Ideology and the Supernormal Stimuli

Ideology and the Supernormal Stimuli

What does Ideology and supernormal stimuli have in common? The answer turns out to be everything. Ideology is an important concept to have a handle on as we all grapple with polarized politics, the rise of fake news, a generation succumbing to dangerous organized nihilism, and increasing authoritarianism. The supernormal stimuli, a near forgotten Nobel prize winning discovery, is a topic I’ve covered quite a bit in relation to creative linkage in the culinary arts and its particular application to the cocktail. Supernormal stimuli are commonly thought to be only sensory in nature, but with ideology we experience a purely symbolic version of the concept and it is no less dangerous.

To quote wikipedia, “A supernormal stimulus or superstimulus is an exaggerated version of a stimulus to which there is an existing response tendency, or any stimulus that elicits a response more strongly than the stimulus for which it evolved.” The seductive tug of breast implants comes to mind immediately or the Venus of Willendorf. In the classic studies, the robin sits on the bluer egg and lets it’s own go un-incubated while the Australian beetle tries to mate with the beer bottle because it is bigger, more orange, and more dimpled than its natural mate. Multiple male beetles have been known to stroke the dimples of the same beer bottle until they all ran out of energy and died right next to each other. This last example sounds very much like ideology, but lets try to build a stronger case.

From the Doubter’s Companion (A Dictionary of Aggressive Common Sense), John Ralston Saul defines ideology as:

Tendentious arguments which advance a world view as absolute truth in order to win and hold political power.

A God who intervenes in human affairs through spokesmen who generally call themselves priests; a king who implements instructions received from a God; a predestined class war which requires the representatives of a particular class to take power; a corporatist structure of experts who implement truth through fact-based conclusions; a racial unit which because of its blood-ties has a destiny as revealed by nationalist leaders; a world market which, whether anyone likes it or not, will determine the shape of every human life, as interpreted by corporate executives—all of these and many more are ideologies.

Followers are caught up in the naive obsessions of these movements. This combination ensures failure and is prone to violence. That’s why the decent intentions of the Communist Manifesto end up in gulags and murder. Or the market place’s promise of prosperity in the exploitation of cheap, often child, labour.

There are big ideologies and little ones. They come in international, national and local shapes. Some require skyscrapers, others circumcision. Like fiction they are dependent on the willing suspension of disbelief, because God only appears in private and before his official spokespeople, class leaders themselves decide the content and pecking order of classes, experts choose their facts judiciously, blood ties aren’t pure and the passive acceptance of a determinist market means denying 2,500 years of Western civilization from Athens and Rome through the Renaissance to the creation of middle-class democracies.

Which is ideology? Which not? You shall know them by their assertion of truth, their contempt for considered reflection and their fear of debate.

The first part of ideology we see from John Ralston Saul is that they are a manipulative tool, very much like breast implants. She knows they are fake, but presents them as the simple truth to hold power. And it works. Men are quick to suspend their disbelief. They are also often exaggerated to make up for deficiencies.

The nth degree is often invoked in ideology as with gods and kings. If law comes from a common man it is not as attentional as when it comes from a supreme figure. The modern day supreme figure in our corporatist world being the expert. The more supreme the figure invoked, the more likely the ideology is in violation of common sense. Pre-destiny or harnessing inevitability is a mode of simplification that ideology takes. We become more biased to accept.

Class and race are the intersection of the symbolic aspects of ideology as supernormal stimuli with sensation. Class categories often divide along sensory features. This starts with the color of skin and when that existing response tendency changes, the shape of our noses is always available to provoke an exaggerated response. I have done a lot of writing to explore the ordinary and extraordinary in sensation and have found that frequency of occurrence rules so much around us.

Obsession that consumes those introduced to ideology is very much the beetle stroking the beer bottle until it runs out of energy and dies, unsuccessfully mating. Failure is ensured because key details are missed and overshadowed by the blown out oversimplifications. In the movie, Her (2013), society quickly becomes obsessed with their seductive tongued personal assistants and messy human relationships get dropped. Matching with someone possessing the complete details to achieve a goal like reproduction also comes with confronting the grittier side of the human condition.

Detail is the enemy of ideology. That willing suspension of disbelief relates to lack of ability to categorize, parse, and build detachment. She is in the same room and you are allowed to touch them if you dare, you literally gravitate towards the breast implants. Those doomed beetles could not parse and categorize the beer bottle as not a useful mate.

McLuhan emphasized the difference between acting and reacting. Ideology is the guilty pleasure of reacting and being willfully illiterate so that a primal satisfaction does not go unindulged. Many very smart people succumb to ideology and various motivators perpetuate the ruse. The guilty pleasure of reacting without detachment transitions to the euphoria of obsession and that sometimes gives way to wielding ideology to win or hold political power.

For those that learn to wield them, ideologies start to get swapped like trading cards. When open racism is no longer a useful enough ideology to harness the votes of the ignorant masses, it is traded in for Islamophobia and/or transphobia. Most politicians personally do not care about about the ideology of the moment, they know the robin will jump to the bluer egg or that if they troll with a beer bottle, they will come up with a pile of beetles not afraid to die without successfully mating.

Polar politics is all about ideology and both camps are capable of generating them. The pessimistic right leans on prejudices and policies to undermine taxes while dismantling the public good whereas the left is capable of being overly optimistic and does not respect enough the importance of private industry and choice. One side needs to be there to check the other, but it becomes harder as a fear of nuance and debate sets in. It almost seems as if we are at a point where we cannot talk down the beetles, we simply have to wait for them to die to move on.

Fake news is a form of supernormal stimuli and a pizza shop where Hillary Clinton traffics children for many, believe it or not, is just a bluer egg. Response tendencies have changed due to the 24 hour news cycle, and to stand out, a story has to be more attentional. More attentional these days is often plain fake. You’d think the average person would dismiss so many of the stories, but then again how could the robin not know? We are back at John Ralston Saul’s willing suspension of disbelief (he likes to use that term a lot).

The rise of nihilist culture and its ideologies is greatly exacerbated by supernormal stimli. Much of it starts with sensory stimulation and it also straddles the line of supernormal stimuli as therapy versus a grave danger. To start framing things it must be realized that all art is an attempt to create a supernormal stimuli and art is not so completely innocent anymore now that it has been widely applied to propaganda/advertising agendas. Games, a big part of internet culture, are an extension of art and they create protected worlds where response tendencies can be abstracted. Gamification is a fairly new field of study worth following and is generating very interesting ideas.

Games are thought of as therapeutic in moderation, but when they take up enough time they can start to interfere with productive goals like mating or being an integrated member of society. Unemployment among the male internet addicted demographic is many multiples that of the national average. When you give up on inclusion or being included you join the nihilists and somehow they’ve decided to organize to increase the “lolz”.

Nihilist internet culture is pornography obsessed and dependent, creating a significant enough population for concepts like “invol cel” to become pop culture. Sex with a partner is important because it ends up teaching compromise. Many that remain involuntarily celibate develop dangerous misogynistic ideologies.

Taking gaming beyond a therapeutic distraction to an obsession creates isolation and stunts social skills. Risk tolerance increases in a game and decreases out of it. When social skills are developed in the game they have a way of collapsing outside so that the afflicted demographic becomes increasingly isolated from contribution to productive goals. The importance of inclusion in society is becoming increasingly relevant to group that is seen as the majority.

