Dating back four hundred years, the Arundel Estate is the oldest, continuously operated distillery in the Eastern Caribbean. For the last two hundred years, the Callwood family has handed down the rum-making tradition in Cane Garden Bay from father to son. Michael Callwood, the present distiller, is not sure his son will want to carry on the tradition, but Mikey is still young.
The distillery, a few hundred yards west of the Post Office, is a working museum. As the last distillery operating in Tortola, it is playing an important role in preserving the island heritage.
Between March and September, locally-grown green sugar cane, only six months old, is pressed at the mill. When the distillery was part of a large estate, the cane mill was powered by cattle. Today, that work is done by a small diesel engine. The crushed cane stalks are burned to boil the cane juice.
After the juice has been boiled a few hours, it is put in barrels for about eighteen days to ferment naturally?without any added yeast. Sometimes the fermenting wine must be transferred to other barrels or distilled due to leaks in the old barrels, some of which are older than anyone on Tortola.
When fermentation is complete, the wine is transferred to the copper pot still and the fire is lit. Callwood uses a small fire of coconut husks, scraps from local construction sites, and tree limbs to gently simmer the contents of the still pot. This slow process has two benefits. First, the amount of water boiled off with the alcohol is kept to a minimum. Second, the still pot will last much longer because it isn?t exposed to as much heat. Attesting to the benefits of the slow process, one of the two pot stills at the distillery, dates back to slave days and was put out of service only three years ago.
It takes all day to boil the wine. Since there is not a running water source, the fragrant vapor is condensed in a cistern adjacent to the office. Inside, the fresh rum drips into a copper measure sitting in a small well in the floor. The fresh rum is then stored in hand-blown glass jugs covered in rattan roving. Before glass bottles were mass produced, jugs like these were common in the islands.
Both white and dark rum are produced here. The white rum is not aged and is mostly drunk by local islanders. The dark rum, which is more popular with tourists, is aged three to four years in oak barrels. After filling an assortment of recycled bottles, Mr. Callwood glues his labels to the bottles and sells them at the distillery and a few retail stores in Tortola.
This is the only licensed distillery in the Eastern Caribbean that uses a single pot still. It is also one of the few distilleries in the English-speaking islands that makes rum directly from sugar cane juice. The long fermentation time, the single pot still and the raw ingredients combine to make this rum unique.