Did you know that Thailand is the fourth largest producer of sugarcane in the world? Did you know there is an authentic rum distillery in Phuket? Did you know that all commercial rum brands (including Bacardi) are made with molasses and not sugarcane?
These and many other questions you probably never asked yourself about rum production are answered during the Chalong Bay Distillery tour, one of the most interesting activities you can do in Phuket.
I put together this post to help you make the most of your visit to Chalong Bay Distillery.
Chalong Bay Distillery – How Chalong Bay rum is made
The distillery is in a middle-of-nowhere-location but very near Wat Chalong and can be easily found following Google Maps. Once you get there, you feel like you could be somewhere paradisiacal. Oh wait, you are, and this is Phuket!
Chalong Bay Distillery was started by two Frenchmen and uses French copper equipment and distillation methods similar to those used for brandy production, to produce rum from sugarcane.
What makes the rum different from most of the commercially available rums like Bacardi is the fact that it is produced from sugarcane and not molasses, a byproduct of sugar production.
The rum produced at Chalong Bay Distillery is made from the distillation of sugarcane juice extracted from the organic and pesticide-free sugarcane produced in Thailand. That means that the totality of the raw materials used to extract the spirit is home-grown and hand harvested by the Thai farmers.
In fact, Thailand is the fourth largest producer of sugarcane in the world after Brazil, India and China.
After the sugarcane is harvested, once a year, it is squeezed to make sugarcane juice, just like the one sold in the streets of Southeast Asia.
To produce the rum, the sugarcane juice is fermented first then distilled. That is, it is boiled at very high temperatures until the water and the alcohol both evaporate. The fermentation process turns the sugar into alcohol and this evaporates through a series of tubes in the French copper still. Because both water and alcohol evaporate at different temperatures, the separation occurs naturally as both gases follow different tubes. The tubes are cooled so the gas turns back into liquid form.
All of the Chalong Bay Rum is produced and hand bottled on site at the distillery. There are no production machines for the labeling process as this is entirely done by hand. In fact, the process is handcrafted end to end, from growing the sugarcane to bottling the rum.
How to make the most of your visit to Chalong Bay Distillery
The tour of the rum production area is quite short and usually finished in 20min but if you came all the way to Chalong Bay Distillery, you might as well make the most of your visit. Here are some tips.
Parking is available
Are you exploring the island on a road trip like I did? The you will be able to find the distillery easily following Google Maps. Parking is available at the entrance and you should not have issues finding a spot.
Bringing kids to Chalong Bay Distillery
Although you may think that a rum distillery tour is not very adequate for kids, Chalong Bay it is in fact a pretty family-friendly activity to do in Phuket.
Because there is a large lawn area where kids can jump around and get entertained. If they are not able to stay still for the short tour part, you can always take turns with your partner and go on different tours. The tours run every hour from 2pm to 6pm so you could arrive for the 4pm tour, one of you could do the tour while the other chills with the children and then the other one could join the 5pm tour.
The tours include rum tasting at the end and a drink before the start so you could probably enjoy both of these parts together.
If your kids can stay out for the tour duration, the area is accessible as it all happens on the ground floor. There was a couple with two kids ages two and four and they seemed fine while the parents listened to the tour guide and very much enjoyed their lawn time.
At the end of the tour you will be given the chance to taste the various flavoured rums as well as the pure version. You can pretty much taste them all so don’t be shy and just ask, you never know which one you may like best. I thought I would like the lemongrass best but I ended up buying the lemongrass infused one instead.
If you are visiting with someone else, you can also share the tasting amount so that you do not end up drinking a lot in a short period.
Stay for a drink or even some snacks
The distillery serves all the cocktails in their cocktail list but also a fair choice of snacks and food from chicken curry to salads and quesadillas. We did not try the food but it did look very nice. As the first tour is at 2pm and the last one at 6pm, you could have lunch before or dinner after at the distillery. The bar opens from 11am till 10pm and there is often live music.
Bonus: the Latin music played, the green lawn and the bamboo surrounding the bar, will make you feel as if you were in Cuba.
Buy the souvenir
You are visiting Thailand and everyone back home expects a souvenir. Don’t be the friend who buys the Same Same t-shirt or the ugly fridge magnet, buy something which people will actually enjoy and remember you for, every time they have a mojito.
Chalong Bay Distillery sells smaller half-bottle versions of all of their rums and they come packaged in neat boxes with a great cocktail recipe book. They make for such a cute gift. I bought a couple for friends and a large bottle of the pure rum for myself.
Would you like to be the cool friend who knows how to whip the best mojito? My flatmate is actually that person and our kitchen wall has a cocktail menu for any visitors.
There was a time when I simply gave them a beer but now my flatmate offers them Negroni or some of her unique cocktails.
If you want to impress your visitors, you could also come enjoy a cocktail making class at Chalong Bay Distillery. Workshops are available on Monday and Thursday and last 2h including a distillery tour.