Rum shops are as ubiquitous as churches in Barbados, and you can usually find both in most villages across the island. Far more than just a place to grab a drink, they form an indelible social hub in the life of village communities. The topics discussed in rum shops can range from politics to religion to the latest West Indies cricket match.
Rum shops have a long history in Barbados, stretching back centuries, appearing over 300 years ago. Fleeing religious persecution in South America, a group of approximately 300 Jews arrived in Barbados, bringing with them the know-how of sugar production and its by-products, including a local spirit that was a likely ancestor to what we now know as rum.
The oldest known rum (then known as kill-devil) in the world is believed to be Mount Gay Rum, founded in Barbados in 1703. During the 1700’s, Barbados and its rum industry blossomed. Soon, there were so many rum shops that the ratio was said to be 1 rum shop to every 20 inhabitants. Despite the government’s attempts to curtail the popularity of rum shops – as anyone could open an establishment selling their own rums which competed with rum production by established plantation owners – rum shops continued to flourish. Furthermore, many rum shops expanded their offering from just rum to other items such as food and dry goods.
Before you visit a rum shop, you should know what to expect. It is important to note the difference between a rum shop and a bar, as the only real similarity is that both enterprises sell alcohol. A rum shop is far more informal and casual, designed so that the common man can come right off the street and feel at home. Another clear difference is that in rum shops you usually receive your rum by the bottle, not a glass. However, you can get a cup and some ice. Rum shops are no-frills and not too fussy. You may see people playing dominoes with wild abandon in a rum shop or overhear a raucous discussion about the merits of white rum versus brown rum. But, apart from the drinks, dominoes and amusing banter, the rum shop is really the social nucleus for people to gather and discuss happenings in society.
If you’re interested in learning more about rum and its historical importance, then any of the Mount Gay Distillery tours will appeal to you. Founded in 1703, Mount Gay Distillery is the oldest continuously running rum distillery in the world. Some of the tours feature rum tastings and there’s a lunch tour that serves an amazing rum punch as well. There’s also Foursquare Rum Distillery in St. Philip and St. Nicholas Abbey in Saint Peter which both produce their own rum for purchase.
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