John Watling’s Distillery, a Bahamian corporation, crafts JOHN WATLING’S, the original über-premium Bahamian rum, and RED TURTLE pink sand-filtered vodka. Both the rum and vodka are crafted from hand-cut sugarcane molasses that is distilled in both pot and a continuous still. The products are then charcoal filtered; the rum is aged in one time used bourbon barrels in the tropical heat; the vodka is filtered through the pink sands of Eleuthera; and both products are hand-packaged by Bahamians at the 1789 Buena Vista Estate.
The Bahamas is an island nation made-up of 700 islands and cays. Due to its limestone terrain there is no large scale sugarcane industry here. For this reason, our production process begins in English Caribbean islands such as Trinidad, Jamaica and Barbados. It is from these fellow Commonwealth Nations from where we source only the finest hand-cut sugarcane molasses.
Discovered by Alexander the Great during his conquest of the Punjab in 322 B.C., sugarcane was brought to the New World by Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon who searched for the “Fountain of Youth” in Florida and in The Bahamas. Some say that the Fountain was located at the Bahamian island of Bimini but we think it is located right here at John Watling’s Distillery.
Sugarcane – Saccharum Officinarum – is a genus of tropical grass that stores sugar content in its stalk making up roughly 10% of its weight. After it is harvested by hand, it is pressed to extract the sugary liquid. The juice is then boiled for a first time to create syrup. It then undergoes a second boiling to further concentrate the liquid and to extract sugar through the process of crystallization. This second boiling is from where we source choice molasses used to craft JOHN WATLING’S rums and RED TURTLE vodka. The second boil provides molasses which is rich in sugar, vitamin and mineral content.
While some of our sugarcane is grown at sea level, other sugarcane is grown at 1,200 feet (365 meters) above sea level. The estate where some of the sugarcane is grown dates from the late 17th Century and has 3,600 hectares of private land which yields 24,000 tonnes of sugar and 7,000 tonnes of molasses annually.
To begin the fermentation process purified water and nutrients are added to the molasses to form a mash. Yeast, a living single cell organism, is then pitched into the mash to begin the process. There are two types of fermentation, spontaneous and controlled. Spontaneous fermentation is the result of wild yeast turning sugars into undesired alcohols. We at John Watling’s Distillery only employ controlled fermentation. During this type of fermentation trained technicians monitor all the critical parameters, during the process, to ensure quality.
Once fermentation is complete, the alcohol percentage in the fermented mash ranges between 8 to 12%. The fermented mash then undergoes two types of distillation, pot or continuous.
During distillation the alcohol is separated from the water and residue in the fermented mash. This is done by heating the liquid until it evaporates then allowing it to condense back into liquid form. While water evaporates at 100°C, alcohol evaporates at around 80°C. Distillation therefore allows the Master Distiller the ability to separate different liquids and even different alcohols from each other.
Distillation from the pot still produces heavy-bodied young distillate, which delivers the raw and robust essence of JOHN WATLING’S rums, while distillation from the continuous still which yields a product at 96% alcohol produces the light young distillate which delivers the softness and smoothness in both JOHN WATLING’S rums and RED TURTLE vodka. It is the heavy-bodied distillate that is high in the flavouring and aromatic elements that are retained after distillation. These are components are known as congeners. Distillates coming from the continuous still are distilled upwards of five times and a high in alcohol content and low in congeners.
After distillation the distillates are transported to The Bahamas where the manufacturing process continues at the 1789 Buena Vista Estate, home to John Watling’s Distillery, in historic Downtown Nassau. It is at this point where science turns into the art of the Master Blender.
Once the distillate arrives to John Watling’s Distillery, our Master Blender has the basic ingredients to employ his craft. With six generations and more than 175 years of rum-making expertise passed down from Spanish, French and English know-how, he decides what to do with the heavy-bodied and light young distillates.
The first decision the Master Blender makes is which of the distillate to pass through a charcoal filter that has been filled with charcoal made from coconut husks. He uses this coconut charcoal to remove certain congeners or flavour components that he does not desire in the final product. Some of the rum is pre-blended before ageing. This process is employed by some of the finest Scotch Distilleries and is oftentimes referred to as marrying the product.
John Watling’s Distillery uses medium toast American white oak bourbon barrels. The bourbon industry by law can only use the barrel once since they are looking for the taste or the oak wood in their final product. At John Watling’s Distillery we leach these barrels from any bourbon taste and place the distillate inside the barrel for its long repose in the tropical heat.
Each year we lose an average, due to evaporation, around 5% of the distillate. This evaporation is known throughout the industry as the Angel’s Share. We believe in fully ageing our rums. Many other manufacturers that claim +10 years or more sometimes employ the practice of topping off the barrel with new spirit every year to compensate for the loss of the Angel’s Share.
In colder climates such as Scotland and Cognac, France they lose an average of 2% per year. Therefore the ageing process in the Caribbean and The Bahamas is accelerated by 2.5 times. So a rum aged here for 2 years like JOHN WATLING’S Pale is equalled to a 5 year old product; 3 years like JOHN WATLING’S Amber to a 7.5 year old whisky and five years like JOHN WATLING’S Buena Vista to a 12 year old cognac.
At John Watling’s Distillery we only age up to 5 years or until our Master Blender decides when each barrel is ready to be blended into the three expressions of JOHN WATLING’S rums. What the Master Blender is looking for during the ageing process is a natural oxidation of the product during its long rest inside the barrel. The oxidation smooth’s out the product and allows the Master Blender to use his time-honoured blending techniques, passed down through six generations, to craft the final products;
Our Master Blender also uses the continuous stilled distillate to make our RED TURTLE vodka. The distillate is passed through more than 15 feet of charcoal to remove all colour, taste and odour. The neutral spirit is then passed through a filter containing pink sands from the Bahamian island of Eleuthera. The pink sand is a composition of bits of coral, broken shells, minute rocks and calcium carbonate from tiny marine invertebrates. The pink colour comes from tiny microscopic shelled animals known as Foraminifera. This animal has a bright pink or red shell full of holes. And, it is these holes that the spirit is passed through in order to trap any impurities before the distillate is transformed into RED TURTLE vodka.
RED TURTLE vodka, made from sugarcane, also has the added benefit of being Gluten Free. It has a refreshingly silky smoothness with a refreshingly crisp bite. Proceeds from RED TURTLE vodka go towards supporting B.R.E.E.F. – a marine conservation organization located here in The Bahamas.
All of our JOHN WATLING’S and RED TURTLE products are handmade. They are hand-filled, hand-labelled and individually numbered. Around the neck of each of our rums you will notice a sisal plait. These are hand-woven for us by elderly ladies in South Andros and in Cat Island. We are proud to call ourselves Bahamian and proclaim it on each bottle made at John Watling’s Distillery, Ltd.