Rum, Mitogenic Radiation & The Bio-photon

[Preface: This is a controversial subject and most scientists are extremely skeptical. Bio-photonic concepts are very abstract so it is hard to believe in them, but I intend to explore some of the ideas first hand by recreating Arroyo’s experiments. I would love to get the results Arroyo got whether they can be attributed to mitogenic radiation or not. I’ll never been in a position to pinpoint anything, but it will just raise curiosity and be fun. At this point I think I believe that mitogenic radiation is possible, but that the results are simply not always positive or the relationship is very weak. In many experimental examples the effect is a negative so there is no easy cure-all. It sort of reminds me of the olfactory hallucination idea. Most people are not capable of spotting them when they are harmonious because they do not raise the same kind of flag as when they are inharmonious. When they are already difficult to spot, this makes everything twice as difficult. I just got some papers from the skeptics camp and hopefully I can incorporate their ideas in here in a few days.]

What the hell is mitogenic radiation and what does it have to do with rum fermentation? Rafael Arroyo has a chapter on the subject within his 1945 opus, Studies on Rum, but for some reason wine, beer, and basically no one else is even aware of it. Oh, this is an interesting one!

Mitogenic radiation is an older term relating to the field of bio photonics which is some of the freshest, most controversial science out there and may re-write a lot of what we know about biology in general as well as specifics regarding the very origins of life. It is very fitting that it would be applied to rum first, because as I spelled out recently, rum is by leaps and bounds the most progressive spirit.

A bio photon is light emitted by organisms and even some things not quite alive. It allows physical rather then chemical communication between organisms which can often bring them into strange synchronous states. To cut to the chase in regards to rum, Arroyo was attempting fermentations of simultaneous pure cultures of bacteria & yeast to produce very heavy Jamaica-type rums and repeatably getting amazing results that upended every rule of thumb of fermentation science. When fermentation science says these cultures should compete for resources and inhibit each other, bacteria was making the yeast grow faster and ferment significantly quicker. But was it chemical or physical?

Arroyo had a serious ear to the ground for an agricultural scientist working on a tiny island pre WWII. He was aware of ideas in mitogenic radiation though he knew they were controversial and should be approached with skepticism. Arroyo tried many experiments to prove that no chemical products of the bacteria’s metabolism turbo charged the yeast, but rather that it was light based. The final experiment was fermenting pure cultures separated by a quartz barrier (cylinder within a cylinder) so that they were chemically separate but physically in visual contact and he observed the same results of the yeasts synchronizing with the bacteria. Arroyo was confirming controversial ideas in mitogenic radiation and applying them to a commercial product.

When I tried to find a primer of the subject, the best was written by Stanford scientist Cody Jones and for some reason hosted by Linden Larouche, possibly because it touches on cosmic radiation which relates to plans for colonizing space. It is a wonderful read, but I was left wondering how it got associated with an ultra fringe political group. Jones has an interview on a Larouche news program that begins with political insanity and ends presenting him as a finely articulate speaker. Other pursuits of the subject also brushed up against political weirdness.

After reading Cody Jones’ primer I was reminded of an intriguing Scientific American article from last year, describing the work of Jeremy England at M.I.T., and it turned out to ground everything in some serious respectability. England has been looking at the very origins of life before it grows to anything described by Darwin. At the earliest points there is significant grey area between what is alive and what isn’t and bio photons are still important. They give seemingly non-living or abiotic things the power to organize themselves. This is sort of like a gravity that constantly moves towards life.

It is probably useful to cover some classic experiments to get a better handle on things and all of them are paraphrased by Cody Jones. The first person to recognize the bio photon was Alexander Gurwitsch and the first experiment was performed on onions in 1923.

It is demonstrated that cell mitosis can be induced in an onion stem via extremely low-intensity ultraviolet (UV) emissions from the root of another onion—is that chromatin (as in chromosomes, DNA) is the source of this biological radiation, measured by him in the UV range, and that this radiation stimulates and regulates the mitosis of other cells. In other words, UV radiation emanating from one cell can trigger the act of mitosis in another cell.

This really makes you wonder if we see any of this in agriculture. Many planting decisions are based on competition for chemical resources and designing experiments to isolate the effect of bio photons may prove near impossible. But there are murmurs of cosmo-culture techniques used in wine making and when you consider the possible effects of cosmic radiation on cell function, they might not be so silly.

I found this experiment described by Cody Jones interesting because it dealt specifically with yeast:

Other studies were done on the influence of non-thermal microwaves on the growth rate of yeast cells, were it was found that the effect of either enhanced growth, no effect, or deteriorated growth rate, occurred in repeated studies at very specific frequencies. A significant difference of effect was demonstrated in a narrow microwave range around 42GHz (109 Hz), with a maximum increase in growth rates, relative to a baseline growth rate, occurring at 41.782 GHz and maximum decreased growth rates occurring at the 41.788 GHz. Interestingly, when the applied frequency range was doubled (from 42 to 84GHz range), the new frequency that corresponded to the maximum growth rate was double that of the maximum growth frequency of the previous tests (from 41.782 GHz to 83.564 GHz). These results again demonstrate a highly tuned quality of interaction of radiation with living processes, with fundamental differences of effect occurring within a very narrow range of frequency, as well as a periodicity of effects within a broader range of radiation quality (i.e. microwave), as seen with the growth effect occurring at doubled frequencies.

