Alaska Ice Crusher

One of my prized possessions is my Alaska model No. 1 ice crusher. To be honest, I own a few of them and insist they are at any bar I’m working. Many in the cocktail scene aren’t familiar with them, but the bars of Boston are home to quite a few (And D.C.’s Green Zone just got its first fully restored unit!).

The Alaska is a big, hundred year old, fly wheel driven, block ice crusher that can shred cold draft cubes like it’s no ones business. They were used on fishing boats, in general stores, science labs, pretty much any where an awesome crush was required. With little effort you can fill five gallon buckets of crush in mere minutes (especially if you fit it with a hopper!). A 115 volt motor just can’t match the torque of a hand driven flywheel so there is nothing electric in its size range that can rival it (actually, if you’ve got the space you can attach a motor).

For years people have loved stopping by our house for a Caipirinha, the house drink, and crushing their own ice. “Oh yeah, the house with that big crusher.” It has always been the center of a lot of drunk memories. One of ours may or may not have made a pilgrimage to Burning Man.

Owning a great, clean and functional Alaska has just gotten easier because Brandon Neal’s PA Writing Tools & Restoration has started restoring them. Buying a restored machine will set you back $375-425 and Brandon can restore an existing machine for $200. Not too bad for a hundred year old statement piece.


Unrestored Alaska’s are prone to dripping a little rust here and there because they were made from tin coated steel, but Brandon solves all that with a food safe powder coating. Restoration involves disassembly and sand blasting, boring the worn axle holes, rethreading the flywheel spindle, food safe powder coating, fitment with plastic bushing to prevent metal on metal abrasion, and finally a new handle. Brandon can even fabricate new metal tins to catch the crush if desired.

Boring of the axle holes, which are typically elongated by wear, is a modern update and a really great touch. When worn, the spinning drum tends to jump and rock side to side making noise and increasing the wear. When fitted with plastic bushings, there is no more metal on metal contact and a much more precise movement.

If you’re interested in an Alaska, leave a comment here or hit up Brandon on Facebook. There is often a waiting list because Alaska’s are a highly collected cult antique. They are increasingly behind the scenes of better bars and becoming statement pieces for distillery tasting rooms. I finally own enough of them that I’m comfortable telling you about them. [If your bar uses an Alaska, leave a comment. It would be great to know who else is in the club.]

Nothing rivals an Alaska.

I own a few 19th century Chandler’s
(This person owns a fleet! I must have lost auctions to them)
(Japaned or galvanized, take your pick!)


I own a few Little Giants:


I’ve owned the legendary Flak Mak’r:


But the Alaska is king. Happy crushing.

Public foundations for Private Spirits Companies

[Something really important to consider here is the public research contribution to the spirits industry versus the pharmaceutical industry. In the spirits industry public research lifts all boats and works as its supposed to. In pharma public research gets coerced into a patent that can not lift all boats. Pharma companies from around the world flock to the U.S. to take advantage of public research they can funnel into protected patents. The spirits industry should likely be a template for how things should go yet the work does not continue and instead is from a bygone era.]

Recently, long time blog hero, the super star linguist George Lakoff, wrote a wonderful article explaining the rhetoric of the Trump campaign and at the end made some strategy suggestions for democrats. The big one was to take the time and highlight what public resources have done for private companies (republicans are in denial) and one of the supreme examples may be the spirits industry. Trump remember, did try and sell vodka.

This blog, home to my obsessive collecting of papers on spirits research, is more or less a shrine to great public works. I will boldly claim that this modest blog has also become the biggest source of advanced educational material for the new arm of the distilling industry that is domestically approaching $1 billion in market value (and a very significant employer). I did it all mainly by collecting public works that were either lost or taken for granted and making them more accessible, very much a la Aaron Swartz. I do write a lot of original material and annotate papers I find, but it is nowhere near as valuable as the original public works (I’m even hiding some of the best stuff). A large part of why I do it is because I want to start my own private business and I can only do this if I draw from public resources.

Articles continuously get released in reputable publications that claim that no significant public works have been conducted on topics as specific as barrel aging but that is so far from the truth. The IRS at one point in time was even advanced enough to conduct studies of whiskey aged in plywood barrels for four years. There was even an eight year follow up I have yet to recover. Public researcher John Piggott has done eye opening work on the topic that informs many of the world’s great whiskeys.

Another very timely topic is the accelerated aging of spirits, and constant junk articles repeatedly claim very little work has been done on the subject. These authors have yet to discover the definitive literature review and bibliography of famed U.C. Davis professor Vernon Singleton published publicly in Hilgardia. Our private companies are either botching it by not using public resources or we are an entire generation removed from anyone even aware of pragmatic publicly financed works that support entrepreneurship. Private business is clearly not reaching its potential by using public resources.

Origins of public research in the alcoholic beverage industry go back very far and it would be great to put focus on rum distiller and Victorian genius, the Great Agricola, W.F. Whitehouse who convinced the British Government to award prizes for essays that led to agricultural advances. He recognized early on that a high tide lifts all boats. I’m still searching for three prize winning essays on Guyana rum production from 1879 that exist in pampthlets that were the precursor the amazing public Guyanese journal Timehri. Last year following leads in my Agricola post I tracked down and annotated a vast collection of public works (newly digitized) that showed how Jamaican rum came to be from the public agricultural projects of the Sugar Cane Experiment Station of Jamaica. This was all complete with time stamps and first names that very completely tell the story of the birth and evolution of the Jamaican rum style squarely placing all advancement in relationships between the public and private companies.

The same public and private relationships can be seen elsewhere around the world such as in the papers on Sri Lankan Arrack I had a lot of fun profiling.

[I’m actually at the beach running a pop-up restaurant so don’t expect much. I may bounce around a bit then try to tighten it up.]

In a brilliant paper I haven’t released, public research by the famed James Guymon (1950’s or 60’s) gave neutral spirits production a 2% economy which the private company Seagrams was the first to employ and has since made them hundreds of millions of dollars. Other large vodka producers no doubt have benefited and the recurring benefits of a single published paper (that is basically lost) must be approaching a billion dollars in created value.

The modern tequila industry was rapidly built on significant public research that helped private firms modernized and scale up to meet global demand. I say rapid because in other industries the trickle-over is slow and often takes decades, but in spirits, private companies have capitalized surprisingly quickly.

Brazilian Cachaça, and many other spirits around the world (Scotch and near everybody actually), rapidly used public research projects to overcome the ethyl carbamate problem in spirits after it was labelled a toxic congener and cleverly set up as a trade barrier to prevent importation. There were very large Cachaça companies but the work was commissioned by the Brazilian government to help all of its private companies expand into new markets. Cachaça production currently sees some of the most advanced public fermentation studies conducted anywhere to help increase quality so exports can grow.

Rum got its next leg up in the 1940’s from the publicly commissioned works of Rafael Arroyo and the Sugar Cane Experiment Station of Puerto Rico. The fortune of the Bacardi company, and near every long established rum producer is based on Arroyo’s public works and the public works that followed from the Rum Pilot Plant (these papers are not easily accessible but I do have their definitive annotated bibliography). Private American rum producers have been reinventing the wheel (poorly) because Arroyo’s works were absolutely lost until I recovered and republished them with the help of Boston Public Library. Arroyo’s seminal text on distilling which I think is the greatest out there (and I’ve read everything) was intended to be given for free to private companies and yet I have the only accessible copy. Countless commercial distillers read the Bostonapothecary and only one has asked me to share Arroyo’s book.

Gin may be the only spirits category to resist being built on a public foundation and I’ve ended up being the only source for the few public works. I am still sitting on the greatest public work which was the gift of the Seagram’s corporation before WWII and its appendix contains their spectacular botanical assessment protocols that should be the foundation of quite a few new American distilleries. Private American industry would have a lot to gain if old school style agricultural bulletins were written to aid new american producers. I’m dreaming of doing a youtube video series on the Seagram’s techniques (but I need some money to finance the rest of the tools).

Quite a few public works exist on the subject of Vermouth and this very blog launched a lot of ships when it made them re-accessible with the help of the Boston Public Library. Quite a few companies have acknowledge finding their confidence and getting their start by reading the papers I’ve dug up. Quite a few popular authors have also used the public documents as the cornerstone of their privately published texts.

Its not hard to see that public work is the pulse of the ever evolving spirits industry. It has been and always will be. I’ve even skipped over quite a few spirits categories and not even discussed wine which is where things really get staggering.

I’m already exhausted and I didn’t get deeper into the wild contributions of the IRS laboratories (which had their budgets cut and basicaly no longer exist) and their amazing contributions under super star chemists like Peter Valaer. I mentioned two U.C. Davis figures but not yet even Maynard Amerine who made the most prolific contributions.

We’ve taken the relationship of public resources to private business for granted. Private businesses are clearly missing opportunities and a big step to help them will be to re-expose and re-publish the works which are public property. It would be of amazing use to see others in the spirits industry start to properly recognize prior public works and for other industries to take Lakoff’s advice and meditate on their use of public resources.

