I pondered on writing about an actual rum but I never wanted this rum blog to be only one of reviews; as previously mentioned, I am not an expert. Over time, I’m sure my journey to be among the more respected connosseurs will make my posts of the more detailed variety. What I hope, however, is to bring additional thought as to what makes rum so special. Something that I’ve always found interesting are the numerous rum shops throughout Barbados. I’ve read there are roughly 1000 rum shops and at one point, even more. Considering its size of 21 x 14 miles (167 square miles), even 600 rum shops would be a lot.
Rum shops you say? A little background before we go into the present…Barbados is divided by its 11 parishes: Saint Philip, Christ Church, Saint Michael, Saint John, Saint Lucy, Saint Andrew, Saint George, Saint Peter, Saint James, and Saint Joseph. I asked long ago the significance of the parishes and while many would say it had something to do with the church, not a lot of information was given. Even looking at the Wikipedia page for Parishes of Barbados gives minimal information aside from its connection to the Church of England. Originally divided into six parishes, I recall something in there stating that despite the rules of mandatory church attendance (varying depending on how far one would have to commute), authorities would have to fish people out of places of drink. For a growing population, more churches were built and it seems as a result, more there was an increase of these “tipling houses.” Personally, I attribute the obscene amount of rum shops as a compliment to the large amount of churches throughout the island. Of course the real reason is likely a high number of people believing in entrepreneurship but that makes for some coincidence.
Today’s rum shops are basically bars but in a rum shop, one can buy liquor by the bottle. You wouldn’t expect to order a complex mixed drink but that’s not to say you won’t find mixologists throughout the island’s rum shops. Earlier this year I went to the Palm Bar & Grill (yes, you can order by the bottle) and was able to get some sweet yet refreshing concoction that the bartender fixed me – not that I needed it after all the rum my friends and myself consumed. Rum shop owners do their best to attract their clients and branding helps. Klynn Hackett, my friend and owner of Klynn’s Bar explains, “the most lively bars get run down by sponsors or branding.” Imagine passing a stretch of road and seeing a bright green or red building that visually whispers (or for me yells), “it’s time for a drink.” My first real visit to Barbados was in 1998 and I would see this one rum shop painted in its entirety to look like a Malibu Rum bottle. It stood out and it was cute. The more you drive around the island, the more of them you see. Not every shop is as heavily branded, but one can’t help but notice the abundance of rum shops all around the island. Oh, and while they’re called rum shops, beer and other liquors are also available.
Rum shops come big and small. You might drive along a less busy stretch of road and see one attached to someones home. I remember buying a flask (more about sizes in a moment) of rum one December trying to pass time while a friend was getting a haircut. I found it funny that I could walk up to the side of someone’s house and buy a bottle, and yet, it was so convenient. One orders by the bottle typically and it’s a pretty sweet deal. For example, I can buy a flask of rum (375 ml) and a 20 oz chaser for roughly $10 USD – depending of course on the type of rum. If I want a premium rum, I’ll probably spend no more than $25 USD. Considering my purchase is at a bar where I will socialize with friends and likely for an extended period of time, and thinking of how much I would spend at a bar in the United States for a bottle, it’s no wonder one will usually find me planted in someone’s rum shop when visiting Barbados. Of course if you’re with friends, you’re likely buying bigger bottles but again, A BARGAIN! You can imagine how I scoff at the idea of bottle service at clubs here in the United States. It’s the principle of refusing to spend an exorbitant amount for what is usually mediocre booze.
Oh, Barbados also has an association for rum shops. The Bajan Association of Rum Shops (BARS of course) aims to assist shop owners with their businesses. Something I like about BARS is their commitment to,“generating more sales for locally manufactured products thus, increasing revenue locally. Even more, the Association seeks to bring back traditional foods to the shops thereby encouraging increased sales for bakers, farmers and fishermen.” It’s the equivalent of the argument between big-box stores and small businesses. Support local and that money goes a long way. It’s thus important that there is something in place working to ensure the rum shop’s survival.
Rum shops are part of Barbados’ culture. I recently saw a picture pop up in my Facebook feed of a young Mick Jagger sitting on the steps of a rum shop on the eastern side of the island. I can’t count the amount of rum shops I’ve been to and while I often tease I want to visit them all, I just don’t know if my liver is up for the challenge. Seriously though, while there are many reasons to visit Barbados, a true rum drinker should not only imbibe upon some of the world’s best known rums, but should do so in a rum shop. You can’t give the excuse of one being too far from your hotel – they are everywhere. One final thought, I am not alone in my opinion of how spectacular rum shops truly are. Just click here to read about a couple that has a backyard Bajan rum shop in Kent, England. I’m jealous.