Behind every great spirit is a fascinating history. When it comes to a colourful past, though, rum beats them all.
That shouldn’t surprise anyone. You’re bound to pick up a juicy yarn or two after spending centuries hanging out with pirates, navy men and bootleggers. It’s the spirit that launched more than a thousand ships and, during Prohibition, even a plane or two, given the world’s first commercial flights started in 1928 when thirsty Americans started jetting off to the Caribbean for cocktails.
It’s only fitting then that an island-hopping plane figures prominently in the Ultimate Rum Run, a jam-packed, four-day, deep dive into the origins of rum that takes you from Barbados to Bermuda, two of the most important islands in rum’s rollicking backstory.
Offered by Fairmont Hotels & Resorts (in partnership with AirSprint Private Aviation), the rum adventure is part of its new Origin of Spirits collection, destination packages that offer guests a chance to learn everything they ever wanted to know about their favourite tipple from the source. It offers behind-the-scenes access to the world’s top distillers and blenders, as well as guided tastings and suppers with chefs and bar stars. If that doesn’t sound decadent enough, the itineraries also feature elements such as yacht cruises, spa treatments, swimming in crystal-clear waters with giant sea turtles, excursions into secret pirate caves and luxe beachfront accommodations at Fairmont resorts, all while being whisked around on a private plane, the state-of-the-art Embraer Legacy 450, with free-flowing Veuve Clicquot on board.
The Ultimate Rum Run fun starts the moment the plane lands in Barbados, home to the Fairmont Royal Pavilion and “the birthplace of rum”, a distinction it earned back in early colonial days when it became famous for having the best sugarcane and being among the first islands to perfect the art of distillation. Three hundred and something years later, Barbados rum is still considered among the finest, thanks to a dynamic scene driven by passionate distillers who are committed to preserving the island’s exalted rum traditions.
Case in point is Larry Warren, architect, distiller and steward of St. Nicholas Abbey, one of three remaining Jacobean mansions in the Western Hemisphere. Warren bought the historic plantation in 2006 and installed a micro-distillery two years later as part of an exhaustive restoration.
After a tour of the awe-inspiring circa 1658 residence, which is bursting with antique kitsch and curiosities, Warren guides guests through his heritage rum facility, all while explaining how the spirit shaped Barbados. Sugar was planted on estates such as St. Nicholas as early as the 1630s and, while there’s some debate as to the exact date of the first distillations, rum followed soon after and quickly became so important to the colony that the history of the spirit and the island are practically the same.
That story is still unfolding. There’s currently a battle for the soul of rum being waged in other rum-producing regions, where it’s common practice to short-cut the ageing process and disguise the spirit’s youth with added sugar and colour. That’s why, when Warren and his colleagues insist on preserving traditional methods and high standards, it’s more than just an exercise in historical re-enactment. St. Nicholas Abbey’s heritage offering is far-and-away some of the best out there – fresh-tasting, clean, lightly-sweet, with plenty of ripe tropical fruit, raisin and just the right touch of heat.
The straightforward, pure sugarcane spirit is celebrated everywhere from the island’s rustic wooden shops, where tourists mix with locals over dominoes, to the new spate of acclaimed high-end restaurants that are putting elevated Bajan fare on the global culinary map. It’s an important feature of the Ultimate Rum Run, which showcases the new Bajan cuisine through unique dining experiences, including a once-in-a-lifetime lunch with chef Damian Leach in the most awesome setting imaginable: a super-glampy tent pitched in the middle of a cane field.
Lunch started with fresh-cut cane juice and moved on to copious Mount Gay cocktails, paired with course after course of reimagined traditional island flavours including coconut ceviche, roasted breadfruit and confit black belly lamb. With a cocktail in hand, the taste of banana sticky-toffee pudding lingering in the mouth and nothing to see but blue skies and miles of swaying green stalks, it’s hard not to grasp that everything on the island ties back to the cane.
The story of rum doesn’t end there, though, since the spirit went off to conquer hearts and minds in other places, notably Bermuda, where it evolved into a new style altogether. It’s the stop for the second leg of the Rum Run, where the local spirit is toasted in local bars with Dark ‘n Stormy and Rum Swizzle cocktails.
This enthusiasm is probably owing to a certain amount of local affection for Goslings Rum, the longest continually running business on Bermuda. Despite the fact that it’s too small to grow sugarcane, Bermuda has had plenty of its own influence on the spirit as an important hub for ships involved in the colonial rum trade, a hide-out for pirates and, during Prohibition, a stopover for smugglers headed across the Atlantic to America.
Over the centuries, countless barrels of rum were stashed in an expansive system of caves as well as the cellars of public houses and taverns, such as the Waterlot Inn, another cherished institution that’s found new life as the island’s premier steakhouse. That old rum cellar is now home to a world-renowned wine collection, and the perfect setting for an unforgettable rum dinner hosted by the Fairmont Southampton’s sous chef Gerardo Say Colmenares and Gosling’s brand director, Andrew Holmes, a man who’s happy to share all his spirited stories over a dram, or eight.
The final day of the tour is impossibly fun, spent tooling around in miniature cars to golf courses, pirate caves and downtown Hamilton for a tour with Bermuda’s official town crier, all capped off by a yacht ride back to the hotel for a next-level seafood and cocktail pairing dinner at its Ocean Club. On the flight home, it’s hard not to be overcome by a sense of having really done something special. You’ve practically got a Master in Rum, after all, and in the most memorable way possible.
The Ultimate Rum Run package including private air travel for eight guests starts at $185,000, based on double occupancy. For more information, visit fairmont.com. To book your own spirited getaway to Bermuda or Barbados, here’s where to stay:
On the island’s south side, this hotel includes a private beach club, on-site tennis and golf, plus 10 restaurants to choose from including the Waterlot Inn. Rooms from $638.
Fairmont Royal Pavilion
As a result of a 2017 renovation, the Royal Pavilion has been revamped with beachfront rooms. Its most recent refresh is the Palm Terrace Restaurant under a loggia overlooking the azure sea. Rooms from $365.
Shaking things up
At Fairmonts around the world, a refreshed drink menu imagines new takes on classic hotel cocktails
Last year, six of the most creative and accomplished head bartenders from Fairmont Hotels & Resorts around the world met up for a private summit in New York. The mission? To see if they could do the impossible and improve on perfection.
Fuelled by the world’s best Irish Coffee at the famous Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog bar in lower Manhattan, the team (including two Canadians, Grant Sceney of Vancouver’s Fairmont Pacific Rim, and Nader Chabaane, from Montreal’s Fairmont the Queen Elizabeth) brainstormed ideas for the reinvention of timeless cocktails, from the age-old Whiskey Sour to modern classics such as the Cosmopolitan.
The results are featured in the Fairmont’s new special menu, Cocktails, Perfected 2.0, which debuts at properties around the world this spring. Nobody knew there was room for improvement in the Old Fashioned, but its new life as a scotch and tequila drink, Old Fashioned, Amigos, livens up this simple staple. Other highlights include the Chai Tai, a tea-syrup and gin reworking of the boozy Mai Tai; the Material Girl, gin’s answer to the Cosmo; and the Carte Blanche, which finally fixes the wobbly Vesper’s balance problem with the addition of a little Chardonnay. - Christine Sismondo
The Globe and Mail Style Advisor travelled to Barbados and Bermuda as a guest of Fairmont Hotels & Resorts. The company did not review or approve this article prior to publication.
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