Not all effects are positive and synchronous effects as seen here can sometimes be damaging.

Here is a great one:

One such experiment done with unicellular flagellate protists, know as dinoflagellates, demonstrated that when two different groups of the protists were brought into optical contact with each other, though still physically separated by quartz containers, they would start to engage in synchronous bio-luminescent flickering among members of the the two different samples, whereas when in non-optical contact, the relationship of the flickering was random.

There is lots of interest in bio photons and cancer, both for detection and therapies:

In another experiment, tests were done on the delayed luminescence from stimulated liver cells, of both the healthy and tumorous variety. It was found that as you increase the density of the healthy tissue, the rate of luminescence increased up to a maximum, at which point it started to decrease with further density increase, whereas with the tumor tissue there was a steady hyperbolic increase in rate of luminosity which continued irrespective of how dense the population of cells became. This was interpreted, in light of Gurwitsch’s work on the role of bio-photon emission in stimulating cell mitosis, as a breakdown in a regulatory function in the tumor tissue, which did not occur in the healthy tissue.

A wildly interesting one:

It is worth mentioning another series of experiments which show similar types of effects conducted by A.B. Burlakov, a Russian scientist following in the Gurwitsch tradition, who looked at the effect of optical contact between fish eggs of differing ages. What he found was that if a group of young eggs was brought into contact with another group just slightly older, the younger group actually accelerated its growth rate as if to catch up, whereas if the difference was of a greater interval, past a certain threshold, the effect was deleterious, resulting in mutations and higher death rates.

And the finale:

We can add to the list of experimental phenomena that orient towards understanding the radiation expression of life, the work currently being done by Dr. Luc Montagnier, the discoverer of the HIV virus. What he has demonstrated is that microscopic fragments of the DNA of various viruses and bacteria in highly dilute solution produce detectable electromagnetic waves, even when the DNA fragments are so minute that they are undetectable by any other means. In one experiment, his lab set up a container of pure water that was in close proximity to a dilute solution that was emitting the measurable electromagnetic waves, but was not in material contact with it. When constituent genetic material (nucleotides, primers, polymerase) was add to the pure water solution there was a synthesis of DNA strands of the same sequence as that which was in the initial dilute solution. The electromagnetic waves of the solution produced in the pure water a characteristic shaped living space, that, when material was added, took the form of that shaped field. We see this as not only the role of radiation in living processes, but this brings into question we actually draw the bounds of what we consider the living substance: clearly in this case it extends far beyond what is conventionally recognized as living material.

This was the experiment that I saw most relevant to the work of Jeremy English as described in Scientific American. I would love to know if this work has been duplicated.

If you’ve got the time, another wonderful primer was written by Compton Rom Bada. The most important ideas within is that there are diseases posited to be symptomatic of a loss of coherent light (chaos) like cancer while there are diseases from too much coherent light like Multiple Schlerosis (order) where cells are too in sync with others of different functions which prevent the cells from acting as individuals and performing their own special functions. The take away here is that even if you believe in bio-photonic effect, its no easy positive.

The idea of chaos is very important to concepts important to wine like terroir. It is interesting to speculate how synchrony from bio photons may cause a ripple of order through the chaos, but it is also very hard to tease out anything confidently. A metaphor that I like to use for techniques wine makers and distillers use is to create and frame windows for chaos. There are things we can control and things we cannot that are left to happen chaotically within certain bounds. The inverse now looks true with mitogenic radiation where distillers can frame windows for synchrony, but it will still resemble chaos.

Mitogenic radiation and synchronizing a yeast culture with a bacterial culture is at the heart of Rafael Arroyo’s technique for creating heavy rums. Arroyo also started to classify heavy rums by the dominant auxiliary culture. Jamaica-type heavy rums were created by a fission yeast culture partnered with Clostridium Sacharo Butyricum, but the others did not parallel established traditions. With molasses, Arroyo also explored Propionobacterium Technicum and with fresh sugar cane juice, the Imperfecti mold Oidium Suaveolens, “isolated by the writer from the sap of a tree much used in Puerto Rico for shading coffee plantations.” Um, wow. Anyone know what that tree may be?

What on the market specifically can be tied to any of these ideas?

Fake aging is pointless if the ferments aren’t epic, helping us tease out ideas related to the birth of all life, and emitting bio photons left and right. Can bourbon do any of that? My infatuation with rum just grew again. If its lore, its lore, but its pretty good lore.

