The Spirit of Barbados

Tracey Teo

Inside the lobby of the new Wyndham Grand Barbados, Sam Lord’s Castle Resort & Spa, is a door that blends so seamlessly with its surroundings, guests could walk past countless times without noticing it. That’s unfortunate, because those who spot a small sign that reads “Burnt Cask” and are curious enough to open that door, will find a treasure trove of rum from Barbados and around the globe. It’s a rare chance to sample the spirit in the West Indies Island where it was born. 

Barbadians, who call themselves Bajans (pronounced BAY-juns), think of rum as more than a beverage. It’s part of their national identity and heritage.

For more than 300 years, the former British colony that became a republic in 2021, had an economy driven by sugar cane cultivation on sprawling, European-owned plantations. Much of the sugar was exported to Europe, but some sugar cane juice was distilled and made into rum.

Today, there are four distilleries on the island: Mount Gay, Four Square, St. Nicholas and West Indies. You can taste rum from all of them and many more with customized flights at Burnt Cask rum bar. For guests at this all-inclusive beachfront resort perched on the southeast coast, some pours are complimentary. Of course, if you’re inclined to sip something rare and special, such as the limited edition Matusalem Sublime from the Dominican Republic that sells for nearly $1,800 a bottle, additional charges apply. 

Rum has a range of flavor profiles, so bartender Barry makes thoughtful recommendations based on his customers’ preferences and willingness to wade into unchartered territory. For those who like a little spice in their life, Foursquare spiced rum, produced only four miles from the resort, is one to try. Carefully aged and infused with cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, it warms the palate like the Caribbean sun warms the skin. Prefer a sweeter rum? Savor Diplomático Reserva, a premium, award-winning rum from Venezuela that has notes of orange peel and vanilla but eschews any unpleasant syrupy finish.

As guests stroll past the elegant ruin of Sam Lord’s “castle,” the resort’s eponymous 1820 mansion, they may wonder what rum the master of the house sipped. “Kill-Devil,” as rum was once called, has long been associated with pirates, and according to legend, Lord was among the most notorious. He supposedly acquired his wealth by using lanterns to lure ships onto the coral reefs where they would become stranded and ripe for plundering.

St. Nicholas Abbey - More than Three Centuries of Rum History

At St. Nicholas Abbey, a 350-year-old sugar cane plantation that now operates as an artisanal rum distillery, a worker cleared crushed sugarcane stalks from the shoot of a massive steam mill that extracts the juice. On a guided tour, visitors learned the mill is much like the one that was installed in 1890, state-of-the-art technology at the time, to replace the old sugar cane rollers that were powered by an ancient windmill that still stands next to the distillery. 

During the January to May harvest season, about 350-tons of sugar cane is milled to produce 40 barrels of rum annually. It may sound like a lot, but it’s only a fraction of the sugar cane processed during the estate’s 18th-century heyday when it exported commercial quantities of sugar, molasses and rum to Europe. 

After the raw sugar cane juice is extracted, it’s boiled to produce a sweet cane syrup or molasses, then sent to the distillery. 

At the distillery, master distiller Eddie Griffith uses a hybrid copper pot and column to infuse a silk-smooth finish, with no blending, into the syrup.
He says there’s a reason St. Nicholas rum is a standout among high-end brands. 

“We distill to exact methods and procedures and ensure they are repeated and maintained precisely,” Griffith said. “We deliberately maintain our small production volume to ensure our artisanal traditions are never compromised.”

Aging the rum in charred oak whiskey barrels from Tennessee imparts a rich, smokey flavor and deep amber hue.
The next stop on the tour is a Jacobean mansion built in 1658 by Englishman Colonel Benjamin Berringer and owned by several families over the centuries. An architectural wonder (it’s one of only three houses of its kind in the Western hemisphere), it symbolized the wealth and status of its British inhabitants. Pass through the triple-arcaded portico to a bygone world of refined opulence.
A tour guide pointed out exquisite antiques, such as the 1780 English Sheraton sideboard in the dining room, one of the few pieces of furniture that can be traced to the home’s original owners, and a grandfather clock that has been ticking away on the landing since 1759. 

It’s important to note this genteel lifestyle was facilitated by the exploitation of millions of enslaved Africans who performed backbreaking labor in the sugar cane fields for generations. Guests can peruse reproductions of plantation ledgers that list the enslaved. Unfortunately, little is known about people like “Little Anthony” or “Joanna” except their monetary value to their enslavers. Slavery was abolished in Barbados in 1834. 

In the tasting room, a mix of enticing aromas waft from goblets containing rums that range in color from crystal clear to deep caramel. A 12-year-old, barrel-aged rum with notes of tobacco and bitter orange is a favorite with the discerning rum-loving group.

Of course, there’s no need to limit rum consumption to a tasting room. This is Barbados, the land of sun-kissed beaches and turquoise water. Book a snorkeling tour with Silver Moon Premium Catama-ran Cruise, and you’ll hover above ancient shipwrecks and swim with sea turtles. While you’re headed back to shore, enjoy a little rum punch with your fellow snorkelers and take a moment to reflect on the history of rum, the spirit of Barbados.


Wyndham Grand Barbados, Sam Lord’s Castle Resort & Spa. This oceanfront, all-inclusive resort opened on the southeast coast of Barbados in October of 2023. It features 422 guest rooms, 37 suites, four pools and tennis and pickleball courts.  Burnt Cask is one of several bars on property. Non-drinkers will find an array of trendy mocktails so flavorful, the alcohol won’t be missed.


Oistins Fish Fry. Dozens of vendors in the fishing village of Oistin sell a variety of fish, Caribbean lobster and more at this outdoor fish fry at Oistins Bay Gardens. On Friday nights, it turns into a party with live music, dancing and entertainment.


St. Nicholas Abbey. A colonial-era sugar cane plantation with a craft rum distillery and house museum.  

Silver Moon Premium Catamaran Cruise. Specializes in small groups and private charters.

More Barbados Attractions

Copacabana Beach Club. A beachfront oasis with restaurants, volleyball, watersports and more. 

Island Safari Tour with lunch. See the best of Barbados from a specially designed Jeep that ventures into off-the-beaten-track territory.

Tourism Info

Visit Barbados.