Rum Journal: Tortola’s Legendary Rum Distillery

The Callwood distillery.

By Alexander Britell

The boiler is smoldering, the smell of sugarcane alchemy pungent in the air, steps across the road from the beach.

There’s a reason, after all, why they call it Cane Garden Bay.

Here, in an old stone building in Tortola, is one of the most precious corners of the history of rum in the Caribbean, a fundament of the British Virgin Islands’ cultural heritage.

There’s a reason it’s called Cane Garden Bay.

This is the Callwood Rum Distillery, a sugarcane plantation and distillery whose history of rummaking dates back some 400 years.

This place has survived for four centuries, with a brief interruption last year thanks to the installation of a new roof, until, four months after Irma, it was back in operation.

It just might be the oldest working rum distillery in the Caribbean.

The coal-fired boiler still smolders, with worn casks of rum aging up the rocky staircase, walls filled with hand-bottled Arundel rum.

They make just 25 gallons a day here, using the pure cane juice they grow right here on the plantation.

Arundel is the product, a funky, raw rum that is a treasure of the BVI.

Michael, who runs the place by day, offers a tasting of Arundel’s four rums: the unaged white, the four-year rum, the 10-year blend and the, well, boldly named spiced “horny rum,” which, well, you can figure out its character.

The 10-year is the clear winner, with the sort of funk you expect from a cane-juice-based distillate, raw and real, with colorful notes of candied fruit. It’s the one to take back with you.

The “boiler,” a coal-powered still, churns away in Tortola.

It’s a remarkable place to walk around, with a palpable sense of wonder and mystery, a dusty corner of rum lore, a largely forgotten distillery whose rums seldom make it beyond Beef Island Airport.

It’s an important, venerable stop on the pilgrimage map for rum lovers.

The rums are well-priced, $20 for the 10-year, and there are tastings, too, just $1 a piece for a taste of all four rums.

Or, as Michael plainly puts it.

“Where else can you get drunk for a dollar?”

Callwood is open daily Monday-Friday.

— CJ


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