EXCLUSIVE: El Dorado visitor centre in Diamond suburb to reopen in second half of 2023

Rum lovers who travel to Guyana will be heartened to know that the iconic El Dorado visitor centre in the Diamond suburb of Georgetown will be reopening in the second half of 2023.

EXCLUSIVE: El Dorado visitor centre in Diamond suburb to reopen in second half of 2023
EXCLUSIVE: El Dorado visitor centre in Diamond suburb to reopen in second half of 2023

Guyana: Rum lovers who travel to Guyana will be heartened to know that the iconic El Dorado visitor centre in the Diamond suburb of Georgetown will be reopening in the second half of 2023.

Closed to the public since the pandemic, this historic old building near the banks of the Demerara River houses some magnificent museum-piece stills.

It was there, earlier this year, that I met Komal Samaroo, the executive chairman of Demerara Distillers Ltd (DDL), producers of El Dorado, as well as master distiller Shaun Caleb and master blender Sharon Sue-Hang Baksh.

The long-serving Samaroo mused on the company’s transformation over the past half century – from a distiller supplying spirits in bulk to merchants in the UK to a premium producer bottling its own brand. It is he who has driven El Dorado’s rise to its current hallowed position as one of the most famous premium rum brands in the world, exporting to 70 countries in every continent.

With demand so strong, production is set to increase, with two new warehouses soon to be built at DDL’s plant, raising the company’s storage space from 100,000 to 150,000 barrels.

Not that quantity is Samaroo’s quest. To the contrary, it is all about quality. “People are discovering rum and that’s why rum consumption is increasing- not of entry-level rum, which is declining as a sector, but of premium rum,” he said.

“The rum and coke thing has gone now. People are learning to sip an aged rum or use it in premium cocktails. Every producer is moving up the value chain, and we are very ambitious with our brand, aiming to get it into 80-plus countries. We’re receiving very good feedback wherever our rum is sampled.”

A tasting of six El Dorado labels with Caleb and Sue-Hang Baksh underlined why. The three blended rums – those matured for 12, 15 and 21 years – were followed by the single distillates: Enmore, Versailles and Port Mourant (all aged for 12 years).

“There’s a secret behind the 12-year-old,” Caleb declared. “It’s produced on the two Coffey stills – a portion coming from the wooden Coffey, and the lion’s share from the copper Coffey. That copper is extremely important in producing a lot of flavourful esters, giving it that wide array of fruity-type flavours. What I like about the 12 is that its multi-dimensional personality really begins to shine through. So, on one sip you initially get the apples, the pineapples; then with a drop of water or a cube of ice, it really opens up and increases the volatility of flavours, which change almost completely to being banana-dominant with some butterscotch.”

Caleb continued. “It’s a heavier spirit with a slight peat- like finish with musty, tea or woody-type notes. Each of the stills produce a really different type of product in terms of aromas, flavour and composition. Whereas a Bourbon drinker might really resonate with the 12, we’ve heard from many Scotch drinkers that the finish on the 15 is more their cup of tea. A point we always like to celebrate is our versatility and the variety of distilling equipment on the plant. Even distillers are impressed when they see how many different stills, different types and different spirit expressions we have – all at the same property, running side by side.”

Likewise, the 21-year-old blended rum has its own set of special characteristics.

“Smooth, silky and delicate in terms of its texture and mouthfeel,” Caleb purred. “It has that hint of chocolate and coffee – those typical Cognac-like notes – as well as marzipan. The longer ageing allows those components to develop a lot of grace in their expression. It is very rich and deep, but also soft and subtle.”

The Enmore, Versailles and Port Mourant triumvirate are special rums, with each seeing a different production approach. Whereas the Enmore is  made

The rum and coke thing has gone now. People are learning to sip an aged rum or use it in premium cocktails. Every producer is moving up the value chain, and we are very ambitions with our brand, aiming to get it into 80-plus countries.

