Rum is an alcoholic beverage that is intimately intertwined with Caribbean history and culture. That history is cruel and downright abhorrent, where millions of West Africans were taken against their will to the Caribbean to work as slaves on sugar plantations, growing sugarcane from dawn till dusk, reaping, grinding and boiling sugarcane juice to make muscovado sugar and molasses, the latter of which was then fermented to make rum. Our ancestors likely never got to consume much of it, but now rum is the liquor of choice for their descendants and remains a quintessential part of the Caribbean spirit. There are at least three surviving Jamaican sugar estates and distilleries to this day, namely the Appleton, Worthy Park and Hampden Estates. I’ve taken the Appleton Estate Rum Tour twice and had a great time with each visit, therefore I feared another Jamaican rum tour would be repetitive. Well, thankfully that was not the case. In fact, I even preferred this experience. Here’s why.
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The History of Worthy Park Estate
The Worthy Park Estate is nestled in Lluidas Vale, a valley located at 1,200 feet above sea level deep in the hills of St. Catherine, one of Jamaica’s central parishes. Worthy Park Estate was founded in 1670 and began producing cane and sugar in 1720. Since then, the 10,000 acre property has only changed ownership three times and has been in the Clarke family since 1918. The land has been used for cattle, poultry, citrus and other crops, but sugarcane has remained the most important crop. Approximately 40% of the land is currently dedicated to growing sugarcane. The sugar season in Jamaica lasts from January to June and is a 24-hours per day operation when in season. A lot of the sugarcane harvesting is still done by hand and 210,000 tonnes of sugarcane are milled each year. Worthy Park Estate prides itself on being Jamaica’s largest and almost exclusive supplier for the local sugar market, with their sugar factory rated first in the island for its efficiency every year since 1968! They produce approximately 24,000 tonnes of sugar each year.
Worthy Park also prides itself on making all its rum from molasses produced at Worthy Park in turn from sugarcane grown in Lluidas Vale. They even sell their extra molasses to other distilleries. Worthy Park has been producing 100% pot still distilled rum intermittently since the 1740s. There was a glut of Jamaican rum on the market following World War II which drove down prices, leading to the cessation of rum production in 1962. However, in 2004 the Clarke family decided to re-enter the market and by 2007 the flagship brand of Rum-Bar rum was launched. Initially, the rum didn’t do so well as it didn’t measure up to the taste of other Jamaican rums on the market but they have steadily improved their product and are now a force to be reckoned with on the local and international market. Their numerous international awards speak for themselves, including Jamaican Distillery of the Year by the Berlin International Spirits Competition in 2016 and Double Gold for their Rum-Bar White Overproof Rum in the International Spirits Challenge in 2020. View the full list of awards here.
Getting to Lluidas Vale
Lluidas Vale is just under an hour’s drive from Kingston using the North-South Highway (also known as the Edward Seaga Highway or A1) and taking the Linstead exit. Toll for a class one vehicle costed $550. After paying the toll at the Linstead Toll Plaza, continue along the main road (A1) through Ewarton and past the bauxite plant, formerly ALCAN. It’s a straight road until you get to a fork then take a left to get onto Worthy Park Road. Thankfully there was a sign there to confirm the correct road. After this, you cannot get lost because it’s one straight road. Follow the road and signs until you reach the gate to the estate. You’ll recognize it by the bright red sign and this cute red and green wagon. P.S. Google Maps was a very reliable guide which isn’t always the case in Jamaica.
Before you arrive at your destination, the gorgeous unspoilt views will leave you breathless. This is a totally different side of Jamaica. I’ve never seen anything quite like it, not even on my Appleton tour. Acres and acres of sugarcane fields as far as the eyes can see. The area is rather lonely but we still stopped to take photographs. Make sure you pull over safely and don’t impede other motorists. The few cars that passed were filled with friendly people who seemed more curious or smug that I was taking pictures of the views they see everyday, rather than threatening. However, always be polite and aware of your surroundings.
