Must-see in Barbados: The rum-filled abbey

St. Nicholas Abbey isn’t just a rum producer and rum connoisseur destination, it is a stunningly beautiful property with a rich history.

The residence you see above was built in 1658, making it the oldest house on Barbados. Not surprisingly, it was never intended to be an abbey, but functioned for hundreds of years as a sugar plantation. A visit to the abbey means traipsing through a Georgian-style drawing room with antique Wedgewood tea sets and Sailors’ Valentines, looking at fascinating furnishings like a 1936 “Gentleman’s Chair” and a genuine Crapper (really!), a conversation with some talkative parrots and a cockatiel, a rum punch-fueled museum tour, a peek into the distillery and a viewing of a historical film so that you don’t miss any details. The brick walkways you’ll see are from Scotland. The Scottish sailors would use bricks to balance their ships, and when they got to Barbados, exchange them for rum. I would say all this makes St. Nicholas Abbey one of the most comprehensive attractions in Barbados, and a definite must-see.

You’ll want to request a rum tasting, as St. Nicholas Abbey is one of the finest rums on the island. The rum comes in heavy, sandblasted glass bottles, and if you buy one, you can bring it back to be refilled at half price. Alternatively, you can get a bottle engraved with “[Your Name]’s Private Collection” (or whatever you want) as a souvenir, or for your sorry friends who couldn’t join you.

I highly recommend St. Nicholas Abbey as a place to visit, drink and, if your schedule permits, get married — seriously, one look at the yard out front and the courtyard in the back and you’ll wish you’d had your wedding there. This is 350 years of history, exquisitely preserved and celebrated. And they make great drinks to boot.

My trip to Barbados was sponsored by Tommy Bahama Rum, but the ideas and opinions expressed in this article are 100% my own.

Rum shops – Drink on island time in Barbados

Barbados is a island of immense natural beauty, sugar cane fields and rum shops (and two zonkeys, where the mother is a zebra and the father is a donkey, but that’s neither here nor there).

While you might have a tough time locating a Starbucks in Barbados, you’ll have no trouble finding a rum shop. Generally, if you walk along the coast line, you’ll run into one, as many are set up seaside for that fabulous ocean view. Additionally, you may notice your closest dining establishment is a “restaurant and rum shop,” the nearby salon is a “hairdresser and rum shop” and the local mortician’s place is a “funeral parlor and rum shop.” It’s like that in Barbados.

Barbados has about 12,000 rum shops and 12,000 churches. “When someone dies, you’ll see people in one or the other,” joked my guide. I had the pleasure of visiting a couple of rum shops on my recent trip to Barbados, and the experience is a worth a try — don’t let your hotel tell you their bar is a “rum shop;” go to a real one where you’ll see, and get a chance to talk to, real Barbadians.

%Gallery-90859%Rum shop culture is similar to that of pubs in small towns in Britain; but there’s that hot-weather-lack-of-furnishings effect. While the chairs and tables or stools are simple and not necessarily the most comfortable, people park themselves there and sit all day. Why not? Moving around just makes you hot.

In the rum shops, I saw neighbors fight, children playing and the kind of camaraderie you find in drinking establishments anywhere. If you want to look like you know what you’re doing, order an Old Brigand or ESAF, both popular rums. If food is served, ask for flying fish (really!) and macaroni pie (to die for), and a side of rice and peas (made with pigeon peas, which are actually more like beans … whatever). It’s easy to strike up a conversation, as people from Barbados are notably polite; they’ll probably humor you, whether they’re interested in what you have to say or not.

Lastly, don’t get hammered. That’s not what rum shops are about. The Bajans love their rum, but they’re not drunks. Drink on island time and get a slow, comfortable buzz — enough to appreciate the funeral parlor calendars and rump-centric advertisements on the walls (see gallery), but not enough to make you a pest.

My trip to Barbados was sponsored by Tommy Bahama Rum, but the ideas and opinions expressed in this article are 100% my own.

The Spice Isle: Nutmeg’s always the answer in Grenada

You wouldn’t know it from the abundance of nutmeg in shops, but Grenada’s production of the spice stopped five years ago. And it’ll continue to be at a halt for another five years. Why? Because of Hurricane Ivan. 82% of the island’s nutmeg trees were destroyed by the 2004 hurricane.

But amazingly enough, there’s still plenty of nutmeg there.

On my recent trip to Grenada, I found it everywhere — mostly whole (as large seeds) and ground. But at any market, you’ll also find it as jelly and jam, as essence and oil, as syrup for ice cream, as a sugary candy (oddly named “nutmeg cheese”), and in everything else from ice cream to coffee. Buy one of the island’s rum drinks from the bar, and you’ll always get a finishing touch of grated nutmeg on top. It even has medicinal purposes –- Nut-Med comes as a lotion or spray to relieve pain in muscles and joints.

