Your Barbados holiday experience is incomplete until you've sampled its oldest and greatest export, rum. This iconic spirit has a rich history on the island dating back to the 17th century and Barbados' Mount Gay distillery is believed to produce the world's oldest rum.

Delve into the story of this delicious spirit and learn about the island's rum-making traditions in our dedicated guide. Our Barbados Destination Manager, Kerin, is also on hand to arrange tours of the distilleries and can advise on the best spots to enjoy a rum punch or two.

Where does rum come from?

The tiny Caribbean Island of Barbados proudly proclaims itself as the birthplace of rum. But where does this liquid gold come from? Rum is in fact made from molasses – a sweet, tar-like by-product of sugar cane production, which was initially considered waste.

It wasn’t long before plantation workers learned that molasses could be fermented and distilled to create a potent spirit, and it quickly became an end-product in itself.

How sugar cane plants propelled rum production

Sugar cane was brought to Barbados in the early 16th century by the Portuguese, who were among the first Europeans to experiment with its cultivation. The sugarcane plantations thrived thanks to the island’s largely flat landscape, rich fertile soil and pure water. As the sugar industry boomed, rum production began to take off.

Yet, rum wasn’t always blessed with its smooth, velvety texture. Before double distillation became standard practice, this fermented liquid began as a crude and harsh spirit and was considered a working-class drink.

‘Kill-Devil’: how locals described rum in its early days

When rum was first distilled in Barbados, its low-quality harsh taste gave it the names of "Kill-Devil" or "Rumbuillon". Its high alcohol content was considered ‘devilish’ and would likely ‘overpower’ the drinker.

Widely seen as an unsophisticated drink, it was only popular amongst sailors and laborers. Over time, Barbados continued to refine the rum-making process which improved the overall quality, and the tipple began gaining the attention of wealthier classes.

"The chief fuddling they make in the island is Rumbullion, alias Kill-Devil, and this is made of sugar canes distilled, a hot, hellish and terrible liquor." A Barbadian document from 1651.

Mount Gay: the first rum distillery

Mount Gay is considered the world's oldest commercial rum distiller. Set up by plantation owner and English businessman Sir John Gay in 1703, the commercial factory would play a significant role in the development of the rum industry in Barbados and throughout the world. This smooth, flavourful rum became so popular, that Gay soon became known as the "Rum King of Barbados."

Rum’s quick rise to success

Over the years, Barbados continued to innovate and improve its rum-making techniques. By the mid-18th century, rum was considered a luxury item and was exported to other British colonies, as well as Europe and North America. By the 19th century and with well over 100 distilleries on the island, the production of rum had become more widespread and affordable, and was consumed around the world.

Today, rum is an integral part of life here, from the rum shops and taverns in each village to the rum-fuelled Crop Over festival that runs over six weeks in the summer. This 200-year-old tradition honours the end of the sugarcane season and with dusk-to-dawn parties and food fairs, it’s difficult to resist getting swept up in the party.

Experience the rum story where it all started

Rum is the essence of this Caribbean nation's culture, so embarking on distillery tours to learn about the history of rum is an essential part of your holiday itinerary. 

The start of any exploration simply has to be the oldest active rum distillery on the island – the Mount Gay Visitor Centre and Distillery in Bridgetown. Take a deep dive into this sweet golden nectar with a full slate of once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Embark on a behind-the-scenes tour to see how molasses are transformed into rum, and learn how they produce varying tastes. Try a food and drink pairing tour and hands-on cocktail crafting workshop. Additional experiences include luxury Premium Rum Flights, where you can sample expensive rums and please taste buds with a traditional Bajan lunch.

Discover more of our Mount Gay Rum Experiences.

Other rum distilleries

Mount Gay is one of four distilleries on the island. Another of the oldest sugar estates is St Nicholas Abbey, dating back to the 1630s. The building is one of only three remaining Jacobean mansions in the western hemisphere and can be explored at leisure or as part of a guided tour. Sample cane syrup rum which isn’t produced anywhere else on the island and explore Cherry Tree Hill, a historic avenue of mahogany trees.

The West Indies Rum Distillery boasts an idyllic location on the beach and uses the traditional old pot still method to produce brands such Cockspur and Malibu. At the other end of the spectrum is the modern Foursquare Rum Distillery, which produces spiced rums made without sugar or additives.

If rum is your drink of choice, or you love soaking up the atmosphere of a festival, time your visit to coincide with one of the annual festivals, featuring celebrity chefs and mixologists hosting beachside tastings and other events.

Rum shops and bars

Despite being only 21 miles by 14, Barbados has more than 1,500 rum shops. There are also differing varieties of rum: some use sugar cane juice, some sugar cane syrup, some molasses. Even molasses vary from light to dark to black or blackstrap.

If you're staying at Cobblers Cove, The Bar offers an excellent and varied cocktail menu. Dare to try the Cobblers Cooler which really packs a punch, or discover one of their Rum Flights. Another famed spot on the island is Harold’s Bar at The Sandpiper, serving the quintessential Bajan sundowner. The eponymous Harold presides over the pretty beachfront setting of the bamboo and thatched bar serving a selection of cocktails including ‘Harold’s Smile’.

Another of the best places for a rum cocktail is The Lone Star's Star Bar. Sample their own recipe rum cocktail then dine at the restaurant for a beachside evening to remember. Located at Colony Club by Elegant Hotels, The Rum Vault is the first Barbados private dining experience of its kind and features 150 rums from around the globe. The Vault Chef and Rum Ambassadors offer exquisite rum pairing dining experiences as well as rum tasting flights, for an experience that is second to none.

Want to indulge in Barbados' finest rum? 

Rum is integral to Barbados' culture, and a taste of the sweet drink takes you back in time through the island’s rich history.

With Inspiring Travel, you can visit Mount Gay Distillery for tours, tastings, and workshops for an exclusive rum-tasting experience that really brings the island to life. To book your adventure, speak to our Travel Specialists and add this tailor-made adventure to your itinerary.

Why we're the Barbados experts
  • Airport meet-and-greet for immediate post-flight assistance
  • Escort through to your private transfer for a seamless arrival
  • Direct line of contact to Kerin's team for any requests or assistance
  • In-resort support for booking taxis, excursions and restaurants
  • Barbados lounge passes included on return

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