Advice on Rum From Clement Caines, Saint Christopher, 1801.

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1801. Clement Caines. Letters on the Cultivation of the Otaheite Cane; the manufacture of sugar and rum, the saving of melasses, the care and preservation of stock, etc.

Clement Caines was an abolitionist which is a refreshing change from other figures in the early literature. He also writes with a certain style. It is like the advice of your uncle rather than the advice of your father… There is a little bit of a slant to things. We will not learn too much here, but we will enjoy the cadence of the lesson and plants some flags on precedents. St. Christopher is St. Kitts and we learn a little bit about it from the Report On Excise Restrictions By Mr. J. Steele, 1903. Comparing Steele’s observations, it seems like very little had changed in a century (and everyone was going out of business…).

Something conspicuous is that Caines does not use the term dunder but rather says “lees”. His advice is so old school, I can’t believe he does not set his his ferments using the floating egg as hydrometer! Something else newly conspicuous is the lack of lime and cleanliness. We saw a pivot to acid processes during roughly the 1860’s in both Guyana and Jamaica, but this may represent the previous pivot to lime which happened in the last years of the 18th century. Bryan Higgins was hired by a public committee to consult for Jamaica in 1797 to 1799 and the result was widespread knowledge of the benefit of lime. This document helps us better frame the Higgins lime obsessed era.

[Memo to me: I should update this and comment specifically on what Otaheite cane was.]


LETTER XVIII.

St. Christopher, May 19, 1800.

The distillery on a sugar estate, is an object of very great consequence. It is the natural fund for defraying the expenses of the plantation. And, if it is conducted judiciously and assiduously, will accomplish this purpose, upon a most liberal scale, on every property equal to one hundred and fifty or two hundred hogsheads of sugar a year.

The following are the principles of productive distillation, which my experience has pointed out and confirmed, and which the generality of planters are not acquainted with, or are not advocates for.

Never make new lees [dunder], if you can help it. Use the old, crop after crop, and year after year. They will always retain some spirit, and will save the profusion of skimmings which is consumed in the making of lees.

[What to do at the very beginning of the season is frequently a point made in works on rum. It was known that operating without dunder would give a much different result and processing a single batch or two that way would have a monetary consequence.]

Use no water, for it has no strength; unless, indeed, you are contiguous to the sea; and then you may avail yourself of the facility with which you can obtain salt water, highly to your advantage. This, I believe, is as good as lees [dunder], and as productive of spirit. It, besides, is thought to soften and mellow the taste of the rum. If you should be obliged, in any instance, to make new lees, give at once the full proportion of melasses,—five or rather six per cent.

[This is a very early reference to using sea water! And that idea does not seem to survive anywhere today other than WIRD in Barbados. What I cannot figure out is whether they used water directly from the sea or just brackish wells that were not fit for drinking. Many of the old texts devote a lot of time to explaining how to prepare the land to keep out the sea and prevent coastal erosion from impacting cane fields. That salt would be retained in the dunder, but progressively diluted so you didn’t really have the double effect of dunder and salt. We could possibly categorize it under season starting ideas because no one seems to have kept up with the idea enough to create a constant tradition.]

Instead of water, which is used to thin, or open, as it is called, the liquor, draw a can, or half a can, of low wines more. This will produce the same effect, and you will gain a proportion more of rum, by adopting it as a substitute for the silly and barren use of water.

[This is your uncles advice. Orthodoxy was too often to collect only to 80% ABV, but Caines tells us to keep going and use the tail waters to perhaps collect into the low 70’s. Leonard Wray gives us the same advice in his first text, and opines that tradition collects at too high an ABV and lower is better.]

Always set rich. Instead of five gallons of melasses to one hundred of liquor, the usual proportion, give six: and thirty, instead of twenty five, of skimmings. Laugh at the idea of over-setting your still-house, and rendering your liquor cloggy. Draw a little, a can or two more of low wines, and the mischief cannot happen. These low wines, remember too, will give you always a profit,—a return in rum; and you must never lose sight of any thing which can increase the quantity of this return.

Mix all your ingredients at once, scum, melasses, and lees [dunder]. Your liquor will work as well, if not better, for it; you will save two or three days in the falling of the liquor, and obviate the necessity of examining and watching when it is fit to be charged. This, I understand, is the Jamaica method. It was communicated to me as such. But wherever it may be in use, it is a convenient and productive method.

Never fail to embrace with avidity, to seize on, the earliest opportunity of setting your scum, lees [dunder], and melasses. The instant your lees are clear and cold, the moment you have got scum enough for a butt, throw them up, and add to them your melasses. If you defer this critical process in the morning, you will very likely put it off at noon, perhaps at night, and until the next morning, without knowing where the procrastination will end. For you may lay it down as a rule, that if business is ever deferred, at a time when it can be done, and that is proper for doing it, the omission is scarce retrievable. No opportunity can ever recur, that is more favourable than the one neglected; and the inclination to embrace such as present themselves in future, is weakened by the disregard of that which is past. The first neglect may be considered as the commencement of a habit, much more likely to be again yielded to, than in its recurrence opposed.

I have dwelt upon this topic, my dear, rather at large, not only because it is of the utmost importance, in the conducting of every West Indian distillery, but because it establishes a rule that should never be departed from, in the transaction of every other species of business; a rule, the value of which can never be justly estimated, without contrasting the mischiefs of delay and neglect, with the advantages of dispatch and completion.

[Wow, what a string of paragraphs!]

Rotten-cane juice boiled sweet, will answer just as well in the distillery, as skimmings. I think the returns from it, rather exceed what is got from scum, and its lees [dunder] are as good as any that you can set up.

[A reference to rat eaten rum-canes in 1801 and singing their praises!]