Private companies should demand easy access to public resources that benefit them and newly emerging (or re-emerging) sectors should demand new public resources to help them build a foundation and tackle their problems.

I wish this wasn’t so soberly written but WTF America, Get it together.

For Sale: Large Bottle Bottler

(I was recently able to drop the price on this after finally figuring out how to get the canisters wholesale in the specific design revision. They are a pretty serious piece of hardware.)

For Sale (190USD+20 to ship)



The product here is a counter pressure keg-to-bottle bottling device that can do many sizes of large bottles with a particular focus on Champagne 750’s and 22 oz. beer bottles. The innovation here is that it creates a seal with a ballistic plastic enclosure all the way around the bottle (via a very specific high pressure water filter housing) rather than with the tops of the various proprietary bottles like other designs.


This is the big brother of the Small Bottle Bottler and works exactly the same, but is larger. Due to its size, the enclosure also doubles as a very useful research scale keg. See the case studies below for usage ideas.


This also makes bottling safer because a bottle cannot break during filling because of how pressure is formed completely around them (inside and out! clever, right?). Bottles are fully contained in an ultra strong clear enclosure rated to multiples times transfer pressure. If a bottle overflows due to operator error, the liquid is caught in the food safe plastic sump and can be recycled. Or, optionally, if you want to fill the negative space with chilled water, less CO2 will be used and the bottles will be kept colder, reducing bonding time and risk of foaming when releasing pressure.


The last popular counter pressure bottler design has been around for more than 20 years. This is the counter pressure bottler design for the next 20 years… Modular, affordable, safe. It has been kicking ass in the hands of some of the country’s best bar programs and home brewers. The design features all the valuable lessons I’ve learned from designing the Champagne Bottle Manifold which is basically to only use uncompromising stainless steel Cornelius quick release fittings. Hardly an innovation, but I use one ambidextrous quick release fitting going into the bottler. This fitting can take a gas line to flush the bottle and bring the bottler to the same pressure as the keg then be switched to the liquid line to fill the bottle. This differs from other death trap designs which use multiple hardwired lines preventing units from being used in an array or being portable (or easy to clean).

The product is highly evolved and articulate for the task. The water filter housing is a particular design revision and other similar revisions do not seal as efficiently [The machining is slightly more complicated than you’d think and I’d be happy to discuss what the hell I do to make the thing if anyone wants. The lid needs to be modified on the milling machine and the stainless fittings require modification on the metal lathe].


The bottler is easy to store behind the bar, easy to clean & keep sanitary, and because of the chosen fittings, seamless to integrate into restaurant programs already using Cornelius cocktail on tap equipment. To reduce inactive time and make bottling as fast as possible, they can be used in an array of multiple units on any counter top because the device takes up less square footage (that restaurants don’t have) than competing designs like the Melvico and its very expensive clones.IMG_7041

1. Put in your bottle of choice and securely screw the top onto the sump with the down tube sticking down the center of the bottle (refer to pictures).
2. Connect the gas hose and release the side valve to flush the bottle of Oxygen. Close the side valve which also brings unit to the same pressure as the keg. Disconnect the gas line (you are probably only transferring at 20-30 PSI).
3. Connect the liquid line from the keg and slowly release the side valve to create a low pressure system drawing liquid into the bottle. Close the side valve at your desired fill level.
4. Disconnect the liquid line and let the bottle bond for 30 seconds so that it does not foam upon releasing pressure (at this time you could start working on another unit).
5. 30 seconds later… Release pressure using the side valve. Remove the bottle and promptly cap it.
6. Start a new bottle!Feel free to ask any and all questions. Cheers! -Stephen
For Sale (190USD+20 to ship)

Case study 1: The unit was deployed in a distillery to bottle products for the tasting room and for events. Cocktails were kegged in 15 gallon sanke kegs and transferred using an array of five bottlers which goes quite fast. A plywood cutout was eventually made on a work bench to fit the profile of the sump and act as a wrench for quickly loosening the lids. Carbonation helped a simple distillery product show its best in a new diversifying context to keep guest engagement.

Case study 2: A small brewery with no bottling line used both the small bottle bottler and the large bottle bottler for sales sample preparation. Beer was transferred to bottles from a 5 gallon sanke keg. The brewer felt more confident in the fidelity of the bottled product than other designs on the market. The price was also noted as greatly appreciated!

Case study 3: A renowned and technically quite brilliant bar with serious space constraints used the large bottle bottler as small scale keg because it fit their fridges better than stainless three gallon units (they own no walk-in). They then transferred their carbonated cocktails to 200mL bottles using the small bottle bottler. This was achieved at very high carbonation levels in a postage stamp of a space! They notably appreciated how the bottles could be chilled by filling the sump filled with iced water which didn’t require any extra containers or overly deplete their ice. The down tube to the large bottle bottler was extended to reaching the bottom of the sump using a short length of beverage line tube and the fill level of the “keg” could be seen at all times. They did pay $25 extra to have an extra Cornelius post mounted on the large bottle bottler for a second quick release gas-in option.


Case study 4: A cocktail caterer specializing in weddings used the deluxe extra large sump (which isn’t typically for sale) to bottle magnum bottles via a full enclosure. They specifically wanted a full enclosure solution to minimize safety risks as much as possible because staff of different training levels were using the equipment. A false bottom had to be fabricated for the bottom of the sump so the magnums never slipped down too far and wedged themselves against the sides (the sump expands ever so slightly under pressure then contracts as pressure drops). Three dozen magnums were bottled! Mission accomplished!


Case study 5: The large bottle bottler was used as a mini keg to fill a five gallon sanke to do a bar take over and put a cocktail on tap for an event. The bar owned Cornelius kegs but they were in service and the receiving bar was not set up for Cornelius kegs anyways. The bar did not own sanke kegs, but used two empty cider kegs awaiting return to the distributor. A filler head was made by simply removing the one way valves from a clean sanke coupler and attaching a bleeder valve. The first sanke keg was flushed with one gallon of water to remove residual cider. One gallon at a time, five gallons of cocktail were transferred to the flushed sanke keg so it could be put on tap at the event. The second sanke keg was filled with multiple gallons of line cleaning solution. The line was quickly cleaned before the event and after by using the second keg. The brand was really happy to see themselves kegged and a few bar managers were wowed by what little equipment it took to do it. The two sanke’s were labelled and carefully returned to their appropriate restaurant.


Spirits Review: Mezan XO Jamaica Rum

The Mezan XO Jamaica rum is likely the greatest deal in all of spirits at the moment, yet it has been slow to catch on. Even in this unprecedented era of spirits education buyers seem slow to discover anything. The product is a very smart blend likely assembled by E & A Sheer, who has unparalleled access to blending stocks. The product forgoes traditional coloring and subtle sugaring giving it a very sleek modern truth seeking quality.

Despite a righteous flavor and probable noble E & A Sheer heritage, the branding comes across as a vodka startup like veneer that may irk some. Don’t fall into that trap, the gates to MGP whiskey may be wide open, but access to the lost rums of the world is elusive and I recommend taking it any way you can get it.

This rum from Mezan has that je ne sais quoi, and that is appreciable quantities of rum oil, the most noble (if not divine!) of all the congeners. The new generation of spirits connoisseurs is slowly digesting the concept of esters, but the king congener class is the fairly high boiling point terpenes that are the product of glycoside hydrolysis (these are different from gin botanical terpenes). This is absolutely at the forefront of distillation research, being led by Cognac and also finds itself at the forefront of theoretical oenology where researchers are pointing to the same congener class as a significant layer of the terroir phenomenon.

You can fake esters, but you cannot fake rum oil. If you target esters in your production you will produce some rum oil, but if you target rum oil you maximize your potential and you get all the esters you want at the same time. This is easier said that done and was the dogged pursuit of the 1940’s rum researcher, Rafael Arroyo (it is pretty much what his 1945 book is all about). Production ends up requiring a virtuosic attention to detail or wild amount of divine chance. It is hard to say how the producers behind Mezan XO do it.

Two distilleries can start with the same substrate and thus the same amount of glycosides yet end up with wildly different amounts of rum oil. This aroma can be seen as silent or bound aroma that needs to be unlocked with care. Glycosides are typically split via enzymes produced by yeast. Alt, non-sacharomyces yeasts produce far more enzymes than typical sacharomyces (think budding bakers or brewers yeasts). This is where our hero from other posts, Schizosacharomyces Pombe, comes in (as well as a few others).

Catalysts, like acidity, also act to increase rum oil production as well as that expensive ingredient of time. Longer fermentations (and resting periods) yield more opportunity for glycoside hydrolysis, but at the risk of aroma-detrimental bacterial infections. Risk is worth money and that is why we should prize this congener class. Authenticity is also worth money, and unlike esters, this congener class is something that cannot be faked. There is no easy road to rum oil.

We are building up to the Mezan XO challenge, but first we need to go a little bit further.