The internet seems like it would be a place for debate and nuance, but it becomes a breeding ground for ideology and communicating in all caps oversimplifications. This happens because it is saturated with supernormal stimuli. It is not called hyper-text for no reason. One has to dodge bluer eggs left and right to find nuance. The nature of reward makes us prefer short pieces with abstracted “click-bait” titles over detailed long form journalism. In McLuhan-esque ways, in what we could even start calling media disease, shortened attention spans gravitate towards ideology. In a strange twist, these ideologies are not championed by priests invoking gods, kings or experts, they are championed by a collective being called anonymous who ascends as they are shared.

The world some no longer want to be included in requires authoritarianism. Many want a figure who can single handedly solve their problems short cutting nuanced affairs while they stroke the dimpled bottle. For others, the chaos is just a hysterical vindictive prank. Those used to the game world become increasingly detached from real world consequences. Regret does not set in as fast.

Precocious figures start to navigate among this vast demographic that has risen, it seems, out of nowhere and manipulate them as seen with the growth of alt-right commentators. This finicky group seems like it could turn on a dime, but doesn’t because the externalities generated from their pursuit of lolz is typically outside of their isolation. On the verge of violent radicalization, this large population of men is an unprecedented problem we do not at the moment have strategies to tackle. We need to transition from making fun of them to policy.

Ideology’s link to the supernormal stimuli phenomena could continue to be elaborated into a full fledged book, but hopefully enough of a picture has been painted to jump start critical thought. Supernormal stimuli is a near forgotten concept and it has been hard enough to draw interest to studying it in relationship to the culinary arts. Just like in culinary, there is possibility for supernormal stimuli as productive therapy, but a line can easily get crossed and they can become detrimental to health as seen in the classic animal examples.

McLuhan prophetically warned us about the consequences of introducing new media. The internet, catalyzed by economics, has created a population dangerously susceptible to destabilizing ideologies. Home grown extremism is growing rapidly in the U.S. and we are seeing a large population of white males fail to become productive members of society. Hopefully new ideas to help us frame these challenging problems will also help us generate solutions.

A New Institution of the Public Good: Mandatory Civil Service

In my last short political thought piece about the public good as a support system for immigrants, I highlighted some great language by John Ralston Saul about public schools. Saul explains public school as a vital inclusive equalizing institution that is more relevant than ever due to modern life. If we needed a new institution to carry out those same vital roles and possibly solve a host of other hard to reach problems, what would it be? I wager it would look like mandatory civil service.

Today we have a largely urban population. Our cities are filled with a highly mobile population, two job families, high divorce levels, single parent families, the return of long hours of work, the loss of community identification, high immigration levels, a new rise in the division between rich and poor and so on and so on. All of these factors mean that the one—if not the only—public structure we have which is capable of reaching out to all citizens in all parts of the country and making them feel part of the extended family of citizenship is the public education system. In the classic sense of the inclusive democracy, those simple bricks and mortar buildings, which we call the public schools, are in fact the one remaining open club house of citizenship. Not only is the public education system and its fundamental structure not old fashioned, it has found a new form of modernity. I would argue that we are more reliant on it today than we were through most of the 20th century. -John Ralston Saul, Address to the Canadian Teacher’s Federation (2001)

To combat the formation of class divisions and to promote the idea of inclusive democracy we likely need to create a mandatory civil service as an extension of our public school system (which is in danger of going private). U.S. politics have become extremely polarized, almost as if we are living in bubbles, so we may benefit from the forced mixing of young people. Conservatives would rub off on liberals and liberals on conservatives. We would have the opportunity to create a new center before we spread too far.

I never thought I’d be outlining this and I’ve encouraged a discussion group of women I know to pursue it, but the ideas have to become more common place. Whether we adopt one or not, thinking about a civil service and outlining one reinforces that we rely upon, and need to firm up, our equalizing institutions.

A mandatory civil service may also positively impact three of the most pressing and hard to solve problems within our society. The first is the heroin epidemic that gets many people at the critical age range of a civil service program. Young, impoverished Americans succumbing to hard drug addiction are often thought to be in cages and need geographic change to escape. Programming could be designed to give maximum positive impact to the nation’s growing heroin and meth problems.

Secondly, is the gang problem which is something I do not know of firsthand, being from Boston, but no doubt geographic change and forced mixing of young people at a critical age will make a positive impact where other strategies have failed.

Lastly, is making a dent in America’s startling leadership gap. The recent election season has shown that we are critically short of viable leaders. Programming within a civil service can highlight individuals who show strong leadership abilities and opportunities can be provided so they can advance as public servants. The equalizing nature of a program may fill our leadership gap with much needed diversity.

Civil Service programs previously have been associated with the military and were used as methods to build large trained forces in times of war, but this does not need to be the case. The U.S. is a startlingly large country and currently has a vast network of neglected and crumbling infrastructure that could be the target of civil service. Much of the infrastructure work is labor intensive and cannot be automated. The U.S. is also in need of transformative change to its energy infrastructure to combat climate change. All of these needs could be met and channeled in a way that provides equalizing opportunity for America’s young.

The major classic pro of a mandatory civil service is the promotion of national unity through shared experience and training together. Where in the past, programs have rallied around a threat from another nation, America could rally around the threats of climate change and extreme partisanship. A lot of the labor required to mend American infrastructure will be physical. Military programs create an appreciation for sacrifices, and no doubt young Americans would learn to appreciate the physical sacrifices of hard labor.

A new civil service deal will not be military oriented, but the American military will benefit from an increase in organized and trained individuals. Catching young Americans before they fall at ages where they are far more likely to commit crimes will increase military eligibility because countless young Americans cannot benefit from the positive life transforming effects of military service due to prior offenses.

High levels of government participation come from civil service programs generated by heightened awareness of issues. Classically, this watches politicians and puts the breaks on military intervention because anyone’s immediate family could be impacted. An infrastructure orientated program would increase participation by tying more Americans to smaller national decisions that have typically attracted less scrutiny. Knowledge of local politics would increase as more communities worked with the civil service department.

Many neglected skills will be taught offering significant equalizing opportunity. Infrastructure work would require vocational technical skills and fill large voids in the American work force. Due to national mixing, young Americans will also migrate to fill these voids in ways that previously saw too much friction and expense. A young person from North Dakota with no local opportunity could find their calling and become a machinist in Georgia. There will be gains to character related skills such as teamwork, responsibility, stress management, initiative and diversity tolerance which are all increasingly deficient in young Americans. Anyone that goes on to college after their civil service will likely be more successful.

Civil Service is equalizing because it exempts no one. The wealthiest and the poorest Americans will have to work side by side and come to understand each other. Urban Americans and rural will have the opportunity to see more of the country and learn each others concerns first hand. The opportunity for all walks of American life to rub off on each other will hopefully generate bi partisan interest in developing a program.

There are classic cons to a mandatory civil service and the number one is the violation of free will. This is true, but few young Americans have enough opportunity to make it worth their while to skip out. Many rebels may find some adventure in it (though I’ve seen some Israeli movies that make it out to be horribly boring and bureaucratic). Wealthy Americans who want their children to work for the family business would likely be happy to have their children cut their teeth elsewhere (at civil service), shedding entitlement, and developing a work ethic before they return. A non military focus with the promotion of inclusion will reduce concerns for violating free will.

Interference with higher education is a concern, but statistics are showing that we are sending young people to college unprepared for what they are committing to. Too many are also unable to afford higher education while most jobs require education beyond a high school degree. State sponsored education within a civil service program may help everyone.

