Arroyo’s Invitation: The Problem of the Ripening of Crude Rum

[If you are a distiller, make sure you know about the birectifier]

There are no technical revelations here, but this is important for the historic record and in describing the market and need for new ideas in 1940. The translation was a little challenging. Hopefully I did not kill it. It also begs the question, where are we now? Are established producers making easy to age crudes and are any new American producers or are we building and aspiring brick house rums like Hampden? Where is Lost Spirits in all this?

Arroyo R. 1940. The Problem of the Ripening of Crude Rum. Revista de Agricultura del Puerto Rico, volume 32, pages 588-591.

El Problema de la Curación del Ron Crudo
by RAFAEL ARROYO, Ch. E. & S. E.,
Especialista en Fermentaciones Industriales; Jefe Division de Quimica Industrial de la Estacion Experimental Agricola de la Universidad de Puerto Rico.

THERE ARE two different schools in terms of the method to follow to impart the desirable maturity stage to raw rum.

One of these two groups favors the methods of accelerated curing, which aim to try to impart the characteristics of a ripe rum to the raw distillate in the shortest possible time, using physical or chemical methods, or combination of these. It is presumed that the use of aging barrels is ruled out in these methods called accelerated or rapid aging. The other group continues to place their trust in the classic method of slow aging, through natural aging in the oak barrel.

Both the followers of one school and those of the other have incurred a common error, which consists of not having recognized the true value of the quality of the crude distillate, and the transcendental role it plays in the problem of aging.

A lot of ingenuity, time and money has been spent trying to make a ripe rum quickly, starting from any distillate, lacking in most of the times the inherent qualities to be turned into a ripe rum of quality. But, on the other hand, no attempt has been made to exercise that same ingenuity, and to use time and money in the search for methods and apparatus for the obtaining of raw rums worthy of such a name. On the one hand, the supporters of aging in the barrel believed that without taking into account the quality and conditions of the distillate with which it was filled, at the end of aging the barrel would in all cases return a ripe rum of excellent qualities. For this the barrel was the whole in the production of quality rum. Why worry about the conditions and characteristics of the crude distillate when the barrel is there to correct all the errors, clean up all the roughness, and finally return the distilled product to the distiller in perfect conditions? On the other hand we had the supporters of accelerated aging methods, fanatical believers in their secret methods and formulas, with which it did not matter what kind of raw rum reached their hands, and they would know how to get ready to get a product of incomparable quality out of it.

And in this way, the ones with their blind faith in the wonders of the barrel, and the others infatuated by the incomparable virtues and magical results of their recipes, formulas and secret methods, completely neglected the production of crude rum, relegating to secondary position the only factor able to solve the problems inherent to the economical curing of raw rum. The key to success in the rapid attainment of maturity consisted mainly in the production of true quality raw distillates capable of becoming a quality rum in a relatively short time of treatment in a barrel; or to respond effectively to the indicated accelerated treatment.

It is to be noted, however, that although behind the scenes the rum confection is carried out by using one of the other rival methods, or combinations of both; All the rums are presented to the consuming public as old rums cured in the aging barrels.

It seems that the followers of the methods of quick aging prefer that their rums get presented as products of the classic method. In this way, they are, of course, granting supremacy to this method. But do they recognize this in their hearts because they do not adopt all of the classic methods? Well simply because this method is, according to consensus opinion, so expensive that it only adapts to be used by entities with large capital. And the main cost lies precisely in those long years of aging in barrels that is necessary within the usual technique for the raw distillate to acquire a characteristic of ripe rum. They did not think that such objection present that perhaps there would be means to shorten those long years of aging without leaving the norms of classic method? Was it really necessary to go to such extremes to pretend in a few days, and even in a few hours, what you saw so far cost many years of painful and expensive waiting to get? It would not be a step forward to cut those years in half or reduce them to a third part? Was not it more feasible and prudent to modify a method already proven to be good, than to try to jump precipitously to the discovery of something new and of doubtful success? But let’s renew our theme.

We said that in any way that the commercial rums are made, these are announced to the public as rums properly placed in carefully selected barrels. We have not yet had occasion to hear an announcer on the radio referring to a rum in these terms: “This rum, dear listeners, is not an old rum, but a rum prepared in a few days, but it is a good rum , with all the characteristics of goodness inherent to a rum in full maturity of first quality.” And for the public, the phrase Ron Viejo is synonymous with that of ripe rum, with rum possessing those organoleptic qualities of taste and smell that are so appetizing for the consumer. However, in order not to hide the age of a rum from the public, it would be enough to show them that maturity and old age in a rum are not necessarily synonymous attributes; well, a rum can be old without it having reached maturity, as a rum can be ripe without necessarily being qualified as old.

The consumer does not prefer the old rum for the mere fact of the years it has spent in a barrel, but for the modification it acquires during that time, because his past experience tells him that rum usually means ripe and good rum. To date, age has been the only index of kindness … but, if that degree of kindness, excellence of bouquet and taste can be imparted without the need for many years of aging… do my readers believe that it would matter a great deal to that public the method used to reach such a result? Would we refuse to accept that a rum could be of exquisite bouquet and good taste for the mere fact of not having long years of aging? Is aging an end, or a means that takes us to that end?

Among the arguments presented by the facilitators of the fast practices for rum elaboration we will mention some:

1. Eliminate the inconveniences, expenses and risks involved in the storage of thousands of gallons of rum during its maturing period.

2. In the terrible, sterile competition based on price levels only, rums of long years of aging would have to be sold within a scarce and always doubtful margin of profit for the manufacturer, or else they could not compete with those made by other methods.

3. The vast majority of rum consumers do not know how to appreciate or distinguish subtle gradations of goodness and exquisiteness between different rums.

