Callwood Distillery - Cane Garden Bay
The Caribbean is the birthplace of rum with production dating back to the mid 1600's. It was in places throughout the British Virgin Islands, not unlike the Callwood Distillery, that rum was produced for export to Europe, North America and beyond.
The distillery has been in the Callwood family since sometime around the late 1800's, and today is operated by Michael Callwood and his family.
The door to the boiling room looks ancient by island standards. Although it is unknown exactly how old the Callwood Distillery is, the style of stone and brick architecture, widely used by the British throughout the Caribbean, would suggest that it dates back to the mid 1700's, or thereabouts.
The Callwood Distillery is the only continuously working rum distillery in the BVI. At one time, there were as many as 26 distilleries here. Many have completely disappeared but the ruins of others can be found dotted throughout Tortola and the other islands. One of those ruins is right next door in Brewer's Bay.
The family grows some of their own sugar cane (saccharum) which takes about a year to mature, growing to a height of 10' to 12'. Sugar cane is a type of grass and is in the same genus as maize (or corn), rice and others. They do not have sufficient land to grow all the cane that is required, so they buy the rest from local suppliers on Tortola.
Once the sugar cane is ready to be harvested, the tops of the cane (with the leaves) are cut off and replanted for the next harvest. The stalks are then cleaned in preparation for the press mill. Rum is made just once a year. The process begins in March and continues until August.
The press mill (seen above) is driven by a system of flywheels and gears, once powered by donkeys that walked around in circles, turning a long wooden arm with gears attached to the primary fly wheel. These days, a diesel engine supplies the horsepower ... or should I say donkey power.
A traditional sugar cane press works in a similar fashion to an old ringer washer. The raw canes of sugar are fed through the press mill where the cane is crushed and the juice is squeezed out into a trough, leading to a large cement tub. The juice is then fed into large open copper pots, referred to as "coppers", which are assembled inside the distillery.
You can see a video of two types of sugar cane presses in operation here. Sugar cane juice is often enjoyed in it's pure form immediately after being pressed. The music is annoying but the video tells the story.
The spent stalks of the sugar cane are dried in the sun, stored in the shed (seen above) and used as fuel to fire the stills.
Callwood Rum Distillery Continued ...
Open Monday to Saturday from 7:30 am to 5:00 pm