Safety, which is a concern of military oriented programs, will be less of a concern for a climate change and infrastructure orientated program. The military may also benefit with higher quality recruits that have graduated the civil service program. The American military is in transition to more specialist personnel and capital intensive warfare. Civil service may be a catalyst for significant military transformation while maintaining a pool of organized and trained young Americans to draw from in an emergency.

Not everyone will fit in, even while not being military orientated, but a big percentage require a kick in the pants. Americans are riddled with physical ailments, emotional problems like anxiety and depression, as well as unstable political ideology. It is time to take stock. Many young Americans will rise to the occasion and mandatory civil service could be the cure to numerous ailments. Bi partisan support should not be hard. What heartland American does not want to see a rich kid from Connecticut forced into some manual labor? What coastal progressive does not want to see a rural kid meet their first Muslim, work side by side, and learn they are not too different.

The aim of this article is simply to get you to ponder the idea and hopefully take up a pen and outline it for yourself. What did I overestimate or what did I miss all together? Is civil service more pragmatic than making college free where students exercise their miss guided free will and study for unmarketable degrees? When I discussed this with the group of women I referenced in the beginning, I assumed their children would not benefit but wondered if they would anti them up to help others by rubbing off. The unanimous reply was that all their children would benefit immensely. Straight from their mothers lips, they all need to shed entitlement and gain focus before college. Near no kid out there is on a straight path out of high school through college and straight to a high paying job at Google. Any premier high tech company, no doubt, would to want hire the identified leaders of a few years of mandatory civil service.

What is water? Swimming in the Public Good

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?” -DFW at Kenyon

My last political thought piece included an introduction to the public good which was a new concept for a lot of people even though we swim in it. Institutions like public schools or documents like the Bill of Rights are not often explicitly categorized and taught as the public good so few of us can easily outline it. We commune with, and draw from this resource constantly but probably end up just like the David Foster Wallace’s fish, “What the hell is water?”

Last week I watched the video monologue of Marine Steve Gern in Iraq who is a very impressive guy and I admire the calming way he speaks about a very charged topic. Gern’s (over)simplified conclusion did not take into account that back in the states we are swimming in this public good that other countries simply do not have to our degree. The Marine notes that an American cannot go and walk the streets of Iraq alone because they’d probably get kidnapped, tortured, and murdered. That being the case, he concludes that no Iraqi should be allowed to come to the U.S. because they’d likely carry out the same behavior. Gern seems like an exemplary soldier, and no doubt has made many friends in hostile territory, but Iraqis to Gern are regarded as inherently bad until they are vetted.

Countless immigrants come to the U.S. from dangerous places around the world and this peculiar thing keeps happening, near all of them become productive members of society. But what makes that possible?

A fish needs water. Out of water a fish thrashes around dangerously gasping and embracing primal instincts. A fish in merely stagnant water languishes. The public good is the set of resources and rights that supports our inherent goodness and lets each of us participate in the American optimism that creates prosperity. The public good works when it is around. It stops working when it is privatized by kleptocrats.

A reason for the failure of the democracies we’ve tried to create around the world is that they were built with no strong institutions of the public good, no rights actually held firmly by checks and balances. They were set up by American politicians and consultants who cannot recognize the properties of the water they are swimming in.

There is a human gravity towards being lazy and corner cutting to make a job easier, especially when we stop exercising foresight, so there will always be a push towards ideologies like immigration restrictions that we need to resist. What we need to realize is that immigration, with its inherent risks, is integral to expanding prosperity. There will be a few bad eggs and even those that want revenge after seeing their entire families murdered in front of them at the hands of the West, but that may be laissez faire no matter how hard that is to swallow.

In parts of the world we’ve meddled, there is even a large shell shocked generation with hidden physical scars very much like our own soldiers who come back and succumb to erratic behavior and often suicide. We are in denial of their condition, often inflicted by us, just like we are in denial of our own veteran’s state. This kind of risk complicates freedom of movement yet we must allow it. We need to restrict the obvious, but never fully exclude. Anyone left behind will become increasingly dangerous. The ability to leave a hostile land with the choice to join the West reduces radicalization in areas we destabilize. Crossing our border and joining us, anyone foreign should realize they are entering water and can become their good self. It works, we’ve done this for years.

The relationship between immigration and prosperity is something we need to thoroughly debate more often so we can resist ideology. Many think immigrants are taking the jobs of American born citizens, but they are often taking jobs Americans will not do and at the other end they are truly innovating and creating new jobs for Americans as seen by looking at the figures in Silicon valley. Countless doctors who are the best and brightest of their countries come to America to supply our growing demand for healthcare. The closer you look, the more clear it is that we are nowhere near a point where immigration is damaging American prosperity.

What we also need to debate is whether fear of immigrants particularly Muslims is invented to accumulate the easy votes of the ignorant. Racism worn on the sleeve against African Americans has mostly subsided into covert systemic racism so that it can no longer be easily used as an electioneering tool. The hate vacuum has been filled by plainly spoken prejudice against Muslims. Many politicians, personally, barely care, but for the GOP party of pessimism, any category to hate openly is a tool to enter or maintain power.

Today we have a largely urban population. Our cities are filled with a highly mobile population, two job families, high divorce levels, single parent families, the return of long hours of work, the loss of community identification, high immigration levels, a new rise in the division between rich and poor and so on and so on. All of these factors mean that the one—if not the only—public structure we have which is capable of reaching out to all citizens in all parts of the country and making them feel part of the extended family of citizenship is the public education system. In the classic sense of the inclusive democracy, those simple bricks and mortar buildings, which we call the public schools, are in fact the one remaining open club house of citizenship. Not only is the public education system and its fundamental structure not old fashioned, it has found a new form of modernity. I would argue that we are more reliant on it today than we were through most of the 20th century. -John Ralston Saul, Address to the Canadian Teacher’s Federation (2001)

As explained by John Ralston Saul, the public good reaches out to people and makes them feel included and connected to others through citizenship. The outstretched arms of the public good, in forms so easy to take for granted as public lands, is an equalizer that prevents class formation and increases economic mobility which is important because most immigrants come here so poor.

When defending immigrants, asylum seekers, and refuges to those that are fearful or ignorant, it is important to mention the outstretched arms of the public good. For generations we have absorbed those that came from hostile lands and a positive force not readily apparent has been there to guide them in participating in the creation of American prosperity. For those of us that have never stepped outside of this force, we are doomed to say “What the hell is water?”

Optimism is your weapon!, Inherently Good, and the Public Good

We are clearly in a divided country, but what is the nature of the divide? Each side keeps placing the other in numerous rhetorically charged categories that obscure the root of their separation. Are we divided by geography being coastal elites or fly over states, or are we merely parties like Dems or GOP? More likely we are merely optimists and pessimists. It is also likely that pessimists who take power can never flip and create optimism.

Peeling back the rhetoric, our divide is near the root of our value system where we decide to believe whether people are inherently good or bad. Always the optimist and running on a platform of hope, Obama, frequently said very plainly he believed people are inherently good. A recent NYTimes op-ed quotes an astute baptist minister from the other camp who says: “The difference between Republicans and Democrats is that Republicans believe people are fundamentally bad, while Democrats see people as fundamentally good,”.

