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Rhum Tasting in Sint Maarten

Sint Maarten

I wasn’t expecting to see RMS Queen Mary 2 slipped several yards from my stateroom balcony, but she was a welcome sight.  More than eight years had passed since I was aboard Cunard’s magnificent flagship, as she celebrated her tenth birthday at the port of Boston.

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She and MS Nieuw Statendam were both in port in Philipsburg, Sint Maarten, about 1,700 miles from New York City.


The Dutch constituent country shares the Caribbean island of Saint Martin with French collectivity Saint-Martin.  The Dutch side boasts brothels, a remarkable number of “adult” toy stores, and the Flying Dutchman, the world’s steepest zipline, which drops riders 1,050 feet at 56 miles per hour.

I trust it does not surprise regular readers that I bypassed all these opportunities.  I boarded a bus instead for rhum tasting in Cole Bay.

Topper’s Rhum is hand-made in its local distillery and packaged in brightly colored bottles.

As soon as our group arrived, we received cups of rhum punch, made with equal parts Topper’s Spiced, Caribbean White, and Coconut Rhums and orange, pineapple, and cranberry juices.

Next we learned a little about the discovery of rum.  Short version:  Sugar was a major cash crop in the Caribbean.  Molasses is the byproduct of refining sugar.  Sometime around the 17th century, people figured out that molasses could be fermented and distilled.  The result was called r(h)um.

Then we started sampling.  Topper’s is constantly developing new flavors, often with surprising names, like “Elvis”, which tastes like the legendary singer’s favorite sandwich:  peanut butter and banana.

My favorite was the super-smooth Nelson’s Blood.  If you think there’s a grim story behind that name, you’re right:

British Admiral Horatio Nelson is widely regarded as one of the finest naval commanders in history.  His strategic brilliance, unconventional tactics, and sheer cheek won Britain a number of important battles at sea.  Unfortunately, they also cost him the sight in his right eye at the Invasion of Corsica in 1794, most of his right arm (amputated aboard ship without anesthesia) at the Battle of Tenerife de Santa Cruz in 1797, and his life, at the age of 47, at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.  Those are established facts.

Somewhat less established is the legend of what happened next:  Nelson’s body was stuffed aboard ship into a barrel, which was filled with rum to preserve him for burial.  But the sailors, being 19th-century sailors, tapped into the barrel and drank the rum.

After digesting this, it was time to sample some food, partially prepared by a few “volunteers” from our group.  We each received a bite of chicken that had been marinated overnight in rhum and then sautéed with pineapple chunks.  It was delicious.

But the real show-stopper was the super-moist rhum cake, a buttery yellow cake infused with just the right amount of the sweet spirit.  It was so good that I bought one as a gift for old friends.

Then it was time to sample more rhums.  My favorite of the last round was the Peach Habanero.  Though I have a low heat tolerance, I love the flavor of peach, and the pepper set it off nicely.

All in all, we must have tried two dozen rhums, which made for a lively bus ride back to the pier, where the elegant Queen Mary 2 came back into sight.  I wonder what Admiral Nelson would think of her.

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