2023 Bostonapothecary Retrospective

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Better late than never! The recent blog outage was due to accumulating too many spam comments that were never approved but never deleted. They apparently took up too much storage and bandwidth and the hosting company suspended the blog. Commenting is now disabled. All data was safe, but if you rely on a document professionally, you should probably print it out. One day the seas will rise and the blog will vanish, but beverage distillation will endure.

This year I started scientific glassblowing to produce the birectifier myself and dramatically reduce the price. I’ve completed the device and am improving my craftsmanship. The current hold up of making my own version available is that my annealing kiln is back ordered. If the blog year seemed quiet in 2022, I was in my workshop.

I skipped January and the first post didn’t happen until February with Birectifier Analysis of Two Experimental Rums. These rums were both from Callum Upfold in New Zealand featuring fission yeasts coupled with aroma producing mildew yeasts. I’m about to process a sample from Callum that is an absolute blockbuster grand arôme.

Later in the month, I finally acquired Technology of the Rum Industry, 1975, by Willem H. Kampen. It had all sort of historic notes from Kampen’s tour of the industry. An import concept it introduces that is not described elsewhere is the numeric “degree of infection”. This is your ratio of yeast to bacteria. This number may become important in open culture situations where something like ripened dunder needs to be evaluated before its re-used. Kampen suggested a factor of 10, but that may be relative to yeast type and inhibitory factors like pH.

In March, I conducted Birectifier Analysis of a Mildew Yeast Turbo Charged Rum. This was particularly exciting because Callum produced an aroma profile with molasses that is typically associated with high percentages of fresh cane juice. This is done by finding microorganisms that target metabolites that are largely ignored in the typical fermentation. Callum’s New Zealand rums are on their way to being among the most exciting on the market.

We skipped ahead to June and finally recovered L’Industrie Rhummiere A La Martinique by D. Kervegant, 1933. UC Davis had previously denied me this document, but it was made available by a new resource in Martinique. I did not translate everything but highlighted the best bits. There are unique mentions of rum oil and fission yeasts. In the same archive, I also present photos from the Mt. Pelée eruption’s aftermath which destroyed many distilleries.

Days later, and obviously in a frenzy, from the same new library resource, I recovered a trilogy of documents by G. Sausine referenced by Kervegant:

G. Saussine—The Chemistry of Rhum, 1899.
G. Saussine— A chemical control trial in a rhummerie in Martinique,1899.
G. Saussine— Rhum in Martinique,1900.

These are well worth being familiar with and contain unique remarks on Jamaica as well as descriptions of Martinique pre eruption.

I remember doing a lot of timber framing & masonry work, but at night to take a break, I continued:

J. Hervé—There is rhum and rhum as there are heretics and heretics, 1931.

This paper was recovered with the assistance of David Wondrich who referenced it in the indispensable Oxford Companion to Spirits & Cocktails. Rum suffers from the idea that real true rum has to share the name with an ocean of junk and that is partially explored here. That concept is widely remarked on across the 19th century and deserved its history being told. It is also true today, but with the awkward predicament that many distilleries that make the realest truest rums dilute their brand by also producing a lot of junk. From a marketing perspective, how can that be reconciled?

At the end of June, I recovered a document from my book bounties list:

M. A. LEONARD—Rum. Trade, production and manufacturing methods of principal producing countries.,1937.

This document was frequently cited by Kervegant and may have formed the cornerstone of many people’s rum knowledge for a considerable period of time after it was written. The U.S. Commerce Department librarian helped me locate it. They had lost their copy, but used some sort of service other than World Cat to find a holding library. The highlight of the document is the remarks on Haiti.

Before taking a break in July, I proposed The Saint-Olympe French Cursive Rhum OCR Challenge. which no one has taken me up on. The future of rum history is in manuscripts which are hand written and in cursive. Most of the documents detailing old marks are likely in manuscript form. Libraries don’t typically index them like books and often they are in special collections you must visit to see; more on this topic in the future.

In July, I didn’t take a break; I was translating & reading the thesis of both Raphaël Magnet & Thierry Grondin of the Savannah distillery in Reunion. These did not get shared or become a post but were part of private conversations. Savannah is extremely cool and Magnet & Grondin’s work is spectacular.

[Later in the year, Grondin was part of a Rum Porter interview series I was also part of.]

In hot August I was strapping down buckets of cane trash to my motorcycle and zooming across South Philly. My primer on trash was A Cane Trash Sandwich. The post collects historic references to trash usage in rum production and explains some of the science. Above average levels of damascenone in Jamaica rum as well as certain categories of esters may be tied to trash usage and particular trash practices. One of the big takeaways is that certain types of heavy rum are bound to cane growing regions.

In September, I was annoyed with the hogo term and its grunting boosters, and this being a blog, I penned Radiance > Hogo. If promoting rum is your business, please spend some time with it.

October, meant it took me two months to work through Birectifier Analysis of a Cane Trash Influenced Rum. The rum was no blockbuster, but I do believe I proved a high value aroma bump from trash usage. I have strong leads for future explorations but not exactly the time or resources to immediately explore them.

At the end of November, another lost paper crossed my desk that shows how global the rum world was in the 19th century. Ideas for authentic true rum were open to anybody as long as they were economically viable. West Indies ideas were ending up in Queensland, Australia which should be noted is also having a rum production revival at the moment.

Rum Distilling, Edward Denman, Queensland, 1892

Some time in November, I started binge reading The Distillation of Whisky: Notes & Observations on its Historical and Practical Aspectss, 1927-1931. I highly recommend this text to any professional distiller.

Returning attention to manuscripts, in late November I came across another researcher’s note that in the Thomas Thistlewood documents from 1754 there is a line about the use of pimento in rum production. The manuscript page appears on my @birectifier IG. This was likely taught to Thistlewood (a terrible person) by enslaved African distillers, Augustus and Primus. Use of pimento is not documented anywhere else, as far as I can tell, and this may mean its current use at Hampden is the product of an unbroken oral tradition that spans 275 years. Something we can also take away here is that we need to shift focus from mere owners like Thistlewood, too often terrible people, to celebrating the more important makers like Augustus and Primus when we can. It is more important to know the names of the people that made the marks rather than the people they “honor”.

In December, I did a little glassblowing and assembled a glass model double retort to examine model fermentations. I have since improved the apparatus and my SOP. It is incredible what you can learn on the small scale before you spend big money on the large scale. My first look: Birectifier Analysis of a Novel Model Retort Still Rum.

Published in late December, I appeared in a Rum Porter interview series about Grand Aröme rums alongside interviews from Matt Pietrek and Thierry Grondin.

The year closed with Birectifier Analysis of a Continuous Column Fission Yeast Rum where I look at the amazing work of Jace Marti at Blackfrost Distilling in Minnesota. The spirit was a clear rum oil positive, but the real magic was his 11 month aged rum that tasted like it was many years old. Blackfrost is a distillery to watch. Jace uses a modified Arroyo process scaled up to 1000 gallon batches run through a Bourbon style continuous still. So far, he has made many observations with a top fermenting fission yeast not seen outside the 19th century literature.

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