They are receiving very good feedback wherever our rum is supplied from a wooden Coffey still (named after Aeneas Coffey, the head of excise in Ireland in the early 19th century, who discovered continuous distillation), the Versailles is produced from a single wooden pot still and the Port Mourant from a double wooden pot still.

“The Enmore has a slight pineapple note, with butterscotch on the nose, as well as toasted coconut, baked apple and a hint of vanilla,” Sue-Hang Baksh said.

The Versailles has more cigar, leathery and tobacco- type notes. The Port Mourant is rich and robust with its tobacco note really filling up the palate. It lasts and lasts and lasts, with such a long, lingering finish.”

Limited special releases will continue to be made, with double maturation being utilised in Sauternes, Madeira, Port, red wine or sherry casks. “The effect of using those for just 18 months after 15 years ageing in Bourbon is dramatically different,” Sue-Hang Baksh reflected. “I’ve been most pleasantly surprised by the impact of the sherry on the rum. That will be released next year.” Definitely one for rum drinkers to watch out for from the ever-evolving range of great El Dorado products.

0n the wall of Jim Jardine’s distillery, visitors will find a sign that reads: “Trust me, you can dance.” The message is signed: “Gin”. Such a sentiment is a far cry from the Canadian’s former life as a software development professional, though.

In 2010, Jardine decided it was time to slow the pace of his hectic life. But, of all the options lying before him, owning a gin distillery wasn’t one of them.

However, after travelling 4000 miles to plant roots in Grenada, he was astounded to find the spice-rich island was teeming with botanicals too. Coconut, guava, ginger, mango, oranges, papaya, passionfruit, plantains, starfruit and tamarind were everywhere.

Deciding to utilise this unexpected bounty, he cultivated a network of fruit farmers and set up a juice factory – Summer Juice – and began servicing the island’s bars, restaurants and hotels with an array of homegrown juices.

Ever the business dreamer, about seven years into his juice enterprise, Jardine started playing with the idea of converting one of his juice holding tanks into a still after inadvertently creating a batch of fermented juice from local oranges. This time, Jardine decided that when life gives you fruit, you make gin.

The positive feedback he received on the scent and taste of his original orange-flavoured gin consistently included comments such as: “This is something I’ve never tasted before.”

Around the same time that Jardine nailed down the ingredients for his first batch of gin, he met Australian Aaron Salyer, an ex-coastal engineer turned sailing aficionado and digital marketing wiz. The pair decided to join forces and the rest, as they say, is history.

In 2018, Jardine and Salyer’s Blue Light Caribbean Gin launched on the grounds of Grenada’s Le Phare Bleu eco-resort, home to Blue Light’s headquarters and distillery. The site is also where you’ll find a floating bar in the form of a 120-year-old blue lightship, from which the gin takes its name.

One of the main reasons Jardine and Salyer were drawn to Grenada was the island’s amazing coral reef. The business partners believed that Blue Light Caribbean Gin would not only provide islanders and travellers with classic Caribbean cocktails, their business could also help protect Grenada’s reef and beaches.

As such, a portion of Blue Light’s profits go toward beach clean-ups, the preservation of mangroves and projects dedicated to marine and coral reef protection.

One of their headliners that funds these projects is a blue gin that turns purple. The Blue Ocean Edition Gin includes a ‘secret’ ingredient. By adding a locally grown flower-the Butterfly Pea- to their recipe, their gin turns blue in colour; if you then add tonic, lime or grapefruit, the cocktail turns purple or violet. The unique Blue Ocean Edition has become a huge hit.

The pair have recently added a popular Caribbean Hard Seltzer to their gin portfolio, with tropical flavours such as West Indies lime, pineapple, mango and grapefruit.

The distillery is now woven into the fabric of Grenada island life. Tourists are drawn to the scents emanating from the still throughout the day.

“With all the different botanicals we use, what’s interesting is that the morning aroma from our still is different from that in the afternoon,” says Jardine. “We’ve even set up sniffing stations to experience the different botanicals and sample our various gins. The distillery is a fun, quirky and casual vibe, like island life itself.”