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LIFE OF

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STORY BY EDDY PATRICELLI PHOTOS BY DAVID NICOLAS


hasing

60


spirits

TO FIND THE SECRETS OF THE WORLD’S MOST FAMOUS RUM, DRINK

UP BARBADOS IN EVERY SENSE. FROM THE DISTILLERIES TO THE

RUM SHOPS TO THE CHURCHES, WE’RE ABOUT TO GET PERSONAL.


Rum runs through every aspect of life on Barbados, like the wind flowing through the island’s sugar-cane fields (opposite).


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. The resulting spirits

move on to Barbados’ thousand-or-so rum shops

and the top shelves of bars around the world . It’s

no wonder another name for rum is “Barbados

water.” If only Keith would talk about it all.

“So this guy called me to confirm that cows were

indeed eating paper from landfills,” beams Keith.

This is a man who taught himself everything he

knows about rum and livestock. “Can you imagine

what this could mean for the environment”

I can’t. I’m too eager to ask him which of all of

these bottles of rum is his one favorite.

62


Tracing rum on Barbados leads to the sugar plantation

of St. Nicholas Abbey (opposite) and the famed rum

collection at the home of expert Keith Laurie (right).

Before I say a word, he launches into how the government brushes

off his animal findings. “They’re so conservative,” he laments, citing the

island’s British roots and how, unlike many Caribbean nations, it hasn’t

really changed hands through history . “I remind people of 1966 , when we

claimed independence from Britain. The Anglophile mindset still exists.

Change is a dirty word. It’s why I’ve been ignored when I tell restaurants

they should serve a free Barbadian rum cocktail to every customer.”

Finally, there’s the connection: from sheep to rum. This self-proclaimed

16th -generation Barbadian of Irish-Scottish descent is really building

steam. “Think about it: A Barbadian rum cocktail is an appetizer, for God’s

sake! Drink one and you get hungry, and it only costs a dollar to make. It’s

simple: rum, a little bit of sugar, two dashes of Angostura bitters and ice.

Shake it up.” Keith says he’s had to enlighten local young bartenders who

stray from it, mistakenly serving him “some big-glass fruity concoction.”

Naive bartenders. That stops his rum rant too soon. Did I know that

Barbados’ youths are far more educated than those in North America

Keith recalls a Canadian engineer who moved his family to the island,

and its schools, for a stint years ago. When they returned to the mainland,

the kids had to skip forward two grades.

Keith sits back, basking in that thought. I seize

the opening. “So what’s the best rum in Barbados”

He becomes oddly silent. I mention a 100-yearold

rum that runs $90 a shot at a posh restaurant

on the south coast . “Bull*%# baffle brains,” he

retorts, calling it “snob rum,” then explaining that

such rums peak at 15 years of aging. I keep pressing.

He mentions working on a “special” cane-juice rum

at St. Nicholas Abbey, a preserved 350-year-old

Jacobean mansion and fully operating sugar plantation

perched near Cherry Tree Hill in St. Andrew

Parish. But he’s waffling. I ask the question again.

“In recent years, Mount Gay Extra Old is the best

to me, but,” he says, raising his index finger, “you

can improve it by adding a tablespoon of French

cane-juice rum, which has better aroma.”

He starts to say more, but his wife, Marina, cuts

63


him off. Keith has errands to run in Bridgetown , the capital. We’re soon

in his driveway amid his pet ducks. Keith feeds them snails. We climb into

his Range Rover , and as he drives, he talks snails, pesticides and protein.

I’m not paying attention. I’d rather count rum shops lining the road. Keith

catches me and suggests I visit his favorites. When I ask for directions, he

laughs. “If you get lost, just remember: All roads lead to Bridgetown.”

He switches back to snails. “Don’t spray them; just eat them.” He ends

by saying, predictably, that I should chase them with rum. Keith then

brakes sharply and turns down a narrow street. I count three rum shops

in one block and laugh. On Barbados, everything is leading to rum.

Rum likely inspired the word “rumbustious.” it

means boisterous or unruly, or how Godfrey Moore is acting

at this very moment. His hand is gripping my shoulder. His

eyes dare mine to abandon his locked gaze and, strangely, his

raised voice is trying to impress upon me how this noisy rum shop we’re

standing in is known for its refined, civilized and welcoming patrons.

