In early 2016, I toured a number of Jamaican rum distilleries as part of a tour organized by WIRSPA and their Authentic Caribbean Rum (ACR) program. What follows is my take on one of the distilleries we visited–in this case, Worthy Park.
Martin Cate is about to be crushed by sugar cane. For someone so passionate about rum, it would be an entirely fitting way to check out. Luckily, Gordon Clarke, Worthy Park’s Co-Managing Director, is watching out for our group, obliviously snapping photos, and yells for us to move out of the way. Loosely held by a giant claw, SUV-sized clumps of cane stalks are traveling rapidly overhead, the occasional stalk tumbling to the ground below.
We’re witnessing firsthand what cane-to-glass really means here at Worthy Park. It’s the fourth and final day of our ACR group’s jaunt over the hilly Jamaican countryside, visiting six distillery sites all told. Each one vividly presents a different angle on the complex, 275-year history of the Jamaican rum industry. Some, like Appleton, have operated continuously from their inception have and become international marquee brands. Others, like Innswood, couldn’t compete as viable distilleries, so live on as mere husks of their former selves.
The last several decades have not been easy for the Jamaican sugar and rum industry. Worldwide falling sugar prices and larger, more efficient distillation practices elsewhere have most certainly thinned the herd. The Jamaican government and associated rum and sugar pool organizations have tried to shore up prices by consolidating estates and limiting production, leading many distilleries to shut down. One such example was Worthy Park, which stopped distilling in 1960 after making rum for the prior 220 years. While rum was no longer on the agenda, the owners of Worthy Park Estate modernized their sugar cane farming and processing methodologies, turning it into the most efficient sugar operations in the modern Caribbean.
By 2005, Gordon Clarke, a fourth generation member of the family that owns Worthy Park, saw an opportunity to resume distillation. Having completed his MBA in Florida during the early 1990s, he’s a case study in efficiency and doing things the right way. If you randomly met Gordon on the street, Jamaica is one of the last places you’d imagine he’s from. After taking the initiative to get back into rum at Worthy Park, rather than attempting to revive the existing, obsolete distillery last used in the 1960s, Gordon set out on a path to build a very modern facility, capable of making a wide variety of rums, including the extremely funky, high-ester pot still variety that rum wonks like me crave.