Believing someone to be inherently good or bad has profound impact on policy. Pessimists, often religious, do not think all people are bad, but all are bad until they are saved or reborn. If you are not saved, you do not deserve a safety net. To walk among the unsaved, you need a gun at all time in any space. Pessimism often runs with paranoia and can give way to resentment and vindictive policy where integrity and constitutional beliefs are too easily sacrificed to punish the other camp.

Common sense says that the economy is more likely to grow under optimism than pessimism, but what is the resource democrats draw their strength from and is it geographically concentrated? Optimism is supported by the philosophical and economic concept of the public good. Philosophically, the public good is rights like the freedom of speech while economically it is resources like a properly funded public school system. The concepts are seldom explicitly taught even among economic schools, but have been well outlined by thinkers like John Ralston Saul. Due to the nature of the parties, blue states have more of it and red states less.

Whether you practice or not, without even knowing it, we are first introduced to the public good via religion. The stories of the Koran, the Bible, and the Torah all strive to codify the public good. When religions overlap to reveal universal truths, that is the philosophical arm of the public good. Gandhi said all religions are true because all religions strive to have a relationship with the public good. If an ancient religious text seems dated and not to be taken literally, that is because what is good is in flux and constantly needs progressive revision and the removal of interests. Adamantly promoting an outdated, unreflected upon version of the public good to support an interest creates pessimism.

The next great codification of the public good (and recognition of its fragility) that we are exposed to is the United States Constitution. The document is set up to prevent erosion or deliberate destruction of the public good by outlining checks and balances to government bodies as well as containing a strong bill of rights. The document can also be officially amended to reflect the public good so it does not become as easily dated as a religious text.

But how does this all relate to the current divide within the country? Times of American growth and prosperity have taken place during periods where a vast majority have optimistically believed other people were inherently good without being hyper conscious of it. Prosperity has also coincided with policy that strengthened the resources of the public good so that they could be drawn upon for optimism.

Economically, the public good is a vast network of resources holding immense hard to quantify wealth so it has become a major target of kleptocracy and looting. The public good is hard to notice and outline so that it becomes hard to defend when it is stolen from such as the privatization of prisons or privatization of essential services like fire departments. We are currently seeing efforts to privatize public schools which may be the public good’s single greatest resource for optimism.

It is important to recognize what should be public and what should be private and to understand the benefits of both because they feed each other and help us find balance. Private for profit institutions can never have the full goals of public institutions and therefore cannot generate the same optimism that drives prosperity. Public resources such as research are integral to business optimism and make it easier for competitive private enterprises to start and grow. Due to externalities, production often has costs not factored into the price of a good. Protections from public institutions like the EPA create and maintain optimism by assuring the public will not foot the bill down the road for the accumulated destructive behavior of a corporation.

The pessimists have always been in this country, but they have never recently been so strong. Previously, pessimism was mainly the product of religion, particularly fire and brimstone versions of Christianity, but atheists and agnostics also have to form a value system and need to see the public good to become optimists. Optimism is harder when you are geographically further away from the resources of the public good which is disproportionately concentrated in cities due to higher population density.

Numerous catalysts for pessimism exist and a very significant driver has been terrorism created by economic unrest in unstable regions that have very weak public institutions and resources. The priest sex abuse scandals have also been very significant in destroying trust in a large institution that, whether you are religious or not, still plays a large role in the public good. McLuhan-esque changes to media have also weakened optimism and challenged the resolve of all our public resources. Social media is more like algorithmic media and nth degree negative stories get promoted to the fore generating pessimism and paranoia. Due to the algorithmic promotion of stories, many people believe crime is increasing while in actuality statistics show it to be decreasing.

Optimism and pessimism profoundly impacts policing. Who is more likely to shoot an unarmed black man pulled over for a simple traffic violation, an officer that believes people are inherently good or an officer that believes people are inherently bad? Proper funding for public institutions like police departments are integral to maintaining the public good which carries optimism. The funding for these institutions has been ravaged by globalism via the inability to raise taxes. The source of funding changes a municipal police department’s place in the public good. Forcing officers to fund themselves from one by one ticketing creates downward spiral of pessimism with consequences of serious social unrest.

Gun rights can be looked at in the context of the inherently good or bad construct. Citizens successfully move about coastal cities with optimism not carrying guns by holding the belief other people are inherently good while many rural dwellers (to pick a category name) do not believe they can visit the city without a gun. They believe people are inherently bad, or work on a sliding scale where some easy to recognize people are inherently bad. To hold an other saved, they have to be vetted personally.

Coastal cities benefit economically from an upward spiral of optimism generated by creativity that results from pursuing diversity and inclusion. This is all made possible by believing people are inherently good. Strong optimism correlated to key features of the public good helps coastal cities to easily weather storms that directly effect their locals such as terror attacks in New York or Boston. Distant pessimist locals are disproportionately shook despite their distant location.

The current GOP, believing people are inherently bad, is a dead end and cannot create optimism once in power. The economic arm of public good holds immense wealth and instead of keeping size in check, while recognizing its importance, ideology has taken hold with a goal of destroying any optimism supporting public good not tied down. Private business growth within GOP ideology comes from the looting of the public good. Public institutions that should remain public are privatized and protections are removed which create externalities that will have to be paid for later by the public. Current GOP policy does not create original prosperity, but rather only a transfer from the public good to private hands.

This inherently good versus bad, optimism versus pessimism construct lies beneath the rhetoric and hopefully is helpful to put a finger on exactly how we differ within this divided country. The relation of the public good to optimism and its associated prosperity hopefully can constructively guide policy to narrowing the divide. Rural areas need the resources of the public good that urban areas have been able to draw from if they are to conquer their pessimism. Believing people are inherently good is a hard road to walk and there will be bruising if not scars, but it is the true American way and path to sustained prosperity.

2016 Retrospective

Being December, it is time for the year end retrospective. Like usual, I felt like I didn’t accomplish much, but I did write about 20 posts with some containing distilled spirits’ most significant historic discoveries for the year (examining Arroyo) and others containing distilled spirits’ most progressive ideas (congeners derived from glycosides).

I have put a lot of beverage work on hold to become a design world darling and start the Houghton Street Foundry (IG: @houghtonstfoundry) which makes exquisite door hardware and offers architectural machining services. I have ghost written a few products for small distilleries with one being the hottest off premise specialty product in New England, though I actually think I designed it last calendar year. My beverage pace has slowed down, but I’m still holding significant technique and history secrets from the industry (to punish you all!).

The year started with Rum Comparatively: Understanding Anything Goes and explains how production compares to other spirits categories and why rum is the most progressive spirit with unique production templates that other categories do not use.

Aggressive collecting led me to Excise Anecdotes from Arrack Country which tells some of the most breath taking (and heart breaking) distilling stories ever recorded. It also ends with a beautiful discovery and meditation on terroir.

There is a ton of WTF? in Rum, Mitogenic Radiation & The Bio-photon. Brilliant Science writer, Adam Rogers, was cool enough to spend time weighing in so I had a lot of fun with the post. It does show that Rafael Arroyo was a far out thinker with an ear to the ground and yet again reinforces the idea of rum as the most progressive spirit. Nearly a century of science later not much is clarified.

This was particularly important to me because I’ve long been a champion of the rums of Cape Verde. In Cape Verde and Sugar Cane Juice Rum Categories I apply explanations from Arroyo to my favorite distilling tradition and explain the origins of their distinct aromas. There are so many supposed rum experts and they are still avoiding Cape Verde and the island of Madeira. Berry’s or Plantations rums, where you at? I’ll connect you to Cape Verde’s most brilliant distillery.

