Harris Eastman Sawyer, Frederick Felton, and the Free Alcohol Law

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This is probably the most exciting untold story in rum. When you read the script, imagine Gregory Peck as Harris Eastman Sawyer.

The committee met at 11 o’clock a. m.
Present: Senators Aldrich (chairman), Burrows, Piatt, Hansbrough, Hale, Daniel, Money, and Taliaferro.
Present, also, Frederick L. Felton, esq., of Boston, Mass.; Dr. Harris E. Sawyer, of Boston, Mass.; John B. Purcell, esq., of Richmond, Va.; Samuel A. Woolner, esq., of Peoria, Ill.; H. J. Kaltenbach, esq., of New York City, N. Y.; Peter J. Hennessy, esq., and others.

(Hon. John W. Yerkes, Commissioner of Internal Revenue, was also present during the latter part of the hearing.)

The committee thereupon proceeded to the consideration of the bill (H. R. 24816) “To amend an act entitled ‘An act for the withdrawal from bond, tax free, of domestic alcohol when rendered unfit for beverage or liquid medicinal uses by mixture with suitable denaturing materials,’ approved June seventh, nineteen hundred and six.”


Mr. Felton. I am a distiller, Mr. Chairman, and have with me my chemist, Doctor Sawyer, who is thoroughly familiar with all the details of this matter. We desire a very simple amendment—that is, we would like the privilege of denaturing at the proof of 150° instead of 180°.
The Chairman. You make rum, I believe?
Mr. Felton. Yes, sir.
The Chairman. You are about the only maker of New England rum that is left, I think.
Mr. Felton. No; there are seven of us.
The Chairman. Are there as many of them as that?
Mr. Felton. There are seven of us left. I am perhaps the largest and the oldest, but there are seven scattered through the country— one in Covington, Ky., one in Portsmouth, N. H., one each in Newburyport, Charlestown, Everett, Somerville, and South Boston, Mass.
Senator Hale. Where is yours; in Newbury port?
Mr. Felton. No; not Newburyport. Mine is in South Boston. The Newburyport distillery is the Caldwell house.
We would like this bill, if possible—as well as all the amendments that are going through, which we do not oppose at all—to take effect upon its passage rather than wait until September, excepting that portion or it—which really requires more time for the Commissioner to make his regulations—In regard to the small distilleries throughout the country.
With your permission I would like now to introduce Doctor Sawyer and let him go into the details of the matter. I notice that the younger members of a business know more about it than the older men, who have laid aside a little bit and have attended less to the details.


Doctor Sawyer. We are in favor of the passage of the act, but there is one amendment, Mr. Chairman and gentlemen, which we would like to see made. That is the insertion of a clause which will permit the denaturization at any proof that may be desired by the consumer, not lower than 150°.
The Chairman. What is the present limit—180?
Doctor Sawyer. One hundred and eighty. The reason why we ask for the insertion of this provision is that many of our customers, who use our material for industrial purposes, feel that it is a hardship on them to be obliged to use a material that has been redistilled to 180° of proof.
As you will remember, it was brought out in the hearings of this committee last spring that a certain amount of alcohol is used by tobacco manufacturers in the preparation of their leaf. That amount is not especially large in proportion to the amount of tobacco manufactured, but this use of alcohol is an essential feature in the manufacture of many brands, both of smoking and of plug tobacco—that is, both of the loose or granulated tobacco and of the plug tobacco.
Senator Hansbrough. Is it used in the manufacture or other articles than tobacco?
The Chairman. Do you mean to inquire whether rum is used?
Doctor Sawyer. No.
Senator Hansbrough. Only in tobacco?
Doctor Sawyer. Our industrial sale is solely to tobacco manufacturers.
Senator Hansbrough. All right; go ahead.
Doctor Sawyer. The part which the alcohol plays in tobacco factories is threefold. In the first place, it is necessary for the manufacturers to use alcohol in order to carry into solution many gummy materials that are added, for purposes of binding, to tobacco that is to be made into plugs. In the second place, they are obliged to use a considerable amount of alcohol in the lubrication of machinery and in cleansing floors. In the third place, they find that the presence of a certain amount of alcohol during the manufacturing processes tends to prevent the formation of mold on the somewhat moist tobacco leaves. They have been accustomed in the past to buy rum at 100° proof for that purpose; but they can equally well use a spirit at about 150°.
Senator Hansbrouqh. Can they not use it at 100°?
Doctor Sawyer. They would be able to use it at 160°, but it is desirable to hold the degree of proof down within certain limits, for this reason: In our crude molasses alcohol there are certain bodies not alcohol themselves; I will not pretend, even as a chemist, to say what they are, because we simply do not know. Their amount is so small that we are hardly able by chemical analysis to estimate their proportion. They are bodies of a waxy nature—something like cocoa butter, I think, and their bodies are left behind on the leaf when all the alcohol has passed off into the air. Now if we redistill our alcohol from a proof of about 150° up to the proof of 180°, to which proof we are obliged under the existing regulations to distill if we wish to denaturize, we take the wax out absolutely, and thus we despoil the material which we supply the tobacco manufacturers of a constituent which has been shown to have a very distinct value to them; I say again that we do not know what the waxy material is, so that we are unable readily to add anything of the sort to denaturized alcohol. But it keeps the tobacco from drying out, and it makes it smoke sweeter. If, several months after its manufacture, you feel of tobacco that has been treated with our 150° proof alcohol you will find that it balls together better, and that it packs better in a pipe than one that has been prepared with 180° proof spirit.
Furthermore, our crude alcohol carries at 150° a variety of odorous compounds, derived partly from the molasses which is our raw material and partly from chemical changes which take place during fermentation. These bodies are ethereal in character rather than alcoholic, and they impart to our crude spirit a disagreeable rankness which unfits it for drinking, even when it is reduced in proof, until it has been properly matured. Like the wax, they seem to be retained in the tobacco after the alcohol itself has evaporated, and they develop there an agreeable fruity character which fails to appear when a high-proof, purified alcohol is substituted for our crude, medium-proof product. They also resemble the wax in being removed from the crude spirit when we redistill it from the proof of 150° up to 180°.
Now, these fruity odors which develop on the leaf are considered to be very largely responsible for the character of certain brands of smoking tobacco; and while the manufacturers are very anxious to get the benefit of the remitted tax, to which they unquestionably are entitled under the act of June 7, they desire equally to hold the present character of their brands, and they wish, therefore, to be allowed to use the crude spirit, denatured at 150°, rather than the purer alcohol of 180° proof.
We, of course, are equally anxious to be allowed to furnish them the material which is most suitable to their manufacturing processes. We have teen building up this part of our business for the past twentyfive to thirty years and naturally wish to be able to hold it, especially as the consumption of rum as a beverage has been diminishing year by year. Our ability to retain it will depend, of course, upon our ability to supply a spirit of suitable character. We have made a large number of experiments during the past year to find out whether the tobacco manufacturers can, with advantage to themselves, use 180° proof spirit, and we find that undoubtedly it means a loss to them on account of the danger of changing some of the qualities of established brands.
I would like at this point to say that these experiments included tests of finished tobacco to ascertain whether any alcohol is retained therein. I found that practically none is so retained. In one case, the tobacco having been soldered up in tin cans, there were traces of alcohol present in the proportion of about one-half a gallon per ton of tobacco. In samples of plug tobacco no trace of alcohol could be detected.
Senator Hale. Let me ask you a question right there. You have stated what your market is. How does that apply to all these other establishments throughout the country? Are they situated just as you are about their market for their product?
Doctor Sawyer. Do you refer to the grain distillers?
Senator Hale. The rum distillers.
Doctor Sawyer. What we say of ourselves would apply equally to all of them.
Senator Hale. Is their market largely with the tobacco people?
Doctor Sawyer. No; I suppose that we have rather more business with the tobacco manufacturers than the other distillers do, as our business is larger than that of any other rum distiller.
The Chairman. What proportion of your product is sold for drinking purposes?
Doctor Sawyer. About one-third in this country and about one-third abroad. The balance is sold to tobacco manufacturers.
The Chairman. You sell rum abroad, do you?
Doctor Sawyer. Oh, yes; to the extent of a third of a million gallons a year.
Mr. Felton. Almost exactly half of what we produce goes that way.
Senator Hale. Do you think that proportion applies to these other establishments, as you have divided it?
Doctor Sawyer. I have not any means of knowing, sir.
Mr. Felton. I think I can answer that practically correctly. There are only about three, or possibly four, distillers who export any rum whatever. There is one concern which exports nearly as much as we do; one not nearly as much as that and one a very small quantity. The others export nothing at all. Theirs is all used for drinking purposes in this country.
Senator Hale. About what proportion is used for drinking purposes here in this country?
Mr. Felton. About as the doctor said—from 25 to 35 per cent, I should think, of all that is made.
Senator Hale. Not far from a third?
Mr. Felton. Not far from a third. Nearly 50 per cent, by the records of the Internal Revenue Department, is exported to Africa, Constantinople, Japan, Australia, and different places; and that, of course, goes out in bond.

Senator Hale. That is for drinking purposes?
Mr. Felton. That is usually used for drinking purposes, making cordials and the like.
Senator Taliaferro. Then there is not more than about 20 per cent that is used for the tobacco?
Mr. Felton. Yes; from 20 to 25 per cent, the difference, of course, between the 35 per cent used for domestic consumption and the 50 per cent for foreign consumption. These are approximate figures, of course.
Senator Taliaferro. That is a total of 85.
Mr. Felton. And about 25 to 35 per cent for the tobacco.
Senator Taliaferro. That would leave about 15 per cent?
Mr. Felton. Well, it is probably nearer 20 for tobacco. We can not get at accurate figures, of course, but that is as near as we can get at it. We have, perhaps, forty to fifty customers among the tobacco manufacturers who come direct to us; and then we think there are about fifty or sixty others that come to us through large dealers in spirits; and the balance we know nothing about. They probably go to other distillers, and some do not use it at all.
Senator Hansbrough. You do not pay a tax on the alcohol sold to be used in tobacco?
Mr. Felton. We do now. Oh, yes; on every gallon.
Senator Hansbrough. You do now?
Mr. Felton. Certainly; but under the new law if we make that rum 180° proof then the tax will be remitted if we denature the alcohol, as the Department now allows us to do, with a denaturant that the doctor will tell you about. We are already allowed to denature it and sell it to the tobacco people without the tax provided we put it 180° proof; but we want to save these odors the doctor tells about for the tobacco people by not making it at so high a proof.
Senator Hale. That is your main point—you want to use 150° proof instead of 180°?
Mr. Felton. That is our main point; practically, our only point.
The Chairman. On the ground that the tobacco manufacturers can buy it at 150° and could use it to better advantage than if it was 180°?Mr. Felton. It retains the odors they desire.
Senator Hale. The 150° proof would assimilate better with their manufactures than the 180°?
Mr. Felton. It gives them the odors they want.
Doctor Sawyer. And this other quality that I spoke of, the waxy substance.
Senator Hale. Yes.
Doctor Sawyer. The wording of the modification which we would suggest would be something of this sort: We would insert after the words “domestic alcohol” in lines 7 and 8 the words “of not less than one hundred and fifty degrees proof.” That would permit denaturalization down to that point, but not below. We will submit to the committee a little later a draft showing exactly what we desire the first section of the bill to be.
We have felt that there was no reason why we should not be allowed to denature at as low a proof as 150° under the existing law of June 7, 1906. The Revised Statutes specify regarding alcohol as follows:

Sec .”1248. Distilled spirits, spirits, alcohol, and alcoholic spirit, within the true intent and meaning of this act. is that substance known as ethyl alcohol, hydrated oxide of ethyl, or spirit of wine, which is commonly produced by the fermentation of grain, starch, molasses, or sugar, including all dilutions or mixtures of this substance, etc.

According to section 3248 of the Revised Statutes, therefore—and this, so far as I am aware, is the onlv place where alcohol is defined in our law—alcohol is alcohol, regardless of its strength, whether the latter be 150° or 180°. The act of June 7, 1906, reads, in part, as follows:

That from and after January first, nineteen hundred and seven, domestic alcohol of such a degree of proof as may be prescribed by the Commissioner of Internal Revenue may be withdrawn from bond without the payment of Internal-revenue tax for use in the arts and Industries, provided said alcohol shall have been mixed In the presence and under the direction of an authorized Government olficer, after withdrawal from the distillery warehouse, with methyl alcohol or other denaturing material or materials or admixture of the same, suitable to the use for which the alcohol is withdrawn, but which destroys its character as a beverage and renders it unfit for liquid and medicinal purposes.

Therefore we requested permission to denature for our tobacco customers with tobacco extracts at proofs as low as 140° or 150°. The Commissioner has granted the first part of our request, but he says that in his belief he is not authorized under the law to establish so low a limit as 150°. In his opinion, alcohol is a stronger material, in spite of the fact that the wording of section 3248 would lead one to say that any spirit of any strength down to or below 100° of proof is alcohol within the meaning of the law.
What we now want, therefore, is an explicit statement in this bill that we shall be permitted legally to denaturize as low as 150°. The only objection which could be made to our denaturization at that low proof, in my belief, would be one to be based upon the chance of fraud. Now, I do not see how any fraud could possibly arise, because the denaturant which we are going to use is just as efficient at one strength as at another. The manufacturer who had bought alcohol denatured by our process at 180° would be able the moment he received it to add water in his factory to bring it down to any proof at which he wished to use it; and it makes no difference whether that water is added by him after the alcohol comes into his possession or whether it is left in there from the time that it is made by us.
Senator Hale. What is your denaturing agent?
Doctor Sawyer. A mixture of two aniline colors and a certain proportion of nicotine—nicotine being a body of nauseating character, when taken in sufficient doses, and being at the same time a characteristic element of tobacco, so that we are not introducing into the alcohol anything which would not normally be present in the tobacco to which it is added.
Senator Hansbrough. What is the cost of it?
Doctor Sawyer. Of the nicotine?
Senator Hansbrough. No; of your denaturant.
Doctor Sawyer. The cost figures out about 1 cent for every gallon of strong alcohol; about one-half a cent per proof gallon.
Senator Hansbrough. That is a cheap denaturant.
The Chairman. Does the nicotine you use come from tobacco?
Doctor Sawyer. It is extracted from tobacco stems. They extract it in a state of almost chemical purity in some of the Louisville factories where they work up tobacco refuse. We propose to buy it as chemically pure nicotine, add a certain amount of it to the requisite amount of aniline dyes, and then add sufficient water to bring it to a definite strength; and then 1 per cent of that, by volume, is to be added to 100 parts of alcohol.
Senator Hale. Has this denaturing agent, this composite agent which you use, been submitted to the Commissioner of Internal Revenue?
Doctor Sawyer. Yes, sir; and approved by him.
Senator Hale. And approved by him?
Doctor Sawyer. And approved by him and his chemist. Senator Hansbrough. Let me ask you whether that denaturant can be manufactured in unlimited quantities?
Doctor Sawyer. Yes, sir.
Senator Hansbrough. So that it might be used as a general denaturant by everybody?
The Chairman. You could only use it, I suppose, in tobacco manufacture, on account of the nicotine. They could not put that into everything, I imagine.
Senator Hansbrough. You could put it into alcohol that was to be used as an illuminant, or for fuel purposes, because the object is to make it undrinkable.
Doctor Sawyer. It could be used.
Mr. Felton. It would make it decidedly undrinkable.
Senator Hansbrough. That is the cheapest denaturant I have heard of.
Senator Hale. And unsmellable, and everything else.
Mr. Felton. It does not smell very bad.
Senator Hale. It does not?
Mr. Felton. The doctor has a sample here.
Doctor Sawyer. Here is a sample which has been denatured with this material [exhibiting sample of denatured alcohol to the committee].
Mr. Felton. Everything that we desired has been approved by the Commissioner except the one item of proof.
Senator Hansbrough (referring to sample of denatured alcohol). Has that 1 per cent of your denaturing agent in it?
Doctor Sawyer. That has 1 per cent of our denaturant.
Senator Hansbrough. This is the double strength—180°?
Doctor Sawyer. Yes, sir. The object of adding the nicotine is, of course, to make the alcohol undrinkable. We have in what would be an ordinary drink an amount of nicotine that would make a man good and sick, and we put in, in addition to the nicotine, the aniline colors, to warn a man that it is not something that is intended to be drunk.
Senator Hansbrough. Do you not regard that as the cheapest denaturant that is being used or likely to be used?
Doctor Sawyer. I think that is the cheapest, and I think that in many respects it is most nearly an ideal denaturant I think that it is fully as efficient as any of the general denaturants that have been recommended, in spite of the fact that under the regulations as they now exist this is permitted to be used only as a special denaturant where records are kept by the manufacturers of the amounts bought and used.
Senator Hale. All that is regulated by the Commissioner?
Doctor Sawyer. All that is regulated by him, sir.
The Chairman. Is that all? We will have to go ahead, because we have not very much time.
Senator Hale. Yes; I think we understand the gentleman’s position.
Senator Burrows. What do you say about wood alcohol as a denaturant?
Doctor Sawyer. I think myself that wood alcohol is not nearly so efficient a denaturant as this material, because, in my opinion, wood alcohol, when mixed in the proportions called for under the regulations, does not impart nearly the nauseating character to the denaturized alcohol that this proportion of nicotine would. It makes it smell worse; it gives the man who might drink it more warning, perhaps; but the final effect upon the drinker would not be nearly so pronounced as that of our denaturing agent.
The Chairman. We will give you and Mr. Felton a copy of this testimony, and you can extend it or enlarge it as you see fit. Perhaps we had better hear the ether people now. We would like to have the Commissioner here when Mr. Woolner and his friends are heard upon the bill and their objections to it. Perhaps we had better hear the ether people next.