Expect to be passed by at least a dozen trucks carrying sugarcane during your time here. This is a working sugar estate after all. I used a Gustazo which means my tour costed $1,500 per person, however the usual price is $2,700 for locals. For those of you who don’t know, Gustazos Jamaica is a website and company which offers discounts and promotions for locals. This Gustazo was a steal! If it ever comes around again, buy it! The Gustazo tour came with a $500 gift certificate, free Gustazo credits and a souvenir 200ml bottle of Rum-Bar Rum Gold. I’m not sure what the tour price is for foreigners but it’s either the equivalent, or not too far off. There are no restaurants here, but there are souvenirs on sale such as Tortuga rum cakes (which are actually made with Worthy park rum), caps and of course bottles of rum.
Unfortunately, reservations must be made ahead of time and are only available on Mondays to Fridays at either 10am or 2pm. That’s mightily inconvenient for the average Jamaican, but at least they facilitated Saturday tours during the Gustazo period. Anyway, drive up to the tour centre, cash in your Gustazo vouchers or purchase a ticket and get ready for close to two hours of edu-tainment.
The Worthy Park Estate Rum Tour
We were greeted with welcome cocktails of our choice. I chose a rum punch which was excellent. Our pleasant tour guide broke the ice then gave us samples of sugarcane, cane juice, molasses and sugar. As usual, the molasses made several faces pucker but I actually like the earthy robust flavour of blackstrap molasses. Strange, I know. It’s a great source of iron as well. A tablespoon of the stuff every day is equivalent to taking a daily iron supplement. Next, we watched a short video detailing the history of the estate, narrated by former Miss Jamaica World Yendi Phillips. I wish the screen were larger and the room dimly lit, because after a few minutes I think most of us zoned out. Nonetheless, it was a great informative video and I enjoyed the aerial shots of the estate.
My final pet peeve of the tour is that after watching the videos, we had to hop back in our cars and drive behind our tour guide to get to the distillery for part two, THEN drive back to the visitor centre to complete the tour. They’re allegedly working on a jitney to make things more efficient but.. come on, they’re charging $2,700 for the tour. I think that should’ve already been worked on. Anyway, when we alighted at the distillery, our tour guide pointed out the Blue Mahoe trees. I’ve lived in Jamaica all my 25 years and I don’t recall ever seeing the National Tree of Jamaica in my life! They’re rather tall and statuesque. Afterwards we got to enter the distillery and see where the funky steps of fermentation and distillation occur, then were shown where the magic occurs at the ageing house.
Their rum is aged in white American oak barrels and naturally takes on different flavours such as vanilla, banana and citrus depending on how long it spends in the barrels. Our Caribbean rums take half as long to mature in the tropics than they do in temperate climates but we have greater evaporation from the barrels. That evaporated portion is known as the angels’ share, and treated our senses with that pleasant but heady alcohol vapour during our time in the ageing house.
We ended the tour with sampling their rum products pictured below and the differences between the age and flavour profiles were explained. Swirl, sip, cleanse the palate with some water then repeat! My favourites were the Rum-Bar Gold and that rum cream! It was so creamy and smooth and delicious! Perhaps they have made me a convert with this one. I’ll look out for it and purchase once I stumble across it on supermarket shelves. That taste test wasn’t enough, so I was delighted to get a proper cup of their rum cream on my way out as one of the options for the final cocktail.
I didn’t expect to love the tour this much! However, they have a few kinks to iron out before they’d get a perfect 10/10, namely getting a jitney and making tours more readily available e.g. welcoming walk-ins and having Saturday tours. I encourage everyone to make the trek to Lluidas Vale if they can. I don’t think most Jamaicans or visitors to Jamaica have ever seen this side of the island. Not only is it steeped in history and tradition, but it’s absolutely gorgeous. On the way back, we got delicious jerk and cow skin soup from Grant’s Jerk Centre in Ewarton as recommended by our guides when we asked for where’s the best place in the area to get food. Check them out. 🙂 I love supporting businesses from the community and eating at new restaurants on my travels. It makes for a more enriching experience.
Make reservations by emailing the Worthy Park Estate at firstname.lastname@example.org or calling (876) 279-7421.
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‘Til next time!