Short & Sweet: A Tour Of The Pyrat Rum Factory
During my most recent trip to the Caribbean, I had the opportunity to do something I’ve wanted to do for quite a while: get an inside look at rum making in the islands.
The island of Anguilla lies just to the north of the French-Dutch island of St. Martin/St. Maarten, accessible by ferry from the French town of Marigot. The island is British territory, roughly 16 miles (25 km) long and 3 miles (just under 5 km) wide at its widest point. It boasts 33 white, sandy beaches and a peaceful island atmosphere for its 12,000 residents and many visitors. The island is also home to the Anguilla Rums Ltd.
Located just to the east of Sandy Ground (on the northwestern side of the island) is a small, yellow building with brown shudders and a blue sign containing the image of a single bottle of Pyrat XO Reserve rum. This is the home of Anguilla Rums Ltd., makers of Pyrat Rum.
Like many rum manufacturers, Anguilla Rums allows for tours of their facility – provided you have an appointment. Visitors are allowed in to the tasting room any time, but if you have the desire to see a few details of how their operation works, you need to call ahead. I setup our appointment about a week prior to our arrival with no trouble whatsoever.
Coming from St. Maarten, my party and I took a taxi from Philipsburg, on the Dutch side of the island, to Marigot, on the French side. The cab ride was about 30 minutes or so.
Once we arrived in Marigot, we purchased tickets for the ferry to Anguilla. The ferry ticket costs $12US, in addition to a $5US departure tax. With tickets in-hand, we boarded the small ferry and were whisked off to Anguilla. The trip took about 25 minutes, and ferries run all day at a rate of roughly one ferry per hour.
We landed at Blowing Point, on the south side of Anguilla and made our way through Customs. We rented a car for $30US, plus $5US for insurance and another $25US for a temporary driver’s license and then proceeded northward to the factory.
The Anguilla Rums facility is a factory, not a distillery. Many people don’t realize this, but Anguilla Rums doesn’t distill any rum at all. There is no sugar cane on Anguilla, and as a result, the rum is made by blending other companies’ rums. Pyrat rum is actually a blend of 9 different rums, all brought to this facility to be blended and then barreled for additional aging and marrying of the flavors.
Since the facility does not do any distilling, it is a great deal smaller than one might expect for a “rum factory.” The small building looks something akin to a small warehouse, with a gravel parking lot.
One enters the building through the front, walking in to a small, very plain reception area. Turn to your right and you’re in the very nicely decorated tasting room, walk forward and you pass through the double-doors of the factory floor.
We were greeted by a woman who tried to immediately shoo us into the tasting room. When I explained that we had an appointment for a tour of the facility, she seemed a bit incredulous, asking me more than once if I was sure. After convincing her that, yes, I did have an appointment to see the facility, I was asked to have my party wait in the tasting room while she fetched the person that does the tours.
The Tasting Room
The tasting room is a nicely decorated room with a small bar and Pyrat and Patron paraphernalia everywhere. For those not in the know, Pyrat rum and Anguilla Rums Ltd. are owned by the Patron Spirits Company, best known for their Patron Tequila.
In the tasting room one can taste the various rums and rum liqueurs offered by Anguilla Rums, as well as the entire line of Patron tequilas and tequila liqueurs.
Samples are served chilled (bottles are kept in a small refrigerator) out of small plastic cups, and there does not appear to be a limit on how many samples one can get…or if there is a limit, we didn’t manage to discover it.
We didn’t actually partake in any tasting until after the tour, rather spending our time reading through pamphlets and newspaper clippings on the wall, inspecting the product for sale in the room (at fairly nice discounts), and chatting about our day thus far (no one seemed to believe that we had any chance of making it from the cruise ship to the rum factory in time for our tour, when in fact we had made it to the factory so early that we had gone and spent a good portion of the morning on the beach).
Finally, our tour guide walked in and said we could begin our tour.
We were led through the double-doors at the back of the reception area and in to a large, open warehouse. There were barrels stacked to the left on the ground floor, and to the right on an elevated platform, next to some large metal cylinders probably used for blending.
The barrels all had various markings on them, probably indicating which blend they were and when their contents had been casked. I can only theorize here, when I asked I was only told that the markings on the barrel were for them to tell the barrels apart, and that they couldn’t tell me more than that. I also have no pictures of the actual tour, as photographs are also prohibited.
To be honest, there wasn’t much to photograph anyway. The “factory tour” is essentially a walk around of the bottling operation. In the middle of this open space is a small assembly line, occupied by 13 people. That’s right; the Pyrat Rum assembly line is only 13 people long.
At the head of the line is a stack of boxes. These boxes contain the heavy glass bottles which are imported from Mexico and France, which are removed from the boxes as needed and placed into a large cleaning and sterilization apparatus. Once clean, the bottles are dried and then placed on to the edge of the assembly line table.
The bottles next move onto rollers to be rolled under a multi-spigot machine to fill the bottles.
They can fill six bottles at a time from this foot-pedal operated machine before rolling the bottles on to the corking area.
It is amazing to consider that the bottles are filled only six at a time, and by a human-operated machine when one also considers that this small factory can fill an entire shipping container with rum in A SINGLE WEEK when ramped up for full production. Consider the fact that a single box of the rum holds 30 bottles, and then scale that up to an entire shipping container – that’s a lot of rum.
After the bottles are corked, the corks are sealed on with plastic, and then the bottles are pushed to the labeling table. All of the labels on Pyrat rums are placed there by hand, with a worker carefully lining up the label to make sure it is even. Now corked, sealed, and labeled, a worker places the Hoti medallions on the bottles and then ties orange ribbons around the necks before the last members of the assembly line place the finished bottles into boxes, which are sealed and promptly stacked on to pallets.
That’s it. Honestly...that’s the tour. You travel a total distance of about ten meters from start to finish. This is a very small, humble little rum factory. I honestly believe that had I not been burying our friendly guide with questions about the facility and the rum in general, our tour would have lasted 5 minutes.
My questions did seem to net me a small treat, when right before taking us back to the tasting room, our guide suddenly reversed direction and beckoned me over to a small door at the side of the assembly line area.
She opened it, and on the other side was a dark, musty room that was utterly filled with oak casks. This, she explained, was the aging room. Once blended, the rums are placed in their casks and the casks were placed in this small, dark, dingy room to engage in the Three M’s of rum blending: Mellowing, Marrying, and Maturing.
All in all, I was glad that we took the time to enjoy the tour – and not just because you can purchase Pyrat Cask 1623 for $180US instead of the normal $220US - $250US you see in the States. While the tour was not really all I had hoped for, it was still a fun and interesting experience, and one can hardly complain about spending the day in Anguilla.
If you ever find yourself on Anguilla, be sure to take an hour or so to stop by and check out the facility and the tasting room, you’ll be glad that you did.
Matthew Robold www.rumdood.com