New England Rum, Briefly Too Fine To Drink

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Letter from the President of Felton & Sons (Inc.), Boston, Mass.

Washington, D. C, May 12, 1921. Hon. Andrew J. Volstead, Chairman Judiciary Committee, House of Representatives, Washington, D. C.

Dear Sir :

As rum distillers at Boston, Mass., now engaged in the production
of high-proof rum for industrial uses, we beg to request that such correction be made in the second paragraph of section 2 of H.R. 5033, now pending before your committee (p. 2, lines 3 to 14), as will avoid interruption of our necessary production of industrial rum.

The rum which we manufacture is produced at from 150 to 160 degrees or proof; that is, the rum contains from 75 to 80 per cent of alcohol by volume. The rum is not, however, fractionated to the point where it contains from 94 to 95 per cent of alcohol by volume, which is the usual strength of commercial alcohol. Rum for the purposes for which we manufacture it must retain some of the congeneric flavor which would be fractionated out of the product if the extreme fractionation were attained.

This rum is exclusively used domestically for flavoring tobacco; that is, the rum is sprayed over the tobacco, the alcohol evaporating and leaving in the leaf during the course of manufacture the desired rum flavor. This is one of the ancient tobacco flavoring processes, and our company has furnished rum for this purpose for many years—long antedating prohibition.

The rum for domestic uses is denatured with nicotine and rendered unfit for beverage consumption, and this denaturing work is done in our own denaturing bonded warehouse adjacent to our distillery.

What we are particularly concerned about is, however, our right to manufacture this character of rum not only for domestic use, denatured as stated, which we do not understand is affected by H. R. 5033, but particularly our right to manufacture this product for exportation.

We have long enjoyed an export trade in this character of rum with foreign tobacco manufacturers, who purchased this rum from us on account of its particular character for the flavoring of tobacco abroad in the same way that our domestic manufacturers used it. We do not, however, denature this export rum, as it is exported free of tax. and denaturation is not necessary to secure this tax-free export privilege. Our foreign buyers are accustomed to using this rum undenatured, or else denatured in their own country under the local requirements. Our foreign customers object strenuously to the rum denatured with nicotine and would find other sources of supply if we were unable to furnish them the undenatured rum which they have been accustomed to receiving.

You will realize that this rum is exported for nonbeverage and industrial uses, and no question of this particular kind of rum being used for beverage purposes in foreign countries can arise. Rum at cheaper cost than ours can be secured by the foreign countries for beverage purposes, and rum of the cost and character of our product could not, as a commercial proposition, compete for beverage purposes, even though the foreign tobacco manufacturers, who are customers, were inclined to consider our export flavoring rum from a beverage standpoint. Of this there is no possibility, because our foreign customers are large and responsible tobacco manufacturers, who buy our product solely for use in the preparation of their tobacco.

For your further information, practically our entire list of foreign consignees are subsidiaries of the British American Tobacco Co., and we know that they use this rum exclusively in their foreign tobacco factories. It may well be said that the operation to which we refer would in no way be interfered with by the second paragraph of section 2, but it would be a disaster to us, if under any circumstances, we were not permitted to continue our production for export purposes under the circumstances above stated.

An amendment which will make this clear and certain would consist of the words “including rum for industrial purposes” after the word “alcohol” in line 5 of page 2. This would make the exception read, “save alcohol, and rum for industrial uses.”

Felton & Son (Inc.).
Boston. Mass.,
Per Herbert L. Felton,
President and Treasurer.


Thirty Years of Rum Technology at INRA

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Trente ans de travaux en technologie rhumière à l’Inra-Antilles-Guyane

This wonderful French paper came across my desk a while ago and it may finally be time to tackle it. It contains the history of the last thirty years of rum history (starting 1970) contributed by many great scientists.

Many times I’ve described rum history as starting with W.F. Whitehouse and then the torch being successively passed through the generations. The torch has wandered around a lot but basically for the last thirty or forty years been held by the French speaking parts of the tropics.

The paper summarizes their investigations and achievements and provides a stunning bibliography to pursue further (I’ve already dug into a lot of it over the years).

I’m going to try and translate it with Google to see if it can launch some ships. I’m going to take some liberties to smooth the translation so do not rely on it and please pursue the original work linked above.

Thirty years of work on rum technology at Inra Antilles-Guyane: Thirty years of research on rum technology

by Fahrasmane L., Parfait B.

Abstract: Thirty years of research on rum technology at INRA Antilles-Guyane. The rums produced in the French overseas Departments are marked by their strong and original aromatic character. Thirty years of research conducted at INRA Centre Antilles-Guyane allowed the inventory of the bacterial flora and the yeast strains involve in fermentation media, and get out of a manner of production mainly based on empirical practices. The collected data have contributed to control the vagaries of fermentation and at the same time to control the acidity of the distillates, resulting in better control of the regularity of rums quality. Among main results there were: a commercial yeast strain selected for the rum distillery, the first in the world for this purpose, and processes developed for waste waters remediation by anaerobic digestion producing also energy.

Keywords: rum, microbiology, sugarcane, fermentation, yeast, bacteria, waste waters, waste waters treatment, composition

I have heard of this Sacharomyces yeast, but was not aware it came from this French effort.


In the three islands French overseas departments, the production and processing of cane to sugar (Saccharum officinarum) remain a significant part of their respective economies, sugar production and the production of traditional rums.

The term “rum” is generic and refers to alcoholic distillates from the distillation of fermented must, prepared from sweet products derived exclusively from cane sugar: juice, syrup, molasses. Traditional type rums are characterized by their aroma. This type of production uses the empirical know-how of producers. To keep pace with the new patterns of consumption, changes in distribution and need to negotiate with the administrative and political structures involved in the environment of this sector, producers have had an urgent need for technical data and of production processes and products. This has resulted in a need for research that has been taken into account since 1970. Since 1972, INRA within its Center Antilles-Guyane has operational resources that enabled work to be carried out for this sector of activity.

Their idea of empirical parallels the idea of practical that we saw in American whiskey production. American whiskey got a little bit of help from the IRS’ excise officers, but the move to guided traditional processes did not exactly happen with government help. Here, private companies are given a very strong public foundation of basic science to advance on.

Sugar cane is an agricultural resource that, on a global scale, is subject to creation for a little more than a century. However, there has not been cane specially designed for the processing of rum.

A very interesting admission. When rum becomes more of a primary product and less of a byproduct it becomes possible to find out which varieties have the most extraordinary aromas. Cane varies in color a lot and there are a lot of unique aroma precursors correlated to skin color similar to wine.

The manufacture of traditional rum involves yeasts and bacteria that convert sugar into ethanol and co-produce compounds with aromatic properties. These strains are often genera and species identical to those found in other agro industrial fermentations (Saccharomyces, lactic acid bacteria). Schizosaccharomyces is a spontaneous genus, singular, and obligatory in the production of traditional rum of great aroma type. Ecosystems which constitute the fermentation media of rum production, have physicochemical conditions remarkably different from brewing, oenology or milk processing environments. The knowledge that could be generated on these micro-organisms, from tropical environments, is scientifically interesting for modern microbiology.

Extra fascinating and here we see strong language promoting Schizosaccharomyces for fine rums. The idea that this basic science could teach lessons to other biotech processes is very exciting.

Traditional Rhums

Their diversity as well as historical, cultural and fiscal reasons make them appreciated. The dynamic stronger marketing of rums of all types makes the French aware that the road of rum goes around the world. As a result, traditional production will have more and more to face, in its markets of choice, to world production. Hence the need for it to produce knowledge in order to be able to value its products, to acquire new technical understanding making it possible to have marketing arguments, which guarantee the reputation of the most known.

Marketing arguments is a much more important concept than anyone has realized at the moment. Lost Spirits jumped the gun and tried to make marketing arguments without doing any due diligence and though it worked out for them overall, it exposed them to a lot of weakness. A lot of my rum history explorations are based on collecting and exposing marketing arguments that can support a fine rum category.

Traditional production has long been characterized by the use of cane or molasses, without specification of the quality of these raw materials, as well as by the use of non-sanitized dilution water taken from the natural environment (watercourse, groundwater). The fermentation was often spontaneous. This resulted in a high variability of the quality of the products, some of which were characterized by high volatile acidity and off-flavor, abnormal tastes (acrolein, allylic alcohol, etc.). Production was thus confronted with the quality of raw materials, and of a random mixed fermentation.

I would love to learn more about the abnormal tastes so we can compare INRA influenced rums to those of Cape Verde.

Implementation of the research approach

French West Indies rum production has always been marked by the aromatic character of its products. At the beginning of the last century, attempts to integrate into the production new practices from industrial microbiology (pure culture, mother-cell, strain selected), had failed, as productivity gains had been favored. Products had become aromatically neutral. Most producers returned to 1920, to mixed fermentations. However, the passage from the still to the Creole column, with the aim of improving productivity gradually took place between 1818 and 1865 without any recognition that the products produced by the pot still are of better aromatic quality than those obtained with a distillation column.

Pure cultures are even plaguing other spirits and my hunch is that they’ve eroded the quality of tequila. I don’t know if 1920 is a significant date or just an expression here. And I’ve never heard of the column still referred to as a creole column. Very cool. We are seeing the return to guided to traditional processes.

The aromatic character of traditional rums is a determining factor in their culinary use. In France, in particular, nearly 2/3 of the rum is singularly used as an culinary ingredient. Within spirits, the extent of this form of use of traditional rum is singular. For the time being, in manufacturing and marketing, there has been no consideration for this specific type of use. It is interesting to note that approximately 10,000 hectoliters of pure alcohol of rum, a highly aromatic flavor, are marketed annually as a culinary ingredient, exclusively for culinary preparers, with particularly low taxation. This is a path that needs to be revitalized. To do this, there is an acquisition of knowledge to be carried out on the microbial ecology of the manufacturing rum of great aroma. It is a complex and spontaneous ecosystem that we hardly know how to reproduce. The failure many attempts to reproduce it bear witness.

I think by culinary use they mean bulk highly flavored rums for larger scale food production like making tons of pâté or flavoring tobacco. Potability parallels Angostura bitters so they are looking for the same tax break. It is admitted that they hardly know how to produce these high ester / grand arôme rums which are likely concentrates such as Jamaica used to make.

The need to control the quality of this aromatic production, and to objectify the descriptors of products, led the professional rum groupings, from Guadeloupe and Martinique, to research and development. It is in response to the expression of this need that INRA has put in place research work. P. Dupuy, Director of Research at INRA, created a two-week mission to the Caribbean in March 1970, with the main aim of a scientific orientation to a future INRA laboratory, working for the rum industry. In his mission report, he proposed a research program for “a study on the fermentation of rum”. The purpose of this was agricultural rum and industrial rum. The proposed objectives were:
• «… better know the flora responsible for fermentation and in particular the role of bacteria».
• determine «the conditions that will increase yield and esters, and decrease higher alcohols and aldehydes».

As early as 1972, A. Parfait began work at the Research Unit in Product Technology Plants of the INRA Antilles-Guyana Center.

It looks like they are creating an agricultural experiment state just like Jamaica had and just like the work of Arroyo. They were probably not exactly reinventing the wheel but seeing it first hand for themselves so they could consult. Tons of work was available such as Studies on Rum, but faith in it had likely eroded. It was also pre internet and hard to assemble materials. No French person wanted to create a million dollar company relying on a pamphlet of Puerto Rican science from the 1940’s.

First Approach Work

These have been based on: esters which are deemed to be quality compounds of spirits, the problem of abnormal taste which existed on the products of the time, and the necessity of drawing up a state of art.

The composition of the traditional rums in volatile esters of higher fatty acids was the first published results (Parfait et al., 1972). Although the mixture of these compounds is not the complete characteristic aroma of rums, it participates in their qualities. The factors presented as distillation at a low rate of rectification, the addition of fermentation medium, the distillation of turbid musts and the use of selected strains of yeast.

I think the idea here was that if you targeted esters, you’d get the other stuff you wanted. Now, my hunch is that if you target rum oil, you’ll get all the esters you want when you consider how all the processes and consideration align. By turbid musts, I think they mean centrifuged and defecated cane juice such as Arroyo discussed and we can see in the comparisons of Martinique to Cape Verde.

The presence of acrolein derivatives in an abnormal flavor rum (Dubois et al., 1973) was the subject of which concluded that the observed bad taste was due to the presence of acrolein in fermented must. Parfait and Sabin (1975) gave an update on the main operating parameters of the technology ruminant, yeast flora, and the analytical composition of the main types of traditional rum that are: agricultural rum, industrial rum, grand arôme rum, and syrup rum. The authors concluded that «this traditional production of the French West Indies gives an important place to the art of the operator». These authors added that the determination of fermentation parameters (temperature, flora, distillation apparatus, complementation, etc.) did not guarantee obtaining a given product in conditions. So there was no control of the process.

I think this shows their complaint with the state of the industry they found. Distillers were too practical. They had no chemical or biological control so their products varied all over the place week to week. The acrolein idea is very important and I’m going to pursue it. It may plague some of the Jamaica rums or even be an unintended feature. It only becomes a flaw when we can attached regrets and miss opportunities to it.

