Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Cruzan Rum Distillery

This weekend in St. Croix was a little slow, so I took the opportunity to go with an acquaintance of mine to the home of St. Croix's most famous export, Cruzan Rum. The Cruzan brand was actually founded around 1934, but the former sugar plantation upon which the distillery sits has been producing rum since around 1760. Our first glance of the distillery was the old carriage house, which definitely harkens back to a time long ago: 

The history of Rum is deeply intertwined with the history of St. Croix. Throughout much of its history, St. Croix was one of the leading producers of sugarcane in the Caribbean, particularly in the 17th through early 19th Centuries. Much of the sugarcane grown in St. Croix was converted to molasses, which both allowed for easier shipping, and which forms the basis of distilling rum. 

The Seven Flags of St. Croix's Administrators
(L to R: Sovereign Order of Malta, Denmark, Netherlands, the United States, France, the UK, Spain)
As with many things in the world, globalization, climate change, and politics have transformed Cruzan Rum. While still largely managed by the Nelthropp family, whose ownership of Cruzan dates back to the middle of the 20th Century, the Cruzan brand is now owned by Beam Global Spirits. St. Croix's climate, which has become more arid over time, has also made large scale sugarcane production impractical. Because of climate change, the majority of molasses used to produce Cruzan is imported from Central and South America. However, due to favorable trade laws, Cruzan is able to import high grade molasses at a price significantly lower than many competitors. One high point of the trip was being able to actually taste some of the molasses being used for distillation (see below). It was definitely not like the kind you find in stores!

Molasses being poured to begin the distillation process.
At Cruzan, the distillery tour is much more "hands on" than at most distilleries. St. Croix's other rum producer, Captain Morgan, doesn't allow such a high degree of access to its production facilities. At Cruzan, one can get right up to the fermentation vats!

The molasses was moving due to the yeast particles alone...
Following fermentation, the molasses mixture is distilled using a column system, which happens to take place in the second tallest building on St. Croix (the competition actually isn't very stiff). Cruzan is known for their particularly thorough distillation process that removes most of the fusel oils and impurities that are often left behind in other spirits. For this reason, Cruzan is much less likely to produce the headaches associated with hangovers. After distillation, the raw Rum is then placed in barrels for aging at the St. Croix facility:

The various stages of aging. 
As you can see above, aging in the tropical climate results in a high degree of evaporation. By the time Cruzan's 12 year rums are done aging, as much as 90% of the initial liquid may have evaporated. In the tropics, aging also takes place much faster, so rums with lower ages have similar characteristics to much longer aged spirits such as Scotch and Bourbon.

The Cruzan Hospitality Pavilion
Our tour complete, we came to the high point of the day, which was a chance to taste the various Cruzan rum varities at the distillery's hospitality pavilion. After a few Cruzan drinks, we had definitely educated ourselves on the wide array of rums that our local distillery produces.

Cruzan is always a good call.
Before we left, I decided to splurge a bit and bring home a souvenir. I bought a bottle of Cruzan's premium offering, Cruzan Single Barrel. Aged for up to 12 years, the Single Barrel is a welcome addition to my collection at home.

I bought their limited edition large bottle, so a stock photo will have to do.

Beyond the opportunity to learn more about our local rum, the Cruzan distillery was a great way to become more knowledgeable about Crucian history and culture. It was definitely a nice way to spend a Saturday, and is a must-see destination for any visitor to our little island.



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