling.

Saint Nicholas Abbey Distiller Edwin Griffith

Saint Nicholas Abbey Distiller Edwin Griffith

Given the small capacity of the still, the rum is truly “small batch”. After five years of operation, the distillery has just 227 barrels of rum aging throughout the property. At the gift shop, you can purchase the white rum, the recently released five-year rum, as well as a 10-year and 15-year rum distilled at Foursquare and re-casked/further aged at Saint Nicholas Abbey.

Saint Nicholas Abbey 5-Year Rum

The Café & Gift Shop

After our tour, we were treated to a delightful lunch on the patio with a view of the gullies in which a wide variety of tropical flora and old growth trees swayed with the wind. The traditional Bajan flying fish cutter (sandwich) was delicious, and the hummus was possibly the best I’ve ever tasted. Of course, there was also rum punch.

Culinary products for sale at Saint Nicholas Abbey

The gift shop had a variety of local crafts and books, the plantation’s jams and molasses, as well as bottles of rum, which you can even have engraved for a special friend back home.

In Closing

The Warren’s drive to save this piece of Barbados’ history is honorable, and their mission of creating a self-sustaining enterprise will be ensured by the high quality of their rum and the enriching interpretive exhibits on the Plantation. I definitely recommend you visit when on the island.

Saint Nicholas Abbey Plantation Out-Buildings

Editor’s note: This trip was sponsored by the West Indies Rum & Spirits Producers Association (WIRSPA) under the auspices of the Authentic Caribbean Rum Certification (ACR) Program.  After completing the free 4-hour certification course in San Francisco, I submitted an application for, and was accepted into the Full Certification program in the Caribbean. As part of the inaugural class, we visited six Caribbean rum distilleries and one sugar factory across three countries in four days. I highly recommend taking the free certification class when it comes to a town near you. It’s quite informative, but best of all, it qualifies you to apply for the Full Certification program in the Caribbean (also free of charge).

A view of the Barbados coast from Cherry Tree Hill

A view of the Barbados coast from Cherry Tree Hill

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