I’ve had the pleasure of taking all three Jamaican rum tours and I even took one of them more than once, so I’m qualified to pit them against each other, right? Rum is a quintessential Caribbean alcohol. Our history is unequivocally tied to it as for three hundred years, Caribbean society revolved around sugar plantations. It was on these plantations that millions of enslaved Africans forcibly brought to the Caribbean would convert sugarcane, a species of tall perennial grass from the genus Saccharrum, to sugar and rum. In this blog post, I’ll give an overview of the process, share the three main remaining distilleries then compare them so you may choose the best tour for yourself. Perhaps I’ll even convince you to take them all, you rumaholic.
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Turning Grass Into a Glass of Rum
Thousands of acres of sugarcane are planted in the hot salubrious climate of Jamaica, mainly in the parishes of St. Elizabeth, St. Catherine, Clarendon and Trelawny. That sugarcane is harvested after twelve to sixteen months, mostly by hand after being set ablaze. The fire burns up the dry leaves without harming the sugarcane stalks and roots. Harvesters then cut the cane just above ground-level using machetes. These stalks are taken to the factory, washed and cut, then mechanically ground to extract 95% of the juice. This process was once done by enslaved Africans or beast of burden. This juice is then boiled to make sugar, and the dark sticky byproduct called molasses is used to make RUM!
Molasses is fermented with yeast to produce a liquid that contains 8% alcohol content by volume (ABV). This liquid is subsequently distilled to increase the ABV, and finally the most important step occurs: ageing and blending.
Rum is aged for anywhere from four to six, twelve, twenty-five and even fifty years! Rum is typically aged in American oak barrels and mature three times as fast as rum aged in cooler climates. However, rum aged in the tropics also evaporates three times as fast, and the heady rum vapour which lingers in ageing houses is known as the angels’ share. As the rum undergoes this process of heating and cooling naturally, day in and day out in these oak barrels for years, the clear liquid acquires a rich golden hue and deep complex flavours such as orange peel, vanilla, butterscotch and ginger. These flavours mellow over time and become more decadent. This explains why older rums are highly sought after and more expensive.
After this backstory, I’m sure you’d like to know where you can experience the Jamaican rum-making process. These tours come with lots of rum-tasting too! What can I say, Jamaicans are generous people.
1. Hampden Estate
Hampden Estate is located in the Queen-of-Spain valley of Trelawny. Established in 1753, Hampden still produces rum using centuries’-old traditions with just a few modern upgrades. This relatively small sugarcane estate and distillery has remained in continuous operation for over 260 years, making some of the world’s most sought after and award-winning rums. Interestingly enough, majority of the rum produced by this estate is exported to Europe, and the waitlist for a shipment of Hampden rum can be as long as two years. Very little is available on the local market so many Jamaicans are unfamiliar with the Hampden brand.
Tour Times: Mondays to Fridays at 10am, 11am and midday. Reservations are preferred.
Cost: Local rates are $3000, $4000 with lunch. Non-local rates are US$50.
Duration: Two hours
Features: Learning about the history of Jamaica and Hampden Estate, touring the factory (except the ageing house), admiring the Hampden Greathouse then finishing off the tour with taste tests of Hampden Gold and Rum Fire rums. You’ll also be greeted with the most delicious rum punch of my life thus far.
Check out my FULL Hampden review HERE. Also, please watch my Hampden vlog and SUBSCRIBE!
2. Worthy Park Estate
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. The valley is breathtakingly gorgeous and looks like a scene straight from Europe! Worthy Park Estate was founded in 1670 and prides itself on making all its rum from their own molasses. Worthy Park has been producing 100% pot still distilled rum intermittently since the 1740s but took a break in 1962 after the price of Jamaican rum fell to an all-time low. In 2004 the company re-entered the rum 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 now have several international awards under their belt. Fun fact: Most of the sugar consumed in Jamaica comes from Worthy Park!
Tour Times: Mondays to Fridays at 10am or 2pm, reservation only.
Cost: $2700 for locals, $25US for non-locals.
Duration: Two hours
Features: Introductory video which gives the history of the estate, followed by tasting Worthy Park sugarcane, chilled sugarcane juice, sugar and molasses. After this, you’ll tour the factory, distillery and ageing house, then taste test Rum Bar Rum, Rum Bar Silver, Worthy Park Single Estate Reserve and Rum Bar Rum Cream. You’ll also get a delicious welcome rum punch.
Check out my exclusive Worthy Park Estate write-up HERE!
3. Appleton Estate
So nice I had to do it twice? I visited Appleton first in 2018 and again in 2020, and loved both experiences. They’ve scaled back on a few things which I remembered from the first visit but it’s still a worthwhile experience. Set in the delightful Nassau Valley of St. Elizabeth, the Appleton Estate was established in 1749, however, it is believed that origins of the Estate date back to 1655. This rum is one of the few in the world to claim a terroir, that is, a rum 100% produced in the perfect trio of unique weather, soil and topography of the Cockpit Country which imparts a unique quality. Appleton Estate’s own Joy Spence was the first female in the world to be appointed Master Blender, a highly revered title at any rum estate. She’s been with Appleton for over 30 years, and under her tutelage, some impressive world-renowned blends have been crafted on the estate.
Tour Times: Mondays to Saturdays, every half-hour starting from 9am until 4pm. No reservations are required.
Cost: $2500JMD, $3000 with lunch for locals. US$30 for non-locals.
Duration: Two hours.
Features: Easily the most glamorous of all three tours, you’ll start off with a welcome cocktail of either a Stormy Valley or rum punch. Next, you’ll watch a well-executed introductory video, followed by a quick walk through the estate with samples of sugarcane, cane juice and molasses. The tour is interactive with patrons even getting a chance to turn the sugarcane mill. You’ll tour the distillery (no pictures allowed), the ageing house then finally return to the visitors’ centre where you’ll enjoy Appleton Signature, Reserve and Rare blends then get a 50ml bottle of Signature rum as keepsake.
Check out my coverage of the Appleton Estate tour HERE.
Which Tour to Get?
Why not get all three? Ha! I get asked which tour was the best all the time and it’s really hard to answer. There are features of every tour which I liked and others I disliked. I cover those details in the articles for each tour. For instance, I loved the detail of the Worthy Park Tour. I got to experience every part of the rum-making process and it was the most thorough and informative. However, I didn’t like having to drive back and forth during the tour, and I zoned out a few times during the introductory video. Nonetheless, this tour is my favourite of the lot and felt like a high school field trip. Hampden is second for me because the tour was small and intimate, and that rum punch was amazing! However, I didn’t like that we weren’t allowed even a sneak peek of the ageing process and touring inside the greathouse was strictly off limits.
Appleton is the crowd favourite because the visitor centre is larger than life. It still amazes me that this world class structure was constructed in the middle of nowhere. They polished the Jamaican story of sugarcane a little too smoothly for my tastes though, but Appleton is definitely an experience to remember. It’s also the most accessible tour and the price is the cheapest out there– at least for locals. However, there will be tourists by the busloads unlike the other two tours. Thus, choosing which tour to get depends on what’s most important to you.
Have you ever taken a Jamaican rum tour? Which are you taking next? I’ve been a bit M.I.A. on here because of life’s obligations but I remain pretty active on Instagram. If you use Instagram, please follow me and enter my $30 Amazon gift card giveaway launching soon for one week (September 19-25, 2021). This is to celebrate Adventures from Elle crossing 250,000 reads and I’m grateful to everyone who made this possible. Thanks for reading, commenting, sharing, subscribing and talking about Adventures from Elle. Creating content for my blog and social media platforms is easily my favourite hobby, and it has allowed me to meet some very amazing people too. I’m proud of myself for creating this space and so grateful to hear mostly positive feedback.
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‘Til next time.