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Selected feature stories from Abaco Life magazine

By Jim Kerr
Abaco Life Editor

In a small café and liquor store in New Plymouth on Green Turtle Cay, someone said: "daytime is beer time, but rum owns the sunset."

It might have been David Bethell, who owns the Plymouth Rock Café and Liquor Store, and who carries on his shelves no fewer than 72 kinds of rum. There are light rums and dark rums, sweet flavored rums and fruity rums, rum liqueurs for sipping and smooth rums for drinking on the rocks. There are rums for cooking, marinating, flaming, and flavoring everything from cakes to coffee.

Rum is the preferred drink of the islands, and, by association, the boaters who frequent them. It was called "grog" back in the heyday of pirates in the Bahamas, and "booze" during the heady bootlegging days, when Abaconian ship captains sailed their schooners to New Jersey loaded with this much-sought contraband. And let us not forget that the second island landfall Columbus encountered in the Bahamas on his first journey to the New World is today known as "Rum Cay."

The stuff altered the Caribbean forever with Columbus' introduction of sugar cane from the Canaries on his third voyage. And after slaves from West Africa were imported to work the big sugar cane plantations of the English, Dutch and French, a "vicious triangle" was formed as grog went to Europe via the Americas, where it was traded for textiles, guns and, ultimately, more slaves. Today, however, what was once referred to by prohibitionists as "demon rum" has taken on a benevolent role. It is so strongly intertwined with vacation pleasure that, on arrival, many visitors gravitate to the nearest watering hole faster than you can say "pina colada."

Among spirits, rum is the number one best-seller in the world, with several million locals and visitors in the Bahamas and Caribbean helping it retain that status. The most popular rums in Abaco are Mount Gay, Bacardi and Anejo. The venerable Cuba Libre, made from white rum and Coca Cola, is still simple and popular, but for fruity, and potent, drinks, Meyers mixes the best, according to our sources. Virtually every bar, restaurant and resort in Abaco has a specialty drink made with some kind of rum, and the Goombay Smash served up at Miss Emily's Blue Bee Bar in New Plymouth is still legendary. While the exact recipe remains a house secret, the main ingredients are believed to be pineapple juice and 60 proof coconut rum, with perhaps something else to "kick it up a bit." They go down deliciously smooth, luring the thirsty patron to try another, which often brings dizzying results. Another theory is that, because Goombay smashes are premixed and refrigerated overnight in plastic gallon jugs, the sweet fruit juice and sugar-based alcohol get an extra evening to interact, increasing the strength of the brew.

The basics of rum-making are standard, although the process can have many variations. Molasses is fermented from crushed sugar cane and fruit juice. The mix is combined with oxygen, distilled, heated and separated. Timing and temperature is everything. Ingredients, flavoring, labor costs, length of process, shipping and even the artistic value of the bottle can determine the price of rum. In Abaco, it comes from distilleries in Nassau and Freeport, West Palm Beach and several Caribbean islands. A bottle of Cruzan, a rum originating in St. Croix but bottled in West Palm Beach, costs $12.95, while a bottle of Ron Matusalem, a rum originating in Cuba but now distilled in the Domincan Republic, costs $12.95. Most rums run between $8 and $15 a bottle regardless of origin.

Jan Samuelson, a wine and rum connoisseur and writer who recently visited Green Turtle Cay, tested out a variety of locally-available rums. "The qualities I look for in a good rum are a well-balanced taste between the alcohol and the flavors from the barrel, mostly oak and vanilla," he says. "Other flavors often found in better rums include chocolate, licorice, molasses and citrus."

He tasted five different rums selected from the best at the Green Turtle Club and ranked them on a point system from one to 20. The results were: Barbancourt from Haiti - 18.5; Mount Cay Extra from St. Croix - 18.5; Cruzan Single Barrel from St. Croix - 19; Appleton Estate from Jamaica - 18 and Ron Barcelo Imperial from Santo Domingo - 17.

Many boaters and other vacationers in Abaco might take this as confirmation of a long-held premise: rum is one of the cheapest forms of quality entertainment. To witness followers of this tenet, stop in at any Abaco bar or resort at Happy Hour. Or drop by the Plymouth Rock Café and Liquor Store around 5 pm., where you are likely to find proprietor David Bethell busy bagging bottles of grog.

"I can't say that I've tried all 72 kinds myself," says David. "But I'd like to."

E-mail: jimkerr@mindspring.com

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