2019 Bostonapothecary Retrospective

This was a jam packed year of blog posts and translation. I was cramming as much as I could so I could start getting more work done in the lab. Around June, we were given the incredible opportunity to work with a collection of historic Schizosaccharomyces yeasts, many of which have a rum heritage. One was collected over a century ago in Jamaica, likely by S.F. Ashby or H.H. Cousins at Hampden and another is from one of the five great firms of Batavia and collected in 1923. The goal has been to build a framework for model ferments and learning to compare yeast using principles outlined by Arroyo with some clever modern updates.

[Learning to photograph fission yeasts under the microscope]

My research partner is way out ahead of me and basically leading all the work. I am catching up and learning all the lab techniques while merely trying to duplicate his efforts. We are producing ferments that are positives for rum oil.

Yeast is a focal point, but we are also making progress with molasses pre-treatment using a centrifuge, new ideas in yeast nutrients, and eventually we will be integrating fermentation complications like bacteria and/or aroma producing mildew yeasts like Suaveolens. We have also found Arroyo’s very particular butyric acid bacteria.

[Suaveolens growing on apple juice
The aroma is amazing]

We are on a shoe string budget, so feel free to buy us a drink ($10), sponsor a fermenter ($25), or join the party and buy your own birectifier whose proceeds all support the work. Everything we are doing requires mountains of glassware. We’re buying flasks and petri dishes by the case, Tilts, Plaato’s, and we each need a bigger autoclave. We also need to see more types of molasses which is challenging if you are not a bulk purchaser. Feel free to send us a gallon or two and we’ll run it through our pre-treatment and tell you what we think!

[The wildest stuff comes out of molasses.
This is from a 3 liter swing bucket centrifuge, but Cory uses a “Spinzall” with lots of success.]



On new years day I published Rum Oil Introduced In Full Stereo which was a look at chemical compounds in the non-saponifiable fraction of Arroyo’s rum oil as described by a leader of the modern perfume industry. The idea of radiance was introduced where rose ketones could valourize esters elevating them perceptually. A further idea was introduced that your immune system can sort of bend around these compounds giving an altered immune response to the finest rums. We all know rum is special, but it may be because it has the highest potential for these high value congeners relative to any other spirits category.

A few days later I looked at the idea of Birectifier Assisted Chromatography. Every commercial rum distiller I talked to who used GCMS wished they did more organoleptic analysis because they thought they were missing something. Many studies also started appearing that used forms of GCMS only available at the university level because of expense. These studies featured olfactometry attachments where a human smeller would experience what came across the GC apparatus and click a button to correlate any extraordinary experience to the MS side of things. What results are identifying extremely odor active compounds that do not produce notable peaks because they are in very low concentrations. If you cannot afford true olfactometry for your GCMS, the birectifier approach may be a pragmatic way to give you as much olfactometry as possible.

A day later when Kentucky Owl was getting press, I looked at A Tool For Picking Bourbon Barrels: The Birectifier Method. If you cannot hire Jim Rutledge, the tool can help you understand normalcy, abnormalcy, the ordinary and extraordinary of the highest value congeners, as well as classic flaws. Studying role models may teach the grammar of blending and ultimately the ability to be a great barrel picker!

Later, I wrote Advanced Cutting Basics which was a look at surplus ordinary congeners and how the fate of higher value congners is bound to that of fusel oil because they are less volatile. I was wrong about a few things regarding ethyl acetate and annotated corrections. I am indebted to the distiller that allowed me to analyze some of their tail fractions.

I don’t know how I found the time, but I performed a case study of the old Herbsaint 45% which is not my favorite product but had something to teach. The birectifier is incredibly useful for working with botanicals.

Mid January, I published Birectifier Analysis Of A Full Bodied Rum Tails Fraction. This had so much to teach and I am so fortunate to have had the opportunity. The big takeaway and poorly understood concept is that the highest value congeners are less volatile than fusel oil. This means that distillation can only do so much and that quality is ultimately dictated by fermentation (an Arroyo concept). If we reduce fusel oil in a ferment, we can distill at lower proofs, further into the run, and capture more high value congeners.