Never put your liquor into the still until it is completely down, as the planter calls it; that is, until all fermentation has ceased. This is a general rule; but if liquor simmers a little, after having been set a long time, (three weeks for instance,) you had better distill it; although the fermentation may not appear to be entirely subsided.

[A three week ferment in 1801!]

I learnt, the other day, a method of discovering whether liquor was down or not, although it still continued slightly to simmer. The method is, to dip your hand and arm into it, and if, at the depth of a foot or eighteen inches, the liquor feels cold, you may venture to put it into the still; notwithstanding, from its appearance at the top, you would fancy that it was still working.

[This is one of the power moves I use as a consultant. It establishes street cred with employees that think my shoes are a little too clean. And it works.]

Make it an invariable rule to take one can more of low wines than you get of rum. If a still gives you seven cans of rum, take off eight of low wines; if, by any accident, one only of rum, take off but two of low wines. Strictly adhering to this proportion, without deviating from it, whatever may be the temptations or opinions to the contrary, will keep your lees [duner] in such a state, that they will for years give you a good, and satisfactory return. Set as rich as you please, or if you should happen from a scarcity of offals, to set poor, the one can of low wines more, and never to exceed this quantity, nor on any account to fall below it, will bring your liquor to an equilibrium, the most exact and eligible, that can be obtained for constantly keeping up a productive distillation.

[To me, this was the most important part of the document and pushes a time stamp on a concept way back. Heavy rum, we associate with the Jamaica style, employing dunder, was known for a massive tails fraction, the low wines, relative to other distilling traditions, and Caines gives us a rule of thumb ratio. He also ties it to the quality of the dunder, like other authors that follow, where volatile acids must be driven off so they don’t inhibit fermentation. Later in the literature, things are phrased differently and it is recommended to distill off 30% of the wash as a minimum. The way Caines ties the ratio of rum to low wines to dunder quality implies that he has a retort setup. If he was practicing double distillation with a single still, I do not think he would be able to draw the comparisons.]

Never set with melasses alone, if you can avoid it. Whatever melasses you have left, after your scum and rotten-cane juice is made use of, sell or ship; unless the price is so low, that half a gallon of rum is more valuable than a gallon of melasses. The return from melasses liquor will not much exceed the proportion of a half for the melasses given; and from this a deduction is to be made of the labour and fuel required in its distillation and manufacture.

[This is fascinating! Molasses of the day, and we can assume the quality is much nicer than the present era, was so unsuited for making rum with reliance on spontaneous fermentation that we see advice to sell it off!]

The following is the proportion, which the ingredients, used in the manufacturing of rum, bear to each other. Ten gallons of melasses, twenty five of skimmings, and sixty-five of lees [make], make one hundred gallons of the liquor from which rum is distilled. If you have no lees [dunder], you must give to ten gallons of melasses, forty of skimmings, and fifty of sour water. But I prefer setting rather richer; that is, twelve of melasses, and thirty of skimmings, to fifty of lees.

[We are a given a few strong prototypes. However, I have no idea what sour water would be. When Caines prefers to set richer, what is he gaining? Does the rum taste better? Is this that decadent, uneconomical, old Jamaica described by R.H. Burton, 75 years later? Does that advice only work in an era where there are surpluses that just can’t easily be processed?]

There are times, when the quantity of scum obtained from canes is so considerable, that no still-house can work it up, unless an unusual proportion of this ingredient is made use of in setting the liquor. Nor is it impossible to vary the proportion and still carry on the distillery to great advantage. To accomplish this object, you must substitute skimmings for melasses, at the rate of five gallons for one; and diminish your lees [dunder] in the proportion in which you increase your scum. Upon this scale, a hundred gallons of liquor will be composed of eighty gallons of skimmings, and twenty of lees. No other ingredient need be mixed with them, and your return will still be on a par with liquor in which there is a larger quantity of lees [dunder], and a full proportion of melasses.

Another and peculiar advantage, arising from this mode of setting, is an unusual quantity of low wines, and of course more frequent doublings than could otherwise be expected. For, as you require but a small proportion of lees [dunder] to keep up your distillery, the quantity of this ingredient which is got from two butts out of three, may be drawn exceedingly bare, and then thrown away. The lees [dunder] of the third will be sufficient to reset not only itself, but the two others, which have been deprived of their lees.

[When the low wines fraction grows, my guess is that the heart fraction shrinks because it is contaminated by excessive cane derived volatile acids from the skimmings. Another option would be that Caines keeps collecting low wines because he is tasting them and still tasting significant acidity he wants removed from his dunder. Some of the last fractions from the birectifier for an extremely heavy rum can be tart like lemonade giving a very distinctive queue. I don’t know how to interpret more frequent doublings because it may contradict my earlier idea that he has a retort. Doublings could imply he has no retort or imply low wines in excess of what the retort holds that require their own special distilling run. In the last statement, when excess dunder is thrown away, I’m not sure if he is prioritizing dunder from the usual system over dunder from ferments that saw excess skimmings.]

So subtle is the spirit of rum, and even of low wines, and so speedy is it in its evaporation, that no estimate can be formed, except by the most attentive observation, of the loss, that is sustained from suffering it to remain for any length of time in the tub, into which it overflows from the can that receives it, as it comes out of the still. You should, therefore, be very particular in throwing it up into butts, or puncheons, as soon as ever it comes off, or rather during the time when it is running off. If from inadvertence, or a fit of procrastination, not opposed and overcome, you suffer your low wines to remain in the tub, from the preceding night until the next morning, the deficiency in your doubling will remove every doubt respecting the importance of dispatch in throwing up this production of the distillery.

[The doublings term is used again, but there is still a little ambiguity regarding the system.]

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