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The Rum Shack

You may have already seen them. Small wooden shelters with a few tables outside with locals slamming dominoes onto the simple home-made tables. Some people call them Rum Shacks, many people call them Rum Shops. Either way, they are the life and center of village life and certainly not a place to pas by.

A Caribbean institution – if you choose to stop by…

Local people regard the rum shops as a place to gather and catch up or exchange news about the community. If you pay a visit you will be gaining an insight into a tropical lifestyle that many visitors don’t ever see. From a farmer to a member of parliament, you never know who you will be mixing with as you sip your drinks. The Rum shop is the essence of the tropical lifestyle and preserving the culture of these shops is important as they are one of the hidden Caribbean gems.

Uncommon Caribbean

Once inside, you will only have three options, to eat, to drink or to play dominoes. Some shops serve food to go with the drinks but perhaps the most famous activity taking pace in the rum shops, and the one which truly captures the unique essence of a tropical lifestyle, is dominoes. Not the more sedate version practiced by those in their autumn years, but the incredibly boisterous and noisy versions which take place at the tables. Watch the locals play and you won’t be able to resist joining in, especially if you can play while you fire a few delicious rums.

Herbal Medicines ?

On the surface, Rum shops are spots for relaxation and connecting, but they also perform other functions in the community. Across the Caribbean, the practice of infusing alcohol with other ingredients began as a way of making herbal medicines and these shops and their keepers were often involved in providing these local remedies alongside the entertainment. Infused drinks could be served before eating (an aperitif) to set up the appetite; or after the meal to help what has already been consumed (a digestif) I like to think of this as Rum Herbalism.

Spirit infusions

Rum as a drink with its heritage in the Caribbean has a long history of being flavoured by soaking local ingredients such as fruits, herbs, spices flowers roots and barks. This process is known as ‘Tincturing’ and many families and communities developed their own blends and were held as family secrets passed on by word of mouth; some of which have now been lost. On one of my first visits to a Rum shop I was greeted with a line of re purposed bottles containing rum and various local herbs. The owner, Julietta would choose the rum you needed by looking at you and pour it into your glass. My drink had an aniseed tasting herb known in Dominica as Nani. Many years later I wish I had asked her what she saw (the diagnosis) that promoted the selection.

Recreating your own Tropical Lifestyle

Rum shops occupy an important place in the tropical lifestyle, and as I have said earlier, they are a hidden Caribbean gem. If you want to gain a deeper insight into the uncommon Caribbean, then don’t pass them by. One of the disappearing skills is the traditional art of herbal infusions in Rum that as you can see have a more serious origins. Today, the resurgent interest in cocktail infusions is creating interesting and flavorsome cocktail creations that link to the drink to the ‘place and the person’ who is making them for you. The choice of fruits, herbs or spices is part of the interaction between the server and the drinker that is a powerful way to engage and communicate. This is the basis of this blog and the stories I collect and share with you.

Comments

Please feel free to comment below as my aim is to educate and inform my readers about this wonderful and versatile liquid;

What was the most surprising fact in this blog ?

Do you have your own story about this topic to share ? (feel free to do it in the comments below)

What other topics would you like me to write about ?

14 Comments

  • UCGreen

    Wow this is really cool, I learned something today. I had no idea that there were so many different varieties. Enjoyed this a lot

    • Cashain

      Hey Wendy !!!!
      That is so cool, great to hear.
      Rum Herbalism is such as great phrase (I made it up to describe what people were telling me) and I will spread it far and wide.
      Thanks for the comments.
      Cashain

  • Dovey LaPee

    Rum shops sound like amazing places to visit. I am definitely planning on adding one to my next visit to the Carribean. (We are planning to go there next fall) I love connecting with locals when I visit places because you get to submerge yourself in the culture.

    Do you have one you personally recommend? I am curious about the herb infused rum. Do you recommend trying one?

    Thank you for enlighting me on Rum Shacks.

    • Cashain

      Hi,
      Yes !!!! wonderful another convert !
      Can you tell me which country you will be visiting as I may be able to point you in the right direction. The picture in the blog is in the island of Carriacou where my family are from so I would always recommend this place.
      There are a lot of infused rums and a spiced version is a good one to start with. But I’d suggest to let the owner recommed something for you.
      My favourite is a herb called Nani (not sure what the european names is) but it tastes like aniseed and gets better the more you drink (or maybe that was the number of shots i was having)
      Cashain

  • Jesse Lee

    Interesting article!
    I learned a lot about Rum Shops and I liked how you explained some of the history behind them as well.
    It definitely sounds like the Rum Shop is the happening spot in the community and I look forward to visiting one some day.
    Thank you for the great article!

  • Moni

    Thank you for sharing the rum shack story. I really enjoyed reading it!

    I just love the idea of a life at the rum shack. Just imagine away from modern-day life’s stresses and challenges enjoying time playing dominos.

    I have not been to the Caribbean for more than 30 years and I don’t remember seeing any rum shacks, is this something new that has sprung up over the years?

    • Cashain

      Hi There.
      Thanks for the message.
      Rum Shacks have been around for some time but mainly used by local people and hence we desire to encourage people to take a look.
      I first experienced them as a child when my mother took me to the caribbean and had to wait outside whilst all the fun was going on inside.
      As I said, if you get a chance please visit and take a drink. They really are a hidden gem.
      Cashain

  • Nick

    Wow, thats the life.
    Even better than sitting in a beach hut.
    I wish I lived in the Caribbean just drinking Rum and playing Dominoes, in the warm atmosphere.

  • Thalia

    Another great read Cashain. Rum shops have always been a part of Caribbean life as far as I understand. My fiance grew up helping his aunt run one and I myself have spent many an hour in them!
    The lovely thing about them is the different character each one has and the many purposes they serve…grocers, convenience store, place to watch the cricket, domino host, place to dance, place to talk, receive therapy and have problems solved. Oh and don’t forget the gossip!
    I love that your blog evokes beautiful memories for me Cashain. Write on!

    • Cashain

      Thanks for the comments Thalia.
      Yes, it always surprises me how visitors to the islands miss such a wonderful part of the experience.
      Thank you for the encouragement, more interesting articles to come…
      Cashain x

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