In 1975, an international symposium on rums was organized by INRA and the Association for Promotion of Agricultural Industries was an opportunity to take stock of the skills available and the approaches developed in various parts of the globe in the area of ​​rum technology. These first established milestones identified that traditional rum-problems of non-quality, which went beyond the problem of abnormal products of the time. It was clear that there was a lack of apprehension of health problems, raw materials, dilution water, and industrial facilities. Beyond elements that regulate rum, it was necessary to identify health data, microbiological and fermentation processes, which would make it possible to produce bad taste and off-flavor, while leaving room for diversity.

The symposiums is very interesting and I did a ton with it such as discovering Olbrich. By health problems I think they primarily refer to pollution and not copper poisoning or anything like that.

Research paths were then developed gradually with a view to identifying means of control, the sources of non-quality of traditional rums and control of the regularity of production. They concerned:
• the microbiology of fermentation media, both for yeasts and bacteria, rum chemistry and metabolic pathways,
• the operating conditions to control the appearance of off-flavors.
• processes for the treatment and valorisation of effluents from rum- land,
• the chemistry of rums in connection with the microbiology of fermentations and the maturation of distillates.

Metabolic pathways and microbiology become very important here. These people weren’t just biologists or chemists, they were microbiologists. They could ask and answer questions that even Arroyo could not. Arroyo suspected S. Pombe produced more rum oil, but microbiologists could actually tell us how which could be tied to more specific actions on the part of the distiller. They could even look closely enough to tease out the nature of complex off aromas.

Control of non-quality

Raw materials, molasses and sugar cane juice are not sterile and fermentation are neither sterilized nor pasteurized. With dilution water, raw materials host a bacterial flora that develops during the fermentation for rum production. The work in bacteriology have shown that in rum technology there is a varied bacterial flora (Fahrasmane and Ganou-Parfait, 1998).

In the aromatic character of traditional rums, the bacterial flora plays a decisive role; their elimination leads to neutral products, this is the case in the production of light rums. Beyond of a certain threshold, bacteria can be detrimental to the quality of the products. Without searching to eliminate bacteria, it will be interesting to identify the conditions, mechanisms of onset for negative factors to rum, resulting from bacterial activity, in order to propose solutions for control.

Bacteriology of dilution water

For the composition of the musts, water is supplied. The volumes used represent between half and 4/5 of the production. It comes from rivers or groundwater. A study on the bacteriology of distillery production waters in Guadeloupe was carried out (Ganou-Parfait et al., 1991). The bacteria of dilution waters are anaerotolerant germs (106 cfu / ml): coliforms, fecal streptococci, Clostridium, sulfato-reducing bacteria (BSR) (103 c.f.u./ml). Their number increases with the rate of mineralization of these waters. The flora of the waters, particularly rivers, grows seriously in bad weather. Increasingly, distilleries are equipped as a water treatment plant; it is a necessity to manage the health risk from the dilution water, in particular with strongly water mineralized or in rainy weather. The health status of manufacturing waters has improved.

This reminds me when I covered Scotch, pond water, and floaties.

The volatile acidity of wines and rums.

Three main factors affect the nature and quantities of volatile acidity of rums (Fahrasmane et al., 1983):
• fermentation agents,
• the temperature of fermentation whose rise increases the volatile acidity,
• the degree of distillation.
The volatile acidity of fermented media and distillates is related to the activity of the yeast that occurs during alcoholic fermentation. The bacteria present in the media fermentation contribute to the volatile acidity pool; in particular during fermentation accidents, the volatile acidity of these media is increased. The slowing down of the fermentation rate, which may result in a cessation of fermentation (Ganou-Parfait et al., 1991).

The consumption rums usually have a volatile acidity which varies between 1 and 5 ml/l (ml/ l). This parameter doubles in aged products. In acidic rums, the volatile acidity varies between 10 and 20 (ml/l).

The level of volatile acidity and the proportions of its components appear as indicators the presence of bacteria and their activity during rum fermentation.

So when fermentation is temperature controlled to ideals, volatile acidity implies flavor and implies contribution of bacteria to aroma.

The bacteriology of musts.

Sugar cane juice, which is the raw material of agricultural distilleries, contains germs (Ganou-Parfait et al., 1991). Micrococcus, Corynebacterium, Bacillus are the most common assets. They come from soil, sugar cane stalks, air and installations. We find there also aerotolerant anaerobes, capable of using the lactate produced by Leuconostoc, Lactobacillus and anaerobic Clostridia. Lactic acid bacteria dominate.

In molasses, mainly lactic bacteria and sporulates (Bacillus) are found.

The populations of distillery musts are very varied. We find there:
• Micrococcus in sugar cane juice (Ganou-Parfait et al., 1988). These are bacteria of the soil, which is also found on sugar cane stalks, in distillery wort; they can be divided into three types. They are preferential: whereas anaerobiosis is not yet established, their populations reach 105 cf. / ml in musts. Their activity is detrimental to the quality products because they produce acrylic acid and allyl alcohol in rums based on cane juice.
• Bacillus in sugar cane juice musts (Ganou-Parfait et al., 1987). They come from canes attacked by rodents (rats), and dug by galleries by insects borers. The strains remain anaerobic. They produce volatile fatty acids from the lactate. They have the characteristic of forming sails at the surface of the tanks at the end of the alcoholic fermentation. These sails seem to protect open-pit tanks from the development of bacteria.
• Corynebacterium (Lencerot et al., 1984) and Clavibacter. They come from the sugar, especially when its health status deteriorates. These bacteria degrade glycerol, which produces secondary alcoholic fermentation by yeast, acrolein (2-propenal) and 2-propenol. These reactions give rums with a pungent taste.
• Clostridium which are anaerobic germs. The improvement of the sanitary quality of manufacture has made it possible to decrease the population of Clostridium telluric. Clostridia play an important role in the manufacture of rum great aroma, with in particular Clostridium saccharobutyricum. Sugar cane juice media frequently contain Clostridium butyricum and Clostridium bifermentans. In molasses based media, also some species of clostridia.
• Lactic bacteria, the number of which varies between 107 and 108 c.f.u./ml, at the beginning of fermentation, whether in musts based on cane juice or molasses. 80 to 90% of strains have anaerobic behavior. It contains homofermentary bacteria and heterofermentative. Their activity generates lactic acid and polysaccharides. Bacteria lactic acid constitute the bulk of the bacterial flora of molasses-based musts; while is more varied in those based on cane juice.

There is just so much in here. First we find that rat eaten canes pick up rodent bacteria that may be aroma beneficial. It is also an ancient European invasive species influence on the terroir. The protective nature of lactic bacteria also makes rum seem more like sour mash whiskey and we get more explanation of surface films and how they protect fermentations. Basically I’m going to get Boston wharf rats to eat cane and infect it with their bacteria for my New England rum.

An approach to the dynamics of the various bacterial species during the fermentation cycle it can be concluded that, in particular, sugar cane juice lactic preference of musts, before the alcoholic fermentation takes place (Ganou-Parfait et al., 1989). Work in progress aims to model this “co-culture”, in order to enhance it technologically. Indeed, the current practice is to acidify the musts at the beginning of fermentation by supply of sulfuric acid. By directing microbial ecology, it could be lactic acidification which would then allow alcoholic fermentation by yeast, in the usual pH range which protects the environment from the development of bacteria damaging.

Here I think they are proposing trading sulfuric acid which eventually became traditional for dropping pH for lactic acid which can better protect a ferment from bacteria without dropping the pH as low. Definitely need that paper.

Alcoholic fermentation of rum

The main unit operations carried out during the production of rum are the extraction, fermentation and distillation. There are losses at all these stages. Losses during the fermentation are the most important. Measurements of fermentation yield in fermentation (Fahrasmane, 1991).
The results are as follows:
– Yield Gay-Lussac 0.67 l AP / kg glucose,
– Pasteur yield 0.61 l AP / kg glucose,
– Optimal theoretical efficiency 0.59 l AP / kg glucose,
– Yield on molasses 0.52 l AP / kg glucose,
– Yield on cane juice 0.47 l AP / kg glucose,
– Yield on syrup 0.40 l AP / kg glucose.
In a beet molasses distillery, with a yeast per stock, the fermentation yield is of 0.58 l AP / kg glucose (from Miniac, 1988). While improved performance was not a priority, after the problems of non-quality had been resolved, the professionals improvements in performance. One of the pathways explored is the search for yeast strains selected, adapted to the fermentation of sugar cane products (Fahrasmane et al., 1986)

I think the measure meant there is liters of pure alcohol produced (AP) per kilo gram of sugars as glucose.

Schizosaccharomyces of rum distilleries have been isolated and collected in our Unit (Fahrasmane et al., 1988). Their taxonomic study showed that there were essentially Schizosaccharomyces pombe (90%), some S. malidevorans (8%), and S. japonicus (2%). A study on their use in rum technology was carried out (Ganou-Parfait and Parfait, 1980). This type of yeast may under certain technological conditions, have a productivity in alcoholic fermentation, equivalent to Saccharomyces cerevisiae. The aromatic profile of secondary compounds products is very different from that of Saccharomyces.

Schizosaccharomyces and the bacterial complex, rich in Clostridium, which accompanies it in the fermentation of the flavoring rum constitute for the moment an ecosystem, giving products singularly rich in aromatic properties. Producers know at best how to reproduce ecosystem without controlling it. There is knowledge to generate, in order to master it and better value.

I think what he means at the end of this passage, is that they know how to start the ferment but not exactly how to control it. In the days of the Jamaican experiment station, it wasn’t confidently even known how to start these ferments.

A collection of strains of Saccharomycetaceae of rum distilleries was constituted (Parfait and Sabin, 1975; Fahrasmane and Ganou-Parfait, 1998). From this collection, a study was undertaken in to select yeasts for the rum. This work culminated in 1997 in the selection, world, of the first commercial strain of rum distillery yeast: DANSTIL EDV 493 (Vidal and Parfait, 1994), a Saccharomyces cerevisiae marketed, in the form of active dry yeasts, by Lallemand. This selected yeast allows an improvement of the fermentation yields and of the productivity, by means of a seeding arrangement, in relation to the usual conditions cutting. One of its peculiarities is not to be as affected as the other strains of yeast, used as make-up yeast, at temperatures around 35 ° C which can be measured in the vats of rum distillery.

So it has heat tolerance and “killer yeast” characteristics that prevent the growth of wild yeasts.

The sugarcane stem is wrapped with a cuticular layer of wax. The wax is concentrated in the defecation sludge from the sugar. A fractionation of these sludge was undertaken. Steroids, including stigmasterol and sitosterol have been isolated. These have been added to media fermentation in order to study their action on the fermentation behavior of yeasts. when the addition of these steroids results in an increase in ethanol production, compared with a control medium without the addition of steroids. Bakery yeast already relatively rich in sterols is much less sensitive to the intake of steroids (Bourgeois and Fahrasmane, 1988).

I don’t completely understand what is happening here.

Secondary products of alcoholic fermentation

Glycerol is a by-product of alcoholic fermentation, frequently present in quantities, in the rum fermentation medium. It has the particularity of being consumed by bacteria (Fahrasmane and Ganou-Parfait, 1998) (Micrococcus, Bacillus, Lactobacillus, Leuconostoc, Clostridium) by producing compounds related to the bad tastes of rums: acrolein, propenol 2 and sometimes acrylic acid. These compounds are indicators of disorders bacteria, which must be remedied, for example in molasses-based production, avoiding fermenting conditions which are favorable to the formation of glycerol (18), and by working in sanitary conditions which inhibit the action of an overabundant contaminating bacterial flora.

At the end of a thesis work on «the formation of short fatty acids and higher alcohols by of yeasts of a rum distillery», Parfait and Jouret (1980) showed that the choice of the species and of the strain of yeast is crucial in the quantitative and qualitative control of the production of short fatty acids and higher alcohols. It appears that in the cane juice medium there is formation of propionic acid; the composition of organic acids (citric, aconitic and malic) of the juice appears production. It is necessary to put this result in conjunction with the singular wealth of traditional rums to propionic acid in particular, and more generally to short fatty acids.

From a methodological point of view, we have been interested in ethyl 2-methyl-butyric acid, identified by some authors as a characteristic of rums (Fahrasmane et al., 1985). This work showed that it is more the quantities of this acid of bacterial origin which are singular, because in the end it is found in other stuff as well.

Some translation errors obscure the specific significance here. I’ll have to track down those papers. A lot of this considers what specific fatty acids and esters most characterize rums.

Rum Chemistry

The work carried out in chemistry of rums, beyond the esters, involved chemical compounds or chemical families that are major in non-alcohol (higher alcohols), or that are sensitive in terms of product quality.

Rum contains a greater variety and greater amounts of organo-sulfur compounds than other spirits (Fahrasmane et al., 1989). According to Leppanen et al. (1979), rum is the only spirits containing dimethyl sulphide. The activity of sulfate-reducing bacteria in the media fermentation would be partly at the origin of all these compounds. The composition of sulfur-containing elements in sugar cane and the addition of ammonium sulphate and sulfuric acid, would provide a substrate for sulfate-reducing bacteria in musts.

I definitely need this paper because I’ve heard anecdotal stories about cane high in sulfur that I’ve never been able to make sense of.

Downstream of the distillery, the methanisation of effluents poses the problem of a precarious balance between methanogenic and sulfato reducing flora. The organo-sulfur fraction of rums deserves a thorough and systematic study, because it has an analytical and organoleptic interest for the characterization of rums.

The dosage of formic acid in aged or non-aged rums shows that the level of formic acid in of traditional rums is within the range of figures found for other spirits. Also, the intervention of bacteria leads to a significant increase in the level of formic acid in rums (Jouret et al., 1990a). This acid is quantitatively more important in molasses rums than in those based on sugar cane juice.

Some alkylpyrazines of rums appear to be able to differentiate molasses based white rums from those of cane juice. Indeed, 2 methyl pyrazine, 2 – 5 methyl pyrazine and 2 – 6 dimethyl pyrazine are absent from agricultural rums, although they are clearly present in those based on molasses (Jouret et al., 1990b).

Ethyl carbamate or urethane is a molecule known to be carcinogenic that can be found in rums. The North American market has adopted an upper limit for the presence of this compound in the rums, which is 125 μg / l. This substance may originate from fermentation, particularly in urea-containing media, which is not the case for distillery media, but it can also be formed by purely chemical reaction during and after distillation.

Rums have never been known to be particularly rich in ethyl carbamate. Its presence, beyond the defined threshold, is a concern for producers who want to export, in particular, to North America; some rums are exempt but others are not, can now have explanation. The quantities measured are up to 2,500 μg / l. There is therefore knowledge to be generated on the determinism of the appearance of ethyl carbamate.

I don’t think I’ve ever posted on ethyl carbamate though I’ve read quite a few papers. My theory is that it is a chemical trade barrier. It might technically be toxic, but because the enforcement is so selective it can effectively become a trade barrier. U.S. compliance is voluntary which shows just how toxic it is. Ethyl carbamate is produced by exotic copper reactions and is reduced by using stills that are combinations of copper and stainless to reduce the reactions. Substrate is also a factor and I’m under the impression that the Scots bread new generations of malt to reduce ethyl carbamate. Even post bottling it can form from UV reactions and it increases in fruit eau-de-vies that have sat on a store shelf.

The raw material sugar cane

The production of traditional rums combines the production of ethanol with the production of ethanol aromatic or non alcoholic compounds, during the fermentation. This production depends on the suitability of the must, and therefore of the raw material, to meet the needs of the yeast and the co-fermentation agents are the bacteria. We are interested in sugar cane as a plant resource, (Célestine-Myrtil-Marlin and Ouensanga, 1988), its contents, and that of molasses (Célestine-Myrtil-Marlin and Parfait, 1988) into organic acids. Measures have also been of the age of sugar cane (Célestine-Myrtil-Marlin, 1990). The organic acids act on the metabolic behavior of yeast, during fermentation (Fahrasmane et al., 1985).