Excise Anecdotes from Arrack Country

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These anecdotes have been taken from a wonderful 1983 document written by J.P. Rupasinghe presented at a 1981 symposium on palm sap products.

It starts with acknowledgement of a checkered history, there is a tale of fraud, later a gargantuan tragedy, and an ending with revelations of terroir. If this is the first tale from this vantage point I’ve ever found, are others likely to be equally so good?

Some Anecdotes

I would now wish to relate some anecdotes in my 30 years of experience as an excise officer in the checkered history of the excise department. As a young Superintendent of Excise on first appointment, working in Jaffna, living with another officer who now is Head of another department I have something interesting to say. My colleague was used to take a bottle of fresh toddy in the morning instead of his bed-tea as in his opinion it was more invigorating than the tea. Tasting palmyrah toddy especially during week ends was a passtime and was real fun. The best palmyrah toddy that we had encountered in the Jaffna District and its neighbouring Island was found in the villages of Keerimalai and Senthan Kulam in the Kankesanturai area. The sap from the male palmyrah tree in these areas far excelled any other toddy found in the Jaffna district. I feel the strain of the palmyrah trees found therein and the soil and climatic factors matter in bringing about this condition in toddy. When I came soon afterwards from Jaffna in charge of the State Distillery at Seeduwa there was an Asst. Government Analyst on loan to this department for brief period of 2 years at a time. However, the toddy supplies to the State Distilleries at Seeduwa were obtained from contractors who had their topes in the Chilaw area and they were paid on the pure toddy (alcohol) content of 7.5 % on the gallonage supplied depending on the strength of toddy supplied as indicated by the Ebulliometer test conducted by our officers located at the distillery. It was found that large quantities of toddy received had reached the final stage of fermentation and the toddy did not appear genuine. With the collaboration of the Govt. Analyst at the distillery a random test check was done on suspicion for the presence of starch as there was a rumour that boiled rice water was used in preparing this synthetic toddy. One application of this starch test the results were startling and positive. Starch being not a component of toddy the next obvious thing we had to do was to roll the barrels down the drain leading to Dandugan Oya near-by, to find most of the distillery employees were happily waiting at the far end of the drain away from our sight and having their fill. However this action of destroying such toddy had its desired effects and the problem of synthetic toddy was solved. [They probably used iodine to test for starch.]

When I was at Kalutara thereafter in charge of the large storage and bottling warehouses in the Island I happened to be on leave and the young Superintendent attending to my work had been informed that a large vat containing about 3,000 gallons of over proof arrack was leaking. Perhaps it may have been a simple job for a cooper to stop the leak but this young Superintendent had decided to transfer the arrack to another empty vat near by with the aid of a hand pump. Somehow the operation went on till dusk and the warehouse being newly constructed there were no lights. The hand pump had been used to hard work and suddenly the vat went up in flames, a porter who was on top of the vat hit the warehouse ceiling and fell into the burning vat and must have died instantaneously because what we recovered of him for burial was only his pelvic bone. All attempts to bring down fire was in vain and the balance vat containing overproof arrack, 48 in number, had started bursting like Chinese crackers and a good 100 thousand gallons of overproof arrack was lost in the process. This happened in or around 1957. [Friction from the pump built up intense heat and ignited the high proof spirits.]

Special Arrack

Apart from the severe loss suffered by the department at this stage we were faced with the problem of giving the renters arrack for the taverns they had tendered and a solution had to be found to bridge the gap. This was a time the Gal-Oya and Kantalai Distilleries had ample stocks of rectified, spirits which they were prepared to sell. Samples of rectified spirit and coconut arrack were taken by me to the Government Analyst Department in order to find out a suitable blend for issuing to the public as an alternative to coconut arrack. The Government Analyst Department reported that a blend of 2 of coconut arrack to 1 of rectified spirits would be a satisfactory solution. Thereupon the first such blend was prepared by me at Kalutara and the employees (always hard and inveterate drinkers) were asked to taste and express their opinions. They did so with glee, and that was the birth of what is presently known as Special Arrack or ‘Gal’ Arrack. These proportions are not said to be maintained now and what is put out to the market as special arrack is said to contain more rectified spirit than coconut arrack. The consequences or effects that the consumer of this arrack would have in the long run could be a matter for study. Perhaps the recent census showing a negligible increase in the population may be a result of this.

[When we would assume the special style was developed merely to cut costs, it was actually a response to a catastrophic loss due to a great tragedy. Its easy to miss so many of the stories a spirit can tell.]

Quick Maturation

The late Mr. Mervyn de Silva during his stint of service at the State Distillery experimented with the action of wood shavings on arrack in bottles and on his advice I got a miniature vat constructed, and having placed Halmilla wood shavings, roasted slightly, packed in cylindrical stainless steel wiremesh inserted inside the miniature vat we found that Arrack could be made to mature quickly. A usual 5 year maturation in a vat could be reduced to 2 years by this method. However after we went and took up positions elsewhere in the departments it was found that the few gallons of arrack left in the miniature vat was so good in bouquet and taste that it had an excuse for going fast ”evaporated.” Any how this method is still being used on a large scale at the distillery for quick maturation. [“evaporated” means they enjoyed it so much they drank it, but because they record everything for tax purposes, they wrote it off as evaporated.]