4. The process is cheaper and therefore yields greater benefits.

5. Much less capital investment is needed in the business.

6. There are no official “standards” to catalog and classify the different rums according to quality, it happens that in the practice of the market the values are confused, receiving very similar prices rums manufactured by one and another method. Under these conditions the method of manufacture that is easier and gives a cheaper result should be chosen.

The supporters of the classic method answer these arguments, such as the following:

1. Flavor, body and aroma superior, and above all more consistent.

2. The retrogradations in the quality are eliminated; for this (the quality) increases and improves as time passes. In this way a permanent clientele is created.

3. The purity in the constitution of rum is superior.

4. In the case of export rum there is a big saving by not paying the tax of 30 cents per rectified gallon.

5. Actually there are better prices for this class of rums both locally and in the United States.

6. Guarantee of the existence and economic stability of the industry through those changes and legal requirements that may occur in the future affecting the current state of affairs in the manufacture and sale of rum.

We now ask ourselves—which of these two movements is better oriented? We believe that when this question is submitted to a group of presumed rum manufacturers, we would find that the consensus of opinion is in favor of accelerated methods. And it is not that this majority cease to state that the rums cured by the classical procedure are in truth and in fact superior to date to those of artificial maturing, but that they fear in an extraordinary way those long years of aging in barrels. If the rums matured in the barrels in a few months instead of years, then we could give all the supporters of artificial methods of maturing as defectors. Will this be possible? We believe that yes; At least our experimental work has been proving it.

Until now, the biggest obstacle to the general adoption of the classic cure system has been the belief that it is necessary to cure a raw rum for four or more years to turn it into a truly quality and meritable drink. We believe that with the crude rum currently manufactured that is the case; but we are sure that by elaborating better crude rums we can cut the barrel curing time by half or a third of the time that is now considered indispensable. Our research work has fully verified this.

In other words up to the present, the general opinion is that the manufacture of rum by the classical method yields the best products; but given its scarcity and complexity excludes all those interested in the business except those with large capital. Only a millionaire, according to the opinion, could put on the market rums that need three to four years of barrel aging to give signs of having acquired the state of desirable maturity.

Those of us who, as the author of these lines, are especially interested in the technical and scientific part of the question, believe that both movements are healthy for the present and future development of this industry. There are good arguments in both trends, because it is undeniable that the superior qualities of goodness, taste and aroma imparted to the crude distillate by time and barrel are difficult, very difficult to equal, or even imitate by the artificial methods for the acquisition of maturity hitherto known and put into practice; but it is also necessary to accept the economic arguments in favor of quick methods, and in this sense there is no doubt that a rum that has to be aged for four or more years to reach the acquisition of the necessary maturity, is almost prohibitive manufacturing unless you have great capital. And even with the necessary capital, the question would always remain pending… will the consumer pay for this kind of rum with a price difference necessary for the business to be profitable for the manufacturer distiller?

On the other hand, we have already contemplated as mark after mark of the rums elaborated by artificial procedures they have a more or less fleeting and transitory life, and a more fleeting root still in the appreciation of the consumer people; to then fall into the most lamentable oblivion and abandonment.

This state of affairs in the problem of curing raw rum can be solved as indicated above by the search for crude distillate manufacturing methods that guarantee us the rapid acquisition of maturity for these distillates once subjected to the classic treatment of curing. In other words, it is necessary to manufacture better crude rums. Let’s start by packing a distillate in the barrel that can be called a genuine raw rum and not any alcoholic distillate that we’re used to calling raw rum. We can not trust to simply barrel “anything” that we call crude rum, and hope that it is doing miracles and returns to us turned into a rum full of quality in a short time.

The study carried out by us on this problem puts us in a position to offer those who fear the classical method for the time and money it takes, a method that allows them to use it without the need for large capital investments. How? As we have already said it, again and again, putting more love and care in the preparation of the crude distillate; there lies the success of the cure in a short time. Our research has shown us fully that the acquisition of maturity in a rum is not the product of a single factor, such as the barrel in which it is aged or the still in which it is distilled. On the contrary, it is the result of a whole series of factors that starts with the selection of yeast and raw material, and ends with bottling for the market. But all these contributing factors to the same end can be condensed into two groups:

1. Those factors that combine and support each other for the production of a good raw rum.

2. Those other factors that combine to help a good crude rum to acquire its desirable maturity.

Now, if the newly distilled rum (which we call crude) lacks the necessary characteristics, then the action of the second group of factors can not fulfill its mission with efficiency and full satisfaction. It is as if a good teacher was trying to make a prodigy of a child lacking in natural intelligence.

Therefore, the success of its cure depends on the quality of the crude, especially as regards the time it takes (the cure) to be taken. Do not our readers believe, and especially those of knowledge and experience in the aches of rum cure, that it would be worth producing a good crude if this implies shortening the healing time by half or a third of its normal duration?

Once the elaboration of a true quality crude rum is achieved, we will find the problem of the classic cure solved, since in a period of one to two years in some cases, and even a few months in others, the distillates thus produced will be turned into ripe rums, ready for the market.

And to those manufacturers who can not age for a long time, but who would settle for producing a genuine and good rum without trying to enter into competition with the finest and most exclusive of the market, we tell them that they could do it through an aging of no more than six to nine months, if always taking care in the production of quality crude rum, or that they knew how to choose these, in the case of not being distillers of their own raw material.

To those of our readers of practical minds who like more of objective and palpable demonstrations than of long spoken and written dissertations and arguments, we extend a cordial invitation to visit our laboratories and witness and feel the facts that have induced us to write this article. Native rum producers are especially invited.

3 thoughts on “Arroyo’s Invitation: The Problem of the Ripening of Crude Rum

  1. Very cool, thanks!

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