In Ionone—À Rebours, I took an extra bizarro look at the world of rose ketones. When rum lost rum oil (the post Arroyo era), in perfume, an entire world formed around it. Rum needs this level of obsession.

This got followed up with Rum Oil = Rose Ketones which turns out to not be entirely correct. Later in the year it was learned that parallel to rum oil there was the concept of bauer oil which allowed for a lot of other high value congeners. This does somewhat confuse the notion of the droplets Arroyo observed. Kervegant gives us some ideas to isolate the non-saponifiable rose ketones I have yet to try. This post gives a primer about rose ketone formation in rum and explains how they are derived from carotene.

Still in January, I went on to translate two important french papers about rose ketones in rum. Qualitative And Quantitative Study Of Volatile Constituents Of Rum (1975) turned out to be a smoking gun tying damascenone to the rum oil concept first noted by Micko at the beginning of the century. The second paper elaborates concepts: The Position Of Rhum In The Context Of Spirits In General (1975).

A new colleague took interest in an old project so I took the time to perform: Birectifier Distillation of Distillers Workbook Exercise #1, Tabasco Aromatized Gin.

Damascone is reported to be everywhere in the literature, but is it in meaningful quantities? I searched for it and came up dry in: Birectifier Analysis Of My Favorite Raspberry Liqueur. There was however, quite a lot to learn.

In February, many people read: The Three Chambered Still, Tail Waters, and Rum Oil. Tail waters were an Arroyo concept described in Circular 106, but they may be extremely relevant to the operation of these unique stills.

After some great correspondence, still talk snowballed and I published: Is It On The Test?—The Three Chambered Still. Some incredible documents were unearthed and made accessible.

A series was started of looking at some of the most exciting rums of the market:

Birectifier Analysis Of An Exemplary Peruvian Rum

Birectifier Analysis of Foursquare Single Barbados Rum

Birectifier Analysis Of Velier’s Forsyths WP 502

Birectifier Analysis of Hampden 7 Year Old

The birectifier was a great method to review and contextualize these extraordinary spirits and I wrote A Round Up Of Four Exemplary Rums. One things that may have been experienced was Arroyo’s claim that Saccharomyces and Schizosaccharomyces yeast produce rum oil of notably different character.

Clay Risen inspired me to look back at some old documents I collected so I mused: Did Rye Whiskey Dwindle To A Hot Mess? Many people had written to me over the years asking about the IRS data sets on whiskey production.

I had a lot of fun experimenting and wrote: Birectifier Analysis Of Quinine (The Aroma Of Danger!). “Imagine a flock of bats scattering in your face.” This tool is a beautiful way to intimately understand botanicals.

I started to wade into analysis with Advanced Acid And Ester Titration Basics. I plan to do much more this year and I even conceived some Titration Practice Projects.

By May, two amazing colleagues helped track down two different versions of Confidential: Instruction For Making High-Ether Rum by H.H. Cousins (1906). Very interestingly one of the copies belonged to Hubert Von Olbrich, but it does not appear in his bibliography of rum production.

A colleague asked me to translate a section of a rare French book regarding anise spirits: C. Mariller briefly on Absinthe. If you are into the history of absinthe, this is quite fascinating.

I had spent more than a year translating D. KERVÉGANT – Rhum and Cane Eau-de-vie (1946), and in September I finally finished. This text clarifies a startling amount of rum history and will be a cornerstone of the renaissance. Kervegant’s work is monumental.

All the while, I was collecting articles and translating Rafael Arroyo – The Lost Preface to Studies on Rum. This long series of brief articles provides much needed background to understand Studies on Rum (1945). There is one article missing from the series which is actually not about rum, but making fruit eau-de-vies in Puerto Rico. I have a request in but they are having trouble finding it. These short articles are a must read for anyone in the rum industry.

Later in September, a colleague did the impossible and tracked down the lost JAST papers: Jamaica Association of Sugar Technologists (J.A.S.T.) Journal. They illuminate the status of mid century Jamaican rum with a couple blockbuster papers. We see acknowledgement of Jamaica losing touch with most of the work on rum done earlier in the century by Allen, Ashby, and Cousins and then we see them nearly licensing Rafael Arroyo’s patents on production to get them back on track.

