Gemma Handy

English Harbour rum - the pride of Antigua

Few things have a greater association with the Caribbean than rum. But while most of the region’s nations produce a version of the iconic liquor, none do it quite like Antigua Distillery.

The secret behind the company’s award-winning formula is almost as old as the tipple itself. The firm - which last year celebrated an incredible eight decades in business - is the only one in the Caribbean that uses traditional continuous column copper stills. The use of copper, rather than stainless steel, is credited with the superior flavour and smooth texture of the world-famous English Harbour rum. The blend is then aged in charred oak barrels to give it its unique silky aroma. “Because the copper reacts with the ‘wash’ throughout the distillation, it helps to improve the ageing process of English Harbour rum. You can really taste the difference,” sales and marketing executive Calbert Francis says. “These days, our reputation speaks for us. Antigua is very dry which helps accelerate the ageing, so our five-year-old blend for example tastes like a seven or eight-year-old.”

In addition to its flagship product, the distillery also produces its popular Cavalier blend, and coconut rum Kokocaribe. Today, the long-running firm employs around 80 staff. “We are very close-knit, like one huge family,” laughs Calbert, who has himself has been part of that family since 2005.Antigua’s rums are exported right across the globe, from Australia to the US. The company prides itself on high quality products and a passionate team of staff. An intensive quality control system ensures each bottle is first-rate. “Even before our five-year-old English Harbour rum is bottled there’s a tasting panel that has to give it the thumbs up,” Calbert says, adding: “It’s a bit more expensive than other brands but its unrivalled taste keeps our customers coming back.” It’s that unbeatable flavour that has earned it recognition at the highest levels. The blend had the prestigious honour of being named one of the world’s 10 most remarkable rums by Forbes magazine. And that’s just one of a fistful of accolades to propel the liquor to international stardom.

The worldwide success of English Harbour rum has spawned a wealth of offshoot products from its mouth-watering rum chocolates to the brand’s 1981 vintage rum which comes in an individually-numbered bottle in its own display case. Exciting times are ahead for the firm, currently preparing to launch a new rum line along with custom-made English Harbour cigars. In addition to rum, Antigua Distilleries produces Absolut vodka and Chivaz Scotch whiskies. It also makes Oasis Purified Water using reverse osmosis and has the worthy distinction of being the only water manufacturer in Antigua to export the product.