In 1968, I went to France on a French Government Scholarship to study the distillery practices in that country, and I had the good fortune to visit many manufactories in that country. What struck me most was the strain of grapes used to distill Brandy in the Cognac district of France. These grapes unlike the more edible and sweeter grapes in the rest of the country were remarkably sour in taste, and year in year out the same grapes, farmed in that district, were used for the distillation of the more prestigeous Cognacs like ‘Hennessy’ or ‘Remmy Martin’, so much so that the saying goes that ‘a Cognac is a Brandy’ but ‘all Brandies are not Cognacs’. The Armanages, the Salyangnecs, the Polynagcs are all Brandies with distinct flavours produced in specified districts. However, in Sri Lanka we have been slaughter tapping the coconut tree in the tapping belt of Kalutara and allied areas for years. To feed the distilleries therein, the State Distillery has had its supply of toddy year in year out from specific areas. The coconut trees found in these tapping areas are presumably of different strains in as much as ‘Kurumba Water’ taste different from different coconut trees, the sap tapped from the spadices thereof must necessarily be different. I say this as a pointer to those who would like to study this aspect intensively because we are still to find the equivalent of the Cognac district and the particular strains of coconut trees to obtain our toddy to produce a better arrack.

[The strange spellings are all the author’s own. I think one might be a corruption of Salignac, the Cognac house. This passage is wildly profound and it makes you wonder how many people visited Cognac and came back similarly inspired in places we would never suspect. And this was 1981, has their market matured enough since to capture terroir? Can arrack make the jump from commodity to fine? I hope so.

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Rum Comparatively: Understanding Anything Goes

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I’m going to attempt to break some new ground here on comparative understandings of rum. A lot of this is based on new literature I’ve aggressively collected over the past few years. Hopefully I can sway one or two people or at least amuse a few of you.

The opportunity just arose for me to design my own rum at a local distillery that I’ve done consulting work for in the past. It is a long term project and it is allowed to be wildly progressive and possibly fail. The plan is to couple Arroyo’s super fractionated distilling techniques (that is probably my own term) with very old ideas in yeast propagation and fermentation. I want to make a heavy rum of terroir, despite molasses being an international commodity of which I barely have control over. I’m going to bring a sense of place mainly by creating a local foraged fruit starter for wild yeast and using some new ideas in the kinetics of microbial communities to promote a yeast that is seldom dominant to being dominant (there will be other posts on this). We will have light rum, a heavy overproof, and then of course an aged expression which will be a blend of various fragments. There may be room for accelerated aging of some of the fractions very similarly to Lost Spirits projects (perfume industry technique), but I suspect I’ll be maxed out for time before I can get those ideas off the ground. The project will use super fractionated natural aging which is widely practiced, but little understood, or ever a part of discourse so I suspect I will not need anything too exotic to get the results I’m looking for. There is a precedent for everything I aim to do, but what makes it progressive is that it has never been brought to New England or done on such a small scale. I will be deeply diving into distillation history and bringing it all to life.

This rum aims to tell a very New England, very Boston story. It reflects a love for the writings of progressive rum thinkers like those of the Jamaican agricultural experiment station, Harris Eastman Sawyer (the Harvard chemist who I previously identified as the architect of the modern New England rum style in 1900), Rafael Arroyo, the wildly progressive thinker who revolutionized most of the world’s rum production, and the thinkers at the Rum Pilot Plant (I finally found their annotated bibliography). There are many more like Valaer, Amerine, Guymon, Willkie, Murtaugh, Piggot and the student projects at Roseworthy agricultural college. Of course I wouldn’t have come across any of these thinkers without haunting the BPL, M.I.T. and having countless serendipitous Boston conversations.

Another way that it is a Boston story is that I’m personally a big product of Boston wine culture and the pursuit of terroir. The only way the land can shape commodity molasses is by bringing it’s microbial community and what better way to enhance that story by promoting the voice of a seldom seen yeast not harnessed outside of the Caribbean and not in acknowledged use (awesome exceptions keep popping up!) for almost one hundred years (details some other time).

I’ve long wondered why we don’t know more about rum’s actual production. There are a huge amount of practices that go absolutely unnoticed, not yet a part of discourse though other spirits categories like Scotch or Cognac attract a lot of scrutiny. I suspect a lot of it comes down to how much literature we have and a hallmark of my own perspectives and opinions is having a huge amount of literature that other people haven’t seen yet. I’ve slowly been attempting to construct a bibliography of 150 years of rum research with all the citations freely available. It starts with the great Agricola, W.F. Whitehouse in Jamaica reflecting after his distill-off versus the Irish interlopers and ends with the vantage point of L. Fahrasmane and B. Ganou-Parfait in the late 20th century.