Many spirits of great repute have lost this congener class as their production has been scaled upwards because no one really knew where it originated. The main loss comes from migration to low risk pure culture fermentations adopted by many formerly traditional distilleries because typical sacharomyces yeast produce less of the enzymes needed to split glycosides. Besides spirits, this has profound implications for wine. Pure culture fermentations forgo a lot of this aroma because they result in a much narrower microbial community. For spirits, tequila may have been the most negatively affected by yeast changes as production scaled up.

Devastating changes to a spirit often happen when a distillery changes physical buildings as result of increasing production because so much of the microbial community is held in the architecture. Hampden estates, with some production areas covered in aroma-beneficial molds, is the perfect nth degree case study while others like the cult beer producer Cantillion are also notable.

So little basic science has been done on architecture embedded microbial communities that we don’t even know how they start or get balanced forming a SCOBY (I have a collection of anecdotes!). Aroma-beneficial molds are often over looked in Jamaican rum production in favor of aroma-beneficial ester producing bacteria, but they likely have their origins in the long forgotten “rum canes”. When Jamaican rum wash bills used percentages of fresh sugar cane juice, it likely came from Rum Canes which were canes infected with molds. These could be analogous to the noble rot in wine grapes, but definitely different in the finer points. They might not even exist anymore having been eradicated by modern cultivation methods and pesticides and thus only available through the physical buildings we take for granted.

We’re getting closer to the Mezan XO challenge, but first we have to look at the end of rum science history in the 1990’s and how and why Cognac took over. Rum science seems to end in the 1990’s with a call to explore alt yeasts but never directly pointing the finger at aroma from glycosides as the most significant source of rum quality. Cognac picks up where rum leaves off for some really interesting reasons. This means that if we want to advance rum further we have to look to Cognac and some of the ideas at the forefront of oenology research.

Bon vivants will note that there is a lot of overlapping character between the finest rums and the finest Cognacs. Many rums historically were designed to mimic Cognac. Grapes used for Cognac production are also high in glycosides. Cognac production also has a few other properties overlapping with rum we could go into, but I’ll spare you.

Cognac oil as a congener class, just like rum oil, has been recognized for over a hundred years, but the big driving force behind why the torch was passed to Cognac is because they have their back up against a wall. Everyone else focuses on expansion instead of quality improvement, but Cognac is a small region and their product has been legendary for centuries. They have cultivated near all viable area. They cannot expand, they can only improve so that is where they spend their energies and do it so well.

We can only hope the new American distilleries end up similarly with their back up against a wall. Right now they are all trying to expand rapidly, forgoing quality. If new American distilleries balloon from 600 to 3000, the focus will likely go from expansion to quality improvement as a way of staying competitive.

Cognac researchers are also notably in tune with their heritage and they bring us from an era of traditional practices to guided traditional practices. Chaotic diversified microbial communities are the hallmark of traditional practices and science is starting to recognize the importance of minority community member’s role of producing the rarest most extraordinary aroma. Tradition alone, in this context, is associated with ignorance and ideology best exemplified in the sloppy natural wines flooding the market. While guided tradition recognizes the science behind the chaos, does not seek to master it so much as frame careful windows around it to reign in the risk. The resultant products are consistently extraordinary (In wine, I would single out Randall Grahm immediately, but so many deserve cognition).

Before the Mezan XO challenge I’d quickly like to note that certain Armagnacs are very high in aroma from glycosides and they can be very hard to tell apart from Jamaica rums. Certain tequilas are notably high, but fewer than there used to be. Older rums from cult producers had it and lost it. Use your nose and keep track (there are also a few amazing chemical tests taught by Arroyo*). If we highlight exemplary producers they will become stronger guided traditionalists and be mindful as they scale up to global demands.

(*The most basic test is to take a 2 oz. sample and add sulfuric acid which will destroy all the esters and aldehydes subtracting their aroma. If strong residual aroma remains, it can be attributed to the rum oil congener class. This sample is now undrinkable!)

Rum oil, Cognac oil, and aroma derived from glycosides may have pharmacological effects, that is what the challenge is about. If you drink spirits high in these congeners you may feel significantly less dehydrated by the ethanol. Your buzz may seem to hang broadly in a really lovely way. It is a different drunk with lots of anecdotal evidence to support it. Search your recollections, have you ever experienced something like it? Is rum oil the pattern behind mysterious lack of hangover after significant consumption? Are wines of terroir more gentle?

Most all congener classes have been widely studied and ruled out as specifically contributing to hangovers in broad populations. Rum oil has not been studied because of near no awareness and that it is appreciable in less than 1% of all spirits. It is the product of very specific microbial communities just like so many drugs, there is no scientific reason to immediately dismiss its unique potential power.

Remember, I am the guy perceptive enough to have identified all of the olfactory illusions in the wild categorized by Richard Stevenson. When wallowing through subjectivity, my track record of acuteness rivals a neurologist.

I encourage any devoted bon vivant to take the Mezan XO challenge and consume appreciable amounts of the spirit (safely) and note the effects. Do this especially if you are aging and your tolerance for alcohol is changing negatively hangover wise. Who can afford to crush eight ounces of Martel Cordon Bleu, but anyone can afford Mezan XO. Sacrifice your body for speculative science. Design controlled drinking experiments. Supply of truly fine spirits will not come without demand and here I am unraveling the chemical pattern. No hangover research has been focused enough to look at a mythic congener class that is barely acknowledged and not widely available on the market. Maybe we can inspire researchers to pursue it. What comes before the science? This.

Take the Mezan XO challenge and/or search your recollections then please leave a comment!

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.

As usual another cache of forgotten rum papers showed up that paints a narrative of rum advancement mid 19th century that is seldom looked at. It seems to be far easier to study much older periods. This collection of articles was assembled for a symposium held in the West Indies.

I’m having a busy week between the machine shop and the restaurant so I’ll just put this out there then maybe follow up on it later.

The Analytical identification of rum / R. J. Mesley, D. B. Lisle, C. P. Richards and D. F. Wardleworth
Set Level: Annales de Technologie Agricole. N.º 3-4, vol. 24 (1975), p. 361-370

This paper is part of the beginning of the chromatography era and of course rum led the way. One reason spirits finger printing was important was because of all the trade rules governing the movement of rum. If you could confidently identify a rum, there would be less chance of theft (because it had to turn back up again) or illegal aliens and rum border jumpers moving around. All analysis was conducted in a “revenue protection laboratory”. For a long time this analysis did not help advance production but was merely for revenue protection.

Formation of acetals in run : a kinetic study / K. Misselhorn
Set Level: Annales de Technologie Agricole. N.º 3-4, vol. 24 (1975), p. 371-381

The chemistry in this paper is kind of heavy. I guess the amount of acetals should be at a predictable level when at equilibrium with a given amount of aldehydes, but that isn’t always the case because of the formation of semi-acetals. The paper notes that there is dispute on the organoleptic importance of acetals. Some downplay their importance while others say some are very important to flavor. I think Piggot wrote about their importance. I don’t know enough about them.

The rum pilot plant of the agricultural experiment station of the university of Puerto Rico : past, present, future / A. E. Molini
Set Level: Annales de Technologie Agricole. N.º 3-4, vol. 24 (1975), p. 391-396

This summary of the Pilot Plant is particularly important and some of its intentions are revealed. It also helps contextualize Arroyo whom the torch was passed from. Arroyo produced a lot of “leads” for further investigation, but I don’t think the Puerto Rican industry, with its massive responsibilities (that we typically fail to recognize), were interested in making complex, fine, full bodied, Jamaica-type rums. I think their work paved the way for a lot of the rums that would give the category a bad name. There were investigations of super clean ferments using antibiotics and chemical additives, investigations of very high alcohol ferments with intense optimization of fermentation variables. At the same time there research made the industry very environmentally friendly.

As we will see in another paper, there was intense automation and optimization of high proof distillation. The paper has some brief summaries of their achievements and a unique one is that of ageing where they realize that even with all their scientific resources, there is no substitute for natural ageing in the barrel.

This paper is well worth reading and I do have the annotated bibliography of the Pilot Plant which I will eventually start collecting.

Possibilities of utilization of butyric acid bacteria for rum making / S. Nemoto
Set Level: Annales de Technologie Agricole. N.º 3-4, vol. 24 (1975), p. 397-410

Wildly interesting, but sadly a very poor scanning. Arroyo’s ideas seem to have made it all the way to Japan and the Japanese made super full bodied rums even though they weren’t rum drinkers! They made confections! They were even investigating Pombe yeasts! “Furthermore, Japanese do not drink rum so much. […] After the Second World War, goods for daily use were insufficient and their qualities were poor. Materials of confectionary, such as butter and wheat flour, were not an exception. Heavy rum was used in order to improve the taste and flavor of cake made from those bad materials. Thus, rum has been developed not as a drink, but as a confectionary use, and in Japan heavy rum was wanted. […] We had to study rum making under very different conditions from West India.”

The world is full of lost rums.

