Updated: Jun 3
A trip to Mauritius and Reunion doesn’t just happen. It takes planning, dedication and quite a bit of money. It started when Eric Kaye, owner of independent bottler Holmes Cay, sent me a message that he was planning to go to Mauritius for rum business. “Do you want to join me?”
This was not the first time he asked me to join him on a rum trip. Last time it was Belize and I couldn’t make it. I always regretted that. So my answer this time was:”Let me look into it”. Belize is quite easy to get to from Toronto. I was about to find out it’s a rather different story with Mauritius, obviously. I checked out Google Flights and Expedia to see how to get there and how much it would cost. Quite a few flights popped up, showing travel times of...........27 hours minimum. Up to this point I had never been able to convince myself to be in a plane for that long. I’m rather tall and understand very well how sardines feel when they are squeezed into a can. Prices weren’t very friendly either. BUT, it would be an epic rum trip. Something I’d never forget.
The days after, I went back and forth between “Yes, I should go on this cool trip” and “No, this is silly, I need to work, I need to not spend this much on the rum hobby, I can’t be on a plane for this long”. Obviously, the “cool trip” ended up beating all the other valid and non valid arguments. Thus the very last minute booking process started, eventually arranging hotels on Sunday while we were leaving on Monday.
Apart from knowing I’d be visiting some amazing distilleries with a great travel partner, I also figured out I could stop in Amsterdam on the way back and spend a couple of days with family. That's what pulled me over the line. Still, I wasn’t looking forward to the flights. The itinerary looked something like…leave Toronto Monday evening, get to Paris early Tuesday morning, wait for about 8 hours or so and then take another overnight flight to Mauritius. I don’t sleep well on planes. Probably had about 1.5 hours of sleep each flight.
Eric and I met up at the airport in Paris, ate something and waited for our next flight. Once we arrived in Mauritius we were both feeling like we could be actors in a zombie apocalypse movie without needing any makeup or acting classes. Luckily, Grays Distillery had a driver waiting for us at the airport to take us to our hotel. That took almost two hours, where Eric was able to catch up on some sleep. I was awake mostly, trying to take in the new scenery. My mind is always very active unfortunately.
We enjoyed a nice breakfast after getting to the hotel and then had a couple of hours before the first distillery visit at Saint Aubin. I could have used that to rest, but instead, active Ivar decided to go to the nearest grocery store to get a few things AND to check out the rum selection. I enjoy doing that when abroad. Grocery stores can be very interesting. They paint a small picture of the country they are in. Which is the total opposite of my grocery runs at home in Toronto by the way, where I plan ahead of time how I can be in and out of the store as quickly and efficiently as possible. The rum selection was interesting. Some familiar distillery names but I had never heard of most of the expressions on the shelves. A lot of it gave me a “cane vodka” kind of feel. I bought a few out of curiosity, which Eric and I tried one evening. Cane vodka was a decent description for some.
Through the tourist desk at the hotel, Eric had managed to book a taxi to get us to distillery Saint Aubin. This was an interesting ride. The driver was armed and ready with touristy flyers….purely for information purposes of course. My sales antennas started going up, receiving clear signals. Usually, when someone tries to sell me something I don’t want, I clearly let them know I’m not interested and move on. That’s a little more difficult when locked in a taxi though. My next approach to get out of that situation was to stop interacting somewhat. Don’t want to offend the guy who’s going to drive us around for hours, but also don’t need his sales pitches, especially not after having 3 hours of sleep in two days. Luckily, whenever Eric was awake, he was willing to be more chatty with the driver than me. Potential crisis averted. In the mean time, the views of the landscape passing us by were amazing! Sugar cane everywhere!!! I love exploring countries.
St Aubin is in the south of Mauritius, where sugar cane has been cultivated since the early 1800s. When we arrived there, it was like entering an oasis. Apart from the small distillery, shop, restaurant and offices, they have a beautiful park with some animals, a vanilla plantation and a gorgeous old colonial house called “Le Domaine de Saint Aubin”, built in 1819. This used to be the home of the sugar plantation owners and is surrounded by Le Jardin Botanique. We were there early, so we spent some time at the shop and walking around the grounds, which was really nice.
When we got to the office, we met up with Charles Guimneau (Saint Aubin’s General Manager) and Savi Munean (Saint Aubin’s Export Executive), who were both very generous with their time. We had a good chat about the global rum market and Eric explaining all about Holmes Cay and its customer base. They gave us more information about St Aubin and then offered a tasting. We tried rums from their unaged white to their 15 year extra old. All of them made with sugar cane juice, not molasses. Next to that, they let us try some samples of rums that had been ageing in several different types of barrels (ex-port, ex-sauternes). There was a lot to like there, actually, there was nothing that we didn’t like but we were longing for more higher abv options. Very promising though, especially their pure pot still rums.
After finishing the tasting, we went on a slightly tipsy tour of the grounds and distillery. It’s a nice destination for tourists, as there is lots to see. They are very well accommodated for tourism. Luckily we didn’t just get the standard tour, which showed they knew we were a different type of customer than the general tourist. That made us feel good and made the visit more relevant. We witnessed some cane crushing, drank the fresh juice, which was delicious!! Saw the 600 liter pot still (from 2003). Unfortunately it was disassembled. We walked through the gardens, the vanilla plantation and to the restaurant, where the bartender made us a delicious cocktail…..because we needed more alcohol?! At this point I was amazed we could still walk and talk after our two day journey with as good as no sleep. Excitement and adrenaline kept us going no doubt. I should not forget the fact that we are young gods of course. That’s got to help.
We ended the visit checking out the column still (from 2011) and buying a few items at the store. Overall, the place is gorgeous and so are the people, who are extremely nice. I believe the rum has enormous potential. They currently aren’t aiming for the cask strength audience, but that could change in the future. As is, their rums are definitely worth a try.
Our way back to the hotel involved more sleeping and less talking. The taxi driver had given up on selling us anything at this point. Perfect! The hotel was located on a busier street that had a little strip of restaurants and shops. Not super crowded or touristy, which I liked. Across the street was an amazing beach. Drop dead gorgeous views and not super packed. I went for a quick swim before dinner and then we ate at a restaurant close to the hotel. Early to bed that night as we were knackered and had to get up fairly early to go visit Grays distillery the next day.
It’s now Wednesday night. I left Toronto on Monday. Three different time zones. What a roller coaster. What a beautiful country.
To be continued…
The photos are not as good as the originals, as I had to reduce the size for faster loading times. I selected these out of 350 photos in total for Mauritius.
The distillery and surroundings
The beauty of Mauritius
Grocery Store Rum Selection