There are a lot of glamour issues to why we don’t know more. We often discount the consumer as not ready for it. A brand’s life style image would be tainted by talking too much. Rum is also near always made at such large scales that it just isn’t romantic like a small winery and there aren’t any figures like Randall Grahm speaking articulately of terroir. Progressive producer as celebrity is a very new concept and anyone progressive of yore has been doomed to be ahead of their time. Arroyo wasn’t heralded until decades later and sadly after his death.

Explaining rum can be heavy on the science, especially if we haven’t whittled down the discourse. Of course there is considerable science in the production of any spirit, but rum science is different. For other spirits the science is framed within the confines of production laws, while in rum, anything goes so the science multiplies quickly. Bourbon has one or two templates for production, rum has quite a few and that is why it can tell so many stories. The potential to tell so many stories with rum puts it closer to wine than any other spirit.

These comparative issues make it really hard to learn more about rum. Some rums are made straight forwardly like some batch pot still Bourbons with simple fraction recycling programs. The complete volume of product is aged in barrels just like a Bourbon and when it evaporates it is gone just like Bourbon. When it is bottled it can actually be enjoyed as a single barrel expression with nothing but light filtration and water. This is where the “straight” that we take for granted comes in. For rum to follow nothing but those rules sounds kind of lame to me.

I adore whiskies and brandies made in the classic straight template, but I’m a progressive and often I want something more. It is also not the most efficient and rum production is made in dizzying quantities with global responsibilities connoisseurs can’t seem to grasp. Rum in most cases (but that is changing) is a salvage product so there is a big responsibility to make an affordable product because price moves it more than anything else. More molasses is always piling up. So much of the literature from even the 19th century mentions how on the verge of not viable the sugar cane and rum industry was. If producers were stuck processing staggering volumes under the constraints of a single template consumers could wrap their heads around, there would be problems.

Fierce competition as a commodity and pressure as a salvage product, which has to keep moving, has shaped the logistics of production at various points. Rum producers have basically ended up in scenarios that other spirits producers would never face. A big one is evaporation due to typically being in the tropics. Many islands that were important colonial outposts would ship unaged spirits to Europe to age and avoid costly evaporation while others, typically further south, lacked a welcoming parent and tackled the problem other ways. Before taxes, rum was cheap so a lot of times to keep everything moving on the salvage side, evaporation would just be topped up. This evaporative solera morphed into a classic solera, but that makes it no easier to compare to any other product on the market. The UC Davis algorithm for calculating the average age of solera products does not account for such significant evaporation. This leads to a style of aged product that is hard to wrap your head around, but is delicious. Consumers complain about labels while the products are telling colonial stories we can only access if we read between their words.

For some reason we think of the rum industry as wrought with fraud in manufacturing practices and yet if you study the Rum Pilot Plant or look at the present day World Spirits Conference, the industry is wildly environmentally friendly and energy conscious relative to other large scale industrial processes. They make any new American distillery look like an environmental train wreck. The industry has spectacular responsibilities, both social and environmental, and for the most part it handles them. I don’t want to justify anything, but pressures to adulterate may be pressures to keep product moving during wild swings in consumer tastes. Aspects of the industry are still so slow moving, so antiquated and still stuck in colonial legacies that they cannot turn on a dime. If we interpret the stories correctly, we can put pressure on the industry to change for the positive. Most distilleries are soon to be re-tooled and are set to go post-Kavalan anyhow, and that is something I’ve been meaning to write about in depth.

Another rum template you see a lot of resembles blended scotch whisky. Economical continuous column distilled spirits are blended with small percentages of extra heavy batch pot distilled aged spirit. The pot distilled spirits are a little different than single malts and sometimes they are built like such a brick house they cannot be enjoyed on their own as a single straight expression due to ester contents at levels that would be beyond an acquired taste. Pre Arroyo, there was no category of straight light rum. All light rums were heavier rums blended down with neutral spirits from continuous stills and they were inferior.

Rums made on the blended scotch whisky template have encountered all sorts of quirky economic problems due to political factors such as Reagan and NAFTA, but that era is close to over. Producers did not always bottle their own products for over seas markets and instead mainly sold bulk stocks. Despite the commodity nature of spirits, brands were somehow still important. Consistency was the order of the day and if the client wanted an amount of four year pot still rum for a blend and a producer made too much and now it was aged five year, though it might be more extraordinary, it could just languish in the warehouse. There were also lots of trade restrictions and only so much rum could be sent to Europe so the distilleries were often never producing at capacity, but often slightly over producing relative to what they could export. This led to lots of over aged forgotten rum. Sampling a rare independent bottling will tell you, these forgotten rums could be quite special, but the distilleries had no real protocol for capitalizing on them. Distilleries were often government run or stodgy as hell.