What is to be found in literature about rum production that is more than 300 years old? / H. Olbrich
Set Level: Annales de Technologie Agricole. N.º 3-4, vol. 24 (1975), p. 411-420

This paper is of wild importance and amasses a bibliography of 150 sources, much of which are in German. I find myself sympathizing with the author a lot. And he hypes my home boy, Mr. Motherfucking Pombe, Percival Greig.

“It was not until a century later that the Englishman Percival H. Greig, 1893-1895, followed with systematic results on rum manufacture. Before going to Jamaica, Greig acquainted himself with microbiological procedures, aided by the Danish scholars Hansen and Jorgensen in Copenhagen. In 1895 however, his interest in publishing any work of his was brought to a close with three papers. Greig himself had become a rum manufacturer.”

So I am acquainting myself with microbiology procedures and walking a similar path.

“In 1936, Greig’s work was still reviewed to a substantial degree in an extensive paper [where is this paper?!], as the basic position of science regarding rum manufacture. So no abundant material is to be found in literature about rum manufacture until nearly the middle of our century. In the last decades, numerous circumstances have influenced both production and market development, as well as yielding some scientific papers. It is an irrefutable fact that a library is cheaper than a laboratory [emphasis mine] and that inquiries are far less costly than investments in development work which is already being carried out elsewhere. By means of thorough information regarding the basic position of science and technique, irrational brain-work is avoided, fruitless researching and inventing activities are prevented and the squandering of economic power and capital is hindered. With other words : Ascertainment of which results and suggestions have already been published in order to solve a problem, serves the rationalization and increase in the productivity of science and practice. Unproductive searching, idle effort and erroneous investments are thus avoided. For a sequel to the examination of literature work, which is sometimes unjustly underestimated, American atomic research offers an example which should be a warning; at an expenditure of vast sums of money, problems were supposedly dealt with, for which complete results were already to be partly found in literature.”

That language! And did he just compare rum research to nuclear research, fucking profound!

And of course Olbrich provides new references to track down.

Production of light-bodied rum by an extractive distillation process / E. D. Unger, T. R. Coffey
Set Level: Annales de Technologie Agricole. N.º 3-4, vol. 24 (1975), p. 469-495

This is a very complex paper and even if you cannot wrap your head around all the science, you can see massive automation at work. You can also see the birth of spirits made from sugar cane that some like Arroyo would not call rum. For starters, this paper explains how by using computation they can take a beer with a given set of congeners then predict what the output will be given the continuous stills tuning options mainly concerning fusel oil. This explains how a bespoke fermentation for Ron del Barrilito, or even any heavy rum within a producer’s portfolio of other lighter rums, could be spliced into the feed and variables immediately adjusted to give a lower proof ferment with a different level of fusel oil reduction from the usual. This does not give the distiller unlimited potential to pick and choose congeners, but it does give more options to maximize the potential of the still.

Reduction of fusel oil during distillation is shown as a big focus of the paper, but what Arroyo has taught us is that reducing it during distillation jeopardizes reducing rum oil which is the hallmark of rum (yet is seldom discussed). For heavy rums according to Arroyo, fusel oil should be reduced by yeast selection and fermentation optimization. Distillates produced as described in the paper are sort of the antithesis of the Arroyo teachings and are something else masquerading as rum. Yet its all wildly advanced and of course applied to rum first.

Facts about Sugar, 1940, Volumes 35-36, 26-? (part I already got), 35-? (start of part VI), 64-?;id=coo.31924054773571;view=1up;seq=7;start=21;sz=10;page=search;orient=0

Ageing, Accelerated Ageing, & Élevage ==> Lies, Damn Lies & Statistics

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Aging, maturation, curing, whatever you want to call it, is a hot topic these days. Many labels across many spirit categories are dropping age statements because they cannot keep up with soaring demand and many new entrants to the market are considering fake ageing techniques associated with a bygone era. I thought it may be fun to take a look at Arroyo’s progressive musings on the topic as he attempted to reform the sprawling rum industry.

The chapter on curing in Studies on Rum is pretty spectacular. For this conversation, it makes sense to start at the end:

We shall now close this chapter on the maturing of raw rums by touching lightly on the matter of accelerated curing of the raw distillate. Not all, or rather few, of the rums in the market have passed through a curing process such as we have outlined above. Our era of acceleration and impatience in all affairs of human endeavor would not allow of an exemption in the case of rum making. On the other hand, the ever increasing demands of the trade, the lack of adequate working capital, the anxiety for immediate returns, immoderate and unfair competition, and many other influences of business, compel the manufacturers to place their products on the market in the shortest possible time. As a direct result of the above-mentioned conditions, accelerated or quick aging processes have been developed, and are being developed all the time. There exist practically as many “secret methods” of artificial curing of rum as rectifiers are engaged in the business. Judging from what has been accomplished thus far, and from the nature and quality of the “rums” thus produced, the writer’s opinion is that the results obtained are very mediocre and unsatisfying; leaving the problem of artificial rum curing an open question.

What was outlined in the chapter was pretty much ageing as we think we know it, but as claimed few practiced it as of 1945. Puerto Rico was not the typical rum producing island as pointed out by Peter Valaer in 1937 so the local products being sampled by Arroyo are no exhaustive survey of the state of all rum production. Other islands were exporting tons of product to be aged in Europe so what was left for domestic consumption was likely another story.

Processes for rapid curing may be divided into two general classes: (1) Those merely tending to accelerate the reactions and changes occurring during natural ageing, and in this way accomplishing maturity of the raw product in a short time; but without the addition to the raw of extraneous substances, the so-called carriers of taste, aroma, and body. (2) Those intended to accomplish the results mentioned under (1); but using besides these extraneous matters, imparters of taste, aroma, and body. The method used under (1) will fall into four main divisions: (a) moderate heat treatment or intense cold treatment; or alternate treatments of heat and cold; (b) treatment with compressed air; oxygen, hydrogen peroxide or ozone; (c) exposure to actinic rays; (d) electrolytic treatment and use of catalysis. Methods under (2) above, may include all of the methods under (1), besides the addition of flavoring and aromatic substances for development of taste and bouquet. Among these added substances we may mention; (a) various types of sweet wines, among which the various “Moscateles” and “Málagas” from Spain; and prune wines from Scotland are much in vogue; (b) infusions of herbs, leaves, barks of trees, roots, etc. etc.; (c) alcoholic and aged fruit extracts, among which peaches, prunes, figs and apricots are much used; (d) artificial  essences of rums or brandy; (e) various natural and synthetic essential oils, and flavoring extracts as cassia oil, oil of cloves, artificial or natural vanilla flavor, oil of bitter almonds (free of hydrocyanic acid); and various sugars, as sucrose, dextrose, sugar cane syrup, maple syrup, and bee honey.

In this guise, beverages are made that although more deserving of the name of cordials or liqueurs, are labelled with the name of rum. We believe that all of this is avoidable and unjustified, should more and better attention be bestowed on the different stages of rum manufacture, and especially on rum yeast selection. Governmental regulations and inspection of the rums produced and sold in the local and United States markets wold be a great help towards fostering the interests of the industry, and securing the genuine article for public consumption.

Well there wasn’t anything too new there, but it is a great organization of the concepts in the midst of when it was all going down by a scientist with a privileged vantage point. An item of trivia that I didn’t know about was that the prune wines came from Scotland. The paragraphs just tell semi specifics on fake aging and I caught most all of them in my investigation of Wired’s look at the Lost Spirits fake aging reactor. Not much has changed.

Lets back track to the beginning of the chapter and see if Arroyo gives anything helpful to frame rum maturation:

Is the expression “Aged Rum” equivalent to that of a “Matured Rum”?

We have observed that a great majority of persons use these two expressions as synonymous but they are mistaken. When one term is used as equivalent of the other we are merely confusing the end with the means, for really, maturity in the rum is the end sought, and ageing is one of the means employed towards the obtention of this end. Now then, although usually an aged rum is also matured, this sequence does not follow necessarily, nor there exists a definite lapse of ageing time at which the condition of maturity may be said to have been reached in all cases. On the other hand, a given rum may be matured without necessarily being what is commonly called an old rum. If the quality of maturity depended only, and exclusively, on the amount of time the rum had been kept aging, then perhaps the two expressions could be used indistinctly, but it is not so; ageing being only an important factor in the process of maturing. There are other, for instance, the potential capacity and adaptability of the crude rum or raw distillate to acquire the state of maturity. In our opinion, this factor is as important, or more perhaps, than that of ageing.

Profound! We want it so simplified, but it is not so simple. I am personally really enjoying the collapse of the age statements because it is really a test of the market’s ability to truly appreciate spirits. And, as usual, Hemingway would be siding with me. So far, can the market actually notice and evaluate maturity? No! Has it borrowed anything useful from wine appreciation? No!