Work has begun on methods of processing sugarcane associated with a method of sugars (Célestine-Myrtil-Marlin and Parfait, 1987). We needed precise and reliable methods for measuring sugars and monitoring their evolution during bio transformations (Célestine-Myrtil-Marlin, 1991).

Their involvement has deepened so much that they’ve worked backwards into investigating and developing more suitable substrates. Arroyo never got that far.

Treatment and recovery of effluents

The distillation of fermented rum media produces discharges, waste water, vinasse, which contains a polluting charge. Programs in our Unit have contributed to the characterization of the vinasses and propose processes of depollution and valorisation, by digestion to form methane.

The pollution flows generated by the distillation of cane molasses alcohol are particularly high: 950 to 1900 kg DCO / m³ of pure alcohol (A.P.) produced, i.e. a polluting load of 13 to 26,000 equivalent per day / m³ A.P. product. The distillation of agricultural rum represents pollution is six times lower: 250 kg / COD / m³ A.P., i.e. 3000 equivalent inhabitants day / m³ A.P. product (Bories et al., 1994). Where the organic load of waste water from the agro-food industries, such as distillery, is discharged without precaution into the natural environment, it causes different forms of disadvantages, the most characteristic being water pollution and odor pollution accompanied by the nuisances they induce.

Various channels have been proposed for the elimination or treatment of vinasses: evaporation incineration, irrigation, anaerobic lagooning, microbial biomass production, digestion anaerobic digestion or methane digestion. The latter is a natural biological process consuming and reducing organic pollution. Its application in sewage treatment plants, effluents and at the same time the production of combustible biogas.

In Guadeloupe, in a major distillery, the molasses vinasse is digested anaerobic, according to a process sized by an INRA study. This process makes it possible to under normal operating conditions:
• decontamination with 60% of DCO eliminated,
• energy production: biogas representing 60% of the energy needs of the distillery (Bories et al., 1988).

Pilot trials result in more than 95% removal of DCO from juice
of cane by anaerobic digestion (Bories et al., 1994). The biogas produced is of very limited interest for the agricultural distillery, as it has bagasse as fuel.

Arroyo never really got into effluence disposal but it was the main subject of the rum pilot plant. What is interesting is that its less useful for agricole distilleries because they already have tons of bagasse to use for fuel. Distilleries have gone to more extensive efforts to be green than you’d think without consumers even noticing.


Two symposia on the traditional rums of the French Overseas Departments were held, in 1994 and 1996 respectively in Guadeloupe and Réunion. They were an opportunity for meetings between professionals, technical institutes, administrations, institutes of research. These events resulted in the publication of Acts which provided an update on the problems and questions of the production of traditional rums.

I was not aware of these. Will have to track down any special papers.

The work carried out on the manufacture of traditional rums, over the last thirty years, knowledge and understanding of bacterial flora and its products, the mechanisms of quality in these products, and to suggest ways of remedying them. The products of bad qualities are now much less frequent than thirty years ago. The medals won by the distillers of the French West Indies, to the agricultural competitions are more and more numerous.

When it is noted that problems are less frequent, it makes me wonder if we are seeing flaws marketed as features coming back to the market such as with natural wines. New producers (and bottlers) are coming online that are wading into this ambitious grand arôme territory and are not technically versed enough to see what should be regrets and missed opportunities. We do not understand enough of beauty and sauvity or what is possible to make all the connections. I’ve tasted a number of acrid spirits that are raising flags in my mind (not from the French!).

Work on yeast strains collected in rum distilleries has made it possible to select a strain which constitutes a tool to contribute to the conduct of the fermentation. There are fewer knowledge on the functioning and bacterial dynamics of distillery ecosystems, marked by a great biodiversity. There is phylogenetic proximity between the lactic bacteria of fermentations and corynebacteria, some of which are sugar cane pathogens.

I don’t completely understand the bacteria being described here and I think it might just be microbiologists nerding out and pushing the boundaries of what can be investigated.

On the raw material, there is the need to define a technical itinerary of agricultural production and post-harvest treatment, suitable for processing by rum, taking into consideration other organic acids, aroma precursors, markers, tracers, etc. cane juice, sterile, stabilized by tangential microfiltration, which we have developed, we have a study environment of behavior, in pure culture, of microbial agents.

Things get really interesting here and I just know rules of thumb for dealing with fresh cane and haven’t actually read anything too aroma centric. Cane degrades rapidly and the recoverable sugars changes, but if your objective isn’t sucrose recovery, what can be said specifically about aroma? Filtration or centrifuging becomes significant here, either for logistics of large productions or for optimizing aromas. “Undefecated” fresh sugar cane juice rums are very different as noted by Arroyo, but I’ve never read exactly from a microbiologist.

Most of the work was carried out on a laboratory scale. Consideration of the matter and co-cultures requires the addition of a pilot-scale device to the laboratory scale, and also to carry out operations on industrial sites.

We have not developed any distillation activities. This manufacturing step is also significant to the development of product quality.

The maturation of rums is a stage on which we have for the moment only done preliminary exploration, through the use of woodlands and red woods of Guyana.

Very exciting! Tropical cooperage!

The singular aromatic character of traditional rums has received little attention. It has the advantage to be outside the field of alcoholism. There is potential for innovation to formulate products of the rum distillery, responding in a targeted way to these aromatic uses.

Treatment and recovery of effluents benefit from the results obtained, both on effluents from molasses than on sugar cane juice effluents. On the former, there are treatments of upstream or secondary of different types to be studied or to be dimensioned: plowing, spreading, lagooning …

The traditional rum model is relatively complex, because it involves:
• treatment of raw materials: molasses and cane juice (biochemistry, physiology …),
• complex bioconversions: alcoholic fermentation, bacterial co fermentation, methane fermentation of downstream effluents,
• unit operations in process engineering: grinding, extraction, distillation ….
• maturation treatments of distillates, varying in length, to develop various qualities of products.

The different tools and itineraries mastered and the achievements of the research and development in the sector cane-sugar-rum can find applications in the agro-processing of tropical plant resources.

In summary, the work will benefit many, even beyond rum!


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Miniac (de) M., 1988. Conduite des ateliers de fermentation alcoolique de produits sucriers (mélasses et égouts). Industries alimentaires et Agricoles 105, 675-688.

Parfait A., Namory M., Dubois P., 1972. Les esters éthyliques des acides gras supérieurs des rhums. Annales de Technologie Agricoles 21, 2, 199–210.

Parfait A., Sabin G., 1975. Les fermentations traditionnelles de mélasse et de jus de canne aux Antilles françaises. Industries alimentaires et Agricoles 92, 27–34.

Parfait A., Jouret C., 1980. Le glycérol dans la fermentation alcoolique des mélasses et des jus de canne à sucre. Industries alimentaires et Agricoles 97, 721-724.

Vidal F., Parfait A., 1994. Introduction d’une levure à aptitude rhumière en fermentation de dérivés de la canne à sucre. BIOS Boissons 249, 21–26.

Specific Gravity and You

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After my last “high flying” post on why American whiskey is so problematic, I thought I’d bring things back to earth and teach some foundational concepts. This lesson was part of my consultancy, but my time is a little pressed so I’m not exactly out marketing it anymore. What is specific gravity and how far can we stretch measuring techniques to harness it?

I’ve long preached to distilleries that they should make a bunch of very small scale secondary products. Most all these business school types turned distillers think it is a terrible idea. It will dilute their core product, not strengthen it like I propose. It will confuse their sales efforts. It will confuse their investors. What no one seems to admit is that they have near no clue what the hell they are doing on a technical level and they need to practice on stuff. They also need to enrich their retail businesses plus benefit from new products having PR synergies with their core products (this last point is more powerful than anyone realizes). Many operations also need new retail scale products to help them retain top talent. I do not work in a distillery because no one has figured out how to properly pay me.

Before we get into it, a whole category of products simply does not exist (in practice) because firstly there are no dreams and secondly most new distillers have not figured out how to accurately vat complex multi component blends. I’ve seen distillers so frustrated by proofing that they bought bench top Anton Paar densitometers for startling money while their labs had near no other analysis equipment. Most new liqueurs are nothing but mono, no doubt both because of a lack of dreams and technique. Our understanding of vatting has not advanced an inch despite 10,000 bitters producers working in the territory. Whats up with that?

Specific gravity is the density of a substance compared to another which in most all cases is luckily just water. It doesn’t have to be water, but another reference might only be used in petro chemical industries and may be a yesteryear concept now that analysis procedures are different.

Specific gravity is basically density which is mass/volume. g/L

If you know the density, the mass can tell you the volume and vice versa. Distilleries typically use this with quite large scales weighing entire barrels to gauge them. This also becomes conversely very useful on the small scale or anywhere in between when the containers become tricky. There are techniques to measure the density of mere drops of essential oils.

A hydrometer is the distiller’s go to specific gravity tool, but it is often the least appropriate option. Cheap, fast and good, pick two. Hydrometers are cheap and you can own a ton for a fraction of the price of great scales. You can stick one in a fermenter and get a quick reading without making a mess of glassware. You can stick a hydrometer in a still parrot and get inline continuous measurements that can become actionable such as starting or stopping a run. Hydrometers typically, however, will never give a lot of significant digits.

Refractometers are a tool we should quickly get out of the way. They convert refractive index measures to either density or related measures. They are not exactly cheap, but they are fast and can work in challenging circumstances. They can also take a single drop and give you actionable advice such as when to harvest a crop. They do not provide many significant digits. I have low and high brix scale refractometers, but I use them far less than I used to. You cannot use them on alcoholic solutions.

The fine coffee scene has been loving digital refractometers lately, but it may not be their best option. Or actually it may, because of how companies like VST have made the advice so actionable (they even have an app!) Refractometers for coffee require filtration because particles obscure and haze the reading. Coffee is typically sucked through a syringe filter before it is put on the refractometer. Another method very useful to the distiller may actually serve the coffee scene well but so far it is not widely explored and we’ll get to that (I actually have a rare 1970’s text called The Coffee Hydrometer that I’ve been meaning to digitize).

The most accurate tool a distiller can use probably isn’t legal with the gaugers and that is why it is not practiced for tax work like proofing. The revenuers have long endorsed certified hydrometers and certified thermometers, but they are not exactly the most accurate.

The most accurate way to measure density may be with the specific gravity bottle (pycnometer) and a very good scale (and thermometer!) which is what many spirits researchers used in the old school. The bottles come in various sizes and are designed to hold very precise round number measurements (at 20°C). The bottle is filled to its neck and a special stopper forces excess liquid up a tube so at the top of a narrow aperture it hits 1.000 liters or some such number with confidence. Cheaper brands I’ve bought were never accurate (or my temp was wack?), but you can still calibrate them yourself though next time I’m going to spend money for quality. When your volume measure has significant digits your density measure is only limited by the quality of your scale. My favorite scale vendor is Old Will Knott. I’m glossing over temperature, but modern sous-vide immersion circulators make it much easier to control for. If you need all the significant digits, a liquid can be held at constant temp before it is put in the pycnometer and weighed.

I have done a ton with scales. Remember, I developed the idea that you can weigh carbonation for sparkling beverage production with a kitchen scale.

We can walk all those pycnometer concepts down into practicality. An outstanding distillery tool is the 5 mL automatic pipettor (5000µl). They are about $70 and can be paired with a $100 jewelers scale to get many significant digits. Their repeatability is excellent and can be tested. A portion of liquid can be put on a scale and the pipette tip primed then liquid zeroed (youtube is full of technique). A 5 mL amount can be removed twice to prove repeatability and get the measurement into base ten (10 mL) so density is easy to calculate.

Density should be recorded constantly in competitor analysis scenarios. Basically everything that comes through the shop. With the printed alcohol content, sugar content of liqueurs can be extrapolated or the slighter measure of obscuration investigated. This is important for vintage spirits where you want to get an idea of either sugar content or obscuration, but you don’t want to destroy a large sample. With a density measure and then a 5 mL sacrifice to dehydration lots of vintage spirits can be investigated for alcohol content in their current state and obscuration in their pre-ullage original state (Weigh the bottle before you open, weigh it again after you drink and empty it. Coupled with the specific gravity, you’ll know its volume in its present state and not mess with your good drinking. Never put that stuff in a graduated cylinder). So much vintage booze is being consumed where we would all benefit from rudimentary 5 mL sacrifice analysis projects.

The pipettor process will likely work for coffee quite well with no filtration. The 5mL pipettor can also be used to fill tasting room glasses for nosing and gratis scale samples. The pipettor with its digital scale can also be used to rapidly assemble different generation of vatted products in 100 mL or less batches. Precision at 100 mL means you can quickly assemble ten prospective generations of a recipe for assessment progressing a single variable at a time. You are left with no reason to not see ideas fully elaborated. I also create sketches, but more on that some other time.

The most profitable idea I’ll share is the rule of 1.587 which is the density of sucrose (or 1.59 if you don’t need that many significant digits). The density of sucrose can reveal how much volume a mass of it takes up and thus reveal other measures we need to hit certain targets.

If we are making an Amaro that we know we want to have 280 g/L of sugar and 24% alcohol, what do the parts look like? What volume will the sugar take up? 280 / 1.587 = 176.43 mL. So the sugar free rest of it has a volume of 823.57 mL. Now how much alcohol does that start with if it is going to be diluted by sugar to 24.00% on the revenuers nose.
(823.57 * X) + (176.43 * 0) = 1000 * 24.00.
(823.57 * X) = 24,000
X = 29.14

That 823.57 mL is going to be a vatted collection of individual concentrated components. As they take shape, they can be shifted, subdivided, even combined. Certain components may bring a sugar content that needs to be deducted from the 280 such as a fruit juice. Pretty soon you’ll have a spread sheet.

Some components may exist in such small quantities that a hydrometer just isn’t going to work, but you still should know the specific gravity of everything so the SG bottle or pipettor must be used.

Now you have to scale it up. Sometimes this is to roughly five gallons (tasting room) and maybe to 500 or so gallons (wholesale). You should have a plan for the order of operations in which you combine components that harnesses all your available scales to quickly get you to a target with confidence. Proprietary narrow range hydrometers could be used to quickly check your work (and check off sheets made in case the phone rings and you walk away, but SG knows all). Eventually a final check has to be made and a plan for correction. The final point of concern is percent alcohol to satisfy the revenuer so either water has to be added or concentrated ethanol. The added sugar should be very easy to hit accurately so the error is most likely with the alcoholic quotients. Any addition to average up or down the alcohol content will have to preserve the sugar content so sugar might need to be added to your bump.

These operations should be practiced at different scales and employees should be given sample puzzles to solve before they risk expensive ingredients. This is basically the premise of my distillers workbook exercises.

Elaborating a vatting procedure can keep you safely away from all in the pot cooking and push you firmly into the progressive process. Fragmentation of the product is literacy in the product. Ideas can move towards deeper involvement.

The amaro challenge can push beyond mere assembly for a distiller and into wielding special effects to create sensory differentials and tone refinement to push expressions from ordinary to extraordinary. Every distillery should have an Amaro and it should be a measure of their relationship with beauty and capacity for abstraction.

