I’m in The Bahamas for their very first Rum Fest! I know, I know . . . it’s as fun as it sounds. Just today, The New York Times had an article about Caribbean rum. Though rum has been produced in the islands since the 17th century, today there is only one rum being produced in The Bahamas: John Watling’s. I was very happy to be hosted to experience it!
John Watling’s certainly had a prominent stand at the Rum Fest, whipping up cocktails, frozen drinks, mixed drinks, straight shots.
Their distillery in Nassau has been in production for only a few years and they now have a 5 year old aged rum available. The Bahamas is said to have an advantage weather-wise in aging: rum here becomes aged twice as rapidly as elsewhere. So, John Watling’s has quickly caught up with the big boys! Their public tasting and gathering space has been open to the public since April, 2013. Sales have only began the month before that. All of their artisanal production is done entirely by hand.
Their distillery is in the historic Buena Vista estate, dating from 1789. Through the years, it hosted such celebs as Robert Mitchum, Bobby Kennedy, Ed Sullivan and Joan Crawford. It’s been backdrop for several James Bond movie scenes. However, it’s the estate’s darker history that’s so thought provoking. During restoration, they uncovered a 74 feet deep hand-cut stone well, constructed by slaves in the early 19th century. Imagine that for a second. The whole rum trade was tied with slave trade from the very beginning. In the tasting room, there are Bahamas military recruitment posters from WWI. One cannot help but do the math: a nation that had only tasted freedom for 80 years was being proselytized to send its men to die protecting the emerging nation-state borders of Europe, across the Atlantic Ocean. As you drink, there’s a lot to consider.
John Watling’s has a full bar, able to create all kinds of rum cocktails. They have bar snacks, too.
So, how does the rum taste? They have three varieties, all 80 proof: Pale, Amber, Buena Vista. Pale was created to not interfere with cocktails. On its own, it has a mild tequila/moonshine flavor. There’s a light sweetness and it doesn’t burn. The Amber flavor adds a little more oomph to drinks like a Dark and Stormy. It’s similar to the Pale, but doesn’t disappear with other flavors. Buena Vista is the 5 year rum, simply exquisite. I noticed light toffee, buttery, light almond flavors. It’s for sipping straight! How good is it? Let’s get down to brass tacks . . . I fly to lots of places all the time. I don’t check luggage when there’s a fee, because it would be just too cost prohibitive. This is worth it. I’ve got a bottle coming home.