There are many small bottlers currently that seem like their blends are beating the pants off other producers and what they’re really doing is sucking up all those gorgeous odd lots that don’t fit in the high volume commodity-consistency market. As the market for premium rums proves itself, the contracts will expire and producers may bottle formerly speculative premium rums themselves. We fault big producers for being out of touch, but in many cases they may just be waiting for small bottlers to do the high risk dirty work of establishing a premium market.

Many rums take on not so much a Cognac template, which would be double distilled in batch pot stills, but simply Cognac flavor aspirations. An example would be Ron del Barrilitto, a big favorite of mine. Cognac is known for it’s finishing techniques. Caramel is carefully added because re-used barrels do not contribute enough color to converge with the aromas. Boisé, or tannic extracts, are often added because the aroma can be so forceful in one direction that it needs contrast in another to not seem flabby. Sugar is also added typically at the limits of 2% by volume which is 31.56 g/L and as a flavor enhancer it changes the threshold of perception of aromas, amplifying them. These aspirations are much different and much more noble than masking inferior alcohol and appealing to low brow consumers.

The rums of a few producers have an extra technique in their arsenal that has been around so long it is absolutely traditional and that is prune juice (sometimes coupled with spices, but not making it a spiced rum). It is a cousin of 19th century pineapple rum where pineapple juice was added to synthesize the character of mellowed rum. There were no secrets about pineapple rum and it was openly consumed and revered. Prune additive is barely secret. Compounded well, they’re wildly delicious and tell a story of ingenuity, pragmatism, inherited definitions of luxury, and colonial heritage. García Márquez would surely endorse them for the stories they tell.

A progressive belief I have is that aromas in the context of wine & spirits are often illusions or hallucinations and neuroscience is starting to back this up. We don’t describe a wine or spirit itself, but rather our own recollections when we try to describe it. This has tremendous implications for understandings of the terroir concept. We can only bond with a land as expressed through a wine or spirit if we have spent time bonding with other lands. Sensory fragments come at us through aromas tied to color, gustatory and haptic sensations, et al., and we complete them with our recollections (of other lands). Caramel, boisé, and sugar are all ways the land, the producer, and the imbiber sing a song together. In the finest lands there will be three singers.

Among the earliest stories of rum ever is that of caramel color. I’m failing at finding the citation I’m looking for, but basically rum was sold at a price to some imbibers, the same rum was colored with caramel and sold to the same imbibers who gladly paid more. Aromas are bound to color and they should always be partnered with a color that makes them perceived to be the most extraordinary (sometimes this is crystal clarity!). Choosing natural color is the same as coloring, except you decided it was already colored where you wanted it to be. Debates over caramel color put symbolism over sensation in spirits appreciation and takes for granted how flavor is perceived. Just like many connoisseurs do not understand caramel color, not enough produces do either, and many fail to end up with a color systematically tried to be the most extraordinary. On the other hand, many spirits nail it perfectly. The extraordinary is tied to frequency of occurrence and many naturally colored rums stand out at the moment because their frequency of occurrence is currently low.

Rums don’t exactly get reformulated to be cheaper to produce, what happens first is that we drink them all and there is a void to fill. Often rums that catch on and see surges in demand, like Ron Zacapa or Pompero Anniversario, were the product of surpluses. Likely, surpluses of aged rums in both Guatemala and Venezuela were so great that the expressions they put out became so good the market could not deny them. Consumers drank them all and started to complain as they tried to fill the void. A Similar phenomenon happened with Bourbon in the 90’s where bottom shelf bottlings were loaded up with well aged stocks, but we eventually drank them all and the glut was gone. Bourbon consumers have been far more understanding of the changes than fair weather rum fans.

Some times a rum jumps islands such as Zaya as pointed out by CocktailWonk (who this post is in part inspired by). Zaya likely tells a story no one bothers to really translate, but Zaya isn’t supposed to spell it out. Spirits are inadvertently like poetry or painting and the poet is cryptic and ambiguous making you work to find meaning. Zaya was no doubt the product of serious wheelings and dealings as well as a dream of bringing the Caribbean jungle to some opera somewhere. I have a feeling there was a Fitzcarraldo in Zaya and we all missed it. We drank it all and yet it was still ahead of it’s time.

Consumers are asking producers to be the connoisseur for them and that is not how it works, Hemingway would side with me. If anyone needs a template I recommend consulting Hannum and Bloomberg’s Brandies & Liqueurs of the World, (1976). I never wrote about it, but I tracked down Hurst Hannum a few years ago for lunch and was regaled with tales of touring Europe in an MG roadster convertible visiting producers who hadn’t seen a writer since André Simon, and documenting them. They flipped the roadster in front of a Cognac chateau and Gatsby style, the owner righted their car, helped them repair it, and hosted them for a few days. The rum world had Hugh Barty-King and Anton Massel in 1983, but even with the spirits renaissance and distilleries hosting spirits professionals left and right, no truly brilliant connoisseurial investigators have come since.