None of this is too complicated, but none was spelled out in educational books for distillers. Modern texts only teach the maintenance and continuation of large scale products, not the origination of small scale products. I have used this all to develop two notable products on the market that have done more than $300k per year in wholesale revenue. One is more than ten components while the other is merely three, but extrapolated all the way from a single cocktail to a nearly 250 gallon batch. I’ve developed countless others that exist only as one-offs or as proof of concepts in the event extraordinary source materials become available.

Good luck!

As far as data tables goes, for the specific gravity of sugar solutions, the data table I’ve used the most is C440. For ethanol solutions, it comes from a text because most do not have the full range at the lower ethanol contents which becomes important to certain types of work. Your vatted projects may never require charts, but you will definitely need them for competitor and role model analysis when you want to become hip to the common structures liqueurs and amaros take. If you use a great resource, please share it up.

Who is Dante and Who is Virgil and the Value Proposition of Bourbon

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This really took a left turn as I worked on it and crammed in some other concerns I’ve been having. Its been dawning on me that the spirits industry has a tenuous relationship with beauty. When Arroyo used complex pH buffering on a rum wash, he was making his spirit more suave. When Bourbon producers adopted similar methods they were making a spirit that would merely mature faster to squeeze out value.

What path do you take when you’re a new distiller? And how can we mature the new scene so it compares to the better aspects of fine wine production culture? I think we need to put beauty at the center of things and build science around it. Things should flip so beauty is distiller driven and not merely reliant on drinkers.

The drinker with most distillers. Who is Dante and Who is Virgil is not what you’d think.

In my last few posts on American whiskey I described the reign of a generation of practical distillers who built their whiskeys like a brick house so the next generation of scientific distillers and their financiers would have a strong value proposition for buying them out. This was all supported by tax structure, production processes, and the fact that barely any producers even drank the stuff. We are certainly in a new era (that I’ve even named guided traditional processes), but the investigation did deflate a lot of my romanticism for American whiskey times of yore. I didn’t find a lot of concern for beauty.

Beauty is the composite of extraordinary sensoriality and exemplary human behavior. –Leonard Koren

Today I present two papers that support the value proposition theory and shed details on the stripping of Bourbon. Don’t let me seem too pessimistic, a lot of this could be improvement. Whiskeys of the practical era were not built to be their progressive best, instead they were practical. The passing of the torch saw a lot of improvement and we can only start to ask specific questions on what lines they crossed and where.

I don’t explain, I explore. -Marshal McLuhan.

The first paper is Whiskey Losses During Aging (1942) by the Seagram’s team of Milton Gallagher, Paul Kolachov, and Herman Willkie.

The second paper is Whiskey Aging: Effect of Barreling Proof on the Aging of American Whiskeys (1959) by the Hiram Walker team of C.S. Boruff and L.A. Rittschof. Remember, this is from many years later, but C.S. Boruff was the condescending scientist with horrible disdain for the practical distillers.

The beginning of the Seagram’s team paper even starts with the claimed savings of $750,000 over three years. Their main methodology of capturing the savings was to reduce the angel’s share and gravitational leakage. They did this by control for temperature in the warehouses and dropped it fairly significantly. They also controlled for humidity. Finally, what seems practical, but was overlooked in the old school by their claims, they increased scrutiny of barrel quality and were better about checking for leaks.

I just reread their paper and it is really enjoyable. Anything Willkie and Kolachov touched has been really good. When I’m down on American whiskey they inadvertently build it back up. They describe how foolhardy and extravagant it is to store your whiskey in such poor containers, yet we do. The excess and inefficiency of whiskey makes it basically art and probably most like a poem when you consider the similarities roundabout processes. It is a unique type of art, because its our art, that of the drinker. We are its patrons and it was commissioned by us. Who some think are the artists, are not. They are reluctant, often do not touch the stuff themselves and have a disdain for the poetic flourishes we want.

The paper moves on to describe the Carlisle Tables from the “80’s and 90’s”. These are tables of allowances for soakage and evaporative losses, but they are described as inaccurate and in need of updating. The system as it was made them pay taxes on nonexistent whiskey because the losses experienced were actually higher than what was provided for in the tables.

Therefore, the distilling industry must make the best of a bad situation. Every opportunity must be taken advantage of to reduce whisky losses during the warehousing period.

Flavor be damned! I myself am an artisan and I get commissions I often don’t agree with. I kick and scream as I execute them. My work (please share) is nothing profound. Recently a self designing home owner, the artist, gave me an 1890’s Corbin door set to strip and polish. Well, I’m in the Wabi Sabi camp. The century plus old patina was stunning. This artist and I were aesthetically opposed. The symbolism of impermanence plus the extraordinary sensoriality of patina are something more profound than the puritanical morality of ordinary polished brass (me versus them). They got charged ambitiously for violating all my life principles, just like y’all get charged ambitiously by whiskey makers that have a disdain for your wasteful decadent aesthetic.

We poets make Homeric offerings to our angels and let the oak also take a drink and they just don’t get it. The IRS has to step in to protect our speech from being squashed. All the sudden, we have new producers that actually like making whiskey and there is no kicking and screaming, and to be honest, for some reason, I’m just not into it. If you’re an artist that wants a stronger more straight forward bond with your artisan, drink rum (I actually say that idly, just to tease you).

The Seagram’s paper is great and even shows a little data on different tiers of whiskey stacked six high. Their modernization started in 1939.

The temperature of 55°F. was arrived at from two considerations. One was the fact that men in the warehouses do not work effectively or with any degree of comfort if the room temperature is much below 55°F. Another consideration was the possible decrease in the aging rate at the low temperature. The effect of temperature on rate of aging has always been the subject of discussion in the distilling industry. It seems logical to believe that aging proceeds faster at somewhat higher temperatures. Yet no controlled experiment has yielded conclusive data.

What is cool here is that even as man tries to dominate the terroir of whiskey storage with refrigeration, it cannot escape human terms. The crew must be literal blue collar comfortable. The industry hides this kind of detail from us, because they know that we as patron’s of the arts wouldn’t be happy. I’m glossing over some details. They actually let it get warmer than 55°F in the summer months. They do however go on to describe a 2500 barrel experiment in progress where the whiskey is kept at year round temperature of 50°F.

The impact of humidity worked very different from what I would have thought. Changes in humidity do not effect evaporation so much as tightness of the barrel joints. High humidity being not so terrible, but hard to maintain so it stresses the joints and creates leakage that way. High humidity was also tied to mold growth and sanitary conditions which probably has a bigger impact on the workers than it does on the whiskey.

A communication with the U.S. Forest Products Laboratory is acknowledged which is the government organization where I obtained the paper on Whiskey Aged in Plywood Barrels. This also brings us back to Public Foundation for Private Spirits Companies.

The care which barreled goods receive during warehousing was intensified. The practice in the distilling industry is to inspect every barrel of whisky periodically throughout the storage period. This inspection period was shortened so that each barrel is inspected every ten calendar days. Inspectors on these ten-day cycles repair minor leaks, patch cracked staves, and generally perform preventive maintenance. In cases where the leak is too large to repair in passing or a head is badly buckled or a cracked stave shows probability of leaking, these barrels are removed from the racks and the defective parts are replaced with sound staves or heads. In addition, newly filled barrels are inspected for leaks daily until they have been stored for two months. From then on they are cared for in the ten-day inspection cycle.

This could be looked upon as more Puritanical neuroticism, but it is hard to argue with. This type of spillage is not an offering. A buckled barrel is not a happy barrel. This also makes me wonder what new distilleries are doing. They obviously encounter these same challenges, but do they have any minor coopering skills?

To get an idea of the monetary saving represented by this decrease in excess loss, a calculation was made to show what the excess taxes should have been if the rate of excess loss had remained at 0.70 proof gallon per barrel. During this three year period 729,536 barrels were tax paid. If these had each been 0.70 proof gallon excessive, the quantity of nonexistent whisky subject to tax would have been 510,675 proof gallons. Over this period the rate of tax varied from $2.25 to $4.00 per proof gallon. Thus, the tax collected on nonexistent whisky would have been $1,425,256. From actual figures during this period the excess loss was only 272,917 proof gallons. Figured at the same rate of tax, this quantity of loss was taxed $725,328. Thus the saving of excess tax was $699,928. In addition, the actual whisky saved was 237,757 proof gallons. Figured conservatively at $0.30 per proof gallon, this saving was worth $71,327. Thus, it can be said that the value of the change amounted to $771,255, roughly three quarters of a million dollars, over the past three years.

The value proposition now has numbers and they’re big. You tell this to your finance guys and it all the sudden makes sense to buy up a bunch more distilleries and squeeze them. What did we gain and what did we lose?

The next paper is from 1959, but represents work that started eight years prior. It immediately raises some I don’t know how I feel about this.

Three whiskey distillates were barreled for aging at 1 10 (control) and distillation proof. Experimental barreling proofs were 118, 127, and 154. During 8-year aging in new charred oak barrels the percentage losses of whiskeys barreled at proofs above 110 were slightly lower than the controls; the tendency was not statistically significant because of the relatively small number of experimental barrels. Chemical characteristics developed during aging of whiskeys barreled at 118 and 127 proofs fell within normal limits, but at 154 proof were lower than normal. Flavor after aging 8 years was normal in the whiskey barreled at 118 proof, slightly less mature at 127 proof and different at 154 proof because of a spicy green oak taste. An industry-wide experiment is now under way.

Uh, industry-wide? I cannot opt out? I have to wait for Wild Turkey to start up to find an artisan I trust to commission my whiskey art? Are any of you even familiar with Tom Marioni’s The Act of Drinking Beer With Friends Is The Highest Form of Art. There is a rigorous conceptual foundation for all of my beauty and who is the artist arguments. I actually called up Tom on the phone many years ago to talk about conceptual art and cocktails. Many renowned painters and sculptors use studio assistants who end up doing a lot of the actual painting and the sculpting.

Liquor turns out to be no different. I drink both heavily and very discriminately thus commissioning a lot of works. These Bostonapothecary writings also pull a lot of puppet strings and so many distillers reading these writings inadvertently become my studio assistants. If we stretch it conceptually, so many are underneath my benevolent educational wing (muhahaha). I’m even going to commission more works when I teach a new skill set coming up that I’ve been holding out on people.

The grasping point here is that I’m both empowering you and liberating you. Drink consciously and become the artist. It is open to anyone. And watch your studio assistants. They can be a bunch of penny pinching dorks. They have no vision, they need the artist. If left to their own devices they come up with marshmallow vodka and cherry bourbon.

Well, back to the second paper, this C.S. Boruff, I just don’t trust the guy. He would sell you that stretched cocaine at the regular price. Don’t bring him into my studio. Read it for yourself to see what I’m talking about. Look what happened to the Hiram Walker liqueurs before the cocktail renaissance and still largely now. All the artists were gone. With no drinker driven vision to keep them honest, the Hiram team was left to their own devices and of course they ran it into the ground. When I keep saying guided traditional processes, who is Virgil?

Grow Roots and use Positive Nationalism to Displace False Populism

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I’ve been working on a piece that explores the idea of positive nationalism as opposed to the more common negative form and I aspire to illustrate how the culinary arts plus hospitality industry are the places to find it. A problem is the topic is a little too big for me and probably needs to be broken up (so here we go!). As usual this is a continuation of my study of the Canadian philosopher economist, John Ralston Saul. All quotations are from the last chapters of JRS’ The Collapse of Globalism.

The roots we need to grow for values the majority of Americans hold, such as inclusion, are found in positive nationalism, a new form of nationalism unlike the old Westphalian model. This also segways right into a strategy of displacing the toxic white supremacist narrative creeping up.

It is hard for any society that slips into a vacuum to admit that it is no longer advancing in any particular direction. This is particularly difficult for those individuals who hold power. Their vocabulary, their image of themselves, even their skills have all been honed to fit the certainty of a direction that no longer prevails.

It is not apparent to everyone, but we are fumbling through a vacuum that is bringing us back to nationalism and we have the choice of embracing intentional complexity and doing something positive or gravitating towards ideology, dangerous oversimplification, relentless scapegoating, and negativity.

We are here because globalism (not internationalism) has collapsed and the promises of completely free markets leading to prosperity never panned out. What we got was a lot of averaging down, a lot of wealth evaporation, and a dissolving of the public good. Corporatism and all those capitalist ills went global.

Multinationals have become so large they can damage whole large nations. The tax base that supports the public good has eroded detrimentally. Citizens have not been able to come together to solve our collective problems like climate change, the housing crisis, or our massive education gaps/debts, etc.

What only states and state alone are able to do is aggregate and purposefully deploy legitimate power.

Taxes cannot be raised on a multinational unless citizens come together as a nation to assert their legitimacy and even then it is tricky. With simple corporatism, a state cannot raises taxes because the auto industry will jump states, leave Detroit and end up in the America south (less China than you’d think). Amazon is currently playing every state against each other in a race to the bottom for its new headquarters.

This escalates and the federal government cannot even raise taxes because corporations just go multi national and jump the border for Ireland. It is not the easiest thing to see, but this cheapens your citizenship and your ability to solve problems alongside your fellow citizens. We are constantly divided and tricked into succumbing to inevitability instead of collectively forming as a nation to solve our common problems.

The economics of globalism get weird and we see multinationals doing things like trading with themselves to shift profits away from tax burden. This clear path of least resistance gets covered up with relentless negative nationalist scapegoating. Globalist trade is not the trade we learn in undergrad econ and is the reason increasing trade has not increased prosperity. Again, only the nation, respecting and colluding with other firm nations can deploy the legitimate power to reign in this colossal tax flight and theft of the public good.

The question is not what to do about global economic integration. It is how to ensure that this new nationalist era is citizen based, focused on the national common good and on developing binding treaties in a range of areas at the international level.

Reasserting the nation with a positive framework is tricky. Many people with wonderful common American values and common decency don’t have a matching economic understanding. They think the nationalism option is abandoning international trade and agreements in knee jerk reaction, but that isn’t the only option. It will be complex and gradual, but regulations can be adopted to rebuild the tax base and our commitment to the public good. A lot of this will be done through anti-trust and the need for it is starting to become more popular to Americans across the board.

When so much inarticulate concentrated economic anxiety makes its way through the American prism with all its baggage, much scatters as hate and we can only scapegoat in response. I optimistically believe a lot of that can change if we give people another option and displace the negative voices. This won’t be easy.

When young Americans are trying to figure out how they lost so much ground and why they will not have what their parents have, their options are complexity or scapegoating. It becomes no wonder why we have an uphill battle. Economic narratives like above can cut through the conspiracies, but we must admit that some of our recent leaders (BO,HC) were/are not suited for this vacuum (others are very clearly not).

A challenge to creating a new positive nationalism is that while many people weren’t looking, the American flag (usually twin flags), on the back of a pickup truck has been claimed by the negative nationalists and turned into a hate symbol. This is where the displacement comes in. Those who value inclusion and multi culturalism need to start waving the flag, en masse, to smother or displace the hate and give those simply gravitating towards nationalism a visible positive option. The American flag will always be a symbol of nationalism, we must fill it with inclusion and optimism.

The recent Boston free speech protest/counter protest featured possibly 50 white supremacists to 30,000 peace loving, liberal, inclusive counter protesters. Believe it or not, the white supremacists had more American flags than the counter protesters. I spoke to quite a few educated looking people who seemed as oblivious to economics as we assume white supremacists are. Even though their numbers were awe inspiring, the counter protesters were content to merely play word games with the other side and not grow deeper roots that can explain the economic anxiety leading to the new hate. (This is not completely true because the Democratic Socialists were there and the only people organized enough to have a PA system and give speeches. I do not completely fit in with them, but their message is ready to get updated and rapidly evolve to society’s needs/challenges).