“Of the thousand rum shops,” shouts the 50-year-old Godfrey over a

loud group seated near us at the John Moore Bar, “the ex-prime minister

of Barbados came here because it’s a couth place.” I’ve heard that same

prime-minister line at all the rum shops I’ve visited since I left Keith. But

confronted by Godfrey’s eyes, I don’t dare laugh. Not even a smile.

To Godfrey, the John Moore Bar, wedged between the Caribbean

Sea and Highway 1 in the small town of Weston north of Bridgetown,

is far more than just another rum shop. He calls

it his “office,” but I think he means “home.” The

shop’s owner of 40-plus years is his “granddad” of

no relation, whom he helps behind the bar when

needed. The loud group near us, seated around a

wire-legged table cluttered with plastic cups, make

up his “team.” Among them are a police commissioner,

a restaurant manager and a taxi driver; several

of them have been meeting here with Godfrey

after work and on weekends for 25 years.

“See the white guy like you”

he asks. Godfrey is pointing to

the lone Caucasian at the table,

a middle-aged gentleman in

a crisp yellow-collared shirt

and khaki shorts. The man

is fully engaged in the table’s

“lime ,” a term Barbadians

use to describe, among other

things, the free-flowing discourse

found in a rum shop.

“That’s Eddie . When I visited

London , his limo picked me

up at the airport. I stayed in

his mansion. Everything was

champagne and whatnot. Now

when Eddie visits Barbados, he

stays with me. Can you believe

it One of England’s biggest

real-estate tycoons stays with

me.” Godfrey gleams, creasing

a nearly empty plastic cup in

his hand. “I tell you, that’s the

power of the rum shop.”

This comment is striking,

though its scope is limited.

Godfrey won’t elaborate on his

profession beyond a cryptic, “I

work for the government.” He

is equally reserved about his humble upbringing on

Barbados, and how much rum flows through the

shop on a weekend. “Let’s just say, a lot,” he smiles.

But when I question the establishment’s “bar”

moniker, an important distinction on Barbados, his

intensity returns. “The John Moore Bar is more

what you call here a rum shop,” he offers carefully.

“Order a rum and Coke, and you’ll get a flask of

rum, a bowl of ice, a plastic cup and a bottle of

Coke . Have it ‘to go’ if you want.” He then leads me

to the bar, steering my eyes past shelves of countless

decanters to a small section containing items

like Clorox bleach, Eveready batteries and Cheetos .

64


To Godfrey Moore, rum shops like the John Moore Bar are as much a fixture on Barbados as Accra Beach (opposite).

April/May 2009 ISLANDS.com

65


Religion and rum seem unlikely allies, but not on

Barbados, where they easily rub elbows and steer the

lives of young people like Rhea Holder (above).

“This place is a shop,” he proclaims to me. “It has a bar name from

long ago. Spirits are served here. But it’s a rum shop.”

I steer him to a subject that Godfrey’s eyes have me dreading,

about how some people dismiss rum shops as merely gathering places

for … well, for drunks . “Barbados society has a problem,” Godfrey says,

crushing his now empty plastic cup. “By the time you have a degree,

you’re taught to degrade the rum shop. Look at them,” he offers, nodding

toward the “team” that’s still liming in the back room as he again

reminds me of their varied credentials. “Sure I can go to some fancy

hotel and buy one shot for $8. But why do that when here I can have a

flask for $4 and be surrounded by friends. These people are my family.

They’d do anything for me. We’re all equal here.”

“Granddad” walks in. Godfrey heads over to him, draping his arm

over the narrow shoulders of the short, skinny, elderly Barbadian . “This

man is like a godfather of the rum-shop life,” Godfrey announces. “If

you’re hungry — no matter if he knows you or not, no matter if you have

money or not — he will take you in and feed you.” He pulls Granddad

close, and his voice trembles slightly. “I can’t imagine where I’d be

without him and his shop.” Godfrey’s eyes are red. Not from the rum.

O

f the many wise reasons to go

to church on Sunday, mine isn’t one

of them. It’s 8:54 a.m. I’m standing

outside the doors of St. Aidan , an

Anglican church that sits on an exquisite beach

on the other side of the island from Bridgetown .