With wine, we make our own pronouncement of maturity and as the age statement grows, so too does skepticism that it will be intact. We also value multiple levels of maturity. Luckily the bottle is its own curing vessel and we can leave our other bottles where they lie if they need more time. Wine gets too mature often and the majority of collected wines actually die in the cellar. I just drank an expensive Martinique rhum the other day that I thought easily spend too much time in wood. It was way too obviously tannic and that feature was a distraction from the aroma.

Notions of maturity will always be deeply personal (your own stance) and based on the idea that flaws only form when we have enough education to attach the symbolic tags of regrets or missed opportunities to specific sensory details. Maturity relates to the unsexy concept I use all the time that is the frequency of occurrence of sensory features. Wines become mature as they migrate from ordinary to extraordinary with a decreasing frequency of occurrence of sensory details. After a peak, they return to the ordinary but with a growing sense of regret and missed opportunity. With wine, many of us hold the same stance on maturity and there is consensus on what is truly great, but with spirits at the moment, few attain a vantage point to make sound declarations. Life is short, the art is long!

It may not be impractical to start differentiating a curing stage from an ageing stage and wine can help anchor the concept. Curing could be the stage when a wine or a spirit goes from inharmonious to a commonly accepted harmony. Wines cannot be enjoyed immediately upon the completion of fermentation and have to go through a stage (with its associated techniques) called élevage. Some will even say it is not wine, but merely fermented grape juice until it goes through the process. Ageing would come later and a true connoisseur should be able to appreciate the wine at multiple places in its ageing journey.

Spirits, some others maybe more so than rum, also go through élevage. This may most closely pertain to the transformation of specific congener like the reduction of ethyl acetate and acetaldehyde. Where lees contact or micro oxidation are techniques of wine élevage, charcoal filtration or as we just found out, specific watering regimens (if not also reflective fermentation adjustments) are among the techniques spirits employ. Its probably safe to categorize caramel and added sugar as a heavy handed élevage technique.

As an illustration, let us take up an imaginary case of two raw rums and called them “A” and “B” respectively. Both raw rums are set to age in the same kind, size, and quality of barrels, and under equal conditions of temperature and relative humidity. At the end of one year the two rums are examined by the usual tests for maturity and it is found that rum “A” has already acquired the quality and general conditions inherent to a matured rum; while rum “B” has not quite reached this conditions. Rum “A” is then bottled, and the ageing of the “B” is continued, till at the end of another six months we find that it also has reached the state of maturity previously observed in the case of “A”. Would it be fair to consider sample “B” as more matured than sample “A” for the mere reason that is has aged for a longer period? Could we be justified in acclaiming rum “B” as superior to rum “A” for the mere fact that it cost more time and money to impart the characteristics of maturity to it? Evidently not. If at all, we could say that “A” was superior to “B” in an economic sense since it acquired maturity in two thirds of the time required by sample “B”.

This might be the example that the average consumer, where they stand now, needs, but hopefully we can quickly grow a little past that. In Arroyo’s era, rums were naively being produced without knowledge of options while the aspirations of each rum were roughly the same. Wine went through this phase lasting decades after prohibition ended and Amerine, Tchelistcheff et al. filled the role of Arroyo and taught us our options.

Older practices, contrary to Arroyo’s, were not without merit, and that was only realized as the aspirations diverged to where there was a fine market alongside the commodity market. A big flag to be raised was whether anything was compromised by designing a rum to be matured quicker? And how does it compare to wine design? There is a wide spectrum between building a wine like a brick house that can age forever and building a wine like a FEMA trailer. Rum aspirations are finally solidly diverging and we can now reflect back on all the available options like the wine industry has done in the last leg of its renaissance. Some of Amerine’s teaching had staying power across all styles of wine while others were relegated to low risk, massive volume, jug wine production. Rum has gone through all the same phases, we just haven’t noticed. With enough scholarship, some day we will be able to get really specific.

This example has been presented so that the reader may clearly grasp the meaning of ripeness or maturity of product as distinguishable from that of age of product. It is not fair to use solely the time a rum has been in the curing barrel as a criterium of its goodness or of its pretended superiority over a similar rum that has been less time ageing in the curing barrel. Hence, any standard of rum quality based solely on the lapse of time the different products have been aged, would be not only unscientific and erroneous, but also decidedly unjust. It is not the age of the rum that is bought and paid for by the public, but the genuine characteristics of body, aroma and taste that on reaching maturity a rum acquires. The time required by different rums to reach this state of maturity during ageing will depend, other conditions being equal, on the type and the quality of the product as a raw distillate.

This is where we need to get to. We get stuck on age statements and then we get stuck on what type of still was used yet rarely delve deeper into the parameters of still operation. Sadly, we never get to fermentation parameters or yeast type. I was really surprised that when I started writing about Schizosaccharomyces Pombe as a rum yeast, not one enthusiast in my circle knew of it as an alternative to budding yeast.

But this is rum and its so varied, does any of this apply to Bourbon which is not so varied but losing its age statements? I do not know the answers but these are things we can start to think about. Bourbon has privately if not secretly seen astonishing technological advancements in the last twenty years. From what I gather, all the advancement were about monitoring traditional practices in an effort to stay consistent as production grew to meet global demands and hit sustainability targets. There may be a new effort from all the data to sculpt next generation products. Bourbon producers may have finally gone through all the Olympic trials with prospective yeasts as well as mastering congener creation to hit maturation targets faster. Bourbon producers may have taken the hard road, the Arroyo road, through massive research efforts and arrived at the 21st century.

Our researches on the question have demonstrated that great variations and difference exist in the capacity and adaptability of different raw distillates to acquire maturity. There are some capable of reaching this desirable condition in from one to two years of ageing, while others may require twice, and even thrice this time.

It is really amazing the little importance that is generally conceded to the quality of the raw distillate in most rum distilleries. Instead of trying to produce a raw spirit that would need the least trouble in treatment during rectification before finally bottling the product, producers spend their energies and efforts in finding new, more complicated, and laborious methods of curing the defects of poorly fermented and worse distilled raw spirits.

This may still be the case, but that will change when we all go post-Kavalan! I promise to some day elaborate.

And yet, to our view, the future of the rum industry is dependent, in its technical aspects at least, on the production of better raw spirits, raw rums that on account of their well-balanced chemical composition and excellence of physical and organoleptic characteristics, will require but little ageing time to acquire maturity.

Towards that goal a great part of our efforts have been directed, and we have found that the obtention of maturity is not due to one single cause, as for instance ageing; but that this final result is obtained through a happy combination of many factors which begin operating with the choice of fermentation agents and raw materials and end with the bottling of the product for public consumption. Every one of the different stages through which the product must pass before reaching the bottle, shall impart to it favorable or unfavorable conditions and characteristics towards the obtention of maturity. Hence, the final success or failure will depend on the manufacturer’s ability to employ those methods and technic that better and more efficiently contribute to the rapid acquirement of maturity.

Of some such methods we have been treating in the past chapters, and in this one we shall consider the phase of rum manufacture that supposedly bears the greatest influence on the subject under discussion.

Having thus obtained the rum in the raw state through the process of distillation it becomes necessary to develop to the utmost the inherent characteristics of a good product. This is secured by the process known as curing or maturing. Here we wish to state emphatically that by this process we do not mean converting a bad product into a good, wholesome one. Not by any means. The rum which is bad in its raw state will continue to remain so, no matter which is done with it, or to it. Proper rum curing is not a process to change or transform, but to develop and further enhance the latent qualities already existing in the right kind of raw distillate. Of course, a poor raw rum may be made to improve, but it will never be converted into a first-class beverage with distinctive seal of excellence through the curing process, whether the natural or slow, or the artificial or rapid curing be employed.

We all know, not all wines are age worthy. I probably don’t need to say much more so it is probably safe to stop there.

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Aroma Breakage and Rum Design

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A curious topic that I’ve never seen discussed in other research papers is the topic Arroyo spends a lot of time on of aroma breakage due to diluting spirits with water. Apparently, the sudden shock of adding water to spirits, particularly rum because much of its character is dependent on esters and rum oil, is capable of splitting the esters via hydrolysis and possibly precipitating aromatic substances as salts.

The ideal raw distillate, however, would be one needing no dilution or treatment of any kind before proceeding with its curing, either slow or natural; or accelerated or artificial. These conditions are attainable through proper yeast and raw material selection, appropriate methods of fermentation and post fermentation treatment of the beers; followed by carefully controlled distillation technic based on the principle of selective extraction. Present manufacturing methods with few exceptions, have not come to this high state of development as yet. Hence, mention must be made of the important changes occurring during the diluting, or the diluting and carbon treatment process during rectification.