Many people may want to have an international side to their lives, but they want to live in their communities. Or rather they do live in their communities. They want their civilization to reflect and build upon this reality. They don’t want this reality to be treated as recalcitrance or an accident. They have just lived through a period in which their elites have been obsessed with abstract theories of how economics must work at the global level. As a result it was deduced that citizens were first subjects of these theories and must do their best to fit in. There was an incapacity among our policy-creating leadership to begin their thinking with the real lives of their real citizens. When they’ve been faced by popular resistance, their tendency has been to wait it out or offer bagatelles, distractions.

I’ve been sporting an American flag on my motorcycle recently and I get some confusion from friends. They don’t know what it means any more. Is it hate of non citizens and the last refuge of a scoundrel? Or is symbolic of my understanding of how we are going to recover from globalism and rebuild the public good? If we had 30,000 American flags at the Boston rally more people would be curious about the latter.

The positive form of nationalism is tied to self-confidence and openness and to a concept of the public good. Negative nationalism is dependent on fear and anger and a desperate conviction that one nation’s rights exist by comparison with those of another nation, as if in a competition that process winners and losers.

If we harness the flag and a new human centered understanding of economics we can recruit Americans to inclusion and positive nationalism using a lot of the same techniques as altright=Nazis. We can displace their scapegoating with intentional complexity.

They have white bread, light beer, paralyzing cultural consolidation, and oppressive monopoly. We use inclusion to unleash the massive creative energy of multiculturalism and reap its prosperity. America’s vibrant culinary scene, our national treasure, is our clearest proof of what positive nationalism can do (and I will dive into it).

They write propaganda to reinforce their sham position and we need to rewrite our positions to include the nation, wave the flag, and dig our economic and policy roots. If you want to participate, and this will take an army of writers, the two forms of nationalism have characteristics to keep on the tip of your tongue.

Now the idea of choice is back. Much of it is tied to the return of the idea of national power. With that comes the democratic reality of choice. Choices for citizens. Choices for countries. Choices for coalitions of countries. And with choice come all the uncertainty that provokes fear in some and releases the energies and imagination of others.

Negative nationalism is brash, self interested, indifferent to or ignorant of the interests of others. It is often an expression of fear, insecurity, poverty, ambition, ethnic loyalty, appropriation of God to one’s side. Pride in ignorance is a trait or encouraged. There is often conviction that they’ve been permanently wounded. An obsession develops with the idea that human difference is negative.

Positive nationalism starts with an embrace of intentional complexity, self confidence and openness. It is also an expression of the public good. Human difference is celebrated (in restaurants!). It is about empathy, responsibility, and grappling with the other. Freedom is associated with the ability to be different. The disinterest of the citizen is emphasized as the path to freedom over the potentially damaging corporate interest. All religions are seen as equally true. Competition is valued over consolidation. Inequality is recognized as damaging to liberty. The public good is recognized as equalizing. Involvement and civic commitment are recognized as necessary for maintaining freedom. Inclusion is a creative, prosperity generating human force.

You could say that all nationalism is about belonging, about place and about imagining the other. It can take a positive, civic form, one in which belonging brings the obligation to reach out and to imagine the other in an inclusive, multiple way. It can also take a negative form, above all ethnic, dedicated to belonging as an expression of privilege and exclusion.

Before I end this, it is important to note that positive nationalism began with indigenous movements and the U.S. is a late comer to this party. New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and I’m sure other nations I’m slowly learning about have growing Indigenous movements at the center of their recovery from globalism and their reigning in of capitalism.

The average intellectual in the U.S. did not know what it could truly gain if support was added to native Americans fighting to assert their sovereignty against the Dakota Access pipeline. Many intuitively felt the tribes were right, but they could not articulately tie our various struggles together.

There is this myth you hear in grade school that ownership of Manhattan was bought for a handful of beads from native Americans. But ownership is the wrong metaphor and we let it inject itself too deeply into our concept of capitalism. What was really intended to happen is that responsibility was transferred. And this wisdom of indigenous peoples, this emphasis of responsibility over mere ownership is at the heart of positive nationalism and how we will re-concept capitalism into a more sustainable form.

Originating in American universities, abstract ideas about economics and capitalism forced out any notions of responsibility because it could not be easily tidied up, measured and modeled. Western notions of capitalism were prone to skewed distributions relative to other nations that we’d categorize as collectivist and on the socialist spectrum. Anyone that overly embraced the new globalist notion lost while resistant countries, maintaining their own identity, like India and China, actually prospered.

North Korea wants to integrate into the international economy on its own terms (and sadly retaining its human rights violations) so that it keeps its footing like China. The West wants NK to integrate only on the West’s terms. The North Korea situation is very complex, but the character and qualities of capitalism is at the heart of it all. A lot of questions should be asked and answered any rash decisions are made.

We … made you into
Nations and tribes, that
Ye may know each other
(Not that ye may despise
Each other).
-The Quran, possibly analyzing the regional cooking of Italy.

So you see where this is going next?

Research Bulletin No. 5 and the Republic of Rum Letters

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Lately there is growing interest in the work of, Puerto Rican agro chemist, Rafael Arroyo, and many are discovering my hosted collection of his lost works from a few years ago. Few realized Arroyo wrote so many journal articles because he is best known for an elusive book called Studies On Rum: Research Bulletin No. 5. Not many copies still exist because it was printed on such cheap paper that all copies are literally crumbling.

I have a wonderful scanning of this work, but I acquired it well after I started hosting the journal articles. By then there were many thousands of reads and downloads, but near no comments. This blog has wild readership stats for being so niche, but generates very little dialogue. Open hosting, a part of open culture has not exactly led to the open community I hoped for which is something that older generations of distillers enjoyed.

I made it known in that post I had a good scanning and after many months someone actually took the time to write me an email, tell me about their project, and ask about my scanning. Of course I shared it with them. But I told them: Only share it if someone asks, but of course share it! Do not volunteer it. Offer to discuss it. Create a Republic of Letters and not a society of lurkers. Pass on those same rules. In two years I’ve only gotten 15 requests, but from around the world. We’ve had great conversations on successes, failures, and ideas to try. Very cool things are happening, keep an eye on South Africa.

A notable recommendation to participate in the Republic of Rum Letters: write emails and comment directly on blogs. Avoid facebook and twitter because they are too ephemeral and all the great discussions get lost (FB is the biggest offender). Ask questions. Avoid hero worship. Contact very old writers. Recognize that we’ve all barely scratched the surface and truly know very little.

I don’t aim to control the book and it is pretty much redundant with all the journal articles, but the approach has started tons of great dialogue and I’ve learned a lot. I’ve read the book a few times and even wrote multiple articles on Arroyo and specific topics within Studies on Rum. The best passages, the stuff that would amuse and excite the rum drinker are all fully quoted in these articles.

The Prior Patents of Rafael Arroyo
Rum Comparatively: Understanding Anything Goes
Rum, Mitogenic Radiation & The Bio-photon
Cape Verde and Sugarcane Juice Rum Categories
Team Pombe and the Yeast Olympiad
Rum, Osmotolerance and the Lash
Aroma Breakage and Rum Design
Ageing, Accelerated Ageing, & Élevage ==> Lies, Damn Lies & Statistics
Arroyo’s Oidium

I don’t think a single article above has even gotten a comment.

I’ve put Arroyo down for a while, but I have been concepting a distillery analysis laboratory based on his ideas plus everything I have read that came after. I aim to create an affordable, holistic, organoleptic, human centered analysis system for product design and eventual quality control that can generate actionable advice. There is no GC/MS. It aims to be more like a vinyl DJ; admired, marketable, and effective. Seductive, but non actionable technologies are ruled out. Fine winemakers perform tons of analysis but don’t get too advanced. They are human centered.

The system can also be integrated into brand marketing and story telling better than more technologically advanced methods. The budget is looking like $30K and it also encompasses my gin lab based on the original 1940’s Seagram’s botanical assay procedures I recovered.

I’m working on it.

The Playbook That built American Wine Builds The Alt-right

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A few years ago I binge read through quite a few of the California oral history series on the wine industry. They are absolutely revelatory and I cannot say enough about how brilliant their first interviewer, Ruth Teiser, was. Some are technical while some are beautiful stories of entrepreneurship. Some are absolute thrillers like that of Antonio Perelli-Minetti’s where he participates in the Mexican revolution and breakfasts with Pancho Villa. One stands out in its own category, the Raymond Chandler category. I’ve held off writing about it for years to save it for a major piece, but I don’t think I can do it justice. That interview, actually two[1,2], is that of Leon Adams.

All of fine wine within the U.S., post prohibition, is the product of the elaborate propaganda campaign of Leon Adams. This guy was wiley and noir AF. The forward to the interview actually starts with the wine scene elder, Maynard Amerine, being tactful but eluding to how problematic Adams is. Adams was in the center of extremely active formative times for the industry. By interview time he was often the only survivor so we only know one side of the story (by a propagandist). We are left to take his word for it even though his frequent exploits put his integrity is in question.

I’m bringing this all up because we’re trying rid the White House (if not the country) of its Steve Bannons and Kellyanne Conways. This job is a challenge because most Americans do not know enough about propaganda. The tactics and impact of subtle things are blindsiding people. Leon Adams, thankfully, was mostly chaotic neutral, and lucky for us, used his compulsions to jump start the American wine industry. The Bannon’s and Conways are chaotic evil and their chosen obsession is tearing the country apart. If we don’t learn about these problematic personalities now that there is a strong template, we’re doomed to see tons of them, and they are all overly smart relentless workaholics.

To learn about propaganda and the minds addicted to it, we could turn to the great ladies of twitter (@sarahkendzior @mollymckew @rvawonk @zeynep) who are pretty much saving our uneducated asses and bringing the country up to speed. Alternatively we could briefly look at Leon Adams and see that so many of his tactics were highly effective towards his cause and are still in use today. This dangerous personality type, we glimpse in Adams, is in love with propaganda first and their almost arbitrary cause a very distant second. It has proven powerful enough to move a mountain that is/was American drinking tastes.

Adams was a newspaper guy and the time line of the story makes it seem like he chose a life of propaganda before he chose wine. His formative moment was reading Edward L. Bernay’s text Propaganda (page 13). Adams simply wanted a project full of characters to mettle with and wine had it. He does tell a great childhood story where his mother makes homemade Zinfandel in the Valley of the Moon and he enjoyed covering the prohibition beat. His early newspaper stories are very cool.

Leon Adams and many of these personalities are a bit shadowy and have a weird pathological compulsion for an effect they can have on society, positive if we’re lucky and negative if we are not. It becomes a cult of do unto others what you can get away with (Herod’s Law). When some see the template (while the rest of society does not) they join in and that is how you get the Milos and Louise Mensches, and it becomes no surprise that they secretly know each other. Why couldn’t they have just discovered wine?

Adams’ exploits over the years are wild and the read is very worthwhile. It spoils nothing to tell you how he dressed high school girls in Swiss peasant costumes to stage the first vintage festival after prohibition. There was no money for a real festival and he was able to relay the photo coast to coast through the associated press (fake news!). We see this same kind of thing now with twitter and viral media.

Wine then, in America, was a skid row beverage with exceptions you could count on your fingers (very cool stories with their own oral histories). All these propaganda efforts were luckily in sync with tremendous scientific work from UC Davis to build the science behind fine wine. Commodity wine was a salvage product. Table grapes were the priority then raisins then wine. It was often fortified and resembled cheap port. Demand had to change before the supply.

Control of language was a big part of the propaganda plan and we see a lot of that today. Adams passed bills using lobbyists in Washington and rewrote countless government documents and eventually educational books to establish table wine and dessert wine instead of fortified wine. When you are a drunk and you go before the judge saying you drank dessert wine, it reflects much better on the industry than if you drank fortified wine. Dessert wine is your own problem and spiked fortified wine is the industry’s problem. There were countless subtle changes and they all added up to pave the way. This was all figured out by a silver tongued devil with remarkable foresight. It also represents a startling amount of legwork that people of these compulsions are willing to go to. They work 80 hours a week to feed their compulsions.

We see the exact same behavior from the Bannons and Spencers. Scores of average racist people could not collude to invent the modern language of hate like we see today, but a few of the extra smart deranged types can absolutely spew it. The alt left is the dessert wine, subtle language changes with profound impact. You would not believe what it can do unless you see it in hindsight. So much of what just happened after the Charlotte protests were language games drawing false equivalencies to sway average people in Iowa, and it does.

We need to quickly diagnose these people and understand that they don’t even really care about their agenda. It is simply a narcissism and obsession with the magnitude of their impact that motivates them. They need be singled out and boycotted from their soap box podiums. The money trail encouraging them needs to be revealed and shamed to high hell.

My favorite Adams anecdote is how he wanted to jump start sparkling wine in the U.S. (page 79). No one really drank the domestic stuff or even table wine. It wasn’t yet respectable. J.B. Cella’s daughter was a torch singer and no doubt a real babe. Everyone obviously crushed on her so Adams turned an industry event (Raisin Day) into a Champagne ball centered around her performing to actually get the industry guys to show up. Black tie and ladies in evening dresses, very different than Raisin Day. Well, wine guys did not yet drink wine, they drank whiskey. Adams controlled everything at the event and served no whisky, only sparkling wine which no one had ever drank before. Events back then circulated through the society papers and all the photos no doubt showed a well dress crowd all with a new beverage and a fad was born.

Adams telling is really amusing and you can tell he was very proud of the stunt. It sounds kind of stupid, but we see neo nazis calling themselves the alt-right as a re-branding to also attain respectability. Motherfucking table wine getting an article in GQ about how dapper they are and we let them pull it off. There was outrage when this recently happened, but few had serious alarm bells going off that neo-nazis simply renamed themselves to get in the society pages. We did not have enough stories like the Adams story to see how powerful lame stunts like that were. We cannot forget again.

After that stunt, Adams goes right in to explaining all the ghost writing he used to do. You have to be ruled by compulsion if you are single handedly going to do all that legwork.

So, I went on from there. I realized the only way I’d ever been successful in indoctrinating anyone, personally, was by ghost writing. I did tremendous amounts of ghost writing. What I wrote would always be published under the name of some wine industry person. This had happened in other industries in which I’d operated as well. I would write my ideas into an article, and then people would praise the author whose name was signed, for what he had written. Then he would begin to believe it himself.

Bannon and Steven Miller did this for Trump and we see other variations of this where lobbyists write complete bills for politicians and ask them to simply sign their name. The New Yorker just described nefarious billionaire Carl Icahn pulling off this stunt for trump. When it was called out they retracted the document and claimed the wrong version was released. The New Yorker article is a heavy duty and very specific tale of kleptocracy and the evaporation of wealth. The quality of Icahn’s wealth is absolutely disgusting. There is little original prosperity, it is all transfer prosperity.

“You will take these characters!”—and I used Setrakian as my number one example—”you will book them on the luncheon circuit, to make speeches about what a wonderful industry the wine industry is. They will talk to every Rotary Club and every Lion’s Club and every Kiwanis Club and Optimist Club. You will distribute literature about the wine industry and about the uses of wine, especially table wine, about cooking with wine and so on. They will talk about all these things. I will give you a model speech for them to use, but don’t ask them to use it. I want them to develop their own speeches from your material. You book dates. They’ll make these speeches and people will applaud. When they’re applauded they will begin to believe what they said.” This was done.

