Whether you enjoy the delicate taste of silver rum mixed with tropical juices in a smiling tiki glass or prefer the robust flavors of aged rum sipped neat in a tumbler, the islands deliver whatever your lips desire. As the birthplace of this divine elixir, the Caribbean is a rum lover's paradise that hosts more than 50 distilleries, some dating back to the 1600s. Each island boasts of its rum's unique taste based on the soil and water where the sugar cane grows, special distillation methods and secret family recipes passed down for generations. The following Caribbean rum distillers extend a warm welcome to visit their facilities, stroll through cane fields, examine shiny copper stills and sip world-famous spirits.
George Town, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands, 345-943-4RUM (4786)
On the George Town waterfront in 2008, this distillery started using organic sugarcane and traditional West Indies techniques to craft small-batch spirits. To break from the pack, they matured their rum underwater where The St. Nicholas Abbey waves gently rock oak casks in temperatures more consistent than on land. One day, a diver found a barrel of one of their initial batches and took it to a local bar for patrons to sample. So, Cayman Spirits found a better hiding place nearby and anchored casks beneath the sea 42 feet (seven fathoms), hence the name of their signature spirit, Seven Fathoms Rum. To tour the new 5,000-square-foot facility, dock at the Yacht Club and take a short taxi ride that costs about $15 to $20.
Nassau Valley, Siloah District, St. Elizabeth, Jamaica, 876-963-9215
Nestled deep in the island's interior amid Nassau Valley's plush terrain lies the oldest distillery in Jamaica. Its first rum production was documented in 1749, using local ingredients, sugar- cane and limestone spring water. This big dog of the rum world invested $7 million to renovate the estate and a must-try 50-year aged rum that will tickle your taste buds with smooth, rich flavors. create an eco-friendly facility. The world's first female master blender, Joy Spence, keeps a watchful eye on the distillation process. Guided tours offer a hands-on experience in rum making and a sampling of Appleton's various brands, including a must-try 50-year aged rum that will tickle your taste buds with smooth, rich flavors.
Cataño, Puerto Rico, 787-788-1500
What began around 1862 in Cuba inside a rickety tin-roof distillery with bats in the rafters has evolved into the world's largest privately held spirits company. Seven generations of the Bacardi family steered the business through Prohibition, Castro's seizure of the company's assets in 1960 and a global expansion that serves more than six million Cuba Librés daily around the globe. Visitors can opt for historic tours of the company's nearly 150 years of distillation achievements, a rum-tasting adventure through five Bacardi brands or a mixology class to craft the classic mojito and rum and cola. All expeditions commence at the Bat Bar. Boaters can dock in Old San Juan and take a quick ferry or taxi ride to Casa Bacardi.
Frederiksted, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, 340-692-2280
For 200 years, the Nelthropp family has crafted rum on the island. Cruzan's diverse collection of rums ranges from light to dark and spiced, with the celebrated Black Strap Rum adding exotic licorice and molasses elements to tropical drinks. Proceeds from sales support the Island Spirit Fund, which helps U.S. communities weather storms. The distillery took a hit from Hurricane Maria, but tours are back up and running. Guests mosey past mixing tanks, the fermenter, stills and the warehouse. The Pavilion Visitor Center houses a gift shop and the Don't Hurry Tasting Room where you relax island style. To join the fun, anchor off Frederiksted, then take a 10-minute, $10 taxi to the site.
Cane Garden Bay, Tortola, British Virgin Islands, 284-495-9383
Step back in time to witness how rum was produced centuries ago at one of the oldest continuously working distilleries in the Caribbean. Founded around 1600, this rustic estate has been run by four generations of the Callwood family. The historic stone and brick building holds traditional island machinery that lets you see the entire process, and the old guard house has been converted to an art gallery and gift shop. The small-batch distillery does not export its wares, so buy your bottle here. It's wise to call in advance, because the 30-minute tours don't run on set schedules.
