Nassau's newest attraction is housed in one of its oldest.
The John Watling's Distillery opened its doors in April at the Buena Vista Estate in downtown Nassau.
The estate overlooking the harbor has been part of the history of Nassau since 1789 and has been restored to its original splendor with antiques, exhibits, a tavern and a visitors center.
Set on more than two acres of gardens and olive trees, the Buena Vista Estate once served as the residence of royal governors and chief justices and later hosted luminaries such as Robert Mitchum, Robert F. Kennedy, Ed Sullivan and Joan Crawford.
Now rum is the star, and the audience is cruise passengers and tourists who come to tour the estate and observe the rum-making process in the distillery, named after a 17th century English buccaneer.
Many stay to sample the goods at the Red Turtle Tavern, where drink prices range from $8 to $12 for a 16-ounce cup, according to Pepin Argamasilla, co-founder.
"We opened here at the estate on April 12, but we have been working off-site for the past five years," Argamasilla said.
"The response has been terrific," he said. "We're getting more cruise passengers each day. The distillery also is included as a stop on several guided island tours."
The distillery tour is self-guided. It can be completed in 30 minutes, but most visitors stay longer to walk around the grounds of the estate, watch the bottling process in the storehouse, snap photos of the recently discovered 200-year-old well cut out of solid limestone and then finish up in the retail store for a bottle of John Watling's 2-year-old pale rum ($28), 3-year-old amber rum ($35) or 5-year-old Buena Vista rum ($55).
The well, 7.4 feet across and 65 feet deep, was carved out by slaves sometime between 1789, when Buena Vista was built, and 1833, when the British Slavery Abolition Act was enacted.
The five co-founders are sixth-generation members of a rum-producing family with long ties to the Bahamas.
"It's very important to us that John Watling's Distillery and the Buena Vista Estate celebrate the history and heritage of the Bahamas," said Jose Portuondo, co-founder.
"The estate house includes antiques and prints dating back more than 300 years," he said. "Our rum is bottled the old-fashioned way, in [aged] white oak barrels that fill the air with the 'angel's share,' the portion of rum lost to evaporation during the many years the rum rests in the barrels."
The rums are fermented and distilled from hand-cut sugarcane molasses. All products are crafted and packaged by Bahamian hands.
John Watling's is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily except on Fridays, when it hosts a happy hour from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.