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  • Writer's pictureStuart Pearce

Rum Travels - Jamaica

Updated: May 28

Did someone say 3000g/hlpa??*

After 2 false starts (bloody lockdown), it has finally happened, arguably the most important stop in any rum fan’s journey, I’ve been to Jamaica … the rock. 


As with my rum travels around Barbados, Guadeloupe, and Madeira, I’m noting down some thoughts.  Partly for my own record, and hopefully they will be useful to others.


A considerably bigger and more populous island than the previous 3, Jamaica has impacted me more than I expected. 

It’s obviously spectacular - no surprises, as with the other Caribbean islands I’ve visited, it’s a stunning place with beautiful ‘picture postcard’ scenery & beaches. 

With Jamaica, when compared to previous islands I’ve visited and reviewed, someone has turned the volume up!  The colours, the vibrance, the parties.  Jamaicans are more ‘fiercely Jamaican’ than I’ve experienced anywhere, with any other culture.  It’s big, bright and loud!


We were fortunate to spend the Easter weekend in Ocho Rios and to experience the buzz of local Jamaicans bringing the party to the public beach.  All generations, amazing food, the buzz, the bright colours.  Jamaican’s know how to party!

We were bowled over by the vibrance and passion of these wonderful people.


Jamaica is also more challenging as a tourist, than Barbados, Guadeloupe or Maderia.  That said, I firmly believe travelling somewhere different SHOULD be challenging, and should take you out from your comfort zone

… A little gripe, if you’ll indulge me.  The self-fulfilling cycle of high crime rates, a shallow desire to recreate home comforts, and fear-mongering perpetuated by self-serving resort companies, are driving a torrential growth of all-inclusive resorts, and cruise ship docking ‘faux towns*’.  These are a scourge that is devastating the island.  Come on people, we can do better than this.  Get out and see Jamaica.  Experience the slight discomfort and huge exhilaration of something different. Try food you don’t recognise in restaurants that don’t look like the plastic chains from back home.  Meet locals. Spend your money in places that will benefit the Jamaicans rather than in internationally owned resorts and corporations.


* to provide the ‘expected Jamaican experience’ towns where some cruise ships dock (eg: Falmouth) have constructed a ‘Micky Mouse’ fabricated Jamaican town where passengers can disembark, drink a red stripe & a rum cocktail in ‘Margaritaville’, buy a few souvenirs, and channel more money back to the big corporate cruise ship companies.  Seeing this from the other side is so saddening.  More big walls and barbed wire.  Control gates that only allow workers on $30 a day to come through from the true Falmouth to work in the fake town.  This segregation is perpetuating the lack of funds finding their way into local pockets, the perception of a country that’s not safe enough to step outside of walled resorts, and is uncomfortably reminiscent of a dark past that we need to remember and continually grow from.

Visitors are missing out on amazing experiences, locals are missing out on tourist income. We can all do better.


In this article I’m going provide a summary overview of travel & some highlights from the [very different] parts of the island. Along with a quick dive into a couple of the amazing distilleries.  So let’s start with travel, which I promise to keep brief, feel free to msg me if you have any further questions that you think I might be able to help with…


The island, located about 90 miles south of Cuba, is the 3rd largest of all Caribbean islands. It’s a wide island (about 150mile side to side, but only 30-40 miles top to bottom).

Jamaica is home to 3 million people, almost all of whom live and work in towns and villages around the coast. The inland of the island is mountainous and largely forested.  It’s to this wild central area that the few remaining indigenous Arawaks or Taino people escaped in around 1500.  These mild and simple living people, who led quiet, peaceful lives, were massacred (and killed by diseases to which the Arawaks had little or no resistance) by the Europeans who colonised the island in the late 15th century.


Jamaica’s roads, bar the main ring road round the edge of the island, are pretty abysmal so travel can be very slow.  We used Knutsford express coaches to move from town to town which are clean, comfortable and efficient.  To visit the inland distilleries I hired a driver – a sensible decision allowing freedom and stress free flexibility for extended rum tastings 😊  [The distilleries are happy to recommend drivers, or I can]


A quick lap round the island… (clockwise)

Kingston (capital, South East) – we didn’t have time to visit, but were also heavily discouraged from stopping here, due to it being the focal point of the island’s high crime rate.

