Don Benn is the Operations Manager and Master Distiller at the West Indies Rum Distillery. He has been part of the team for over 22 years. When not making wonderful rums he enjoys watching squash and cricket (and most other spots) as well as relaxing in the company of close family and friends.
FRS: Tell us about your personal rum journey.
Don: Started in 1998 right out of university. My first role at the distillery was supervising fermentation at the plant and then within a year being also responsible for the distilling from our main column still. In the first 3 years I was able to learn and operate all of our stills with the guidance of the previous Master Distiller and also from experienced workers like Digger and James Franklin.
This role expanded after the first 10 years and has now evolved to overseeing the aging, blending and bottling activities at the distillery.
FRS: What brought you to join the West Indies Distillery team?
Don: It came down to a choice of working with the water or rum. Water seemed less interesting at the time.
FRS: West Indies has a wide range of rums that it is providing to the rum loving world… Do you have a clear favorite when it is time to sit down and sip at the end of the day?
Don: Yes I do.
- Secret Blend done for celebration of 100 years of service of 3 valued members of our team – this is a rare treat as it is a blend only done for this special occasion, and is in very limited supply.
- Other than that, I would say Plantation 5 year.
FRS: Is there anything upcoming that you are truly excited about (even if you can only give us hints)?
Don: I can’t reveal too much obvious but let’s just say – further exploration of the marriage of rum and Caribbean fruits/spices.
FRS: The members of the Florida Rum Society have been dreaming of visiting Barbados since our very early Virtual Happy Hours in spring 2020… once the time comes what are some things that members should be sure NOT TO MISS when visiting Barbados?
- Harrison’s Cave
- Friday Night in Oistins (great local food, music, people – however might not be an option with Covid-19)
- West Indies Rum Distillery tour
- Historic Bridgetown tour (this is our capital city)
- Island Safari Tour + Catamaran boat cruise of the west coast of the island (no wild animals involved but you can swim with the turtles and other ocean life)
- Of course, the many beaches with white sand and turquoise, clear waters.
FRS: Before the “COVID times”, you did some traveling, sharing the good word of rum… When travel starts to be welcomed back to the world is there anywhere that you just cannot wait to pack your bags and head off to?
Don: That is a tough question to answer. Anywhere that we can share the good word on rum is a good place to be.
Top 3 choices – (at the moment)
- San Francisco (never been there before but heard great things about the city),
- Cognac (meeting up with the Maison Ferrand and Plantation teams is always a great time),
- China (always eager to see rum in new markets)
FRS: When not sipping rum what do you enjoy doing in Barbados?
Don: Playing sports and spending time with my family. Sometimes these two activities go together.
Don: Cocktails are not my usual go-to drink, as I prefer to drink rum straight. – However, the mix of Plantation 5 year and Coconut water is a fabulous combination. It’s an obvious choice in Barbados, fresh coconut water is available everyday, and no need to reach out too far for a bottle of Plantation 5.
FRS: I know you, along with Alexandre, have been combing through historical records and artifacts locked away at the distillery… what, would you say, is one of the most interesting things you’ve been able to uncover?
Don: There’s a lot of interesting stuff in the vault. The old minutes of the distillery which chart the history of the distillery. The recipes and techniques used for blending and aging. But as a technical person by nature, seeing the archived drawings of some of the past stills and even stills that were planned and were never built/installed. We have a chance now to bring some of those drawings to life. The real hero of this search however is Andrew Hassell our General Manager. He has a more intimate knowledge of all things in the vault and even of Barbados rum history in general, more than anyone I know.