Rum Journal: River Antoine, Grenada’s Mecca of Rum

grenada visitThe River Antoine rum distillery in Grenada.

By Alexander Britell

There is no crowd here, just a few curious travelers, less than a handful of staff.

The buildings wear the fraying wardrobe of time.

But in the empty silence of an off day at River Antoine, the sentiment quickly emerges that this is a truly special place.

It’s a long drive to get to the northeastern edge of Grenada, around perilous curves, under the canopies of rainforests, past processions of seemingly every kind.

If you did not know better, you might even think this place had been forgotten centuries ago, with its rusted beams and its earthy paint.

But beyond the old stone walls, underneath the metal roof is, well, the real thing.

They have been making rum at the River Antoine since 1785, always one way: with the same centuries-old water mill (the oldest working water wheel in the Caribbean) the same sugar cane grown right here; the cane juice heated at just the right temperature in four different copper stills in the boiling house.

It’s all organic, from seed to bottle — and it was organic before the term existed.

In an age many rum conversations find their way towards authenticity, this is a distillery that is doing things the right way, the honest way, the only way.

It is also one of the strongest rums in the Caribbean.

This is serious stuff, white overproof rum that lives up to the legend — with a minimum bottling at both 75 and 69 degrees (the latter is the one you can legally take on an airplane).

There’s an aroma of pure alcohol, pineapple and licorice, and a flavor profile marked by sweet, peppery, earthy notes before evolving into something more savory, suggesting cane stalk, firewood, and saltine crackers.

Sipping Rivers is a journey of its own, a robust stroll into rarefied territory, a different plane of the rum world.

Even if you don’t indulge, you can walk right into the distillery here for a tiny fee, survey the grounds, step through the cane cuttings and take home a bottle, one of the most purely Grenadian things you can put in your suitcase.

I ask around about a bottle of aged Rivers — you’d think with centuries of experience they’d turn special white rum into legendary aged rum.

But, even at the distillery, the response is always the same.

Every year, every harvest, they sell everything they make.

Because things are simple here, in one of the greenest, most beautiful corners of Grenada. They make it, they sell it, they drink it. They make more.

You can see the way they talk of Rivers in the beach bars of southwestern Grenada, with a reverence — and a respectful fear.

Rivers is something pure — a traditional, authentic symbol of Grenada, a rum distillery whose pride extends beyond the village of Tivoli.

It is powerful stuff, but those who drink it — and those who don’t – all agree: it is the real thing.

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