The last distilling template is the super fractionated template. Spirit from a continuous column stills is taken uncut except for the fusel oil reduced. This is transferred to a batch column still where it is redistilled as slow as possible with high reflux and separated into as few as five fractions. The first fraction is recycled or possibly re-fermented to have it’s aldehydes reduced into ethanol by yeasts (Guymon’s technique) while the remaining fractions go on to become rum. The last fractions, already low in fusel oil, are distilled further along than in the straight Bourbon template to accumulate rum oil. The same continuous still used to produce near neutral spirits can be briefly retooled to participate in this process and that is why Ron del Barrilito can buy un-rectified stocks from other producers. Specialty ferments can likely be lined up in the continuum.

Percentages of each fraction get blended together to be light rum. The remainder of each fraction is not entirely aged as heavy rum. The middle fractions are mostly water and ethanol (congener free) so they do not benefit from aging. The scraps that go into the barrel age faster because there is less unageable ethanol and water taking up space in the barrel. These techniques are practiced with infinite options and it is very hard to say to what degree any specific producers use them.

Super fractionated distilling is practiced in tandem with deeply involved biological control over fermentation. Fermentations are inoculated with more than just a single pure colony of yeast in some cases as well as selected bacterial strains. Unless the heaviest possible rum is desired, bacteria in spontaneous fermentations can eat up sugar, reducing potential alcohol. Arroyo developed methods of inoculating bacteria at later stages in fermentation so a desired yield of alcohol could be produced before bacteria started to metabolize hard to ferment residual sugar or other compounds.

Pursuing economy is not about being cheap, it is mainly about environmental responsibility and each percentage point of potential ethanol squandered is an environmental burden with intense water usage and significant effluent to dispose of and this was even a concern in the 19th century. Spirit production priorities differ from that of wine and the comparative philosophies are something I’ve wanted to tackle in depth for quite some time (there is a lot of literature left on my list to collect).

Large distilleries have economies of scale that allow for scheduling of exotic fermentations because they have shifts running around the clock. Bacteria may be inoculated, then like a bun in the oven, the wash will have to be distilled so many hours later to not spoil. Ron del Barillito may have fermentation dreams that are beyond their ability to staff their own distillery and that is why they purchase stocks from an around-the-clock operation. That is sadly not the sexiest fact to explain to a consumer.

Small distilleries have logistical problems trying to emulate larger operations, but an option that I’m not sure how widely it is used is immobilized cell technology where bacteria or yeast are immobilized in alginate beads. Significant biomass of yeast or bacteria can be put into a fermentation then completely removed using a wire cage arresting the activity of the beads. Specialty fermentations can be designed that fit into the scheduling logistics of a small distillery and that is something I aim to explore.

Progressive ideas, that started with Rafael Arroyo, push rum into the territory of ingestible perfumes and that is the pinnacle of being able to cement and retrieve a memory. Super fractionated aging may even render the techniques of the Lost Spirits distillery unnecessary and irrelevant. Pure culture multiple inoculation biotechnology and super fractioning techniques are in no way cheating and simply represent visionary dreams and possibilities just like those of the perfumer. The contents are hard to label, but the aims are pure.

Many rum production techniques can be portrayed as modern, progressive, and visionary and that is my reading of so many rums, but somehow it gets lost when we are multiple generations removed from Arroyo and other major thinkers. Producers themselves end up in a bubble and lose the ability to contextualize their own product. If you can’t contextualize it you can’t meet the emerging demands of a curious premium consumer. Spirit producers probably need to relearn their own industry’s history.

Hopefully I’ve succeeding in portraying that rums can reflect the social aspects of terroir better than even wine. They are capable of even being pushed out of their home lands as seen with Bacardi in Cuba and again with Zaya. As society and political climate changes so too does rum. When we think rum is unregulated and unconstrained by production laws that is far from the truth.

Now that a lot of trade barriers have come down for rum, one of the most recent regulations to shape it concerns the toxic congener ethyl carbamate. Producers globally are supposed to reduce their levels of ethyl carbamate in spirits and scotch producers have already made strides so great no one noticed. That sounds nice, but compliance domestically is voluntary and many domestic producers have no clue what the hell it even is. When a producer wants to cross borders they must comply and that means new capital investments which are hard to finance. The chemical compound becomes a trade barrier and keeps some producers out of big markets like the U.S.

Instead of successfully becoming a barrier and slowing trade, ethyl carbamate has caused governments like Brazil to reinvest in agricultural research to better control production in general. Ethyl carbamate is reduced by using stills that are strategic combinations of copper and stainless steel (typically a stainless condenser) because it is the product of complex copper reactions. Reflections on technique across the board spurred by ethyl carbamate have improved spirits quality in multiple areas.

Every spirit tells a story of course, but counter intuitively the story a rum tells is less contrived. Scotch and Bourbon producers apply startling science and marketing acumen to lock their spirits in time, dodging risk while rums float around and are free to reflect so much.