Blue Mountains (east central) – Lush, tropical mountains. Home to diverse and incredible flora and fauna, a cooler climate and slower pace of life.  The mountain range dominates the eastern third of the island and is often seen as an escape from the heat and bustle of Kingston.

Port Antonio and the NE coast – rural, untouched, beautiful escapism and spectacular beaches.

Ocho Rios (N central) – Where the locals go to holiday.  A lively and busy town with bustling beaches and a Margaritaville style bars.  Home to Dunns River waterfall climbing/hiking, and rafting on the White River.

Falmouth (N Central) – A cruise ship stop, home to Luminous Lagoon boat trips to see the glowing bay algae just after sunset.

Falmouth to Montego Bay (locally referred to as MoBay) – 20 miles of stunning white sands beaches that you’ll only see if you’re staying at one of the endless line of fortress-like all-inclusive resorts

Montego Bay – A bustling city set on this stunning coastline.  The view across the bay is very cool.  'Pier 1' is understandably popular with the locals – a great choice for experiencing Mobay nightlife. However my pick of the city is wings n’ tings on Kent Av.  Sat almost literally on the end of the runway this gem is popular with locals and is an incredible stop for a red stripe and hot wings.

The west coast from Mobay down to Negril – looked like some interesting and worthwhile stops & villages from the coach window.

Negril – traveller heaven.  Locals and tourists mixing, eating in the same restaurants and sharing the same beach.  Catch some live music at the awesome Drifters beach bar (if you’re lucky the owner, a former member of the Drifters, will grace the stage).  Enjoy a grilled lobster at flag city. And most importantly, learn from the homeless people and stray dogs by watching the sun set at 'corner bar', with a flask of wray & some ting, and some outstanding Jamaican food (there’s a reason it’s so busy with locals!). 

South & southwest – Off the beaten track.  I’ve heard great things about the quiet unspoiled villages along this beautiful coastline.  Judy’s place has a hostel there that I’d recommend checking out (we stayed at their Negril/WestEnd location for a wonderful week)


And finally, what you’re actually here for, the rum…

Jamaican rum…  famed around the world for it’s distinctive high ester, bold, funky style. The distilleries are the key to this magic.

As recently as 1900 there were around 150 rum distilleries in Jamaica.  Oversupply and low prices led the majority of these to close or consolidate.  Today we have 6 operating distilleries....


The number one pilgrimage for many rum fans.  Hampden Estate, the epicentre of funk! 

This small oasis did not disappoint. The estate, and production process, has been largely unchanged for centuries.  The demand is there for more rum but they dare not expand or change anything as the incredible flavours of Hampden rum are the result of a fragile, symbiotic relationship with the environment around it.  Their natural, wild, spontaneous fermentation is much less of a surprise when you visit the fermentation ‘room’ – a large old shack with racks of wooden tanks, open to the environment.  An environment that is never cleaned, never changed, thick with an odour of rotting fruit and muck. Yeast heaven.  In fact, we were told that the biggest problem is trying to slow down the development of esters and congeners when producing Hampden’s lower ester marks.

The cane vinegar tank, muck graves, rotting fermentation rooms, hot sweaty pot stills, bottling, ageing, and (of course) the epic tasting - the whole experience was absolutely magical and a day I will never forget.  Huge thanks to Peppie, his charming tour and his encyclopaedic knowledge of Hampden Estate.

Worthy Park

What can I say... one of only a handful of distilleries in the world growing cane, making sugar, molasses (and fresh cane juice), fermenting, pot distilling and ageing all on site. Located in the spectacular Lluidas Vale, Worthy Park is the ultimate field to glass distillery. A real 'pinch me' moment being shown around the estate by the man himself. Zan (aka Alex) arrived at the crack of dawn to make sure I would be able to see Worthy Park, thankyou so so much :-)


A much bigger and more commercial tour operation exists at the large Appleton estate. Packed with information and insight this is absolutely worth a day of your holiday!



Long Pond, Clarendon and New Yarmouth are (unfortunately) not generally open to the public.




*From the lead photo... yes that had an ester level of 3000g/hlpa, a still strength sample at 87%. Shockingly, it was beautiful (and insanely intense)!! Amazing stuff, an experience in a glass :-)



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