From Grass to Glass: Taking a Jamaican Rum Tour

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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Hampden Estate Rum Tour, Trelawny

Nestled deep in the Queen-of-Spain valley of Trelawny, Jamaica lies the Hampden Estate. Hampden Estate was established in 1753, and still produces rum to this day using centuries’-old traditions with just a few modern upgrades. This relatively small sugarcane estate and rum distillery occupy roughly 3,500 acres and have remained in continuous operation for over 260 years, making some of the world’s most sought after and award-winning rums. Their aged rums are bottled as Hampden Estate rums, while their unaged rum is sold as Rum Fire white overproof rum. 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, but the Hampden Estate Rum Tour will change that.

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Worthy Park Estate Rum Tour, Saint Catherine

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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Peter Tosh Museum, Saint Andrew

Peter Tosh is a platinum-selling Grammy award winning artiste and is one of the most talented reggae musicians to emerge from Jamaica. He got his claim to fame from the Wailers, a trio which also consisted of Bob Marley and Bunny Wailer. Peter Tosh was born in 1944 in Westmoreland, Jamaica’s most western parish and his life was brought to a brutal abrupt end in 1987 after a home break-in and robbery-turned-murder. Tosh had a rough start with an unstable family background, shuffled around from relative to relative based on circumstances but his musical talent emerged early despite the upheavals. Tosh is a self-taught guitarist and keyboardist who got his first real taste of music and performing when he moved to Trench Town as a teenager and met his fellow band-mates in the early 1960s. He taught them how to play, and they dabbled in ska and rocksteady before finding their calling in reggae, infusing their tunes with spiritual and political messages from their newfound conversion to the Rastafari faith.

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Jamaica Rum Festival 2020: Recap & Highlights

Time sure flies when you’re having rum, I mean, fun. 2019 was the inaugural staging of the Jamaica Rum Festival and social media would not let me live it down that I missed it! The pictures looked epic and even my friends and colleagues were speaking about it for days. Thus, I eagerly anticipated the second staging, knowing that the event would be here to stay given all the success it had in its first showcasing and I was not left disappointed. The Caribbean produces some of the world’s best rums and our history is intricately intertwined with the spirit. Rum production dates back from the 17th century on plantations where my enslaved African ancestors toiled to produce this lovely liquor from sugarcane and its by-product molasses, and rum became the region’s chief export product after muscovado sugar.

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The Art Exhibit in Kingston You Need to See: ‘Jamaica, Jamaica’

Jamaica, Jamaica!: How Jamaican Music Conquered the World‘ is the latest art exhibit being shown at the National Gallery of Jamaica. It opened on February 2 and closes on June 28, 2020. It’s one of the most exciting exhibits ever launched by this gallery and was aptly opened in February, locally observed as Reggae Month. This exhibit was previously shown at Philharmonie de Paris in 2017 and titled “The General” after the 1985 hit song by artiste Brigadier. Renamed Jamaica, Jamaica! after gracing local shores, this exhibit documents how the tiny Caribbean island of Jamaica was able to become a global musical force to be reckoned with. The capital city of Kingston and venue of the exhibition is recognized as the birthplace of six distinct musical genres which led to Kingston being designated official UNESCO creative city status in 2015.

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Montego Bay Cultural Centre, Saint James

Good things in life are discovered by chance, and that’s how I ended up spontaneously visiting the Montego Bay Cultural Centre. On my first ever visit to Jamaica’s second city, my morning commute to school led through the Sam Sharpe Square and I happened to look out the window just as we were passing the cultural centre that morning. I finished school early that same day and after alighting from a taxi in Downtown, I realized I was on what appeared to be the other side of the building.

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A Jamaican Made Christmas Expo, Saint Andrew

A Jamaican Made Christmas is a two-day exposition put on by the National Baking Company at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel, just in time for shoppers looking to purchase Christmas gifts before the season gets into full swing. This is its fourth staging and for 2018, it welcomed 100 exhibitors, giving 100 local entrepreneurs invaluable exposure.

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National Gallery of Jamaica, Kingston

The National Gallery of Jamaica (NGJ) is the oldest and largest public art museum in the English-speaking Caribbean, established in 1974. It was borne out of a need to showcase the excellent talent and beauty of the Jamaican art scene, sending a powerful message to the ex-colonial powers that we too are capable of creating technically sound masterpieces to uniquely depict the Jamaican story. This gallery bears a comprehensive collection of early, modern and contemporary local art alongside smaller Caribbean and international holdings, with a significant part of its collections on permanent display. There are also frequent temporary exhibitions– the most recent of which was John Dunkley’s ‘Neither Day nor Night’ which ended on July 29.

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Appleton Rum Estate Tour, Saint Elizabeth

The Joy Spence Appleton Rum Estate Experience is an elegant Jamaican cane-to-cup tour showcasing what it takes to make one of the world’s finest rums. Set in the delightful Nassau Valley in the parish of Saint 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. And why is this tour named for Joy Spence might you ask? Well, she’s been with Appleton for over 30 years and is the world’s first female to be appointed Master Blender. That’s definitely a big deal.

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