I was first casually introduced to the topic many years ago by Ed Hamilton who explained to me the phenomenon as a past problem with Martinique rhums shipped to France for bottling. According to Ed, these rhums would be improperly diluted, rushing the process, and the aroma would be detrimentally effected. The science on the topic so far is not as easy to fully explain as I’d like, but there is one overall solution pointed out above and that is to distill at lower proofs so much of the water is already integrated. Easier said than done, lets let Arroyo drop a little more science:

When a freshly distilled rum is diluted, its chemical composition as well as its physical characteristics are affected. The action of the diluent is felt to a greater or less extent, in accordance with: (1) original proof at which distillation took place; (2) chemical composition of the original distillate; (3) nature of the diluent, and manner in which it is applied. The deleterious action of rum dilution is twofold: chemical and physical. The first consists in a dissociation of part of the ester content through the hydrolytic action of the diluent acting in an acid medium; the second operates by salting out or separating certain essential oils through shock, and by the lowering effect on the alcoholic concentration of the raw distillate through the addition of the diluent. Among these oils we have some of the most valuable  natural constituents of a genuine rum. When the raw rum has been distilled at a very high proof, say between 170-180 degrees, a very large amount of diluent must be added in order to bring the proof down, say to 110 degrees. Now, the more diluent added the stronger will its hydrolytic effect be on the esters present in the raw distillate, and the stronger will be the tendency toward separation of essential oils. Hence, the caution previously given in the chapter on rum distillation that rum should be distilled at the lowest possible proof compatible with high quality of distillate. When the original chemical composition of the raw rum in its relation to the process of dilution is considered, it will readily be seen that the higher the free acidity and the ester content of the raw distillate, the faster and the more intense will become the hydrolyzing effect of the diluent on the ester content of the raw spirit. The same holds true on the salting out of valuable essential oils.

Lets stop him for a minute. It appears that the fullest flavored rums have the most to lose. It also seems like little inhomogenous zones get briefly created in the spirit where there isn’t enough ethanol to keep certain things in solution like the rum oil and though brief it is enough to shock stuff out. With the esters it is a little different and my favorite explanation of ester hydrolysis comes from Peter Atkin’s Reactions: The Private Life of Atoms. What I would think is that everything would eventually come back to equilibrium and that would easily re-dissolve the rum oil. I guess it doesn’t happen fast enough and there is a danger of stuff getting left behind when spirits are being only temporarily held in a vat that needs to be turned over for another process.

The nature of, and manner of adding the diluent, will also become a factor of importance during the process of dilution. There are at least six classes of diluents commonly used for this process: (1) ordinary tap water from the city mains; (2) well water; (3) rain water; (4) distilled water; (5) chemically treated water; (6) alcoholic solution in distilled or rain water, previously cured by either natural or artificial means. This last mentioned diluent is the least harmful and best recommended for this purpose, but is the one less used on account of the trouble of preparing and storing under suitable conditions large quantities of these weakly alcoholic solutions. Good practice should restrain the number of diluents to be three of the six mentioned above, and these should include; (1) distilled aerated water, (2) rain water, and (3) alcoholic solutions. Of the two plain water diluents, rain water is to be preferred, as it contains plenty of air and, therefore, lacks the flatness of taste peculiar to distilled water. Thoroughly aerated distilled water has the advantage of being readily available at all time. Diluting with aged mixtures of alcohol and water, or rum and water, will be the best method to follow; but as explained before, this method has its shortcomings especially for the large producer.

I remember reading this and wondering if Arroyo’s ideas like the ethanol-water mixture were arm chair ideas, dreamed up but never tried, or if anyone got it off the ground. Could it be worked into a strategy that would give a small producer an advantage when they typically lack any advantage due to scale? I could see column distilled relatively light rums being easily diluted much under 40% and then average up with stocks of aged, extra heavy, pot still spirit (to protect the pot still spirit which has more to lose). Sadly, I suspect not many small new Continental producers are making anything at risk of aroma breakage or using that template.

Now, whatever the nature of the diluent used, the manner of its application will have considerable influence in the extent of ester hydrolysis, and especially as to the degree of separation of valuable essential oils constituents. Cold diluent, suddently added in bulk or added in a very short period of time, will prove the most harmful. The opposite conditions of applying the diluent, that is, slightly warm, slowly and in an atomized form, will prove the least harmful.

The water so many distilleries use is at the mercy of the seasons. They aren’t really in a position to raise a large volume of distilled water much above room temperature. I suspect the cheap alternative would be to use the still’s condenser as a heat exchanger and warm diluting water during distilling runs. I can’t imagine rigging up a atomizer with an agitator would be too difficult.

In the course of these studies on rum we have observed that the harmful effect of the diluent in rum diluting last over an appreciable period of time, never less than for three moths, and extending up to six months. It is really a very important matter that has been lightly, too lightly, considered up to the present time.

Whatever vats you have, you’d definitely need back sooner than three months and whatever precipitated would not be evenly distributed between the barrels or bottles. Whatever is precipitated could also be left as an oil clinging to the side of the vat. If the tail end barrel did get an appreciable extra quantity to try and re-dissolve it may not do it properly. Many blending practices where spirits are briefly re-barreled after marrying may be related to the concepts Arroyo is presenting. Whiskey’s may have different congener sets, but they may also be subject to similar forces.

Its will be noticed that strong dissociation of the ester molecules occur in every instance after the raw rums have been diluted, and that this state of original esters hydrolysis is not ameliorated even after three months of curing in an oak keg. The ester loss through hydrolysis is heavier in those rums originally high in ester content. Organoleptic tests on the undiluted and the diluted sample are consistently in favor of the former. Hence, rum dilution is really a complicated problem, and the ill effects of dilution interfere also with the proper and expected progress in quality during the first few months of the curing period. If to obviate the ill effect on the curing of the raw rum during the ageing period occasioned by the diluting process, the raw rums are barrelled at the high proofs of distillation, nothing is gained in the long run; for if it true that it will mature quicker during aging in this case, it is also true that its proof must be lowered before it is bottled up. When diluting the cured rum, the effect of the diluent will be more disasterous even than in the case when the beverage was diluted as a raw product. These considerations make the problem of dilution an arduous one. The solution must come during the distillation stage of rum manufacture. Raw distillates much be distilled at low enough proof so that no dilution, or at least very little dilution should be required during rectification and curing. And this must take effect in such a manner that the quality of the commercial rum stall remain unimpaired.

I have a feeling Arroyo was not always popular because he was usually advocating taking the long road and being thorough. To distill rums at a lower proof you’d have to design fermentations worthy of a lower proof. Or you might not have to if you’ve got the time. Arroyo mentions that rum, unlike a whiskey, can be enjoyed right from the still and will have no objectionable roughness like a white dog. On the other hand, Peter Valaer, in 1937 for an IRS survey, describes the legendary extra aged New England rums as being rough right from the still and distilled at 60% which is considered fairly low. Valaer also briefly mentions the use of “pure culture rum yeasts prepared from a single cell in some of the most scientifically controlled rum distilleries” in the U.S. Who knows if U.S. producer’s like Felton & Son’s conducted their own Olympiad to select a champion rum yeast, but it does look like they had the technology. I’m not sure if they used a Pombe yeast because I have not been able to find hints of their fermentation durations which would imply an answer.

Many spirits out there distill at curiously low proofs such as cachaça and many tequilas. They raise the question, are these cruder spirits like the New England rum Valaer describes or are they produced from unique ferments with less objectionable congeners than the average whiskey ferment? The answer is probably the latter. If one tried to optimize a fermentation to distill at a lower proof, what would it look like?

The answer lies in limiting ordinary esters and short chain fatty acids typically separated from the hearts fraction by the heads cut as well as limiting fusel oil which is hard to eliminate during distillation because it risks reducing rum oil. Fusel oil in rums is best reduced by careful yeast selection and then careful optimization of other variables like fermentation temperature with a lower temperature typically correlating to less. Fusel oil production tests were part of the yeast Olympiad I described recently.

Excessive ordinary esters get reduced in the ferment by salting them out. Short chain fatty acids like acetic and formic have a higher affinity for alkaline substances than longer chain fatty acids and thus combine to become non-volatile salts. If this is done with precision, which basically requires analysis and systematic trials, there will be less objectionable congeners in the ferment and distillation can proceed at a lower proof incorporating more water. Extraordinary esters of a lower frequency of occurrence, that form in both the ferment and the still, will suffer less occasion to split apart. New England rums in 1937 may not have been benefiting from the careful pH buffering that Arroyo was using to distill at lower proof. Harris Eastman Sawyer, who I identified as the architect of modern New England rum, sadly died in 1911. Though he was progressive, he was not likely to be that far ahead of anyone else.

By this point, most of you are probably thinking: why don’t you just super fractionate as explained previously, over dilute the central neutral fraction which is taking Arroyo’s advice of diluting with an ethanol water solution and see if that keeps more of the esters together? I didn’t realize it was that obvious, but what is left is to simply put it to the test and see what happens. And to hope the logistics aren’t a deal breaking nightmare.

Even more of you are probably thinking: where is Lost Spirits during these recent revelations on rum design? Lost Spirits has put most all their emphasis on post distillation curing ideas thinking that that is what makes a rum great. Arroyo would probably laugh them out the door. He time and time again explains that you need a distillate worth maturation to even bother, and there is little emphasis on that (so far) in the Lost Spirits camp. You also need to get a well crafted ferment to get a distillate worth a damn. But if you could bring all those things together it may well be more worth accelerated maturation and I hope they do. On the other hand, if you really nailed all those processes, you’d probably not feel the need to accelerate anything.

