Inside Jamaica's Worthy Park Rum Distillery
In November 2023, I visited four of Jamaica’s six operating rum distilleries for a second time to extensively photograph their rum-making process for my readers. Two previous posts covered the Long Pond and Hampden Estate distilleries. Below, we’ll dive deep into Worthy Park.
But before we get to the distillery photos, let’s set the stage via an excerpt from Worthy Park’s entry in Modern Caribbean Rum:
The journey to Worthy Park from Kingston travels over twisty mountain roads until rounding a bend to arrive at an overlook for an obligatory stop. Beneath a vibrant blue sky, a panorama of lush, impossibly green sugarcane stretches into the distance. A red sign near a tree proclaims, “The Vale of Lluidas Vale—Worthy Park—Patented November 28th, 1670.” Taking a picture of this sign is a rite of passage for Jamaican rum pilgrims. In the distance, surrounded by cane fields, sits a group of buildings: Worthy Park’s sugar factory and distillery. Worthy Park is the only game in town if you’re looking for a Jamaican cane-to-glass, single-estate experience.
Rum was distilled at Worthy Park as early as 1741, although there are earlier records of the estate itself (1670) and sugar planting (approximately 1720). Just four families have owned Worthy Park over its 350-plus-year history.
The great grandfather of Gordon Clarke, Worthy Park’s current managing director, purchased the estate in 1918. The distillery produced steadily in the twentieth century’s first six decades, although at a relatively small scale.
In 1962, with a glut of Jamaican rum on hand, Worthy Park chose to stop making rum as part of an arrangement with the Jamaican Rum Pool. The distillery was shuttered, although the Worthy Park’s sugar mill continued operations, and the molasses was directed to other distilleries on the island.
Today, the positions of sugar and rum in Jamaica have reversed. While demand for Jamaican rum has increased, the last few decades have been hard on Jamaica’s sugar industry, which has seen several factories close and fields go fallow.
Worthy Park is a notable exception. By modernizing its operations, it has become one of the Caribbean’s most efficient sugar operations. And unlike other Jamaican distilleries that must purchase their molasses from outside sources, Worthy Park’s distillery is fully supplied with molasses from the estate’s sugar factory.
In 2004, Gordon Clarke saw an opportunity to restart distillation. Rather than reviving the estate’s obsolete distillery (last used in the early 1960s), Clarke built a very modern facility, capable of making rums that a resurgent rum market demanded.
Worthy Park began producing and selling bulk rum in 2005. In 2007 it bottled the first Rum-Bar branded rum, an unaged 63 percent ABV rum similar in style to other Jamaican overproofs. The Rum-Bar name refers to the thousands of local rum bars dotting the island. In 2017, the company released its first Worthy Park Estate branded rum to wide acclaim.
Although eighty percent of its sales are to the local Jamaican market, Worthy Park also exports their brands to more than thirty countries and also sells bulk rum to various brands, as well as blenders such as E&A Scheer.
Worthy Park Photos (2023)
As Jamaica’s newest and smallest rum distillery, Worthy Park couldn’t be more different from the old guard distilleries like Hampden Estate or Long Pond, who put their centuries-old patina front and center. Worthy Park is modern and remarkably compact, given how much rum it distills. From a photographer’s perspective, there are fewer opportunities for “artistic” shots, e.g., a line of well-worn pot stills stretching into the distance or the fermentation bubbling away in an open-top wooden vat.
Since such “artistic” images aren’t quite as common at Worthy Park, I’ve seized the opportunity to show parts of modern rum making that others ignore or gloss over. After all, no part of the rum-making process is too arcane for Rum Wonk readers, right?
The annotated image above gives a sense of Worthy Park’s scale and layout. You can explore the surrounding environs with this Google Maps link.
Worthy Park’s public tours depart from the visitor’s center and tasting room. Since my prior visit, a small human-powered cane mill now greets visitors, demonstrating cane crushing and providing them with fresh pressed cane juice to enjoy before starting the tour.
A short stroll from the distillery gate is a 55,000 Kg molasses tank resting on a scale. When it needs a refill, a radio signal sent to Worthy Park’s sugar mill starts the molasses flowing through a half-kilometer underground pipe.
Outside the stillhouse are four tall wooden vats, each holding 20,000 liters of molasses, cane juice, and cane stalks. After several months, the liquid is chock full of wild yeast cells and cane acid. (You can read about cane acid here.) This liquid is the base of Worthy Park’s heavy rum fermentation along with molasses.
Inside the distillery, six 88,000-liter stainless steel fermentation tanks rise nearly to the roof. Two tanks use the yeast/cane acid solution from the aforementioned wooden vats to initiate the 2-to-3-week heavy rum fermentation. The remaining four tanks handle light rum fermentation duties using yeast cells gowns in the propagation and bubb tanks shown above.
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After each fermentation, the inside of the tanks must be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized to prevent undesirable microorganisms from influencing the fermentation. Back outside are tanks for the Clean in Place system, aka CIP. Cleaning tanks was once a manual and error-prone process requiring opening or disassembling the tanks. CIP systems use liquid chemicals and pumps to avoid this error-prone manual labor. CIP is also much faster, shortening the interval between fermentation passes. Time is money!
While the heavy rum ferments are not temperature-controlled, the light rum ferments are. Just outside an auxiliary building are three cooling towers. They cool the water used for regulating the temperature of the fermenting wash, as well as the water from the pot still’s condenser. The oil-powered boiler that creates steam for Worthy Park’s operations is tucked inside the auxiliary building.
A few meters from the fermenters in the stillhouse is the Forsyths double retort pot still. The kettle takes a wash charge of 18,000 liters, or around 4,000 imperial gallons. The automated distillation takes around six hours and produces around 7,000 LAA of rum daily. The low wines retort is somewhat unusual in having a two-plate rectifier in the path before the condenser. This rectifier is only enabled when making the WPUL marque.
Unlike most distilleries where the pot stills’ undercarriage is tucked away below a grate, Worthy Park’s installation is all on view for the inquisitive eye. In the first photo above, note the curved bottom of the kettle and the attached pipe for draining the spent wash, aka dunder, after distillation. The odd-looking equipment with blue rods in the second photo is a heat exchanger. It transfers the dunder’s heat to the incoming wash of the next batch, saving energy and distillation cycle time.
Before newly distilled rum goes into casks or, in the case of their overproof rums, to the bottling line, the rum rests for a spell in one of the dozen or so butts, aka stainless-steel tanks. The larger tanks hold 36,000 liters or about 66,000 bottles of Worthy Park rum. I dare say they are big butts.
Behind the distillery building are two long warehouse buildings, with a third under construction between them. One building holds Worthy Park’s two bottling lines, each capable of processing around 1,000 cases daily. The other building holds around 12,000 casks of slumbering. The third building will further increase the distillery’s aging capacity upon its completion.
Before reluctantly departing, we tasted the new Worthy Park Overproof. It’s a different blend than the original Rum-Bar Overproof and includes a bit of cane juice rum. Insider information: if you see a Worthy Park marque ending with “CJN,” it was made with cane juice rather than molasses.
In the next installment of my Jamaican distillery adventures, we’ll visit Clarendon, Jamaica’s 2nd largest distillery that was once known as Monymusk. You won’t want to miss these photos!