Thursday, November 21, 2013

River Antoine Distillery

Water wheel powered cane crusher
    On the Northeast side of Grenada, there is a piece of rum history that is still in full operation.  The River Antoine Distillery goes back to 1785 and has been operation off and on ever since.  They produce rum in the traditional way, with a huge pot still and a water wheel driven sugar cane crusher,    In this age of computer controlled stills and fermentation tanks here operates the River Antoine  Distillery.

     The process begins with the hand harvesting of local sugar cane, hand loading it on to the conveyor belt  and finally to the crusher.  All of this powered by the very "green" water wheel and the free power of the river.

Boiling Room
     The sugar cane juice is then taken to the boiler room, heated by the spent hulls of the sugar cane.  The cane juice spends eight days in the fermentation tanks, where they reach an alcohol level of 12 to 14%.   This is an all natural process without the introduction of yeast or any other agent to speed the fermentation process.   The natural yeasts in the air produce the start of the fermentation process.

Wood Fired Still
    From the fermentation tanks the "wine" is sent to the pot still where it is heated by a wood fire to bring the alcohol level up to the desired levels.    This is the oldest type of still, it provides the heaviest forms of alcohol and the most flavorful of the alcohols.  The flow of the alcohol from the still through the hygrometers that determine when the alcohol levels are sufficient and whether or not the product needs to be  run through the still once again.   Then the pure rums are sent to bottling where they are diluted to the proper percentage and bottled.

    There is a bit of a contradiction that occurs with the system.    The concentration of sugar in cane is at its highest during the dry season (Jan. to May), the water which powers the cane press is more efficient during the rainy season (June through Dec.) when there is plenty of water in the river.

    The plant did not operate making rum throughout the year, as the sugar cane harvest is not a year round process.  They would also process chocolate, nutmeg and mace in the off seasons as did many of the estates in the area.

    This is one of the few remaining "old school" distilleries left in the world.    River Antoine Distillery is still making rum in the tradition of the 1785 era, when slaves were cutting the cane and carrying it to the distillery for processing and water and wood powered the plant.  This is a truly interesting operation, one you should not miss should you get the chance to visit this lush island.   ;o)