Here I describe my plan for discovering a new generation of champion rum yeasts: Team Pombe and the Yeast Olympiad. So far I haven’t been able to get it off the ground because of a lack of interest from the small distilleries in my circle (and the very expensive process). I will likely finance and execute the ideas by myself and I’m not afraid if it takes quick a few years. No one else seems to be too interested in this territory.

Rum, Osmotolerance and the Lash was so much more than a cute title and looks at forces that shape microbial communities, especially when trying to cultivate a dominant Pombe fermentation.

I had heard murmers of these ideas so long ago from Ed Hamilton so I decided to tackle them in Aroma Breakage and Rum Design. Arroyo as usual was on top of everything. Some new producers like Maggie Campbell of Privateer are known to be very much hip to this and weave the ideas in production.

Ageing, Accelerated Ageing, & Élevage ==> Lies, Damn Lies & Statistics This was my look at Arroyo’s progressive musing on the aging topic. I think this was before I read UC Davis great, Vernon Singleton’s, legendary paper which I probably should have given its own post (2017!)

Narrative of the 1975 Rum Symposium

Say it with me:
Rum is the most progressive spirits category.
Rum has the most researched spirits production.
There is nothing finer than rum as we make it.

There is so much good stuff in the symposium.

I had never done a spirits review before and of course I did it on my own terms. This post, Spirits Review: Mezan XO Jamaica Rum, also ends up with a challenge of drinking 10 ounces in one sitting to test a theory many are anecdotally validating. I also drop one of the most progressive ideas in all distilling and introduce a new congener category. Its not my fault if people cannot keep up.

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Before I left to run a popup in Province Town this summer, I introduced For Sale: Large Bottle Bottler. This tool is particularly awesome but not for everyone and I don’t push it. Some bars are killing it with my bottlers and I am in some of the world’s top programs while other notable programs cannot assemble a team that can handle the tasks. A lot of a sales go to winemakers doing research projects for their own product development. I owe you all a new post on kegging to show you’ve all been doing it so so wrong.

In the frustration of the election and inspired by blog hero George Lakoff, I penned Public foundations for Private Spirits Companies. The post is a meditation on how private companies get built on a foundation of public research and how we are starting to forget that. A new generation of distilleries is popping up that often flounders with the technical aspects of product development because they do not seek out any of the amazing research that came before them. Most distillers are in disbelief the research exists when I introduce it to them. This rickety blog is the largest source of advanced educational material for the new American distilling industry which is approaching a billion dollars in revenue and quite a few hundred million in investment.

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Here I introduce the Alaska Ice Crusher and describe a stunning restored version produced by a new friend. I’ve used Alaskas for a quite a few years and lately have been seeing them popping up in finer bars. They have become a Boston bar scene thing and collectively we own quite a few.

In A Few Papers For The Industrious I take a break from foundry work to read from papers that Rex sent in which I’d been hoping to come across for a few years now. Having gotten in the mood, I also shared up some delicious snippets from the archives of rum arcana.

Patrick Neilson Tells of Rum (Like No Other), 1871 This was easily my favorite piece of the entire years with its companion article J.S. Tells of Rum, Jamaica 1871. These papers kick off the fine rum era and are full of the choicest opinions on things like skimmings that many of us have heard of but don’t quite understand.

This piece was short and fun and simply shows that even as far back as 1885, which is a few life times out from the birth of the term, people were into tracking down etymologies: Etymology of the Word Rum by Darnell Davis (1885).

This is only for nerds and if you’re short on time and need to triage your reading, skip this, Occurance of Lime-Incrustations in Rum Stills (1903), and the next post, Scientific Control of a Rum Distillery by F. I. Scard.

As I collect papers, a genre of writings is emerging and this is an enjoyable example from a seldom described island. W. M. Miller Tells of Rum in Guyana for Timehri (1890)

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We ended the year with the Return of the Champagne Bottle Manifold where I mastered single point threading on the manual engine lathe and started cutting the proprietary 19/32-18 threads myself to improve the design. My design over the years has evolved to be really spectacular, but they didn’t really catch on because programs didn’t want to pay for them and those that did had them frequently stolen. The most serious users ended up being Champagne sales reps.

Who knows what next year will bring. Sadly for the Bostonapothecary blog, my focus will be in the workshop. Ask questions or challenge me and I may sit down and post.

Cheers!

Return of the Champagne Bottle Manifold

I developed this product many years ago and have shipped them around the world, but I’m finally ready to launch the final design revision.

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Cornelius quick release fittings use a proprietary 19/32-18 threading that is very hard to create. You can’t get a tap or die so you either need CNC or go old school full manual with an engine lathe. I finally got my engine lathe set up to cut the threads which frees me from a piece I was previously buying. It also makes the design more solid because a single piece of metal has the threads and extends all the way down to the shoulder that contacts the food safe seal. The design still uses square acme style threads to engage the collar which are created with a molding process that molds them precisely around the brass. A one piece metal design probably can’t be done without CNC and the price would likely double.

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I don’t sell very many to the cocktail community which never latched on to the usefulness of Champagne bottles, so most sell to experimental wine makers and sparkling wine sales reps looking for high fidelity preservation.

For the trade, brand logos can be engraved in the brass so they are visible under the translucent plastic. If you are a Champagne house, feel free to buy them bulk for your sales teams.

If for any obscure brewing project you need 19/32-18 threads, I can cut them!

The Keg-To-Champagne-Bottler will likely be updated using these design improvements.

Don’t forget about the amazing Small Bottle Bottler or the infamous Large Bottle Bottler which is a full enclosure tool for many large beer bottle sizes and Champagne 750’s. Somehow I’ve managed to produce the most complete and effective lineup of affordable pilot plant bottling equipment on the market!

W. M. Miller Tells of Rum in Guyana for Timehri (1890)

In Guyana, rum had attracted yet another Victorian genius and that was W.M. Miller. His article for the amazing publication Timehri reinforces the idea that rum consistently attracted PhD level scientists to push it ever progressively forward.

This article is pretty cool and after reading so many of these I keep coming across little subtleties that show the evolution of ideas. Thinkers like Micko or Arroyo did not come out of nowhere, but rather came from a continuous line of thinkers at the forefront who were happy to share their ideas. Greatness in distillation is not about secrets, it is about execution.

In reports on estate’s work it may have a few lines devoted to it; but it is seldom that any genuine interest is taken in it, either in its manufacture or in its quality. The usual feeling is that the rum makes itself, and does not require any looking after. The molasses is diluted and the wash distilled; and if the results are low, the molasses is blamed; and if the rum is bad, the distiller gets a reminder.

Wine making itself is an adage & rhetoric of the terroir scene, but it is far from the truth. To bridge the gap, I try to differentiate between traditional processes and guided traditional processes.

But in these latter days there has been a brightening up of interest about rum. The Government meditate new legislation; and home buyers are becoming more fastidious owing to the quantities of continental root spirit, called “Rum,” that are thrown on the English market. This latter reason soon affects the manager of the estate, and for some time there is continuous rubbing of hands and sniffing, with more or less satisfaction—generally less.

Beautiful language and we see that old technique—rub a little spirit into the hands to open it it up, then sniff! The continental spirit is made from sugar beets and supposedly, though a lot of effort has been thrown at them, they just can’t make a product with aroma worthy of being called rum.

