Barbados has a story to tell about rum and it should be told, Prime Minister Mia Mottley has said, suggesting the country stands to reap greater benefits from its 300-year history as the originator of the spirit.
“The story of Barbados is a story of rum, and the story of rum is the story of Barbados,” Mottley told a gathering at the St Lucy-based Mount Gay Distilleries for the recommissioning of a rum still at the 315-year-old rum maker.
“It is impossible for us to speak about the modern settlement of Barbados since the 17th century . . . without speaking about the story about sugar and the story of rum.”
With Barbados battling to survive both climate change and financial challenges, she said it was critical that Barbados used what it had to its advantage.
“We find ourselves today, more and more, having to fight to survive in a world to make sure that our beginnings do not become an end. Equally we have to fight also for our ability not just to survive in this space physically but to survive in this space financially. It is for this reason we have better to appreciate that the story of Barbados and the story of rum cannot lie only upon the pages of books and pages of history but has to live within the context of our economy and capacity to provide a living for our people,” the Prime Minister said.
“There is no doubt in my mind that that story, when told, increases the potential for the value added that can be commanded by the product called rum from Barbados, and that story can’t just be an after-thought but as with sincerity and accuracy to be told.”
She also pointed out that as Government seeks new ways to set its financial house in order and bring about economic stability, it was critical “to repurpose how we do what we do”.
“We can repurpose our plantations to tell a story to help us secure greater stability in our financial and economic well-being. It is absolutely critical rather than our being able to just benefit from the sight of buildings becoming derelict and becoming perhaps a home for somebody to live in because they do not desire to see a derelict building on our landscape. We have to repurpose all that we do,” she said.
The Prime Minister said the nation’s plantation houses ought to be put to specific use, “whether for international business… living museums… places for different types of activities such as is being considered for some of our factories and plantations with respect to heritage assets for tourism”.
As the Government’s restructuring programme prepares to enter a new phase with retraining public workers, she expressed a wish for more seasoned workers across the country to help impart their knowledge to younger and newer workers.
The commissioning of the still – the Coffey Still – which dates back to the 1930’s, comes four years after the family-owned, French cognac maker Rémy Cointreau took over the operations of the Mount Gay Distilleries and bought the 330-acre Mount Gay plantation from the Ward family.
Rémy Cointreau chief executive Valérie Chapoulaud-Floquet recalled the milestone 2014 deal, describing it as a milestone for her family.
She described the expansion into Barbadian rum as a strategic move, while giving the assurance that Rémy Cointreau was here for the long run.
“We believe very much in Mount Gay Distilleries; we believe very much in Barbados because what has been done by the team and the investment that has been put behind Mount Gay has been very important in the last four years and it is just the start,” she said.
“We are here for a long time. It is absolutely strategic for us, it is not just strategic for the sake of that but it is strategic for quality,” she said.
The decision to recommission the Coffey Still, which was decommissioned in 1976, was made almost immediately after Rémy took over the distillery.
With its reopening, the Still has been renamed The Blues Still, in honour of one of the Mount Gay’s longstanding employees, Reynold Blues Hinds – revered for his unique ability to test taste and smell the rum without the aid of any technology.
Hinds has been with the rum-maker since 1965. Mount Gay is promoted as the world’s oldest rum as its original still dates back to 1703.