Gary Nelthropp says he and his family view themselves as gatekeepers. Since the 1950s, they’ve been passing down the key to the Cruzan rum distillery on St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The family has actually lived on St. Croix since the late 18th century, and Nelthropp and his siblings are seventh-generation residents. Nelthropp, who’s been the company’s master distiller for the past two decades and its president for 10 years, says that keeping up the Cruzan rum standard is crucial.
“We don’t think alcohol should burn; it should be light,” he says. Cruzan uses a five-column distillation process to produce a clean rum, he says, ensuring that burn-inducing fusel oil never finds its way into the barrel: “That’s one of our calling cards. That is how we differ from a lot of your mainstream rums.”
Nelthropp started his Cruzan career in 1991, learning the ropes under his father, Donald, who spent 50 years at the distillery. Nelthropp’s brother, Donnie, is now master blender, and his sister, Karen, runs guest experiences.
Nelthropp says that if you visit St. Croix and the U.S. Virgin Islands, Cruzan rum is part of the island DNA. The rum is synonymous with St. Croix and is one of the few industries to survive everything the islands have experienced. We are competing against a world market, he says, and we build our future on taste tests and one-on-ones. We let people decide for themselves whether they like it.
A lot of times, here, we use tonic and soda because we want the rum to come through. For me, if I’m drinking single barrel, I’ll drink it over ice and with an orange peel.
I had a 47-foot Leopard, so I did a lot of sailing between here, St. George, St. Thomas and the BVI. We would do it about six to seven times a year — with a full stock of rum on the boat. Every port we pulled into … they would say, “Oh, there’s the rum boat.”
St. Croix’s Waterways
Buck Island: A quick jaunt from St. Croix, this national monument has abundant marine wildlife, nature hikes and more.
Cane Bay: The reef off Cane Bay is a spectacular coral wall. It drops precipitously from 40 to more than 3,200 feet deep.
Salt River Bay: At this forest and marine preserve, kayak tours wind through a bioluminescent bay and archaeological sites.