We have the misfortune to cater to a fancy of the most changeable type. So it is with rum. We have to suit an unknown personal taste, and, let us do our best, if we halve a sample, A. will laud it, while B. will probably call it “beastly stuff.” But the chances are that B. does not know what a good rum is, as the sniffing test is still fashionable; and we come back again to the desirability of a “polariscope,” wherein B’s taste is the optical part that indicates “beastly stuff.” In others words, if we had such ready chemical tests as could permanently record B’s taste in some fixed way, we should be able to avoid shocking B., and at the same time to please A.

A segmented market was on his mind. The polariscope idea is basically to turn a rum into a definite number. Even now with GC-MS we don’t know exactly what chemical compounds correlate with notions of quality. Personally, I love wandering in the realm of acquired tastes.

It is with the hope, therefore, that some universal method may be introduced, not only here but by the buyers also, so that every one’s particular liking may be recorded in figures, that I have come forward with the following contribution to the subject. The “everybody” in this case is probably a few individuals in two or three markets.

This became a bit of a quest for a lot of people, and I do enjoy the way Arroyo avoided it. We always need to remember that the occasion around a sensory experience adds rhetorical power and shapes taste while so does context and telling the story of a fine spirit. Taste, especially when cultivation becomes a hobby is especially malleable. We are no longer authentic hard laborers drinking the same product on end simply to quench our thirst and sooth our sores.

Another reason that should demand the more systematic analysis of rum is the desire to guard our product from being imitated by the Continental spirit. Unless analyses of the genuine spirit be well known and widely circulated, analysts would find some difficulty in distinguishing the genuine from the imitation.

These aspirations become very significant and the efforts also produced much better genuine rum.

The usual here is to allow the fermentation to proceed spontaneously, and if a return of 5 percent, to 6 percent, of 40 O.P. spirit be obtained from the wash set at 1o6o the result considered satisfactory.

Simply we note they were still practicing spontaneous fermentations, but we should think of these very differently than wine.

In practice, as before stated, it is usual to allow the fermentation to proceed spontaneously. The addition of sulphuric acid or ammonia sulphate does not in the least start the fermentation. They may, or may not, improve the wash and make it a more suitable medium for the development of the yeast, but unless yeast in some way gets added, the addition of any quantity of these bodies can be of no use in starting fermentation. During grinding operations little trouble is found in starting fermentation through the addition, one way or the other, of the highly fermentable washings and scums; but if distillation has to be conducted by itself, after a period of rest, the trouble in starting a good fermentation and the low results, will no doubt be remembered by any one who has had to deal with it. To find the reason of this we must consider what fermentation is.

Here is some juicy morsels. There was often trouble starting fermentations later in the season when skimmings were no longer available. It was not yet realized how to create a starter and how stages of yeast reproduction differed from stages of alcoholic fermentation.

But what is in the scums and skimming!? This is the cream if you remember. Are they particularly rich in the building blocks of yeast growth? and/or valueable aroma precursors like glycosides? Who knows and these fractions might not even exist anymore due to large advances in sugar processing. What is their official status?

Alcoholic fermentation is the change a saccharine solution undergoes when the yeast plant developes in it. Being a plant, yeast wants food very much the same as other plants, and unless the foods are there it will not develope. But every variety of plant has one special soil best suited to it ; and if it is our object to cultivate any particular plant, it is to our advantage to give it the food on which it flourishes best. Yeast requires carbohydrates such as glucose, mineral matter in the form of potassium phosphate with a little of the phosphates of lime and magnesia, and albumenoid bodies which must be in the soluble state. The reason why these foods must be in the soluble state, is that the yeast only feeds, as it were, through its skin.

Great metaphors. Arroyo had really great explanations of how fermentations get stuck.

In molasses, we have the carbohydrates and probably sufficient alkaline phosphates, but the soluble albumenoids are altogether wanting. It is owing to their absence that fermentation is not readily started in molasses. In cane juice, on the other hand, these albumenoids are in the best assimilable state, and hence the rapid fermentation that is so easily set up. We have here a very easy means then of establishing fermentation in molasses.

Here we go. I also suspect that the yeast count on the skins of canes or grapes or fruit, or anything not boiled like molasses is very significant and helps it burst into rapid fermentation.

A little “cush-cush” can be made at a moment’s notice, which, when once fermented, will serve to start the vat. The yeast when once started has the power to render soluble the insoluble albumenoids that exist in the molasses, so that the fermentation will then proceed of itself.

He drops the cush-cush! His explanation here may be spurious.

The advantage of establishing a vigorous and healthy fermentation cannot be too strongly recommended. It alone produces a pure alcohol. The languid insipid vat is productive of fusel oil, besides becoming an easy prey to the action of deleterious ferments.

Arroyo eventually takes the math of the starter to the nth degree and explains how to figure out how big exactly they should be and what is compromised when size changes.

The only means of escape then is to start such a vigorous fermentation that the predominance of the yeast will entirely obscure the harm done by the other ferments or kill them to a great extent; for in fermentation, as well as in everything else, it is only that which is adapted to the environment that flourishes.

Sage advice. There is the phenomenon of killer yeasts, but I’m not sure if that is what Miller is intuiting here.

As it is in the beginning of the fermentation that the lactic acid ferment is likely to get a hold, the necessity for quick starting of the alcoholic fermentation is obvious. Towards the end both the alcohol and the acid developed keeps it in check, but neither of these (the alcohol and acid) restrain much the action of the acetic acid ferment which begins to be very evident towards the end of the alcoholic fermentation. The appearance of a peculiar film on the surface of the wash indicates the presence of a species of Saccharomyces that is busy changing the spirit into acetic acid. It should be beaten down under the surface where it cannot obtain the oxygen necessary to destroy the spirit.

Interesting stuff in here. A lot of different things can grow in rum ferments and Miller probably knows a vinegar mother when he sees one (or smells one). I wouldn’t have thought it would be effective to punch it down below the surface. I’d have thought it would either float back up or be encouraged by whipping oxygen into the brew, but Miller seems like he achieves success. Was it common to witness all sorts of deleterious growths and deal with them as such? There are top fermenting saccharomyces yeasts, but this seems different. There are also weird mucusy growths that can turn a ferment into thick scum. When you’ve got them you’re on your way to a kombucha SCOBY.

This is not the Acetic Acid ferment proper. It develops throughout the whole wash and is quite a different organism. It flourishes best at the same temperature as yeast and is thus difficult to restrain,but as it only appears after the alcohol is formed, much damage by it may be avoided by distillation at once.

For me, this isn’t ringing a bell yet.

The butyric acid ferment feeds on the fatty matters present. It is to the acid that this ferment produces, in combination with the alcohol, that the flavour of rum is partly due. The distillation of the wash should be conducted as regularly as possible. Any rapid increase in the temperature forces over impurities that otherwise should be retained by the rectifier. The temperature at the exit of the rectifier should not exceed 18o deg, F.

The big reason pot still distillation needs to be slow and regular is that a more rapid boil challenges the subtle reflux contributed by the walls of the still. Reducing this subtle often over looked reflux drops the distillation proof and allows more congeners to come across in the hearts fraction. The spirit exiting should be kept cool so that it does not evaporate creating a loss and so as that it doesn’t dissolve the copper of the still. Inadequate condensing temp is a big problem for the bush rums of the world in places like Trinidad and Cape Verde.

I’ll skip Miller’s explanation of all the congener classes which is actually notably cool. He is wrong sometimes but shows how much they knew and how much they were willing to take a stab at back then. Brilliant.