At some point, I examined the Elephants In The Room, about Pombe yeasts and Richard Seale whose online conduct is really bizare. Seale claims that Pombe yeasts are not remarkable. Seale doesn’t seem too interested in being scholarly, but it would be great to see him elaborate on his experience with yeast and bacteria so we can start to understand what he knows and doesn’t know as well as what his career has looked like in the context of technical experiments. The wine industry is starting to give a ton of attention to non-saccharomyces yeast, well beyond Pombe’s ability to metabolize malic acid. It would be a shame for the rum industry to squander its opportunity to participate in the fermentation renaissance that other drink categories are seeing.

In early December, I translated another Arroyo piece, not about rum. Jambosa Malaccensis (Malay Apple) as Producer of Wines and Brandies gives a look at Arroyo’s ideas scaling to another beverage category. Its not too exciting and turns out its only part I. The second part has no proper citation, but I called in a library favor to look for it. Librarians are incredible.

I finally found a Karl Micko article, The Chemical Examination of Various Rums (1910) which gives background to a concept introduced by Kervegant. Basically, we can saponify esters and salt out acids to look at the non-saponifiable portion of rum oil which are possibly rose ketones. This may reduce a lot of noise and help out GCMS processes. Micko performs an ester determination first so for the next batch only enough alkaline can be added with no excess that may damage the non-saponifiable aroma. If I didn’t find this article I totally would have botched that process.

I digitized a beautiful S.F. Ashby article which touches upon the nuances of Pombe yeasts: The Study of Fermentations in the Manufacture of Jamaica Rum (1909). Ashby explains that top fermenting Pombe yeasts, known to be the best for heavy rum, often produce 50% more yeast biomass despite longer fermentation durations and sightly lower alcohol yields. They sort of spin their wheels which may increase aroma production. We will learn more next year, but under extremely specific conditions, these yeasts are possibly responsible for contributions we project onto bacteria.

Mid December, I finally got Le Rhum Grand Arôme (1935) by J. Guillaume who developed the Grand Arôme rum still in production at Galion in Martinique. Guillaume describes its unique naturalness and we see some beautiful quotes on terroir. It is brief and well worth a look. It ends with a “condensed sun ray” metaphor that looks an awful lot like the radiance metaphor of perfumers describing the perceptual influence of rose ketones on other aromas.

See you next year!

9 thoughts on “2019 Bostonapothecary Retrospective

  1. Dear Stephen: Thanks for all your work! Have a good time at the end of this year and a good start into the new one! It is a great pleasure to read your Posts and I am looking forward to more of them! All the best! Klaus

  2. This article hit great points very fast! I hope Mr Seale will engage with you on yeast selection and provides more details. I’m sure there’s a way to reach out to him or someone send him your page info. I was real happy to read both of you have success in producing rum oil in your experiment, that must have been quite the moment!

    Also I was really surprised to see how much gunk was in your molasses!

    Thank you for all you do and for sharing with us. You are always very generous in information when I write you and I can’t thank you enough for helping sorting through the fog.

  3. Happy new year Simon!

    I bet something positive will happen to bring Richard Seale around this year. His rum showed very well in the round up.

    Between the two different centrifuges, we have learned a lot about gunk in molasses and there are some very odd surprises I hope to eventaully write about. We think we have learned why the idea of molasses pre-treatment went from very much in vogue to uncommon. However, we’ve learned that some producers are indeed currently pre-treating their molasses. One uses heat plus an acid treatment unlike Arroyo’s treatment with lime followed by decanting as opposed to centrifuging. Centrifuge clarified molasses can increase the duration of fermentation beyond what a lot of people find acceptable.

    I’ve also been working on a practical method of measuring the fermentable sugars in molasses which may help small producers selecting their molasses or with assembling more complex washes that include dunder or incremental feeding. I’ve only got one unit setup so its going to take me a while to find out that the results are repeatable and whatnot.

    Best. -Stephen

  4. Fantastic stuff, appreciate all you do. Thank You!

  5. Happy New Years James! This coming year we need to get together for a drink.

  6. Unbelievable, that this huge amount of quality information is from on year.

  7. Happy New Year dude!

    Thank you again for providing all the awesome write ups and allowing me many a night delving down the rabbit hole!

    Looking forward to what you have in store for 2020.

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