Once my family decided to take a quick Bahamian cruise, I immediately a plan to make it a rum lover’s vacation without upsetting my wife. At first my plan didn’t work out so well but with a little luck and great experience on her first rum distillery tour, Mrs. The Rum Trader admitted that she had a good time.
In the days leading up to our cruise, I made a short list of Bahamian rums I wanted:
- Ricardo, check
- Don Lorenzo, check
- Ole Nassau, check
Anything else? While reviewing a Bahamian tourism blog I saw a mention of John Watling’s Distillery, a fairly rum distillery operating in downtown Nassau, Bahamas. “Cool, a distillery tour” I told myself. Feeling I had struck rum lover’s gold, I excitedly made the suggestion to my wife. “No,” she said, “a distillery is no place for our son.” Dejected, I accepted that picking up a few Bahamian rums for my ever growing rum collection could be excitement enough. I thought, perhaps I could find some John Watling Rum in a duty-free shop along the way…that might be just as good.
Our arrival in Nassau found me with a high spirit of adventure. Unfortunately my son did not share that spirit. Our planned day of museums, shopping, and a fish fry was not going to happen. Three full days of family fun had exhausted him. He was now bored with family adventure. His idea of excitement was to stay on board and play video games. While in port, I somehow convinced my wife to let our son stay on board and game while we grab a taxi up to the John Watling Distillery for a quick tour. I quickly grabbed my directions, a backpack for my rum and we went looking for adventure.
While not required, but I do suggest visitors catch a ride to the distillery. It’s an inexpensive UPHILL ride that allows you to see some of the city. At the port, we negotiated our taxi for $12 US ($6/person). The short, 15-minute ride took us past government buildings and into the local neighborhood. Our driver brought us directly to the front door of John Watling’s old house and grounds.
John Watling’s Distillery – JOHN WATLING’S rum, the “Spirit of The Bahamas” offers complimentary tours at its home, the Buena Vista Estate, in Downtown Nassau. The historic Estate, founded in 1789 and overlooking the harbour, is the site where Bahamians hand-craft JOHN WATLING’S small-batch Pale, Amber and Buena Vista rums. At the Estate, John Watling’s features a museum-like tour, shopping and signature Bahamian cocktails at its Red Turtle Tavern. Within walking distance from the cruise ship port in Downtown Nassau, John Watling’s Distillery is located on Delancy Street and is open from 10am-6pm, seven days a week. – John Watling’s Distillery
The historic Buena Vista Estate, built in 1789, is the first thing you notice at John Watling. The estate is full of brightly colored buildings and immaculately kept grounds. We entered the left side of the building to begin the first tour of the day. Jose, our tour guide, greeted us enthusiastically. The free tour, offered 7 days a week, is short but informative. We learned a bit of Bahamian history, reviewed some historic artifacts documenting Bahamian history and the history of the estate. We also gain a short history of the English buccaneer John Watling.
The tour includes the main house, the outside grounds, the back storehouse, a tasting room/retail shop and an the onsite Red Turtle Tavern. Our guide(s) where quite friendly and more than willing to answer any and all of our questions (of which I had many).
John Watling does not do any distillation on site. Instead, the rum is produced off-site, outside of downtown Nassau. The rum is brought to the distillery for blending, ageing and bottling in the on-estate warehouse. When asked about local distillation, I was told that all production is on island but for safety reasons as they are located in the center of a local neighborhood.
Nick, one of John Watling’s lead tasters, could not have be nicer as he guided our merry band of rum-heads through a couple of nips of each of John Watling’s three offerings. Prices listed below might have changed.
Pale ($29): Nick told us that all of John Watling’s rums are coconut charcoal-filtered. I am not a big fan of white rum but their 2-year-old Pale rum was pretty good. I could definitely taste hints of coconut (and perhaps a bit of glycerin?).
Amber ($35): Surprisingly my wife liked John Watling’s 3-year-old Amber rum; she typically avoids gold rums. It was fun hearing her share her tasting notes because she normally refuses to play the “tasting” game with me. John Watling Amber was quite tasty; I caught notes of butterscotch, vanilla and light molasses.
Buena Vista ($55): John Watling’s premiere 5-year-old rum is named after the distillery’s Nassau estate. Available exclusively inside the Bahamas, John Watling has no plans to ever export Buena Vista rum. Buena Vista is a better sipping rum than I would have given it credit. With Nick’s recommendation, I let it breath a bit and was surprised how much it opened up with a little air. I detected a heavy bananas foster aroma with tasting hints of charred oak, honey and berries. On first taste, the finish brought a slight burn which turned simply into a warm finish after two, err three, more tastings.
