Bottle #28: Cavalier Antigua Rum

Bottle #28 is a mostly full plastic bottle of white rum from the island of Antigua in the Caribbean West Indies. The brand name is Cavalier, and if you live in or visit Antigua, this is most likely the rum that you will be drinking. It is a local favorite, but hasn’t been exported much, if at all, because the name Cavalier had been trademarked by someone else in most of the world. Like so many of the bottles I’m unboxing, this one has a pretty neat origin story.

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Rum is a sugar cane spirit. While it can be made anywhere sugar cane is grown, it started in the Caribbean, and it was unfortunately a huge driver of the trade of enslaved Africans. As such, it is very intertwined with colonial history, and that extends even to the way we talk about different kinds of rum, which are sometimes described based on the language spoken by the colonizers of the islands – French-style rum from the Martinique, English-style from Jamaica, and Spanish style from Cuba, and so on.

In researching this bottle I came across a great article exploring this history from a new perspective, and making the case that for many of the countries in the West Indies it would be more accurate to call what they make Portuguese-style rum.

This is true about Cavalier. Antigua was a major sugar producing nation in the early 1800s and after Britian abolished slavery in the West Indies in 1837, they needed labor to work the fields. Over the next couple of decades about 2,500 Portuguese people from Madeira arrived in Antigua as indentured servants, where they would work a 5-year term on the sugar plantations, and then move on to various sorts of self-employment. And for some, this landed them in the rum business.

Rum was never a big export product in Antigua. The island was renowned for their special Muscovado sugar, but the molasses was just sold on, and not used to produce rum locally. Instead, each village would have a rum shop where barrels of spirit from Barbados would be doctored up by the rum shop owner and sold to customers. This involved things like aging and blending, but also coloring with prune juice or caramel.

The vast majority of the rum shops were owned by these Portuguese immigrants, and in 1929 seven of them (plus another non-rum shop businessman) came together, pooled their money, and bought several sugar estates in order to be able to buy and distill their own rum. In 1932 they founded Antigua Distillery Ltd. Initially each of the owners blended and bottled the rum under their own brand name, but starting in 1947 they began producing Cavalier Muscovado Rum.

The sugar industry in Antigua is not what it once was, and these days they make their rum using imported molasses from Guyana. The Mucovado rum is gone too, having been replaced with a lighter bodied rum in the 1960s, that was a better match for what drinkers wanted. It’s aged for two years in ex-bourbon casks and then bottled as-is, or charcoal filtered to be bottled as a white rum like my tiny bottle. In 1994 they established a second brand, English Harbor Rum, to be a premium brand that could be exported. You can learn a lot more about them in this fun video tour of the distillery.

I have no idea how to age this tiny bottle. The current Cavalier white rum is bottled at 40% ABV, not 43% like mine, but I can’t find out when that changed. It’s got the volume in mL and the alcohol strength in proof, which would give me some hints if it was bought in the US, but it wasn’t. It’s a plastic bottle, and the label looks a little more modern than vintage bottles I’ve found online dated to the 70s and 80s. And one review site I found had an identical bottle that he says dated to the early 2000s. Your guess is as good as mine!

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Bottle #28: Cavalier Antigua Rum

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Bottle #28 is a mostly full plastic bottle of white rum from the island of Antigua in the Caribbean West Indies. The brand name is Cavalier, and if you live in or visit Antigua, this is most likely the rum that you will be drinking. It is a local favorite, but hasn’t been exported much, if at all, because the name Cavalier had been trademarked by someone else in most of the world. Like so many of the bottles I’m unboxing, this one has a pretty neat origin story.

Rum is a sugar cane spirit. While it can be made anywhere sugar cane is grown, it started in the Caribbean, and it was unfortunately a huge driver of the trade of enslaved Africans. As such, it is very intertwined with colonial history, and that extends even to the way we talk about different kinds of rum, which are sometimes described based on the language spoken by the colonizers of the islands – French-style rum from the Martinique, English-style from Jamaica, and Spanish style from Cuba, and so on.

In researching this bottle I came across a great article exploring this history from a new perspective, and making the case that for many of the countries in the West Indies it would be more accurate to call what they make Portuguese-style rum.

This is true about Cavalier. Antigua was a major sugar producing nation in the early 1800s and after Britian abolished slavery in the West Indies in 1837, they needed labor to work the fields. Over the next couple of decades about 2,500 Portuguese people from Madeira arrived in Antigua as indentured servants, where they would work a 5-year term on the sugar plantations, and then move on to various sorts of self-employment. And for some, this landed them in the rum business.

Rum was never a big export product in Antigua. The island was renowned for their special Muscovado sugar, but the molasses was just sold on, and not used to produce rum locally. Instead, each village would have a rum shop where barrels of spirit from Barbados would be doctored up by the rum shop owner and sold to customers. This involved things like aging and blending, but also coloring with prune juice or caramel.

The vast majority of the rum shops were owned by these Portuguese immigrants, and in 1929 seven of them (plus another non-rum shop businessman) came together, pooled their money, and bought several sugar estates in order to be able to buy and distill their own rum. In 1932 they founded Antigua Distillery Ltd. Initially each of the owners blended and bottled the rum under their own brand name, but starting in 1947 they began producing Cavalier Muscovado Rum.

The sugar industry in Antigua is not what it once was, and these days they make their rum using imported molasses from Guyana. The Mucovado rum is gone too, having been replaced with a lighter bodied rum in the 1960s, that was a better match for what drinkers wanted. It’s aged for two years in ex-bourbon casks and then bottled as-is, or charcoal filtered to be bottled as a white rum like my tiny bottle. In 1994 they established a second brand, English Harbor Rum, to be a premium brand that could be exported. You can learn a lot more about them in this fun video tour of the distillery.

I have no idea how to age this tiny bottle. The current Cavalier white rum is bottled at 40% ABV, not 43% like mine, but I can’t find out when that changed. It’s got the volume in mL and the alcohol strength in proof, which would give me some hints if it was bought in the US, but it wasn’t. It’s a plastic bottle, and the label looks a little more modern than vintage bottles I’ve found online dated to the 70s and 80s. And one review site I found had an identical bottle that he says dated to the early 2000s. Your guess is as good as mine!

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