In a few short minutes, St. Aidan’s early mass

will end. This is cause for concern.

Mention Reverend Errington Massiah on

Barbados, and eyes widen, warnings come and

stories of his deep-bellowed, iron-fisted sermons

follow. I discovered this last night after

a bartender spoke of how some local patrons

are prone to singing religious hymns in, of all

places, rum shops . As she wiped the bar, her

large frame leaning heavily on it, she said it’s

usually old men who take to singing. Asked

what’s meant by the hymns, she answered flatly,

“It just means they’re really drunk.”

66


Still, her comments spark questions, such as how — on this small

island that famously boasts “for every rum shop there’s a church”

— do the two institutions get along I’m reminded of rum’s “Kill

Devil” colonial nickname and of Lord Byron: “There’s nought no

doubt so much the spirit calms as rum and true religion.” So I’m

here at St. Aidan’s to ask the eminent Reverend Massiah which is

the real house of spirits on Barbados: the church or the rum shop

Mass has ended. People in bright dresses and collared shirts file

toward me with cheerful morning greetings. The reverend eventually

emerges, radiant in a dark green robe, oversize white sleeves billowing.

He towers above 6 feet and is of healthy build, not a single hair on his

head. His large hands are joined over his stomach, cradling a thick bible.

In the crowd, he zigs, I zag, and we almost collide. I stumble through

my interview request. His Bible is poking my chest.

“I have another mass to attend to,” his deep voice booms. He’ll be

busy all day and I can follow him, but Christopher Oliver , a portly

assistant by his side, will gladly help me. The reverend then leans down

toward Christopher’s ear and says, “Be sure to tell this man how much

rum shops help the church. We don’t want to go angering the rum shops

now, do we” The two men

share laughter, though I only

hear the reverend’s.

FOLLOW OUR ROUTE

Christopher stays with FIND THE BEST RUM


me outside St. Aidan’s. “Rum

SEE THE TRIP VIDEO

shop owners are often members of the church

community,” he says. “They volunteer funds and

help with church repairs.” He’d like to offer more,

but his daughter has latched onto his leg. To her,

Sunday means church, then the beach, where waves

are tormenting her across the street.

We part ways, and I drive toward the reverend’s

next service, slowing to see a surf contest underway

at Soup Bowl , a world-class break whose beach is

next door to St. Aidan’s. Parishioners in Sunday’s

best mingle with ease among baggies and bikinis.

I park outside St. Joseph Parish Church , a cathedral

in the Horse Hill area. I hear the reverend’s

thunderous voice from the (continued on page 100)

ISLANDS.COM/barbados

67


60

STORY BY EDDY PATRICELLI

PHOTOS BY DAVID NICOLAS

TO FIND THE SECRETS OF THE WORLD’S MOST FAMOUS RUM, DRINK

UP BARBADOS IN EVERY SENSE. FROM THE DISTILLERIES TO THE

RUM SHOPS TO THE CHURCHES, WE’RE ABOUT TO GET PERSONAL.

Rum runs through every aspect of life on Barbados, like the wind flowing through the island’s sugar-cane fields (opposite).

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Barbados (from p. 67)




church’s PA system. Nearby is a rum

shop, where two ragged patrons are liming

with rosy eyes. A few empty cups are

visible, perhaps leftovers. Perhaps. The

sermon fills the air. “When you’re part

of an institution, you’re better off when

things go wrong than if you’re alone! And

I ask you, when you go to church, do you

leave feeling better than when you came”

I wonder if the reverend would call this

rum shop an institution and if he would

concede that, like churches, people leave

it feeling better than when they came.

In front of the cathedral, I meet

Bentley Skeete, draped in a white robe.

He considers himself a man of the cloth

for all 60 years of his life, and he’s happy

to offer answers. “There’s no rivalry,” he

begins. “We’re a peaceful, tolerant society.

Rum shops and churches were always a

part of life on Barbados, from the very

beginning. ” He cites a mutual respect,

noting how rum shops will close their

doors as funeral processions pass. Asked

about the reverend’s sermon, Bentley

pauses. “I would say that rum shops are

indeed institutions. Like churches, they

bring people together . They bind communities.

People do feel better when

they leave them than when they came.

