Barbados: Chasing Spirits

For the April/May 2009 issue of ISLANDS magazine, editor Eddy Patricelli crisscrossed Barbados, from the rum shops to the churches, to find why rum is so important to life here. This is how his story begins:
When a man who loves his rum announces the merits of feeding tissue paper to sheep, it would seem wise to cut him off. But Keith Laurie hasn't been drinking, nor is there any need to curtail his comments. Make no mistake, no matter how unlikely it may seem, this sheep tale will eventually circle back round to rum. On Barbados, all stories do. That's why I'm seated here on Keith's back porch at his home in St. George Parish, near acres of sugar-cane fields. Across this small Caribbean island, I'm chasing rum's meaning through the locals' stories. No island may be so famous for one spirit, and if anyone knows the reasons why, it's Keith. The 76-year-old native is an internationally accredited rum expert, a former Barbados senator and the current president of the Barbados National Trust. But I'm getting worried that I already need to move on; Keith seems too soaked in the subject. He's currently explaining to me how sheep break down paper into simple, digestible glucose -- and he has yet to belly up to his sprawling wood bar nearby. My attention keeps drifting over to it, though. Hundreds of decanters from around the world tower in what's said to comprise the island's most expansive rum collection. This is no small claim. Barbados is where many experts believe rum originated over 350 years ago. The sugar cane grown in the heart of the island goes to local distilleries, like the famous Mount Gay.

View Larger VideoView Larger Map| |The resulting spirits move on to Barbados' thousand-or-so rum shops & the top shelves of bars around the world. It's no wonder another name for rum is "Barbados water." (To read the full story now, get the digital version of the April/May issue.)Plan Your Trip: Barbados * Fly on American Airlines, which offers nonstop daily flights from most major hubs to Barbados airport (BGI). aa.com * Stay at Little Good Harbour in the quiet fishing community of Shermans, which is on the northwest coast of Barbados. The family-run oceanfront villas offer residential-style units, some that occupy a restored 17th- century fort. Far from the traffic of Bridgetown, the resort is most famous for its restaurant, The Fish Pot. Try not to stare at British "royalty" like the Blairs and Beckhams enjoying the seaside seating and fresh seafood. littlegoodharbourbarbados.com * Eat a coconut-shrimp-and-chili-sauce appetizer at Champers Wine Bar and Restaurant, perched over Accra Beach on the south coast. Ask for waterside seating, and savor Parmesan-crusted barracuda as waves surge below. champersbarbados.com * See St. Nicholas Abbey in St. Andrews Parish. The working sugar plantation includes a preserved Jacobean mansion that was built back in 1658. Watch a video that showcases life on the plantation. Chase it with a taste of St. Nicholas Abbey's latest batch of rum. stnicholasabbey.com * Learn more at visitbarbados.org.|