Measure out 25 c.c. of the alcohol into a small glass flask, and drop in 15 c.c. strong sulphuric acid. Pure alcohol when treated in this way gives no colouration, but the presence of aldehyde gives the solution a brown colour, and the fusel oil a dark purple.

Arroyo practiced this test not to measure congeners by coloration like Miller but to chemically reveal rum oil. Other aromas are rendered neutral by reaction with the strong acid.

Tested in this way, the ” heads” of a still give very deep dark browns, which fall very quickly and give place to a pink with a trace of blue; which continues till about the time when the “low wines is cut,” when there is a sudden rise of colour, the dull purple predominating. The white rum itself can be tested in this way, and fair comparative results obtained.

Fascinating. I’ve been itching to do this test and was promised some surplus acid. I already hatching a plan for what can artfully be done with it.

The testing of rums which are already coloured, with sulphuric, of course cannot be done. It becomes first necessary to distill it from the colours. This should be done rapidly without the addition of any alkali, till all has passed over that can, without burning, the first-third and second-third being caught separate from the last. Halve each of the thirds, and mix them, this will represent the rum; and test the other portions separately. These separate portions will give further insight into the nature of the rum.

Very profound if you look at the ideas of Micko and Arroyo that come later. Let me quote it again:

These separate portions will give further insight into the nature of the rum.

This idea elaborated is everything.

 

Scientific Control of a Rum Distillery by F. I. Scard

This great (possibly 19-teens?) article from the International Sugar Journal by F. I. Scard immediately brings up some themes I’ve been talking about in distillation. For starters, Scard was a name who criticized the Veley’s in their debacle over the micro organism of faulty rum 91898). Remember the punchline?—the organism might simply have been decomposed raw meat! And the hint comes from a comment by IRS researcher extraordinaire, Peter Valaer in 1937. Can you not see this wicked web we’re weaving?

Any how, the idea I’m promoting is that just like fine wine did not exist without the lab, the same is true for spirits. The winners of the judgement of Paris were all lab guys and the same will be true for great distillers past and future, skipping the present.

In the case of a rum distillery the position is very different. It is not the sucrose alone which has to be accounted for in the course of manufacture, but all the formentable sugars, glucose, and invert sugar, as well as sucrose, which find their way to the distillery. The object of the operations of a distillery is not to separate and obtain these sugars as such, but as a product formed from them by biological means before its actual separation by distillation, a product in which the flavour is a vital point in its value. The microscope thus plays an important part in the control of a distillery.

Here we have language that sums up chemical and biological control and shows conscientiousness. The science goes on to get very heavy and shows that people of PhD level science education were involved in the production of fine rums. After much heavy duty science wanking Scard puts a time stamp on a known technique for making fine rums:

It sometimes happens that the wash is not sot up all at once, but that fermentation is allowed, purposely, to start before the set is completed, being gradually fed with “sweets” until the desired charge is obtained. In this case the constituents of the wash must be measured separately, and the sweets determined separately too.

Incremental feeding of washes was a technique further elaborated years later by Arroyo and may be unique to rum fermentations. He does later go on to criticize the technique possibly because it does not fit neatly into his idea of control.

As already mentioned, the microscope plays an important part in the control of the fermenting loft. The great enemy to fermentation is the putrefactive, bacillus and the wash requires to be constantly examined for the presence of these organism. A few are invariably present, but, if the condition of the wash is favourable to their development, the yeast plant is soon smothered, and there is nothing else to be done but to clean up the distillery in every detail. It is as well also to keep a microscopic eye on the yeast plant, to see if it is developing properly, and at the same time to look out for moulds or other organisms inimical to the yield of alcohol.

Oh, maybe we are not talking about fine rum here after all, but rather the commodity category? Fine products require a certain philosophy where control isn’t sought completely, but rather just enough control to frame windows for chaos. Arroyo later showed us the benefits of controlled putrefactive fermentation and aroma beneficial moulds. The rums of Hampden estates go on to tell a very singular story where they break all the rules and there is certainly no one going around “cleaning up the distillery in every detail.”

The number of gallons going to the still in the form of wash during the week is recorded, together with the amount of alcohol received from it. These should agree within 5 per cent, with a pot still and 1 per cent, with a continuous still. The lees, or spent wash, should also be examined for alcohol by distillation, daily in the case of a continuous still, and from every distillation with a pot still, to see if any alcohol is escaping in this way. 250 c.c. should be taken and 50 c.c. distilled off, the gravity of which is taken with a specific gravity bottle, and corrected for temperature, when any loss of alcohol will be at once discovered.

This test can be run with a profit motive, but if you put in the time, you’ll also learn about lost aroma. With a flipped motive, fine rums can benefit from many of the same protocols as commodity rums.

In order to ascertain the amount of spirit obscured, the following is a reliable and simple method, and preferable to the distillation method in the case of strong spirits like rum. The specific gravity of the coloured spirit is taken in a specific gravity bottle, or by Sikes’ tables, if the Sikes’ hydrometer is used. 100 c.c. are then taken and evaporated until all the spirit has been driven off, i.e., when the residue has reached a syrupy consistency. The residue is now dissolved in water, and made up accurately to 100 c.c. at the same temperature at which the gravity of the coloured spirit was obtained. The specific gravity is now taken. The decimal part of the gravity is then subtracted from the gravity of the coloured spirit, the remainder giving tho gravity of the spirit without the colour. From this gravity the quantity of alcohol present can be obtained by reference to tables.

Currently the TTB requires the distillation version of the test, but the version presented by Scard (and arrived at my myself independently years ago for studying liqueurs) is remarkably easy and with modern day instruments can be performed on remarkably small scales with amazing accuracy. Small, 5mL, volumes of historic rums could be sacrificed to get this data. There is huge criticism of obscuration in the rum world and yet no leading authority has been sophisticated enough to perform this test for themselves. From 5mL-10mL samples, and a collection of bottles, it would take very little from the rum community to look at the obscuration changes in many brands over recent history. If consumers feel obscuration is important to the fine rum category then here you go.

Faults in rum are found by the following test. A portion of the coloured rum taken from the cask before shipment is diluted with twice its volume of distilled water if it is strong rum of the Demorara description, or with an equal volume if of the weaker Jamaica kind. It is then placed in a small cylinder covered over with a glass plate, and allowed to stand for 24 hours. If at the end of this period there is no appearance of cloudiness the rum is free from “faults.” If a cloudiness appears it may be due to :—
(1) Resinous matter from the wood of the cask ;
(2) A precipitate from too-highly burnt colour ;
(8) The presence of low bodies of the fusel oil class which should have been kept back in the low wines.

Other reasons have popped up for faulty rum and I put up a great series of papers the other day.

 

Occurance of Lime-Incrustations in Rum Stills (1903)

This is a short fun one from the 1903 International Sugar Journal. Many of us think of old school rum washes as being quite dirty, but what toll did it take on equipment? And what does it tell us about Arroyo’s focus a few decades later?

By 1903 sulphuric acid was in wide spread use to acidity fermentations and that led to lots of salt deposits.

So all of the biggest concerns were from commodity rums produced on continuous column stills and not the fine rums produced on pot stills where they could simply discharge and then flush out.

This phenomenon where alcohol changes how the crystals form may be why I’ve had much better success creating sugar cubes in an alcohol/water solution than in water alone (a project from probably six years ago). Very interesting.