This is the story of the birth of wine in America. Political propaganda, sadly, has advanced well beyond the tactics Leon Adams used which are almost standard guerrilla marketing these days. Remember, what sets Leon Adams apart from clever marketers is compulsion to keep doing it and satisfaction from the game he played. It was more than a pay check. He employed people we would think of simply as marketers executing ideas described above.

Politics has taken a dark turn towards blind siding so many with the concept that distraction is he new censorship. This play book creates room for a whole new group of sacrificial personalities. They will say horrible stuff they do not care about to create spectacles that eat up finite time or specifically distract from other controversies while time marches on. Ann Coulter would be a prime example. Any minute you devote to her hollow words is time you will not spend advancing your understanding of economics and wow does it add up. So much hate is actually based on simple economic misconceptions. This ilk has odd pathological issues and get secured the promise once they sacrifice themselves to live out their days in ivory towers and gated communities. They are guaranteed no consequences. At the moment we do not know how to properly categorize or quarantine these characters.

Resisting propaganda used to be easier before this recent era of dark innovation. We see too many intelligent people giving their finite time to trolls and too many young and newly engaged giving their time to Ann Coulter and not to economics. We used to line item protest and now these personalities and new tactics force us to juggle. We divide ourselves when we say don’t give time to that issue, they are trying to distract you from this yet both issues clearly matter. There is little advice on how to master these scenarios. Barnie Frank explained that you cannot look at the way a politician voted on an issue in isolation, it always has a larger context. Did they vote against something small they wanted to gain an ally for something bigger and trickier to achieve? Political activism for the citizen used to be arithmetic and now it is Barnie Frank’s calculus.

We owe Leon Adams a lot of gratitude for the effort he put in to jump starting the wine industry in America. In the comparisons I draw, my aim is simply to note a personality type. Depending on what they latch on to, they can have positive impacts on society or the very negative we are seeing recently. We are so fortunate Leon Adams aimed his boundless energy and creativity at something positive.

This is something I had to get out of the way before my next piece about positive forms of nationalism centered around inclusion and belonging. It will be a look through the lens of the hospitality industry. Leon Adams is worthy of some serious scholarly work and his oral history with Ruth Teiser will reward anyone that reads it.

Father, Forgive Them; For They Know Not What They Are Doing

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When I wrote American Whiskey by the Numbers I had never before actually looked at Bourbon, though I’ve certainly drank my fair share. Believe it or not, I haven’t read any of the recent titles on the subject and I don’t really know what anyone else knows. Are all the mash bills, fermentation, and distillation parameters known, or am I blowing the lid open on a big story? It is slow going finding out and I probably got the lowest amount of interest ever in a story I thought was pretty significant. Be warned, this saga is a bit of a disillusioning mess.

Since profiling the document, I’ve read two older books on Bourbon plus a few great old research papers. Some really interesting things turned up and I’m basically convinced that Maker’s Mark saved Bourbon from destroying itself. I’ll get to that slowly. I used to think that the American whiskey story lacked the wide dimensions of other traditions, but boy is that wrong. It is full of churning culture wars that pushed it to the brink and they are still unfolding.

The first book I read was by Sam K. Cecil who’s big claim to fame was being the scientist counterpart to practical distiller Bill Samuels at Maker’s Mark. It was sort of a dead end, believe it or not. The book turns out to be a lot of births and deaths and locations which does interest a lot of people, but does not help our quest.

Even though Cecil was in the thick of it, his writing does not explain the document. I was hoping for someone as crazy as Fitzcaraldo grappling with beauty. I’m always looking for aesthetic opinions, style, and other criteria by which to judge what is fine, what is commodity, and what is flawed (regrets and missed opportunities).

Cecil, however, was kind enough to point me in the direction of Harry Harrison Kroll’s Bluegrass, Belles, and Bourbon (1967) which is chock full of confrontation with the 20th century and modernity told through the guise of a book on Bourbon. It is also told by a guy traveling around with a nun, sister Kathy, as a chaperone. Initially, I imagined it kind of like Two Mules for Sister Sara, but there never were any plot twists.

Before I complement Kroll, I need to lay down a few asterisks ∗† and luckily we all just received some excellent guidance in recognizing these matters from Wayne Curtis. Because the book isn’t solely a compendium of births, deaths & locations, and it encompasses all that grappling and confrontation, Kroll reveals himself to probably be a misogynist and a racist. He says uncomfortable crazy uncle things constantly. The writing style is unusually candid which provides evidence for my diagnosis. By the end however, when the book appeared to be about much more than Bourbon, I was getting the sense that his was a flexible mind. Kroll overcame prohibitionist ideologies, and I began to suspect that unlike David Embury, Kroll was not likely to die a racist. Sadly, I don’t think he was going to make much progress with his casual misogyny (Kroll actually died in 1967 so technically I’m very wrong).

You can really time travel in this country, back then and even now. I see a lot of it in the restaurant. Many people have hairstyles like they haven’t left the house in 15+ years. In that time they just did not absorb anything that influenced the style they present themselves with. You hear economic and political conversations that are 15 years dated like someone heard something so formative that they never read the news after. Eight years in and seven years to go, countless people will still be talking about her emails.

Kroll does a lot of that fifteen year time traveling, or he sort of watches himself doing it when he writes later. No wonder he must travel with a guide. He is constantly pursuing the effects of prohibition & repeal thirty years prior to his trip, revealing that for some people it wasn’t that distant. This can strike today’s reader as odd. The book becomes comparable to Infinite Jest with some readers being bored to tears by the parts on tennis and AA, but I actually enjoyed them the most.

A large part of the book, where the bluegrass and belles come in, is Kroll romanticizing his own typical American past where he grew up barefoot, eating squirrels, walking to school uphill both ways, and apparently had a very formative early job making barrel staves at subsistence pay. He keeps aligning himself with a young Abe Lincoln that did grunt work under his father at Watty Boone’s distillery. Kroll warms up that story a few times almost coming across as a senile repeater until he finally tells it, and tells the best version of it I’ve ever heard. He is either slightly nuts or pretty damn masterful in his gonzo ability to romanticize, humanize, build myth, and plain old story tell. He is a lot of Bourbon personified.

Eventually Kroll time travels from all this back into the bottling room of the day at Heaven Hill where teams of women are earning great middle class wages, the industry is proud of paying, and gives a “ya don’t say?”, like it all snuck up on him. Things are always sneaking up on Bourbon. The recent Bulleit story is no surprise. You don’t really know what the time traveler thinks about it. Was he happy American prosperity was spreading and women could be independent or did it threaten his masculinity and cheapen the hard years of splitting barrel staves he romanticizes? The time traveler walks an unclear line, but it has the effect of humanizing the industry.

The Shapiras snuck up on Kroll and he may have brought some antisemitic baggage to their “temple of iniquity” though it is never as pointed as his other major short comings. These furriners were an assault on his brand of Kentucky negative nationalism and they were getting rich. Hiring a Beam as master distiller didn’t make it right. Kroll keeps noting that he can barely taste the difference between bourbons so its all in what they represent to him. This experience was disillusioning.

Before I move on a little, I will quickly note that a possible reason we don’t see more information turning up about New England rum production pre prohibition may have been the influence of the temperance movement and the semantics of demon rum. Kroll, noting about doing his research, clues us into a pacing of the temperance movement I wasn’t really aware of. The peak of New England rum as modernized by Dr. Harris Eastman Sawyer unfortunately coincides with that tenuous time when it wasn’t wise to publish much about industrial demon rum. The right to a drink was hanging by a thread for quite a while before it was actually cut.

Our time traveler sets us up to see Bourbon’s confrontation with modernity. Practical distillers had to start competing with scientists (even though they had somewhat different objectives). The most practical of distillers had to compete with other practicals who were going huge and creating very large operations.

We don’t really recognize the practical distiller today yet they are blooming all around us. Kroll likes to celebrate them and believes they may be solely capable of making an uncompromising fine product even though so few then actually drank it (I never fully appreciated that last detail). Today many hold practicals with a mild disdain.

To be practical in this context means you have no formal education, and back in the early days, many were even illiterate. They never took a chemistry or biology class and operated from an old fashioned notion of empiricism and a heightened intuition. Practicals were viewed as born with it which kept the profession dynastic, male and mostly white (though there are some awesome stories of black distillers in America and Kroll notes a few). Practical can be authentic, but that is another term we haven’t given much thought.

Today, all the new American distillers are practical distillers with very few exceptions (and the acceptance of consultants). They’ve started their businesses with grit and determination plus probably only two PDFs and a skimming of this here blog. Start up costs are so high that they also often have generational wealth, IPO money, or predatory capital that will eventually rob the best. They compete with huge well researched scientific operations who have also monopolized distribution channels. The practicals still all sound all very American, but somehow the consolidated establishment, big Bourbon, has really won the public over.

The scientific distillers of Kroll’s era were the Seagrams, Hiram Walkers and their Herman Willkies and Paul Kolachovs which were all commodity producers. Commodity spirits aren’t exactly authentic, but authentic working people often only drink commodity liquor. See why I’m avoiding the authentic concept?

In a great chapter, Kroll singles out a wonderful new fusion of the two which was the team of Bill Samuels and Sam Cecil (he returns to this story!) working to build Maker’s Mark which to me seems like it saved Bourbon. When Kroll visited in roughly 1967, Maker’s was only producing 20 barrels a day relative to other operations that were up to multiple hundreds of barrels a day. Many of today’s craft operations are starting at one barrel per day.

Bill Samuels kicked off a new era of fine whiskey using a frame work I call guided traditional practices. The stylistic ideas of practical distiller Bill Samuels were proven scientifically and made to scale forward and up by lab guy Sam Cecil. Flavor returns as modus operandi, not price and volume.

Around this very same time, wine was going through the same paradigm shift led by Grigch Hills and Stags Leap plus the others that won the Judgement of Paris. Wine did however move in the opposite direction. Samuels got himself a lab while in wine, the lab guys like Mike Grgich got practical and embraced flavorful risk in ways not seen in the commodity framework. Wine in America, many don’t realize, started as a commodity product because it initially was a salvage product. The priority was table grapes, then raisins, and lastly wine, which was for a long time a skid row beverage. Walt Whitman probably didn’t drink American fine wine and there are no tales tying wine to great generals like there are of Old Crow.

It is really important to understand these tensions and transitions so we can understand other spirits categories. You could be a practical distiller in the Bourbon racket using yogurt technology (I say that because that is basically how advanced it got) and get pretty far, but could you do it with rum? Can you do it with grape brandies like Cognac?

Jamaica rum, as we revere it, was success at random until the top Victorian scientists stepped in. These guys were following the development of modern chemistry and yeast technology by the day. Cognac is the most quality focused spirit out there because it has it’s back up against a wall. Every acre of the appellation is pretty much planted so they cannot expand, they can only improve. Cognac has easily moved beyond the merely practical or scientific to the complete state of guided traditional practices. Tequila is just entering the end of its commodity phase. Consultants have gone in, homogenized everything with pure yeast cultures and efficient processes, stripped all individuality and beaten the price into the commodity floor. A few productions are finally starting to investigate the flavor they left behind and revive it with more than marketing speak.

Before we move on, I should quickly state my theory that the scientific era probably allowed women and minorities into white male dominated production positions. If you could handle the lab work, you could handle the job and all the white male mysticism was no longer relevant. Seagrams early on, employed some notable female chemists.

Kroll gives us some great insights into the document. He visits Yellowstone noting their huge operation and their production angle of mellow mashing to make a light whiskey distilled in a giant column and he implies the removal of fusel oil. If you remember, this was the controversial technique and avenue for loss of identity that provoked the IRS survey of whiskeys that is the document. Am I grasping here or is that umbrella-like do-dad not a fusel oil separator?

No itemized list is presented, but we also get the sense that there were far more distilleries in operation than what the IRS selected for their survey. Very interesting to note is that the exclusively sweet mash producers like distillery no. 2 and no. 42 likely weren’t tiny little heritage operations. Their sweet mash did make inferior whiskey according to Kroll (and production theory) and he sadly doesn’t even bother to name names, but he does note that they were in Daviess county. There is a bit of ambiguity to the logic of his paragraph, but he may imply that some sweet mashers were among the largest in the state.

Towards the end, Kroll goes to visit the Medleys and gives us the greatest hint behind the M&A churning that has always been a hallmark of the industry. Taxes were everything. Distillers would build up value in the business then unleash it all at once in a sale instead of taking it steadily year by year. Capital gains taxes were very different than income taxes and I don’t think it was proper to have private jets and write off your golf outings like we do today. Corporate decadence came in the 1970’s from Barbarians at the Gates culture. That is what consumed Tribuno vermouth, remember?

Who knows how long that tax logic was true, but it makes a lot of sense to these highly rational thinkers who didn’t even drink the stuff they made. Foreign money would come in and the labels would get traded around. The foreign money would have to pay the dynasties of practical distillers again to operate the places. It was a little bit of a racket.

These practical distillers often said dumb patriarchal shit like he could never make whiskey as great as his father (and on up the line), but none of these people ever really cared that labels were getting swapped and not corresponding to their juice. Bill Samuels may or may not have carried a family yeast, but he did use Stitzel-Weller as a template, mash bill and all.

Beauty, that thing we’ve been trying to confront, has always been a little lopsided in American whiskey. Beauty is the composite of extraordinary sensoriality and exemplary human behavior. Here its git-up-and-git over the specifics of grist. Grain bills don’t matter, If you’re allowed to pick one thing, they pick yeast because it is the easiest to mystify. We’re supposed to admire hard work and tradition with a lineage that leads us through Lincoln to pastors like Elijah Craig.

If you pursue that other side of beauty, that aesthetic sensory side, which with distillation takes startling science, you’re headed down a road to decadence and demoralization. Stick the Venus of Willendorf in the bottle and you’ll just get alcoholism and depravity. Did we learn nothing from the temperance movement? Teams of conspiring scientists, corporatism, undermine the individuality of the loan practical man. Bourbon is just fraught with moral peril. Who’s side are you on?

No doubt clutching his copy of Huysman’s Against Nature, Hiram Walker’s own C.S. Boruff writes a plotless listicle of actionable aesethtic advancements for the journal of Industrial and Engineering Chemistry in 1937.

Repeal of prohibition ushered in an important new phase of the business of manufacturing whisky. Chemistry, biology, and engineering meant little or nothing to the old industry, occupied as it was with its deep obeisances to age and hoary tradition. To the reborn industry, science and technology have become essential tools.

Who you callin’ hoary?!

Age was the fetish of the distillers and of the drinkers of alcoholic beverage of two decades ago and with many it still occupies a sacred niche. Even the niche has vanished before the enlightening discovery of research which form the basis of today’s distilling practice.

You’re going to let him talk about your Pappy that way!?

Necessarily there are three steps in the manufacture of beverage alcohol: fermentation, distillation, and maturing. For many reasons which will become apparent, the ancient practice of distillers place particular emphasis on maturing over long period of time and the fetish of age became the idol of the industry.

This guy is quite confrontational.

The crude distillate of old-fashioned stills was harsh and unpleasant and long aging in charred oak barrels was known to accomplish a remarkable change in it. After long maturing, whisky lost its rough harshness, acquired a pleasing aroma, and delighted the palate. Chemists explained this as the removal of certain unwanted constituents and the chemical rearrangement of others to yield a palatable result.

So the practical distillers produced ends to justify their means, but this guy gives credit to the chemists. The ends didn’t matter if you didn’t understand them. It is an assault on intuition that would build throughout the rest of the 20th century.

