Drinking in Antigua is much more than just the rum cocktail or sweet pineapple concoction you are served upon check-in at your all-inclusive resort or find in every Antigua, hotel, bar or restaurant. Still, there is a lot to be said for the ubiquitous rum punch when it’s treated with respect, as it is in Antigua. Try it in its different permutations all over the island, along with a few other island-only beverages.
My Lush guide to drinking in Antigua will hopefully introduce ways to discover the island through its national drink. Come for the punch and sample the Conch Water!
Rum Cocktails and other alternative Rum enhanced products
It’s the undeclared national spirit of Antigua and across the Caribbean, so don’t skimp on the rum.
Almost every rum cocktail in Antigua is made with rum from the Antigua Distillery, located right outside the capital city of St. John’s. No sense drinking anything else while on the island and you don’t have to as you’ll find at every bar. A full history of the distillery, plus an interview with Lisa Farara, the granddaughter of one of the founders, is on Lush Life Podcast, plus here is a link to the recipe for their version of the island favorite, the Pina Colada!
- Top Tip(ple): Stop into their shop in St. John’s and have a tasting of a few of their limited edition Cask series.
Rum Punch…with an island view
One of the Antigua musts is to head to Shirley Heights Lookout, built on the ruins of the old military fortifications above English Harbour, to experience a view like no other. I only had eyes for their rum punch. Notice that they add that little bit of nutmeg on top to your cocktail for an additional olfactory sensation. Watching the sunset over the sea with the sounds of the steel band playing in the background, while sipping your nutmeg-scented rum punch, is why you come to Antigua in the first place.
- Top Tip(ple): Outside a man is making gorgeous creations with the local reeds, if this is your thing, you won’t see any prettier on the island than these.
Rum Punch…on the water
Equally as uplifting as watching the sunset view from Shirley Heights is enjoying it from the water. The rum punch on one of the Tropical Adventures Antigua Mystic Cruises rivals that at Shirley Heights. Smooth sailing along the shore, as the sun says sayonara, while downing a few rum punches can make for an Antigua all time high!
Rum Punch…as a breakfast treat
Donuts are not just for breakfast anymore. The “Donut Worry Be happy” sign overhanging Donut Ace on Redcliffe Street in St. John’s is reason enough to sample anything they make. The rum lover in you has to try their Butter Rum glazed donut. If you have room for more, then don’t miss the Ponche-Nogg selection. Bite into the sugar-coated, creamy eggnog spiked (with Ponche Kuba, a spiced rum based cream liqueur) filled baked good and you are set for the day.
Rum Punch…on a cone or in a cup
St Philip Ice Cream & Snack Bar, in the Willikies Parish of Antigua, is reported to be one of the best on the island. There you will discover what true Rum & Raisin ice cream can taste like if you make it with an emphasis on the rum. The raisins are really rum-infused pillows of deliciousness and pack a punch with every lick. If you mix it with their passion fruit ice and take a spoonful of both at the same time, you have your own rum punch, at least that’s what I found.
Rum Punch – in the skies above Antigua
I flew with Virgin Atlantic, an airline which already has a great drinks offering! On our flight, the Purser made sure that Rum Punches were available to every class of service. She said she wanted everyone’s holiday to begin on the plane and, since we were headed to Antigua, it was Rum Punches for everyone who wanted one. Would make you want to fly Virgin every time!
Rum is not the only alcohol made on the island. Taking the original name of the island as its own, Wadadli is the national beer of Antigua. Brewed up in Crabb’s Peninsula (close-ish to the St. Philips Ice Cream by the way) Wadadli is a pale lager that was launched in 1993. It’s ubiquitous, as well as refreshing, and delicious, so no need to drink any other beer.
A Caribbean-wide favorite, Peanut Punch is available all over Antigua. Either with rum or without, this heady mixture of peanut butter, milk, and spices tastes better than any peanut butter ice cream I have ever had. Marcia sells hers right opposite the pink church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in the village of Tyrell on Jonas Road. I love and respect the fact that Marcia wouldn’t tell me what else she put into her version of Peanut punch, as it’s a family secret. I do know that a few skeptical people who I shared it with were converted after one sip, so whatever it is, it works!
- Top Tip(ple) – Do not miss Marcia’s Peanut Punch – she is there on a Saturday!
Lemongrass Iced Tea
With its antibacterial properties, it’s hard to beat lemongrass tea for a home remedy to help with a plethora of ailments. After a hike up and down Signal Hill, we were offered it by the team at Wallings National Reserve. Since it was sweetened with sugar, and large amounts of sugar, I am not sure there were any health benefits BUT it tasted amazing. Made with the lemongrass that is grown all over Antigua, it’s as local a drink as you can find.
Goat & Conch Water
You have to try Goat Water at least once when in Antigua. It’s sold by locals on Saturday on the side of every road up and down the island. Don’t be confused! Goat water is not a cocktail, but one of the traditional foods in Antigua which might not be served at your all-inclusive resort. Since it’s a served in a cup, it deserves its place in my guide to drinking in Antigua. Vegetarians – they also make version out of conch as well
Other Rum Bars I missed, but are reported to be great
- Papa Zouk Fish ‘N’ Rum – St. John’s
- Beach Limarz – Fort James Beach
- Castaways Beach Bar – Jolly Harbour
- Galley Bar -Nelson’s Dockyard
What to do when not drinking Rum Punch
Walling Nature Reserve
Take a hike deep in the rain forest of Antigua at The Wallings Nature Reserve. Either guided or self-guided tours take you either on a relatively easy two and half mile hike to do is up to Signal Hill or a more extensive trek. From the summit, you can see both the Caribbean and Atlantic sides of the country, while getting some exercise as well. (We also were given Lemongrass Tea after we had completed our hike. Make sure you find out if they have it all the time – or bring your own so you are not disappointed!)
St. John Saturday Market
Every Saturday morning, the local food market takes over St. John’s, a great place to buy your spices, eat a just-picked mango and chomp on sugar cane. Explore the rest of Antigua’s small capital while there. Work your way to the more touristy part of town where the cruise liners come into harbour off of Redcliffe Street. You’ll find Donut Ace and loads of other tourist shops for the magnet and/or local product you are taking back to the less fortunate relatives who had to stay home. Make sure to visit St. John Cathedral, built in 1848 – from the top of the stairs you get a view of the whole town.
Open Side Safari
Credit: Patrick Muntzinger
We spent the whole afternoon in an Open Sided Safari exploring Antigua’s beaches, forests and towns. The driver stopped at every beautiful spot for us to take photos and even made us try local pineapple which, I assure you, tasted so much better than anything you could buy at home, unless you live in Hawaii! Book one these directly with Charles in Charge – Charlesincharge268@gmail.com
Nelson’s Dockyard, English Harbour
Although a lovely place to have a rum punch now, Nelson’s Dockyard, a Unesco World Heritage site, was the home to the British naval ships passing through the Caribbean in the 1700s. Georgian buildings surround a pretty harbour where a few restaurants and shops cater to tourists. Ironic, that it was named after a man who spent his years here never leaving his ship to set foot on the island.
Rum has a torrid past filled with heartache, suffering and sorrow. Although there is no historical evidence to prove this, it is rumored that any of the enslaved people brought from Africa to work on the sugar plantations could stand it no longer and leapt into the sea from this very spot. The natural blow holes surrounding Devil’s Bridge howl and whisper around you as if the dead are speaking to you from below.