We met only briefly, only once, a couple February’s past inside the tony boutique shop at the Magdalena Resort in Tobago. Her exorbitant price tag and my utter ignorance of her legend conspired to keep us apart that day, but if I should be so lucky as to have our paths cross again, you can bet I won’t be making the same mistake twice.
There’s just too much historically unique Trinidadian rum-making heritage in this bottle for a proud son of Trinidadian parents like me to resist!
To get the full picture of what makes Caroni so special, one must first know a bit about the history of rum in Trinidad. It’s a history that saw a good 50 or so different distilleries producing their own distinctive rums all over the island prior to 1900. Here, as elsewhere across the Caribbean, though, the march of time brought with it a sharp decline in sugar production, which in turn thinned out the number of distilleries. By 1918, Trinidad’s 50 distilleries had been reduced to 10. One of the few that survived: Caroni.
Actually, it’s more accurate to say that Caroni emerged rather than survived during the period as 1918 is the year that the owners of the former sugar factory brought in a cast-iron still and started producing heavy rums.
Darker, stronger, and less refined than most common rums today, the heavy rums of Trinidad’s past were once barreled by individual merchants and rum shop owners across the country, who would then experiment with all sorts of blending and flavoring techniques to produce fantastic, one-of-a-kind rums, many of which were no doubt never duplicated 100%.
This, of course, is right in line with the bush rum tradition so strong in many of our islands, exemplified to this day in Trinidad in the ultra-potent “babash.”
Like the novice blenders they served, the folks at Caroni also experimented a lot, gradually elevating their distillation methods and upgrading/expanding their stills and production. Other local rum producers continued to fail or be swallowed up by Angostura, but Caroni thrived on its own, producing heavy rums of such fine quality that they quickly became a favorite of the British Navy.
Caroni’s heyday extended from the early 1920s to 2003, when the now state-run sugar factory was closed, taking with it the ready supply of molasses Caroni needed for its unique brand of heavy rum.
Thankfully, though, the Caroni legend does not end here.
Enter Bristol Spirits Ltd., a UK-based company with a real appreciation for rare, Top Shelf worthy alcohol. When the Caroni Distillery closed, Bristol acquired a supply of the celebrated brand’s rum already aging in barrels. They then shipped it all to the UK for further aging and bottling.
All Bristol rums emanate from a single still or estate. Bottles are also always available on a limited basis, with rum pulled from just a handful of barrels at a time to ensure consistency and quality.
Caroni 1974 represents the oldest stock of rum Bristol has ever shipped from Trinidad. As such, it comes bearing this handy bit of advice…
Drink deep for this is history and when these bottles have been enjoyed there will be no more.
They had me at “drink deep,” but it’s the legendary Trini heritage that will keep this bottle gracing my Top Shelf for years to come… assuming I can find one again…