Is it just me, or does it seem to make everything happy, like egg nog during the holidays?

Actually, it may be scientifically proven. It’s been said that if you get a big enough whiff of the fresh spice, you’ll get a type of addictive high.

%Gallery-77070%Even despite Hurricane Ivan’s wrath, the country remains the world’s #2 nutmeg supplier (behind Indonesia), because of its stockpile.

The island isn’t known as “The Spice Isle” for nothing. It boasts more spices per square mile than any other place in the world, including cinnamon, cloves, mace, turmeric, and allspice. And no other is more abundant than nutmeg.

Known as the “black gold of Grenada,” nutmeg is so beloved and ubiquitous that it’s on the national flag. But, surprisingly, it’s not indigenous – it was introduced to the island by the Indonesians.

To see nutmeg at its source – and to get some helpful insider knowledge – a good place to stop is the Dougaldston Spice Boucan.

At the boucan (spice-drying shed), guides pass around samples to illustrate that the nutmeg grows on a tree within a pod. You can’t rush the growing – you have to wait for it to naturally split in two, rather than breaking it apart. Inside, you’ll find a hard brown shell that’s the size of a small egg.

At this stage, the waxy fingers of mace that surrounds the shell gets all of the attention. But it deserves to – it takes center stage with its brilliant red color. Take off the mace and dry it for a few days (it’ll eventually change to a dull orange color), then use it to season things like soup and pies.

As for the nutmeg, let it dry as well. After about eight weeks, shake it and you’ll hear the seed inside. That means it’s time to crack the shell and grate the nutmeg.

The Dougaldston Spice Boucan isn’t limited to nutmeg and mace. It gives a good crash course on other things grown and processed on the grounds, like cocoa, bay leaves, and cinnamon.

Alison Brick traveled through Grenada on a trip sponsored by the Grenada Board of Tourism. That said, she could write about anything that struck her fancy. (And it just so happens that these are the things that struck her fancy.) You can read more from her The Spice Isle: Grenada series here.

Don Q – Puerto Rican Rum

Don Q (short for Don Quixote) is a Puerto Rican rum with a rich history. What’s more, not only is Don Q Puerto Rico’s most popular rum, but it’s conveniently located just across the water from the Bacardi factory — a perfect alternative to what we understand is a boring four-hour excursion — and best of all, it’s free.

Located at Pier (Muelle) 2 in Old San Juan, Casa Don Q is a great place to visit on a trip to Puerto Rico. The walls showcase the history of Distileria Serralles, Inc., and the shop offers Don Q-emblazoned items from swim trunks to watches in display cases which change colors from green to blue.

The best part, as we said, is the free samples (please tip your bartender). You try the widely available Don Q Cristal and Gold (which may well be on the shelf at your local liquor store), or you can opt for the awesome flavored rums made with Puerto Rican coconuts, limes, and passion fruit — they’ll make you a mixed drink if you like. The true connoisseur, though, goes for The Grand Anejo Don Q (shown), which is aged twelve years and has notes of rich wood, caramel, and cinnamon. You’ll totally want to pick up a $45 bottle while you’re there — make sure you’re flying JetBlue, because you’re gonna have to check your bag (they still don’t charge for one bag).

For more information on visiting the small and simple Casa Don Q, click here — and click through the gallery for a virtual visit.

Exclusive photos of the new Yankee Stadium

This Wednesday, I was fortunate enough to receive a private tour of the new Yankee Stadium which opened up April 16th. For your perusal, I took about 5 million photos. Here is a small percentage of them — and this is the only place you’ll find them.

Tommy Bahama Rum has a whole bar set up near Gate Six of the new Yankee Stadium (shown), which is the gate right at the subway station, where you can meet up with your friends before the game — or during, till the 7th inning of course. The cocktails are delicious. Tommy Bahama Rum, which was just released in 2007 and is gaining momentum, is made by Sidney Frank — the same folks who brought you Grey Goose and Jagermeister. They have “White Sand” (clear) and “Golden Sun” (amber-colored) versions so far, and a spiced rum is in the works. Do I recommend it? Oh yes I do.

I spoke briefly with Terry Pillow, the CEO of Tommy Bahama. “We were contacted with the opportunity by Yankee Stadium, who said that they wished to have a martini bar, and they were aware that we run bars and restaurants around the country. When the Yankees call, whether you’re interested or not, you definitely take the call,” he said. “It wasn’t a very difficult decision.” Is he a Yankees fan? You won’t hear that from us — his wife supports the Red Sox!

If you want a tour of the new Yankee Stadium, Zales will be running them starting May 4th. The tours of the new Yankee Stadium will be $20 a pop ($15 children and seniors) and they include the New York Yankees Museum, Monument Park and the dugout in about 45 minutes to an hour. Now take a layman’s virtual tour through our exclusive photos!