Cole Bay, St. Maarten, 721-520-4903
Topper and Melanie Daboul own a pair of restaurants on the Dutch south side of St. Maarten. The couple started making all-natural flavored rums for dinner guests, but their patrons wanted bottles, not just a nip of the gourmet spirits. Popular demand motivated the Dabouls to open a distillery in 2012, and before long, their rums were winning awards. Today, the family- owned company produces six varieties of rum packaged in colorful glass bottles. Tours of the 6,000-square-foot distillery end at the tasting bar where you can bottle your own rum to take home. The closest dockage is Port de Plaisance Marina, but it is near the lagoon where most boats moor and can easily arrange transportation.
Le FranÃ§ois, Martinique, 059-654-7551
The elegant 43-acre estate showcases traditional Caribbean rum production and gives a glimpse of life on a sugar planation during the island's colonial era in the mid-1800s. You can rummage around the botanical gardens filled with tropical plants, cellars packed with barrels of rum, a plantation house decorated with Creole antiques, and the art galleries and museum dedicated to local culture. The new gift shop and tasting room entice you to sample and purchase a range of spirits from white rum made of fresh-pressed sugarcane juice to superior brands aged in oak barrels. Dock your boat in Fort de France, Le Francois or Le Marin for easy access to the estate.
Macouba, Martinique, 059-678- 9255
On the northern tip of the island at the foot of the active volcano, Mont Pelée, lies rich and fertile soil that's idyllic for growing sugarcane. The land was first cultivated in the late 17th century by Labat, a Jesuit priest famous for his talents in refining sugar. By the mid-1800s, the owners shifted operations from sugar to rum. The property remains in family hands, and today's visitors are enchanted by a breathtakingly beautiful estate and tastings of unique and high-quality rums. Dock your boat at Fort de France or Ste. Pierre and then travel by car or taxi to the plantation.
Roseau Valley, St. Lucia, 758-456 3100
This island is steeped in traditions of the West Indies plantation economy and was once the home of multiple sugar estates. The merger of two distilleries in 1972 one at Dennery, the site of the Barnard family plantation, and the other Geest-owned estate at Roseau established the St. Lucia Distillers Group of Companies. Its current line has grown to 25-plus rums and related products. Distillery tours lead guests past fermenting rooms, storage tanks and shiny pot stills. You can watch workers construct wooden barrels and then head for the tasting room for slow sips of outstanding aged and flavored rums. Dock in Marigot and take a taxi to the distillery.
In addition to gracing the globe with top-shelf spirits, another popular Jamaican export is reggae music. The two blend harmoniously under the stewardship of Chris Blackwell, music industry pioneer and Island Records founder who introduced us to Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, Grace Jones and Cat Stevens.
His merchant ancestors first arrived on the island in 1625, and Blackwell's dark aged rum harkens from an old family recipe. The best place to sample the spirits from this small-batch distillery is in the lap of luxury at one of his Island Outpost boutique hotels.
Three idyllic resorts -- Golden Eye, Strawberry Hill and The Caves -- integrate the island's natural beauty and spectacular landscapes into their design. These barefoot getaway destinations invite you to explore tropical beaches, a seawater lagoon, botanical gardens and secret grottos.
Another reason to love this rum a portion of sales benefit the charitable efforts of Island ACTS (Assisting Communi- ties Toward Strength). For more, go to islandoutpost.com.
St. Patrick, River Antoine, Grenada, 473-442-7109
Since 1785, this delightful location has been making rum, and today's workers still employ centuries-old production techniques to give their spirits an old-fashioned charm. Juice from locally grown sugarcane is extracted by a water wheel-powered cane crusher, and two vintage Vendome pots distill the rum. The result is an elixir that's so popular with locals that the company can't make enough to export. Daily tours display antiquated but highly functional equipment and conclude at a charming restaurant and tasting room. Must-try: Rivers Royale Grenadian Rum packing a 150-proof punch with a full-bodied taste you'll never forget.
When on your Caribbean Cocktail Cruise, please drink responsibly and always designate a sober skipper.