One of the major things I’m forgetting about maturation is that a significant change, according to Arroyo, during the first legs of curing in a barrel are excessive ordinary congeners, with a high frequency of occurrence, namely ethyl acetate and acetaldehyde, actually evaporating with the angel’s share because they are so volatile. Accelerated maturation techniques, like that of Lost Spirits, have no angel’s share and cannot benefit from this mechanism. If they need the same effect, they’ll have to spend more time with their ferments. If they develop spirits with significant ester contents which is their goal, I hope they are taking all precautions to prevent aroma breakage when they get diluted to drinking proof.

Next up will be Arroyo’s thoughts on curing, he didn’t like the term aging, and the ideas are more relevant now than ever.

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Rum, Osmotolerance and the Lash

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Osmotolerance is basically the ability of micro organisms to tolerate stress. The stress comes from solutes dissolved in a solvent. Yeast stressors (or lack there of) are probably one of the most significant ways by which rum fermentations differ. In many naive cases, the stressors select the yeasts and in cases where you pick the yeasts (team Pombe!), you need to follow up with appropriate stressors (if you cannot work completely sterile). I’m probably using language biologists would cringe at, but what the hell, this is a blog.

Osmotolerance relates to the Delle stabilization concept I’ve talked about before. We use simplified rules of thumb that a wine becomes stable at 18% alcohol, but according to professor Delle, each percentage point of sugar can offset an amount of ethanol and you can start to achieve stability at far lower alcohol levels. If you add carbonation on top of both, you can start to achieve stability even lower and that may be the secret of wines like Moscato d’Asti which are often stable at 5%. The point here is that all these variables function in a system of stressors and changing one variable changes response to the others.

All these variables exist in rum fermentations and then some. Rum in most cases isn’t just one single yeast or bacteria but a varied community. Changes to the stressor matrix shifts the ability of any member of the microbial community to grow at all or even to become dominant. Schizosaccharomyces Pombe yeasts are known for their osmotolerance relative to budding yeasts and in many cases, though they have a lower frequency of occurrence, they can become dominant in spontaneous ferments. Before anyone thinks to play around and go huge hoping for greatness, remember, its easy to create a ferment so stressful near nothing beneficial grows but bacteria you don’t want and you end up with an unpredictable sluggish brew working so slowly your economy goes to hell, half the vats stick, and you quickly go out of business. Rum magic only happens when you know what you are doing so you can walk that magic line.

If common clean rum is being made stick to common clean and never allow things to drift in the direction of making flavoured rum in the pious hope that you may wake up some day to find that you have become famous by making flavoured rum where it was never been made before. You are much more likely to find an infuriated Busha awaiting to tell you that your services are no longer required on that estate.

Playing with osmotolerance is like playing with fire. Arroyo actually didn’t want to play the game and went in the other direction pioneering molasses pre-treatment and creating conditions where ferments could produce extraordinary aroma while fermenting to high concentrations of ethanol with great economy and in record time.

Arroyo went osmo-intolerant by heating to sterilize molasses just like a grain mash, but with modified pH and calibrated buffers to preserve aroma (an epic trick!). He then somehow got a hold of an Alfa Laval pilot plant continuous centrifuge (in the late 1930’s!) and clarified the molasses. This changes the stressor matrix and it also sets up the ferment to be distilled in a continuous column still where scaling is much more of an issue than a batch still. Molasses pre-treatment became a rule of thumb to anyone using a continuous still. No longer related to osmotolerance, Arroyo also employed the same centrifuge again pre-distillation to remove the lees as well as dissolved gases. From what I gather, unlike other spirits such as Cognac, Arroyo didn’t even distill heavy rums on their lees.

I recently contacted Alfa Laval and am trying to get more information on their continuous centrifuges and what exactly they sell that is pilot plant scale. They have models, seemingly small, but are for tasks like centrifuging bio diesel and not molasses. Alfa Laval sells to all the big Kentucky distilleries who centrifuge their stillage to remove water and prepare it to become animal feed. They also sell to very large breweries who centrifuge their beers to gain economy from the bottom of the vats. I have yet to find out conclusively, but I’m estimating a pilot plant continuous centrifuge for distillery tasks may cost about $30K. A barrel a day distillery would still have room to grow into their pilot plant scale equipment. That cost, only on the hunch that it is really beneficial, is very hard to swallow. They promised me more information so hopefully I can update this with something optimistic.

The big takeaway is that so many of the rums we know, love and are inspired by are the products of these very serious centrifuges. Small distilleries will have a lot of trouble going osmo-intolerant (my funny arbitrary term for opposition by the way). If a small scale, low involvement distiller says they don’t like the effect of centrifuging or any molasses pre-treatment, they basically have no clue and just need to accept their limitations when being “small batch”. Another category of rums are naive rums, endearingly produced by people who do not know their options and some of these rums are the most extraordinary and tell the best stories. Distillation requires certain scale and the new arm of the industry is slow to accept that.

As I always say, there is nothing finer than rum as we make it and no category of rum ferment is superior to another. Osmo-intolerant is the direction rums are commonly taken when pure yeast cultures are used and when economy is a large consideration. These rums are more likely to be distilled continuously and they are more likely to be lower risk over all. Due to a few other really cool reasons I’ll get to eventually these spirits will also age much quicker.

There are very few spontaneous ferments these days, but due to techniques like back slopping of yeast, exotic starters, and the usage of bacteria infected dunder, some ferments can use osmotolerance to create a sort of chaotic timbre. Stressors will effect the growth kinetics of the varied microbial community that eventually develops. The pure yeast culture that kicks things off at the beginning of the season may eventually be supplanted by a wild yeast that rises to dominance under the conditions encountered. Big windows for chaos through which we glimpse terroir, are opened by producers both consciously and unconsciously. There is risk, chance, and irrational energy, the duende!, all over the place. This category is a place for both the naive and the truly masterful. The most masterful of wrangling glorious chaos these days is probably Hampden estates in Jamaica which is known to be very significant to the Smith & Cross blend. I’ve aspired to make a similar rum, but don’t think I can do it until I really explore and master all of the analytic techniques. I request 20 years.

Stressors reduced by Arroyo style molasses pre-treatment are mainly gums and ash. The pH is also adjusted to be optimized for the selected yeast. Total sugars are increased due to the decrease in volume of the precipitated and separated fractions. Because the yeast can now ferment to higher concentrations of sugar, they can also better take advantage of the nutrients so less need to be added though they are often carefully calibrated. Dunder, on the other hand, though it leads to an accumulation of gums and ash, also brings yeast nutrients. It probably also brings nefarious copper salts leached from a copper boiler under acidic conditions, but I don’t recall seeing research specifically tied to that yet.

So dunder itself brings brings stress and relief. Many dunders were and/or are ripened to accumulate hopefully beneficial bacteria. The most desirable being Clostridium Sacharo Butyricum. The byproduct of bacteria’s metabolism is fatty acids and those can stress the yeasts by lowering the pH. They can also stress the bacteria themselves.

In the Arroyo method, the pH is carefully adjusted to remain constant, and far higher than you’d think which is possible because of the pure cultures he employed. As pH decreases, alkaline substances are carefully added to lock up the acids as salts. The acids that have the most affinity for salting also happen to be the most ordinary like acetic and formic. These ordinary (as opposed to extraordinary cough cough frequency of occurrence!) acids and their ethyl esters are typically in part separated during distillation. Having less to remove due to salting means the heads fraction can be smaller and the spirits will mature faster. Spirits going both ways with osmotolerance can benefit from the pH buffering / salting method but spirits produced using the Arroyo method are more likely to employ it.

If the pH were allowed to run away the accumulation of stressors would slow down or completely shut down various actors in the microbial community. This can be a feature or a flaw. Low pH ferments can produce lighter spirits because bacteria has less leeway to act.

These ideas were definitely not new to rum making and go back to Jamaica well into the nineteen century. The great Agricola, W.F. Whitehouse, (father of modern rum according to me) mentions how alkaline lime was introduced to Jamaica by Dr. Bryan Higgins. It became central to the operation of a muck hole. The contents would undergo putrefactive fermentation producing acids until the pH dropped too low maxing out the osmotolerance of the bacteria then lime would bring the pH back up and fermentation would restart. The process would go on and on. The locked up aromas would unlock when combined in a ferment with another acid, the most ignoble acids fortunately having an affinity for staying locked up.

But don’t forget, though salts buffer the pH, they are also a stressor and yeasts and bacteria will have different resistance to salt concentrations. Another big source of osmotic pressure is ethanol, and Arroyo reminds us we can’t just think of alcohol tolerance itself because it is always relative to temperature. Yeasts can resist the osmotic pressure of ethanol much better at low fermentation temperatures than high.

Arroyo re-imagined and re-applied all the concepts with more finesse and calculation. Not all fatty acids and not all esters are created equal and Arroyo more than anyone else at the time kept his eye on the price of creating and selecting for the most extraordinary and suave (his favorite rum descriptor). The concept of osmotolerance is at the heart of coaxing all of it out.

I’d love to work on this more but I’m out of time

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Team Pombe and the Yeast Olympiad

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I think it is finally time to delve into some yeast topics regarding rum. I’ve sort of avoided it though Arroyo states you should always start with yeast selection. Factory design and equipment purchases, Arroyo explains, are dependent on yeast choices. How fast they ferment and their alcohol tolerance dictates how many vats. Do they produce aroma worthy of batch distillation or should you go continuous? It all begins with yeasts.

When I first read the works of Percival Greg in Jamaica and his descriptions of yeast no. 18, I became wildly curious about Schizosaccharomyces Pombe. Pombe is a fission yeast as opposed to a budding yeast so they divide differently. All brewers yeasts are budding yeasts and pretty much no beverage uses Pombe yeast but rum (industrial wineries are exploring Pombe to reduce malic acid because they can metabolize it in alcohol). The name Pombe is Swahili for beer and it was first identified in African millet beers in the late 19th century. It has been explored in conventional beers, but is known to produce off aromas in the context. Not even all rums use Pombe yeasts, but typically those of the grand arôme tradition do (I use that term without nationality because I like the ô). Geneticists have been studying them as a model organism for looking at mutations because of how they divide, so when searching for information you have to wade through a lot of genetic science.

Yeast type seems to be something beverage people have forgotten about and connoisseurs don’t even know to make the distinction. If used properly, Pombe can make the heaviest, most suave of rums, but they can also be used to make straight light rums. Many producers inoculate with them and many other producers accidentally end up with them. Among the serendipitous category, some end up producing a heavy type of rum while most others sort of sabotage their chances of grand arôme by other contingent practices. Typically, producers of heavy rums, are keener on their science and with great care, coax their Pombe yeasts into producing tons of gorgeous aroma.

[Fermentor at Hampden estate in Jamaica, likely a top fermenting Pombe yeast and closely matches the description of Percival Greg’s. Image credit Rum Gallery]

Schizosaccharomyces Pombe yeasts have sub categories just like budding yeasts and there are top fermenting and bottom fermenting varieties. As a rule of thumb top fermenting yeasts produce a fuller bodied aroma and ferment even slower. Pombe yeasts do not produce all the aroma themselves, and the slowness of their ferment means that favorable bacteria can take hold and produce desirable aroma compounds. It also leaves room for undesirable bacteria and Pombe yeasts typically require more care which is why many distilleries avoid them.

Pombe yeasts relate to the dunder process because as a rule of thumb they have significantly more osmotolerance than budding yeasts. This means they can withstand the stress of high acidity, high initial sugar contents, and high contents of dissolved minerals that accumulate in dunder. Jamaica and many other areas likely ended up discovering Pombe yeasts via sloppy fermentation practices where things weren’t measured properly. Empirically it was revealed that dramatically different results could be gotten. There was a time where distillers were just learning about bacteria and how it was inhibited by acidity, so to protect yields they were heavy handed and eventually ended up with a rare yeast type. When acidity is high, Pombe will take hold as the dominant yeast, but bacteria will not and this is a way to get particularly light rums as a result of using Pombe. This idea may have great bearing on older Haitian rums pre-1980’s and many small production Cachaças.

It was initially thought that high acidity correlated to fuller flavored rums but that isn’t exactly true, the Jamaicans were sort of wrong and Arroyo straightened it all out. More on that later, because it gets really profound.

Another point I should make is that fission yeasts relative to budding yeasts have a low frequency of occurrence. That is why they are typically not dominant, but can be made to be dominant as part of a community by messing with fermentation kinetics. The low frequency of occurrence, coupled with being abandoned by the industry, and the rise of in house research by certain sophisticated firms means there are no industrial catalogs of Pombe yeasts to choose from like there is with budding yeasts. There is a Pombe society, but it is a group of geneticists and not a group of rum aficionados.

If you want to mess with fission yeasts, you need to round a bunch up and have them go through a fermentation Olympiad. This is what Jamaican had done very early on and their Agricultural experiment station would send a new yeast out at the beginning of the season. Later in the season they would find that it often wasn’t still dominant. Arroyo conducted his own Olympics with some extra wild results, and the French have held their own games for themselves. Arroyo doesn’t say much on the actual methods of discovery, but he does describe his pentathlon better than anybody.

The big test is the yeast’s ability to produce rum oil, which is the mysterious prized metabolite and something fission yeasts produce more of than budding yeasts. Pombe yeasts have to be found at random (a strategic random), purified, then run through feats of strength. After they pass the rum oil tests, they have to go to the fusel oil event. For grand arôme rums, fusel oil has to be minimized during fermentation because fusel oil and rum oil fractions overlap in the still. If you use a fusel oil separator in a continuous still, or a decanting technique in a batch process, prized rum oil will be lost, so unlike other spirits, rum has to be that much more in tune with its yeasts. You can ferment molasses with yeasts, distill it, and not get rum, (but my God will they try to call it rum!) They will also probably try to adulterate it instead of learning more about fermentation. Rum is that much more profound than other spirits.

I have long wanted to bring fission yeast to New England and I’ve slowly been hatching a plan. My initial plan had to be scrapped as I learned much more. You cannot exactly get a pombe yeast from the catalogs. I mean, you can for $350USD, but it has yet to be vetted and win a gold medal, and it has to compete against a lot of other candidates so ultimately you would need a few thousand dollars just for your first cultures and they’d come with no story. Rum has to have a story, and typically they all do, more so than any other spirit.

I plan on taking a slightly different tack, I am going to do discovery myself, and then hold my own Olympic trials. I will try wide ranging local discovery with various fruits, but it doesn’t look promising (I need to verify that hunch is correct regardless). Isolating budding yeast is easy, but even when understanding their typical kinetics, isolating fission yeast, with their low frequency of occurrence is hard. I have hatched an extra novel plan which would get me a standing ovation with the yeast biologists if I can execute it. I have an extraction protocol with a track record of success and I’ve already been collecting exciting sample media from around the world. Arroyo isolated near all his contestants from sugarcane, but I do not think that is the only way. I’ll have contestants coming from as far away as Sardinia and I have eight potential contestants from within Minnesota alone, that with genetic testing I can give first names to. Will any be the same or will they all be unique? And what will my distribution of tops and bottoms be? Or am I completely wrong and all the gold medal winners must come from sugar cane because they are best adapted? There is only one way to find out! I do have a yeast biologist partner in crime for this so I’m hoping the protocol will be successful.

My initial plan was to understand Pombe kinetics enough to create dominant cultures in varying mediums like apples, raspberries, foraged blueberries, etc very much like what is rumored to happen at Hampden estates. This would also come with free riding bacterial communities. This plan was dashed because though I could possibly construct a starter one way and build a large footing to optimize aroma and fusel oil production. The rest of the wash would be very different and the community would change significantly. An entire community from a starter would bring an elegant sense of terroir, but it would not be correlated to the most extraordinary of sensory values. Until I learn more, my initial best bet is Arroyo style pure culture fermentation.

The majority of the rum industry that found themselves with Pombe yeasts have abandoned the practice and in many cases because it didn’t meet their objectives or technical abilities. For a long time, and for much of the world without any established reputation, rum sold largely on price. Being most competitive required continuous stills which need continuous streams of wash to run. Vats require capital expenditure and to feed the hungry stills, a quick fermenting budding yeast could turn around a vat much faster, thus reducing expense. In many scenarios Pombe yeasts also have less alcohol tolerance than budding yeast which means more energy to separate all the extra water. Arroyo and a few other consultants tell tales of massive distillery wastes due to incomplete fermentations. Pombe yeasts are never singled out as at fault, but these distilleries were never testing the boundaries and limits of their workhorses. Biological control requires chemical control and if you don’t even have that, you just cannot mess with fission yeasts.

We are going to see a fission yeast renaissance. The first step is recognizing their current usage on the market and their usage historically. Did New England rum at Felton & Son’s ever use a fission yeast? They did make very full bodied rums and were using dunder. There is one untapped resource left to possibly find this information (and I’m working on it!). Is Hampden estates using the most noble of grand arôme fission yeast processes? Does Cape Verde end up using a fission yeast? In the previous post I attributed much of their character to cane juice not being defecated or clarified, but if a cachaça producer could end up with a fission yeast, why couldn’t a grogue maker? Answering that question may be as simple as asking how long their fermentation lasts.

The next step is bringing it to the new distillery movement. There are countless new distilleries producing rum but do any of them have progressive yeast labs and is anyone holding systematic trials for their yeasts? (Hint: partner with a university!)

Yeasts we will see are where it all begins, but they guarantee nothing if not followed up with chemical control and more in depth understanding of their specific metabolisms. Next, and after I gather a little more information, we will move down the road and look deeper at comparative fermentation options for rum making.

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