We need to get away from an obsession with truth in labeling in all spirit categories. Navigating spirits and wine is a large part of the fun. The challenges are why we can find value. We also live in a new era where photos can be taken of labels then immediately scanned on a smart phone and any dirty secret revealed. Templeton and any other MGP whiskey did nothing but continue the traditional marketing of spirits that paralleled traditional production. Any additional information a consumer needed to be “protected” is a label snapshot away. The government is on top of protecting you from toxic congeners like ethyl carbamate and in turn overly affordable imports from underdeveloped countries.

I hope I’ve done some justice explaining production templates and that they may clarify the tricky proposition of creating labels. Rums made as straight Bourbons will be easier to understand, but they will not be as extraordinary as other more elaborate templates. There is nothing finer than rum as we make it. If rums were labeled as they were made, they’d need bigger labels. The multi dimensionality would not make them easy to compare and in the end we’d just take Anthony Bourdain’s advice and submit while soaking up a story.


Amateur Spirits Analsyis

The home hydrometer test is great place to begin for investigating spirit finishing techniques, especially because it does not require you to sacrifice any samples such as in obscuration tests that distillers are often required to perform to see to what extent soluble solids from barrels obscure the true taxable ethanol of a spirit. For whiskey, in most cases, the barrel obscures 0.2 percentage points. What I often advocate is sacrificing a small sample to a food dehydrator. This could be 50 mL’s measured with a pycnometer. It can be weighed before and after dehydration so see how much non-volatile fraction there is which will be mainly sugar. Often, if there is something like glycerol it will not crystalize and can be seen as a little oil slick. Rum connoisseurs will be surprised to find that they will probably very rarely ever seen glycerol. I’ve only ever found it in gins. Now that you’ve destroyed a sample worth only a few dollars, you can carefully reconstitute it with neutral spirits like vodka to see what the non-volatile fraction tastes like with no volatile fraction to bias it. Often there will be aroma because the bassy notes contributed by a barrel are barely volatile as well as possibly notes contributed by sherry barrels.

A limitation of the hydrometer that comes up from time to time is that if the spirit was bottled under proof accidentally, it will not be caught and sugar will probably be attributed to the culprit whereas dehydration will give different results. I’ve only seen under advertised proof spirits from very new distilleries that have not mastered blending yet.

If curiosity is burning or if you are in a position where it is worth your while to do competitor analysis, you can sacrifice a larger sample to the Micko test which was used more than a century ago to look at adulterated Jamaican rums. Take a genuine sample and the suspected adulterated sample and dilute them to the same proof and volume. Now distill them with identical amounts of very high reflux and distillation times on small scale laboratory glassware. Collect at least five identical fractions. Similar aromas across both samples should be in the same fractions while an adulterant, like orange oil, will stick out like a sore thumb now that it has been concentrated.

The same Micko test can teach new producers the art of cutting and blending. You compare your own product to a role model so you can see more easily how your most volatile and least volatile fractions compare. Many new distillers and new blenders would greatly benefit from this affordable concept. Formal elaborations of the Micko test exist associated with other specific scientists and I aim to touch upon them in depth some day (Arroyo fully elaborated the test).

I have long thought many rums contained artificial vanillin or it was just a product of a style of aging that I really didn’t enjoy (or fully understand), sort of like wines that see too much new oak. Old UC Davis texts describe methods of treating barrel staves with pure oxygen to maximize lignification and if that is the case, all the aromas come from traditional ingredients and traditional chemical processes though sped up in very similar methods to what Lost Spirits is doing. I always thought if manipulation of staves was the case, I would have found a research paper on it outside of the UC Davis work.

I had heard anecdotally long ago that when you buy a sherry, port or sauternes cask, there is an amount of wine sloshing around in it to prevent bacterial growth. Producers would not drain the residual wine but just fill on top of it and who could blame them. Hell, I’d hold it against them if they didn’t. We may be given an illusion that the wine character is merely soaked into the staves, but that may not be the case. These small stories that rums can tell are never in any official literature because it is quasi legal and is only a secret that the barrel men and the drinker are in on.

Some of the distilleries in the Caribbean are among the very largest in the world, but that does not mean over distillation as suggested by CocktailWonk is a problem. When we say distillation at a high proof strips congenerics that makes the assumption that we are making cuts during batch distillation or taking off side streams during continuous distillation. In the Arroyo system of simultaneously making light and heavy spirits, washes are first stripped on a continuous still, cuts are not taken but fusel oil is reduced. That uncut distillate is rectified in batch column stills and distilled extremely slow under very high levels of reflux to divide the spirit into multiple fractions. Percentages of each of those fractions become the straight light rum and then the majority of the rest gets aged in barrels for extended times. Aged product is then blended down with either unique stocks, light rum, or neutral spirits to bring congener thresholds to where they need to be.

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