What he goes on to explain is that sugar and acidity in the wash increase the solubility of gypsum so that 1 part to 400 part drops considerably. Gypsum actually precipitates as the wash ferments because the sugar content decreases.

These ideas are before the era of the Alfa Laval continuous centrifuge.

It would be Arroyo’s focus to go on and solve a lot of these problems with new ideas in molasses pre-treatment which resulted in significant advances to commodity rum production. It is hard to say if Arroyo faced the exact same challenges. As sugar producers gained increased chemical control and gathered more data, they were able to produce higher quality molasses. A lot of what Arroyo removed from molasses was not exactly gypsum but gums and other materials that could impede fermentation besides clogging a continuous still.

Etymology of the Word Rum by Darnell Davis (1885)

A fun snippet from the files is this 1885 look at the etymology of the word rum. Judging by titles of his other works, the author, the honorable Darnell Davis, was quite the character, but so far I haven’t figured out if he was any kind of colonialist racist or not. Google has no full view of his essays, but I’ve yet to consult other resources (too busy at the foundry).

Davis’ work comes a whole 200 years after the birth of the word, rum, at a time that was pretty much the birth of modern rum with any stylistic identity (beginning of chemical and then later biological control).

Most enthusiasts today believe there are few works on the subject, but rum it turns out, has the most well documented history of any spirit category. This blog has become sort of a monument to and repository of that technical history.

Categorizing rum is all the rage, and lately in discussions, I’ve been promoting the top most categories of fine rum and commodity rum (which we will eventually sub categorize). This backs away from cliches like sipping and mixing as well as industrial and artisan. It is no revolution in rum categorization, but the words are semantically powerful and have been very valuable to understanding wine. Wine, we will repeatedly see, is where we should look when figuring out how to categorize and market rum.

My big point is that fine rums exist, and they are certainly out there on the market, but the category does not yet exist. We cannot have fine rums sorted from all the commodity junk until the complete history of rum comes out. We just went from thinking Jamaican rum was shrouded in mystery to finding out it has the most documented history of any spirit complete with time stamps, intimate anecdotes, and first names galore.

Fine wines tell a story, and that is largely their whole point, but we cannot read it unless we clearly know how they were produced. Things we don’t quite understand like the contribution of cane varieties cannot be pulled apart until the other variable are isolated by disclosure. We still have no wide acknowledgement of Schizosaccharomyces Pombe as a rum yeast. Giant holes exist in rum knowledge that would change any categorization system so I think a lot of people are getting ahead of themselves.

Fine rums cannot tell their story until we know more about them starting with their technical history and evolution. This has nothing to do with banishing caramel coloring or the arbitrary numbers attached to a solera system. Dwelling there will just set rum back. The future of fine rum literature will probably resemble Andrew Jefford’s writing on wine, but it is nowhere near there at the moment.

Darnell Davis’ 1885 etymology of rum is another step in telling the history of rum that will get us closer to the category of fine rum. Pulling these papers out is less about helping to produce better rum (like some of my efforts for new distillers) and more about helping to read rum. We need a continuous story from the birth of the word to the bottles we are currently enjoying.

Spirits get shaped by countless influences from the cultural to the philosophical to the scientific. Wars shape spirits and so do unique government programs like the various experiment stations or the infamous Rum Pilot Plant. The fine category begins with chemical and biological control to sculpt a spirit into an ideal and then the philosophical is free to take over.

Fine wine, we must remember, was born in the lab. The American winners of the Judgement of Paris were all lab technicians turned winemakers. This allowed them to follow the progressive process of incremental improvement for their wine. These producers, particularly Warren Winiarski, were deeply involved in the philosophical end of wine construction, but they also had the technical foundation to execute all their ideas.

Let’s quote Winiarski because it is wildly relevant:

That was also there. All of those things. We didn’t talk about the major ingredient, the accumulation of scientific information and things that people did at Davis. Maynard Amerine’s work with grapes and where they grow best –that bulletin of the Agriculture Experiment Station at the University of California that I used as a Bible, reading it in a devotional way. Every day you read a little bit of this, at night you read a little bit of that, getting intimately immersed in the contents. You read another chapter and tried to figure out what these must analyses could mean and what their significance was. The existence of such a rich body of knowledge was certainly another major ingredient. And I think the other thing was the people, among whom I count myself, whose taste and aspirations were formed elsewhere and who brought in the ability to actually accomplish the coming together of these several elements.

Maynard Amerine and the culture of that UC Davis era have always been a guide for the work at the Bostonapothecary. A Winiarski or a Grgich of the rum world will not come along until we assemble and digest all the literature. Also, notice that Winiarski et al. were studying texts meant for commodity wine production. These fine wine makers literally sat in (old school non degree sat in) the back of the class to learn anything that might help them produce fine wines. What are the differences between fine and commodity? Philosophy, scale, and compromise.

A big problem the new distilling movement has is a shoddy notion of philosophical ideals and absolutely zero chemical and biological control. With few exceptions, they have all pretty much only gotten as far as: “look mom, I made rum”. And of course it is not rum, which is a concept that pops up in the literature time and again, best reinforced by Arroyo. Not all things made from sugar cane products are rum and if they’re not rum, they are in the commodity category. The commodity category has things that aren’t fit to be called rum as well as things fit to be called rum, but not fit to be called fine. Right now we are seeing some of the most expensive commodity distillates ever produced hitting the market from the new distilling scene.

Skimmings communicate in a far greater degree than molasses the characteristic stamp to rum. A spirit made of pure molasses and water would scarcely be rum; and instances are familiar of molasses having been removed from one place and distilled at another, which, with different skimmings, have produced an entirely different rum. -J.S., 1871

Ideas evolved a bit and rum, according to Arroyo, starts with a rum yeast, and what is special about that yeast is that it takes advantage of precursors in the substrate to produce extraordinary congeners, of low frequency of occurrence, and of universal harmonic value, all the while limiting congeners like fusel oil which overshadow when in excess. Yet we’ve only learned all that recently by rediscovering literature that had been lost for decades.

Just like the chemical and biological aspects of rum production have a history, so too does the philosophical and that heritage goes back much further than anyone had recently thought. Just the other day, a paper turns up from 1871 with an author (J.S. also quoted above) describing the idea of forcing versus intercepting flavour. Though it is proto-philosophy, the concept sit parallel to the idea of wines of effort versus wines of terroir.

Only with recently revealed technical history could we read more of the story of the fine rums of Cape Verde because much of their unique character has to do with their sugar cane juice not being centrifuged and defecated like the rhums of Martinique.

Don’t forget that many of the fine rums of the last ten years from independent bottlers such as Plantation were not very conscientious nor produced with much enlightened philosophy. They were found art, accidentally over aged, and accidentally ending up extraordinary after missing their modest targets. Their architects weren’t part of contemporary culinary with their own twitter accounts, but were often government employees and at the most generous, many could be called outsider artists (brilliant and conscientious, but within a tiny bubble). The faceless nature and the way so many producers imploded is a big part of the intrigue for the sleeping relics they left behind. But on distilling day for the 1986 Barbados rum bottled by Plantation, if you said fine or asked about forcing or intercepting flavour, the Barbados boys would say: ‘the fuck you talk’n about?’ It was distilled like a brick house, but with commodity ambitions as the basis for some anonymous blend somewhere.

Anyhow, read Darnell Davis and marvel at his tracing the etymologies of rum and his tales of digging through the libraries of Europe to do it.