Cocktails at Red Turtle Tavern with Uncle Wil (Wilfred Sands)
With our tasting complete, the tour dismisses into the on premise Red Turtle Tavern. I had read online about the Red Turtle, Wilfred Sands and his famous Rum Dum cocktail [see recipe below].
I made sure to bring a backpack for this adventure because I knew I would be carrying a couple of bottles back to the cruise terminal. John Watling did a great job packaging my bottles for my trip home. They wrapped and taped my two bottles (Buena Vista and Amber) for us while we enjoyed our cocktails.
The distillery is a number of blocks away from the port but we chose to walk back to our cruise ship. After returning home, I found out about the recent rise in Nassau crime so I might not choose to do this again (even during the day).
During my research for our trip I read about the famous Bahamian Rum Dum so I was excited to try one. Back in 2005, the RumDum won a bronze medal at Taste of the Caribbean.
The Red Turtle Tavern is part of the John Watling Distillery’s main house. It is a separate business that serves drinks. Drinks are not complimentary.
Wilfred Sands, respectfully known as Uncle Wil, is a great guy. Wilfred was a longtime bartender at Lyford Cay Club and through his tremendous personality he demonstrates his passion for bartending and for cocktails. Even on a slow morning, he brought great energy to the Tavern. Also, it was quite interesting to see a couple of Bahamian police officers, in full uniform, stroll in for a cocktail too.
Since we were part of the day’s first tour, we were the first visitors of the day to the Red Turtle Tavern. I could not wait to order the famous Rum Dum.
Since it was not quite 11am and we’d already tasted a number of rums, my wife passed on ordering a cocktail. But her not having a cocktail in her hand seemed to disappoint Uncle Wil so he insisted that he mix her a complimentary Bahama Mama; she accepted and it was tasty.
After ordering my Rum Dum and gleefully watching Wilfred prepare it, I asked him about its construction including the inclusion of egg white (which gives it froth), various juices, John Watling’s Pale rum and a floater of John Watling’s Amber. I noted that while drinking the Rum Dum the drink seemed to change flavors. Sweet lemonade to pineapple to banana to a light blend of all three. I asked Wilfred about this also. He simply nodded and said that the flavor changes were from the way the drink was layered. Genius!
Before heading back to our ship, our head taster Nick, shared with me that John Watling Rum was available throughout most of the Bahamas where it is sold at airports, duty free shops and local bars/taverns. When asked about the exportation of John Watling, Nick told me that they have a two year plan to expand sales to select outlets and countries. They recently began selling John Watling’s Red Turtle Vodka and perhaps a Gun Cay Gin might soon follow. In addition to spirits, John Watling will also begin selling rum cakes and do curbside tastings on their grounds. I look forward to hearing more about John Watling’s Distillery in the coming years!
Rum Dum Recipe [John Watling’s Rum Dum]
1.25 oz John Watling’s Pale Rum
.5 oz John Watling’s Amber Rum (floater)
1 oz egg white
1.25 oz lemon juice
A splash of simple syrup or a teaspoon of sugar
Method of Preparation
In a cocktail shaker mix the JOHN WATLING’S Pale rum, the white of an egg, lemon juice and simple syrup or sugar. Shake vigorously and pour into a short glass full of ice. Gently top it off with JOHN WATLING’S Amber rum floater.
After floating JOHN WATLING’S Amber rum on top of the drink do not stir it so as to better enjoy the different layers of taste.
Dear Rum Trader, On behalf of John Watling’s Distillery we thank you for your positive review. We would like to clarify that we never serve cocktails to uniformed police. However, what we do is provide our police force with non-alcoholic fruit punch whenever they visit the distillery. As you can imagine it gets quite hot here during summer and the police on bikes need to hydrate during the day. We support our force by allowing them to get free water and fruit punch whenever they want. Through this program our area has become a safe area within Nassau where tourists regularly walk up in safety to enjoy our hospitality. Best regards, Pepin
Thank you Pepin for the clarification. Glad to hear that visitors can tour the distillery in a safe environment. We had a great time on our tour and I encourage others to drop in for a visit. Everyone we encountered was extremely friendly and professional and the rum was excellent. In fact, my last bottle of Buena Vista is sitting by my keyboard as I type this. Cheers!