Interview with Matthew Callwood of Callwood Rum Distillery in Cane Garden Bay British Virgin Islands

41951417_394711724399461_7765410951179796480_n

I first came across the existence of this place via a recent social media post and wondered to myself how I had missed it in the past. For me this distillery, though I have not visited myself yet, has all the hallmarks of high interest. For one it is over 400 years old, tying directly into some of the oldest traditions of pot still distillation in the world, a glimpse into how things were once done. For two, direct fired pot stills, always in my wheelhouse!
As always I am proponent of keeping distillation as simple and traditional as possible and I was immediately intrigued by the production processes, the history, and the resilience of this 400 year old distillery located in the British Virgin Islands and making rum from sugar cane juice as opposed to molasses. I immediately set about finding as much information as I could about the distillery and added the owner on social media so as to get a better profile. In it’s 400 year history the distillery has definitely had its share of adversity but perhaps no challenge bigger and more fearsome than Hurricane Irma which laid the distillery bare. Fortunately for all of us the walls of the old girl were still standing and the Callwood family were no where near close to throwing in the towel. Who couldn’t or wouldn’t be enamoured with an ancient distillery using ancient pot stills that offers tours for $1.00 and fine rum as cheap as $10 a pint!

42156883_677641349258482_9194259979723341824_n
Pressing the cane.

Matthew, tell us a little about yourself, your family, and the history your family as at the distillery please?

The distillery was officially started in the 1600s. The first owners were a family named Arundel from England but my family, the Callwood family, bought it in the early 1800s and we are now into the fourth generation.

42196404_826268237580019_2293345367346905088_n
Collecting the juice

We here at the Alchemist Cabinet are very passionate about pot stills, tell us about your stills, where they came from and how old they are. Do you guys do double pot still distillation or just a single pass distillation? Do you ever have to have any repair work done on the stills?

We had two boilers that were operational. One of them got destroyed during a storm when a coconut tree fell on it. Unfortunately we couldn’t get it repaired as there is no copper on island and no skilled workers. We only distill our rum once, making heads and tails cuts. Proof off of the still is 98 but we proof it down to 40% due to our law here.
42175757_1855697214518947_7310530453759328256_n
Firing the pots for boiling the juice

Can you describe to us a typical production day and how the juice is prepared for fermentation and how the stills are fired and what fuel you use? Also, what is your distillation season?

We have a sugar cane press that came here in the 1800’s which runs off of a diesel engine. The first one we had used donkeys for power but we sold it to St.Croix where it is now on display. Our season for making the rum is March-August and our yield is 25 gallons per day. Our fermentation takes 8-12 days depending on how hot it is.
41991625_1900570383579425_5522937723402321920_n (1)
41913855_290570308454542_9085538375888273408_n
Boiling the juice to evaporate some water prior to fermentation

What is the profile of your spirit from the still? Tell us about the different aged and flavored rums and the “panty dropper”.

We have four flavors of rum : 10yr old, 4yr old, white rum, and panty dropper which is blended with sweetness (they include a piece of sugar cane in the bottle) for nice flavor for the ladies.
42155144_211953259521788_1306555332348084224_n
Original Alembic Stills. Direct fired

In 400 years your bound to have some good distillery related stories of either your own or passed down to you, any interesting historical events or funny stories about the distillery?

Back in the day rum was only 10 cents and every Thursday and Friday crowds would gather to come and get drunk and would fall asleep on the squeezed sugar cane skin which is known as bagasse. (they also use the sugar cane after squeezing to fire their cookers in order to evaporate some water from the sugar can juice which takes about 3 hours, if you go longer than three hours you begin to create Molasses which they don’t want)
42142829_1521770907987418_81993064574353408_n

How are things progressing after Irma?

Everything is back together after the storm, it was a slow process but we are keeping our heads up!


Firing the stills with discarded wood!
42284211_296478894272338_3894896598525673472_n
42261173_1133846016773541_3088638775010525184_n
42227698_244706289573309_370024935927578624_n

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: