1940, The Story Of Rum (Reprinted From Package Store Journal)

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Anonymous. The Story of Rum—(Reprinted from Package Stores Journal) Revista de agricultura de Puerto Rico, Volume 32, (1940) page 453-455

[This is not a translation and was published in English

Something that is special about this document aimed at liquor store owners is that it mentions the subtle adulterations of light rums which was very common in Cuba and Puerto Rico. For heavy rums, it also takes the time to explicitly mention fission yeasts a.k.a. schizosaccharomyces pombe which currently no producer acknowledges using (though a few, like Hampden, certainly employ).]

The Story Of Rum

The package store retailer knows less about rum, one of the most natural products to merchandise in the liquor industry, than any other type of alcoholic beverage, this in spite of the fact that its popularity has increased each succeeding year since Repeal.

Resplendent with a rich and romantic background, the importers and producers of rum have accomplished a remarkable job in selling this product to the American people and making them rum conscious. The extent to which the retailer can profitably capitalize on these promotional efforts depends in large measure on his knowledge of the product and the manner in which he merchandises it.

The word “rum” to the majority of American people is loosely applied to all liquors. This is probably due to the fact that during Prohibition smugglers were known as “rum runners”, etc. The actual derivation of the word goes back to the time of the Spanish conquest of the New World, the legendary figures of Sir Henry Morgan and Teach who was called “Black Beard”. There was no alcoholic beverage in the New World, and, in as much as the early settlers were the island planters who raised sugar cane, they naturally experimented with the sugar cane juice in order to get a spiritous liquor. That liquor is known as rum. Freebooters and their like discharged their cargo in the Caribbean Sea and brought back an extremely potent and exotic concoction which was then known as “West Indies Rum”. The ancient order of freebooters and cutthroats used the word “rumbustion” and “rumbullion” as the proper word for this fiery and most potent of liquors, and very soon after the names were shortened to rum.

To clarify the meaning of the word “rums”, we will segregate them into various classes. Rum is an alcoholic distillate from the fermented juice of sugar cane, sugar syrup, sugar cane molasses, or other sugar cane by-products distilled at less than 190 proof in such a manner that the distillate possesses the taste, aroma, and characteristics generally attributed to rum; and includes mixtures solely of such distillates.

“New England Rum” is rum as above defined, except it is produced in the United States, is distilled at less than 160 proof, and is a straight rum and not a mixture of rums.

Puerto Rico, Cuba, Demarara, Barbados, St. Croix, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, Jamaica, Martinique, Trinidad, Haiti, and Santo Domingo rum are not distinctive types of rum. Such names are not generic but retain their geographic significance. They may not be applied to rum produced in any other place than the particular region indicated in the name, and may not be used as a designation of a product as rum, unless such product is rum as above defined.

A common practice in the classification of rums has been to identify them as to their geographical source. The rums of the various islands of the West Indies, as well as the United States, all seem to have their own individual character, and that character seems to prevail generally with all the rum which comes from each individual source. Consequently, we have Puerto Rico rum, Cuban rum, Jamaican rum, etc. However, it might be worth while to mention here that also included in the Federal Alcohol Administration labeling regulations is the statement that the word “type” cannot be used in the identification of a rum, but that it may carry the name of the particular locality from which it comes. Consequently, we cannot have a “Cuban type” rum made in New England, nor can a rum distilled in Louisiana be called “Virgins Islands type.”

The “light-bodied” rums, in general, are the Puerto Rico and Cuban. The heavy-bodied rums are the Jamaican, Trinidad, Martinique, Haitian, Demerara, Barbados, St. Croix, New England and Virgin Islands.

The fact that Puerto Rican rums, for instance, are classified as “light-bodied” rums and Jamaica rums are classified as “heavy-bodied” rums, does not mean that Puerto Rico cannot make a “heavy-bodied” rum or that Jamaica cannot make a “light-bodied” rum. As a matter of fact, they do. In Jamaica for instance, they make three different varieties, mild, medium, and highly flavored types. However, the reason they are thus classified is because these sources produce greater quantities and are better known as to the type under which they are classified. The principal difference in these two classifications is the fermentation and the distilling process. Their use also differ.

In the manufacture of sugar and molasses, both of which are accomplished at the same time, the sugar cane, which grows in the form of long, tall stocks, is crushed by means of very elaborate machinery in order to extract the cane juice. The resulting sugar water is then pumped into the tanks where it is treated with lime to precipitate and remove any impurities, which are undesirable in sugar. The liquid is filtered several times, and the excess water is removed by means of evaporation until the resulting liquid is a heavy syrup about the consistency of thin molasses. The heavy, syrupy liquid is then pumped into an additional series of evaporating tanks, where it is subjected to steam in vacuum, and the solution further evaporated until it reaches the point were it is allowed to cool and the sugar begins to crystallize. After boiling, the mash is partially cooled and is put into centrifugals, and the hardened sugar crystals become separated from the “mother liquor” and syrup. It is the “mother liquor” that is commonly known as molasses.

There have been a few exceptions, but in most cases rum is distilled from the fermentation of molasses, although there are rums available on the market today which are distillates of fermented cane juice.

Manufacture of Light Bodied Rum

In the manufacture of the light-bodied rums, molasses and water or cane juice are poured into large vats, and a carefully “cultured yeast” is added. It is the character that this yeast gives the liquor which is the proudest secret and possession of each distillery. It is this yeast culture which gives each of the light-bodied rums its respective distinctions. No two strains of cultured yeast are the same.

The mash is allowed to ferment for approximately 18 to 24 hours, at which time it is ready for the still. It is not complete until the evolution of gas has almost entirely subsided. During fermentation, the must is watched very carefully and checked frequently by laboratory control to make certain that no foreign bacteria are introduced into the mash. Associated with the making of light-bodied rums, by means of a carefully cultured yeast, is the English type patent, or column still.

After fermentation is complete, the fermented mash, containing about seven per cent of alcohol, is distilled to separate the rum from the water present. In the distillation, which is done at approximately 160 proof, the mash is gradually vaporized and the rum vapors are passed through condensers at the top of the still where they are rectified and cooled, and thanse through a “try box” to collecting tanks in the cistern rooms, where it is held prior to barreling.

As the manufacture of alcoholic beverages is carried out in an entirely closed process, it is impossible to secure samples from time to time in order to check the performance of the equipment and the quality of the final product. Therefore, the “try box” is installed to provide a continuous check on the distillate. The rum from the still flows through this glass apparatus, which contains a thermometer and hydrometer. By means of these instruments, it is possible to check the distillate constantly. At the end of each period of distillation a sample can be taken from the receiving tanks and subjected to a final chemical analysis before barreling and warehousing. The distillate is then barreled, at high proof, and is stored in warehouses to age.

This process because of the high degree of care and control used is described as a “controlled fermentation” method. The essence of the procedure is marked control of the yeast culture, fermentation, and other steps of the procedure. This results in the manufacture of a rum of delicate character and aroma, neutral body, and low acid content.

There are various other factors which will affect the rum, both in body and character, among them the proof at which the distillate is rum. The lower the proof at which the mash is distilled, the more congeneric content it will have. It is these congeneric contents and their proportion in the liquor which give it its distinctive character. The higher proof at which the distillate is run, the less congeneric content and more neutral will be the character of the liquor.

Rum as it is distilled is precisely the color of water. The different colors in market rum come either from the ageing process or by the addition of coloring matter. In actual practice, the color is usually achieved by both. Both minimum and maximum aging time for rum is considerably less than for whiskey. Rum begins to depreciate when it has been aged in the wood for four years. Some authorities claim it has already begun to depreciate at the age of three years unless it is removed and bottled.

Prior to the actual bottling of rum it is necessary to standardize on its color. Rum does not age in all barrels to exactly the same color. Some will be darker, some will be lighter. Therefore, to give rum the shade of color determined upon in advance, it is necessary to add caramel coloring before bottling. Every major brand of rum on the American market today, as well as the majority of Scotch whiskey has a slight addition of caramel for the purpose of adding color to the liquor.

In addition some manufacturers add other things to their rum to give it those faint shades of taste and color, at which they aim in the final product. Usually these additions consist of Sherry and other blending wines, and perhaps a little cordial. In no case are such additives made in fine quality rum in sufficient quantities to make any appreciable difference in its taste. They are made for the purpose of achieving only subtle changes in the bouquet which may be enjoyed unconsciously but which no one but a connoisseur could possibly point out.

Heavy Bodied Rum

In the manufacture of “heavy-bodied” rums, the method differs considerably from that in the making of “light-bodied” rums. For instance, in Jamaica, Trinidad, Martinique, and Barbados the principal characteristic of the manufacture is the fermentation. The “heavy-bodied” rums are made by what may be described as a “wild” fermentation. By this is meant that molasses and water which go to make up the base of the mash is poured into a vat which is exposed to the open air. The fermentation develops as a result of the natural ferments of the sugar cane and the absorption of the yeast that is prevalent in the neighborhood and in the air. This method is also known as a “fission” yeast, and as “spontaneous fermentation.” Sometimes the residue of a former fermentation is added, which aids in developing the mash. This is known as “dunder.”

In every locality where wild fermentation, or spontaneous fermentation takes place, that vicinity gradually becomes infested with wild yeast culture. After a certain length of time, one particular strain of yeast becomes dominant, and this is responsible for the individual characteristics of wild fermented rums from various localities.

The fermentation by this method takes a considerably longer time than by the controlled yeast culture method, as is used in the manufacture of light-bodied rums, and the period of fermentation progresses from five to twenty days. This permits the large development of congenerics, which are responsible for the definite character found in heavy-bodied rum.

The mash then progresses into either a pot still style of distillation or, in some cases a patent still. In Jamaica the pot still is the most prevalent. Whereas the patent still is, as a rule, a high column, the pot still is much shorter and the shape on the order of a decanter. Usually two of these pot stills are used. The distillate of the first still vaporizes, condenses, and a low wine is the result. This low wine then progresses to the second still, and the rum is then brought up to the required strength. Distillation is accomplished at approximately 140 proof, which is not as high as the light-bodied rums. This is also responsible for the higher congeneric content of the heavy-bodied rums.

The liquor is then barreled at high proof and permitted to age.

The patent still method of distillation is used in the making of heavy-bodied rums in some of the other islands of the West Indies, such as Barbados, Martinique, and Trinidad. However, as a general rule the fermentation is of the wild, or spontaneous variety. The proof at which rum is distilled in these other islands varies anywhere from 140 to 165.

We thus have the opportunity from the analyses of correlating the composition of rums with the standard characteristics that has given certain rums widespread public acceptance. We find that the analytical data is of some value in establishing a presumptive quality, although the public palate must ultimately be recognized as the final controlling factor.

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