But that feeling can be short-lived when

rum’s involved. I’m inclined to think that

the burden the church relieves its followers

of is more lasting.”

As if to prove it, he leads me inside,

sitting beside me in one of several

sparsely crowded pews in back. “Manners

matter!” shouts the reverend . A mother

near me hands over her Bible and then

slides in close to her daughter to read

from hers. I watch their faces following

a passage, the holy book now resting

between shared knees. Bentley has taken


my note pad . He’s writing facts about St.

Joseph’s in it. I didn’t ask him to do this,

and all I can think is it’s 9:30 a.m. At this

very moment, a surf contest, a rum shop

and a church, roughly within a square

mile radius of each other, are doing what

they do best in seamless harmony.

The daughter seated nearby has

readied her hands by her ears. Reverend

Errington Massiah is building momentum.

“When you treat others badly, you

do so to God!” he shouts, slamming his

fist into the lectern. I wince so hard

my eyes close. When I open them, the

daughter’s hands are still over her ears.

“DO GOOD!” My eyes are forced shut.

I want to cover my ears, but there’s no

use. The reverend’s lessons of kindness

and tolerance are too piercing. They

carry far beyond St. Joseph’s walls.

FRIENDS CALL HER “MISS MOUNT GAY,”

but she wears no crown. Not that she

couldn’t. It’s just that this 20-year-old

Barbadian would prefer to wow you

with her rum knowledge rather than

her pageant-worthy looks.

It’s my last day on Barbados. Rhea

Holder, a tour guide at the Mount Gay

Visitor’s Center , is off the clock, yet

it’s clear she’s still in charge. She was

as commanding as the reverend in her

45-minute, eloquent, funny and factfilled

walk-through of the distillery —

though in a softer volume.

“Baileys is a curse word,” she says to

me, wagging her index finger. “And no,

if I met a cute guy who was drinking

Cockspur , it wouldn’t be a deal breaker.

I’d just inform him in no uncertain

terms that he was drinking the wrong

rum. Mount Gay is the first, the finest

and most definitely the best.”

While relative old-timers like

Keith Laurie, Godfrey Moore and the

Reverend Massiah are steeped in the

traditional passion for rum, the younger

Barbadians supposedly have little interest

in the island’s famed spirit. They’re

said to prefer modern bars over the

age-old rum shops — choosing drinks

poured by the glass rather than the flask.

100

April/May 2009 ISLANDS.com


That has some elders fearing the spirit’s

uncertain future on the island. Rhea,

though, is happy to talk all things rum.

“I didn’t appreciate the rum shop

life and its history till I began working

here,” she says. “I average four tours a

day. I’ve had up to 60 people in a group .

When you speak to so many visitors

from around the world, you realize how

much rum and Barbados are linked. You

become an ambassador for your country.

You embrace all aspects of its rum.”

As we talk more, Rhea admits she and

her friends prefer to “lime” in bars, but

adds, “At the end of the day, all Barbadians

just like a good party. I don’t see the rum

shops going away anytime soon.”

Of her family, Rhea’s mother is the

most proud of her new life with Mount

Gay. “I was shy before I began working

here,” Rhea concedes. “I had other

jobs but felt like a robot. My mom has

seen me blossom with Mount Gay.”

This comment takes a moment to sink

in. Rhea’s young life is being guided by

rum; her mother has the utmost pride

and faith in it. Both seem an unhealthy

mix, except perhaps on Barbados.

A few hours later, it’s time for me to

leave the island. I arrive at the airport

late, but that’s not my biggest problem.

Rhea’s supervisor had given me a large

bottle of Mount Gay Extra Old as a

keepsake. It’s their prized blend, winner

of many international rum competitions.

I only have a carry-on, and there’s no

getting the bottle in it. Even if I could,

there’s no time to check the bag.

Pulling up to the curb, I hand the

bottle over to the cab driver. His eyebrows

rise, he waives my fare and exits

the cab hurriedly — racing for the trunk

— forgetting I have no bags there.

Before I can run for the check-in,

he stops me with an outstretched hand

— making sure I know what I’m doing.

“You understand how much this rum is

worth on Barbados, right” I do. ^

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Barbados

FLY on American Airlines, which offers

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STAY at Little Good Harbour in the quiet

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SEE St. Nicholas Abbey in St. Andrews

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