Anything Goes: The Latest Ideas on Rum

I sat down to talk rum recently with a few friends who are serious enthusiasts. As great patrons of the arts, they buy every new bottle they’ve never seen. They read whatever articles they come across, and in running their bars, they are a big contributor to rum’s renaissance.

Funny enough they weren’t aware of some of the ideas and references I’d come across in my wanderings over the years. The big issues being chemical analysis of pre-Castro Cuban rums (complete with brand names) from a 1937 IRS paper as well as a recently uncovered treasure trove of historical papers that rewrites the history of Jamaican rum.

I thought it might be helpful to create a Bostonapothecary timeline of new ideas in rum. I’m also hopeful that at some point this year I’m going to find a treasure trove of never before seen research papers on New England rums. I’m trying to get invited to poke around the privately held archives of what was once the largest distillery in New England (it might happen in the fall when the owner has more free time). Supposedly this distillery collaborated with M.I.T. in the early 20th century and there may be clues to find the whereabouts of un-digitized un-indexed documents in the MIT archives.

Charles River Punch (5/2008)
I’m including my first recipe for an aged rum punch all those years ago. This is basically a Pineapple Rum which was described in many of the Jamaican rum documents. Pierre Ferrand is starting to bottle one (but it wasn’t very good). My recipe has also come a long way since then!

Hand made Creole Shrubb (5/2008)
Here I explored production of creole shrubb and eventually producted a pretty serious volume of it. The recipe is pretty much void but the important thing is the time stamp of when I was working on it. For a while, it was the only orange liqueur our bar program used. Back then other bars weren’t making their own liqueurs and lots of people were still distracted by the bitters fad. My techniques have grown immensely since then and have pretty much caught up with what the great commercial producers of the world actually use to produce their iconic versions. I’m hoping to put out more best bets on production so that growers on various islands can start producing their own product for their local tourist trade. This would keep a lot more value on the islands instead of shipping peals to Europe at subsistence and buying them back at a giant premium. Solid recipes for these spirits categories could be economically very significant. One orange liqueur producer expressed displeasure in me making this and hoped it didn’t become a trend. Their gamble on getting into the U.S. market back then was very expensive. Hipster liqueurs becoming a thing would have cost them tens of thousands. My artifacts are worth big money.

Sweet Potato Fly (5/2008)
This isn’t a rum post so much as a rum accessory post and led to very inventive ideas on ginger beer that haven’t seem to trickle down yet.

Daiquiri: An Analysis (5/2010)
My early writing spent a lot of time acknowledging acquired tastes and I got great complements on this post. This post is part of the workshop I’m going to give at the sMFA this fall on aesthetics through the lens of the culinary arts. Here I highlight Cape Verdean rum.

Anyhow, make my daiquiri like a Markovich Lissitzky or Wassily Kandisnky painting; abstracted and expressionist. Stretch it with the emotionally charged raring to go structure of a 250 gram sour pulled taut by low extract aroma (via non-aromatic sugar!). Throw out those common “culinary” aromas. I want my mind to wander through enigmatic, mermaid-grotesque, aged, Cape Verdean rum aromas terraced against the gentle piny-ness of a perfect lime. Forget those over oaked, lacquered up whiskey cocktails, this will be like a licking a green marble sculpture; shaped by structure and veined by aroma. If you come from a Snapple-sweet tea lifestyle, be prepared to find out we don’t idealize the world the same way.

This Day in Rum History 1937 (2/2013)
This primary document from the IRS is probably the most important thing on rum ever written and not enough people have read it. One of the most extraordinary things inside is chemical analysis of Cuban rums complete with brand names.

Most of the rums analyzed from Cuba (6) had a characteristic taste that may be called fruity, or slightly like the taste of molasses, or a weak combination of both. The rum flavor in the usual Cuban product is weak; the fruity flavor (ethyl ester), while also weak, predominates. The acids, esters, in fact all of the congenerics of the Cuban rums are low. Chemically, these rums differ somewhat from whisky and are more like brandy in that their ester content, while low, is higher than their acid content, which probably accounts somewhat for their light brandy character.
Practically all of the distillates are leached through sand and charcoal filters, which tend to strip the distillate of rum congenerics and residual molasses or rumlike taste and odor.

Cuban rum table

From Free Fatty Acids to Aromatic Esters: Esterification in the Still Made Simple(r) (3/2013)
This post keeps becoming more and more read. Here I tackle the science of ester formation, particularly in the still, and give some comparative looks at different spirits categories. It was a big challenge to write and I know there are some problems with it that I tried to highlight in bracketed notes. Despite all the reads, the paper sadly never got criticism.

The Two Thresholds of Our Two Worlds (5/2013)
This post is important to rum because it looks at various thresholds, both symbolic and sensory. Understanding sensory thresholds are very important to rum making because aged rums are typically composed of concentrates. A concentrate made to maximize noble esters might be made in a way that it has above average amounts of ignoble esters and thus has to be blended down below key thresholds. I make lots of speculations because there are no known papers that deal with the topic specifically.

Raw Meat Infused Over Proof Guyana Rum (7/2013)

“In Demerara some of the rum producers have a unique custom of placing chunks of raw meat in the casks to assist in aging, to absorb certain impurities, and to add a certain distinctive character.” -Peter Valaer, Foreign and Domestic Rums, Journal of Industrial And Engineering Chemistry, September 1937.

I put this notion to the test and came away thinking it was unlikely. The meat would be made sterile by the over proof rum, but there was potential for compounds in the meat to break down into simpler forms creating horrible off aromas. I think I encountered off aromas, possibly something resembling ammonia. I tried it so you didn’t have to!

Early Account of Arrack Et. Al. (7/2014)
This paper led to the discovery of the term muck which helped me find other documents on Jamaican rum. It contains a spectacular description of how rice is used as a starter for molasses fermentation in Javanese Arrack production.

“Muck Hole” Not “Dunder Pit” (7/2014)
Seizing on the term Muck Hole, I searched and I searched and found newly bulk digitized documents from an agricultural experiment station in Jamaica that explained the chemistry and functioning of the muck hole was well as other facets of rum production.

Colonial Pissing Contests with the great Agricola, W.F. Whitehouse (11/2014)
The post extracts letters from a large anthology of Whitehouse’s writing and weaves a narrative of the birth of Jamaican rum making starting with two interlopers coming to the island with a bunk patent distilling technique and the ranting Agricola challenging them to a distill off. The contest results in a meditation on technique and all the pieces of the puzzle that lead to the heavy rum style start to come together like an explanation of how alkaline lime came to the island. If you enjoy rum and history this is pretty much the most exciting thing out there and none of it really seemed to be known to the rum renaissance before I found this.

Percival in Trinidad: Or and the World Watched Jamaica (11/2014)
This collection of snippets says tons about the rum trade in the early 20th century with a great legal testimony from a British rum merchant. Historical factoids galore. Then there are details of other islands following Jamaica’s progress closely in developing more full flavored rum.

Supplementary 19th Century Rum History (11/2014)
I just kept finding document after document on 19th century rum making that hadn’t been seen before. This post is an amazing starting point for writers and historians.

Investigating Lost Spirits Investigations Part I (4/2015)
My look at Lost Spirits first white paper.

Investigating Lost Spirits Investigations Part II (4/2015)
My look at Lost Spirits second white paper.

Investigating Wired’s Investigations of Lost Spirits Accelerated Aging (4/2015)
My 3,900 word in depth criticism of a well read Wired article. My post was tweeted by both Wired Science and Popular Science plus a bunch of others so it reached a nice amount of people.

Next up I hope will be some great investigations of 19th and early 20th century New England rums!

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