Posting this because the same four questions keep coming up on Facebook and elsewhere:
- What distilleries should I go to? (There are only 6 on the island)
- What bottles should I bring back?
- Where should I buy rum?
- Where should I drink?
Before getting to the answers to the above, if learning about Jamaican rums is your thing, start here with the Jamaican Rum Distillery Cheat Sheet.
Rick Steves, I am not. This is wallet-reference card level stuff, below.
Distilleries anyone can visit
- Hampden Estate – Practically rum holy ground. Do it.
- Appleton Estate – Owned by Campari/Wray & Nephew.
Be aware that Jamaica is a big island. Don’t harbor expectations that you can hit all the distilleries in a day. The distilleries are clustered together in a few spots. Use that to your advantage.
Distilleries you need an “industry” connection to visit
There are no public tours at these distilleries. Use your industry connections if you’ve got’em. That’s all I will say on the subject.
Distilleries you aren’t getting into
If you manage to get in to New Yarmouth, owned by Campari/Wray & Nephew, we need to talk.
What should I bring back?
If you’re any sort of rum hound from a country like the U.S., the UK, France, etc… you probably already have decent access to the main product lines, e.g. Appleton.
Contrary to popular belief, you won’t find a whole lot of rare bottles in Jamaica. Nor will you find abundance of aged Hampden or Long Pond in the local rum shop. Most of the really good stuff is exported. The locals aren’t drinking Duncan Taylor Long Pond 17 year.
It is what it is.
The Edwin Charley Proprietor’s Collection is a nice thing to grab. Limited number of bottles made. Four very different rums, in unique bottles.
In the U.S., we don’t yet have Monymusk. Compare/contrast their lineup with the Appleton lineup. May be worth picking up.
Sure, you may find more white Overproof rums that you’ve never seen before. Pick’em up if you want. But know they’re from one of the big four distillery groups. If ultra-funk is your thing, and you don’t have Rum Fire or Charley’s J.B. in your home market, grab them.
Where should I buy rum?
Jamaica has no shortage of rum bars, something like 20,000, but most are simple, roadside enterprises.
On our trip, we didn’t find any amazing liquor stores holding a bounty of rare, exotic bottles to make a rum wonk’s heart go pitter patter.
The distilleries with gift shops (Hampden and Appleton) had their regular product lineup. Little or nothing more than that. Don’t expect tons of distillery-only bottlings.
The best place we found to stock up on rums in Jamaica was actually a warehouse store: Mega Mart, in Kingston. Good selection, and Edwin Charley to boot. My Jamaican-residing rum brother adds:
“Mega Mart also has a location in Montego Bay, but other chain supermarkets with decent selection are Hi-Lo, Loshusan, General Foods (in Kingston) or Progressive Supermarkets. These are pretty much across the island.”
You’ll also find a decent selection in duty free at the airport, as you depart. But that may or may not be a viable option, depending on if your flight home has layovers, or other circumstances.
Where should I drink?
Well, there are the aforementioned rum bars. But if you’re looking for craft cocktails or amazing Tiki, you’ll have a tough swim upstream. Sure, hotels and restaurants have bars, but Jamaica (as well as other Caribbean islands) is not known as a hotbed of advanced mixology. Set your expectations accordingly and you’ll have a good experience.
Ting & Wray (Ting soda and Wray & Nephew Overproof) is a common drink on the island. At our hotel, our WIRSPA group upgraded to Ting and Appleton 12 — certainly was delightful given the surroundings.