Either this fact failed to reach distillers or they were too busy with other matters to heed it. In any case, it remained for the reborn whisky industry to apply this fact to its operations to the advantage of all.

“What we need is a bigger ideology”

The new technic is exemplified in the operation of Hiram Walker & Sons, in a plant at Peoria, Ill.

No one ever calls it Hiram Walker & Sons!

In the old practice of the distillery, fermentation was allowed to take place as it would in open wooden tanks which were never sterilized and into which every possible wild yeast was encouraged to come and grow.

This is an assault on yogurt technology! And a criticism of the IRS!

Distillation was conducted for the prime purpose of recovering every bit of alcohol possible from the mash without regard to other constituents. The result was a distillate which contained all the volatile (with steam) constituents found in the fermented mash and whose maturing required long stretches of time to correct its deficiencies.

Dr. Science here thinks he’s superior to a practical distiller. But, we just learned from Kroll that they built up value in their distilleries via inventories then unleashed it all at once in a sale. Practicals were no fools and they dangled the promise of the buyer extracting value by walking down the aging times. Clever like a fox! Problem is, its a routine you can only use for so long before it is worn out and Kroll was wading through the late years and a talking to a cast of characters like Marcella McKenna who had already played that hand.

The vital importance of the maturing process justified analysis and investigation, and from this came the key to the whole situation. Maturing was found to consist of two parts. (1) corrective aging and (2) maturing. During the corrective aging period the objectionable flavor and bouquet-producing substances found especially in whiskies made by the “rule of thumb” method, are absorbed and modified through assimilation, while during the second stage (maturing) slow chemical reactions occur between the congeners (nonethanol constituents) of the distillate and the wood extractives, whereby the desired bouquet is attained.

Rafael Arroyo, writing at the same time on rum never talked down to anybody like this. Boruff goes on and starts to walk the reader through procedures like yeasting. Yeast has been that one thing that practical distillers had really latched onto to build myth and create exclusivity, but they never did perform any analysis that could prove that their chosen organism hit objectives better than another. Boruff doesn’t tackle this issue, but mainly claims that all practical distiller’s ferments were tainted by aroma-negative wild yeasts.

The concept of whiskey of two decades ago reached the point of making the product an alcoholic solution of a quantity of congeners—that is, compounds other than ethanol present in whisky. In other words, the congeners themselves became the prime objective of the distillery and the alcohol merely a convenient carrier for these flavors. On this basis long maturing to permit the completion of slow chemical reactions in the distillate and the dissolving of extractives from the oak barrels containing the spirits was essential. The new industry, however, has been built upon the concept that the primary objective is the alcohol in the finished whisky and that such congeners as are present make this potable. The difference between these two conceptions has enabled the new industry of whisky distilling to provide whiskies of high potability and palatability, and yet whiskies which may possess quite different characteristics from these of even a quarter century ago.

Wow. Did Kroll ever have any sit downs like that? Sister Katherine would have started murmuring over and over, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they are doing.” That is where tequila is at right now, but we do know that if we pray hard enough, the next phase will be guided traditional processes, and be delicious.

In the old art, the fermentation was conducted and the choice made of the raw materials used in it to foster the formation in the ultimate distillate of alcohols, aldehydes, and acids in variety and abundance. This end was accomplished by encouraging the growth in the mash of organisms other than the yeast. When the product of a fermentation of this kind was distilled, the distillate was an extremely unpalatable product, requiring extensive subsequent correction to give it the desired bouquet and flavor. The larger the proportion of congeneric substances, the longer the period of aging required and the greater the quantity of extractives needed to balance their effect.

Boruff is describing a large aesthetic shift and it doesn’t start with consumer demand for lighter whiskeys which is the narrative we’ve been peddled. These guys were simply condescending the work of the practicals and chalking up the old sensory experience to randomness, accident, and byproduct (but not the regrets and missed opportunities that are flaws). They also had to extract value from brands they paid huge prices for. A departure of style was needed to justify themselves.

In contrast to this, the new whisky industry has devoted its efforts to finding methods of fermentation and distillation which control the original formation of congeners in the mash and which subject those present to logical treatment. Smaller proportions of congeners are balanced in the finished whisky by smaller amounts of extractive matter, and at the same time, since extent of the chemical reaction involved is materially reduced, the time required for them to occur is much shortened.

What is cool about this is that these guys were in some ways neck and neck with Arroyo and rum. At the same time, they were moving in opposite directions. I’ll leave that for another time.

In other words, by making distillates containing predetermined amounts of congeners, the subsequent treatment to make the alcohol palatable is predetermined.

They didn’t quite make good on this inevitability engine, but they kicked off the pursuit. Currently it is at work in the industry using startling amounts of inline monitoring and data science. How else could you manage scarce resources and scale products to global demand?

In the selection of the grain the primary consideration is its starch content, since other constituents (proteins, etc.) are always present in ample amounts. In the old days, distillers apparently failed to recognize that differences exist between the starch content of various grades of grain and consequently always bought the cheapest. The fallacy in this has been amply demonstrated and the first and second grades of corn, although selling at higher prices per bushel, have been found actually cheaper sources of starch than the lower-priced inferior grades.

What are we dealing with here? This can go a few ways. Boruff paints the practicals as ignorant even though upthread he describes them as having wholly different production objectives. Were these backwards aboriginals that were thought devoid of technology yet somehow wanted for nothing and built an elaborate civilization no one noticed?

Again, this can go multiple ways. We’ve already found economic incentives for practicals to operate exactly as they did given their sellout culture. Dan Barber presents another angle in his lovely op-ed, Why Is This Matzo Different From All Other Matzos? Traditions can be a bit arbitrary and often they have unintended benefits. Part of the guided traditional processes framework is to make no assumptions of backwardness. Wine makers have found it a safe bet to assume brilliance in tradition and that techniques that survive were democratically selected for advancement even if it is not apparent. Dave Hickey won a McArthur for the concept if you need the art angle.

It is worth reading to the end of Boruff’s paper, but we need to go no further here. American whisky was fraught with cultural collision for decades after prohibition, well past Harry Harrison Kroll. Maker’s Mark clearly looks like the precedent that moves Bourbon past the creepy shortsightedness of C.S. Boruff et. al. and moves the spirit into the era of guided traditional practices. It took a while to capitalize, but this framework is where all of Bourbon’s recent prosperity comes from. There is still opportunity to do a lot more reflection and understand the place of all the new practicals popping up. Now that we better understand American whisky and its historic tensions, we can also reflect a lot more on comparisons to other spirits as their histories also start to fill in.

That Crazy (or not so Crazy) Koji Corn Whisky

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My introduction to the idea of Koji process whiskies came from an awesome reader who sends me great papers he finds. Its a whopper of a story complete with a secret efficient production technique, monopoly ambitions, horrible anti competitive behavior, and a little bit of mobster strong arming. That was the turn of the century century (maybe) and it didn’t pop up again until the 1960’s research I just put out in American Whiskey by the Numbers. Only one distillery, no. 40, was making a corn whiskey with the process and they didn’t make any other kinds of mashes unless they also produced neutral spirits that might have escaped the report.

So the eccentric seeming process survived! But is there anymore to the story? Was it ever a way back fad? Do we see it by degrees in anyway today? Was it ever used in a fine context or was it only relegated to commodity junk?

To start, the idea is widely known, and could be said to be a home distillers fad, but probably not connected to its root history. Quite possibly the lineage of the idea was broken and brilliant home distillers quickly reinvented the old wheel.

Three papers have turned up and it is important to throw them on the easily searchable historic record returning it to people so they can understand and contextual what they are doing, not doing, or if they are a Momofuku devotee, naturally what their next business venture will be.

The first paper comes to use from Dr. Jokichi Takamine himself in 1914 from The Journal of Industrial and Engineering Chemistry.

Enzymes of Aspergillus Oryzae and the Application of its Amyloclastic Enzyme to the Fermentation Industry.

This article is very cool and very readable adding to our timeline of the processes beginning. He does not betray his mobster monopolists or possibly this is where he was recruited.

Takamine defines Taka-Koji (named after himself!) and differentiates it from Japanese Koji which implies a culture grown on steamed rice. He also brands an extract of Taka-Koji Taka-diastase.

This article actually gets kind of awesome and I wish more papers were written with his tone and style. Takamine encounters failure, reflects and then returns to repeat experiments with new ideas. He even constructs an apparatus from a mason jar and a clock mechanism to revolve it like a drum! Hence the drum technique.

I don’t want to take away Takamine’s voice but he notes (and at length quotes) a Hiram Walker collaborator duplicating his work in Canada and presenting his findings to the Congress of Applied Chemistry so this idea was no quiet fringe finding. It is a great summary and I like it because it explains how they conducted their first experiments. This may help and inspire a small distillery to give it a one batch go for a special barrel.

“On account of the numerous great variations in the price of barley malt (in two consecutive years the price varied 100 per cent), it would be of great value to the distilling industry if a converting medium of moderate and more uniform price could be employed instead of barley malt. Eliminating, therefore, the different grains as a source of converting medium, I turned to the diastase produced by a microorganism, the Aspergillus oryzae. Takamine was the first to introduce the Koji process in America. As far back as 1889 he advocated the use of Koji in the distilling industry. Instead of growing the fungus on rice, Takamine employed a material far cheaper for this country, namely, wheat bran. An extract of the wheat bran, on which the Aspergillus oryzae had been allowed to germinate, contained the diastase, produced by the Aspergillus, and this extract was mixed with the mashed grain, bringing about the conversion of the starchy materials. Lately, I understand, he has succeeded in adapting a modification of the Galland-Henning malt drum system to his process. This should be a great improvement over the old floor system, in so far as it makes it possible to work under absolutely sterile conditions. For my experiments I decided to use the Taka-Koji itself instead of the diastatic extraction of same and add it to the mash in the same way as malt. Before beginning the practical experiments in the distillery, laboratory experiments were conducted on a small scale to ascertain the amount of Taka-Koji which was necessary to convert a certain amount of starch into sugar, and also the optimum temperature at which to conduct the conversion. It was found that 4 g. of Taka-Koji was sufficient to give a complete conversion in a mash made from 96 g. of corn and rye, the corn containing 15.o per cent of moisture and the rye 14.0 per cent. Three experiments were made in the distillery. For the first experiment only a 14 gallon can was used and a portion of our ordinary mash from the mashtub was employed, the mash being taken from the main mash just before malt was going to be added for conversion. The second experiment was performed on a somewhat larger scale. Instead of using mash material from the mashtub, the mash was made separately. It consisted of 500 kg. altogether, of which 20 kg. were Taka-Koji. The third experiment was performed on a good-sized working scale. Two mashes, each consisting of 3,401.94 kg. (of which 131.j kg. were Taka-Koji), were prepared. The two mashes were filled in Turn No. 25 of Friday, May 26, 1911. Turn No. 25 was distilled separately and the yield was 36 liters of 100 per cent alcohol per 100 kg. of mash material, just a trifle higher than the yield of the other mashes which were made the same day. In judging the adaptability of Taka-Koji for use in distilleries several questions must be asked and answered:
“Is Taka-Koji capable of giving a complete conversion of the starchy materials in the mash?
“Yes, 4 per cent of the air-dried Taka-Koji will in 15 to 20 minutes give a complete conversion of well prepared mash material.
“Is the fermentation a satisfactory one?
“While it is accompanied by a strong odor, which is prevalent in the fermenting room, the fermentation, however, is very rapid and complete, and on this account should give rise to the least amount of infection.
“Is the yield of spirit satisfactory?
“Yes, the yield obtained was a little higher than the yield gotten from the barley malt mashes, although the total fermentable extract available in the mash material was less. The yield of 36 liters of 100 per cent alcohol per 100 kg. of mash material is of course only a comparative yield. In distilleries which employ cookers and boil the corn under pressure, a higher yield would naturally result.
“Therefore, I should say as a final conclusion that in distilleries which make commercial or potable neutral spirit, the Taka-Koji process could be introduced to advantage. Aside from a probable higher yield in spirit, the saving in malt bill would be worth while in years with normal malt prices and very considerable in years when the malt prices become abnormal.”

Questions arise immediately. Is the aroma pleasurable or the product of ordinary off-aromas? Would the aroma have market now that we live in a world of mezcal and funky rum fetishes? Can a one barrel product fine rum product be justified? Who knows, but more importantly who is qualified to find out? I want to drink it, but the discovery may have been colossally important to the product of industrial and fuel ethanol. I hope Takamine lived long enough to profit and see the fruits of his labor.

The next paper is from 1939. Saccharification of Starchy Grain Mashes for the Alcoholic Fermentation Industry: Use of Mold Amylase.

This paper is kind of cool to breeze through. First we learn

The authors prefer to use the term “amylase” since it avoids confusion that sometimes results from the fact that “diastase” is the French term for enzyme.

Then we learn more of where the Takamine-H. Walker experiments ended up.

Use of mold preparations to replace malt in the fermentation industry was suggested by Takamine, and large-scale tests at the plant of Hiram Walker and Sons, Inc., in Canada in 1913 (9) proved entirely successful, yields of alcohol being better than with malt. However, a slight off-flavor or odor was produced in the alcohol, and since the flavor is of paramount importance in beverage alcohol, Takamine’s preparation has not found favor in the alcohol industry, Now, however, with the increasing interest in power alcohol, it would seem that a procedure similar to Takamine’s should hold much promise for production of industrial alcohol.

They go on to imply the Hiram Walkers process was private and with interest in industrial alcohol it would be beneficial to experiment and make a publicly known process available. We used to see more of this publicly funded research aimed at aiding private enterprise and generating competition. The acknowledgements at the end do imply a private grant.

What I want to know is what were these aromas like? Reminiscent of baijiu? Sweaty feet and bubble gum? Are any home distillers coming to an off/aroma-negative conclusion or is it avoided if an extract of the enzyme is separated from the moldy bran?

Their experiments gets into finer details and provides best bets for anyone wanting to play along. They do not return to the subject of the aroma because they are interested in non-potable alcohol. Their bibliography has a bunch of Dr. Takamine’s patents which go back as far as 1894.

The third paper is from 1949 and also published in the Industrial and Engineering Chemistry journal (which has published lots of other great works on beverage distillation). The research was conducted at the Northern Regional Research Laboratory, Peoria, Ill.

Grain Alcohol Fermentations: Submerged Mold Amylase as a Saccharifying Agent.

First off we should note that Peoria was home of distillery no. 40! The introduction makes it seem like they are doing some reinventing of the wheel or duplication of the 1939 experiments and the 1939 paper is in their bibliography but for some reason listed as 1940. The addition here might be the exploration and comparison of an “amylo process”. It is acknowledged that the processes have been already used commercially. Hiram Walker and Sons, Inc, Peoria, Ill and E.R. Squibb and Sons, Inc. New Brunswick N.J. are noted in foot notes. I basically skimmed to the end and found no mention of aroma nor whisky.

To sum it up. Koji is in culinary vogue, but is anything cool and promising happening here? Probably not. Does this have any impact on Bourbon as we know it? Commodity American whiskey may or may not have used percentages of industrial enzymes. I’ve heard murmurs but never read anything specific. I’ll have to keep an ear to the ground. If you know anything specific with a reference, do send it in. Fine American whiskeys likely do not flirt with industrial enzymes. One long shot idea to consider is that ethyl carbamate, a regulated congener comes from malt (among other things). To reduce it under a threshold for trade purposes (it is basically an artificial trade barrier), percentages of industrial enzymes may be used to hit target numbers. Who really knows, that is just from little bits and pieces I’ve read about regarding a barely understood industry topic.