Birectifier Analysis of Plantation’s 2004 Clarendon MMW

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This bottle was a gift from a blog patron who wanted to see analysis exploring their favorite new rum. What I’m arriving at is not a review but rather a sort of distiller’s exploration. My audience are producers and distiller’s of all spirits as well as writers and super fans. Does anyone that brings a spirit like this to market get to examine it so intimately? The birectifier method is pretty darn cool.

Of course we are talking about the 2004 Jamaica Clarendon MMW bottled by Plantation. Not to diminish a gift, but when I looked into things, I was surprised when this spirit cost less than I expected. The extreme economics of this rum style is slowly being revealed and we are seeing how they are simply set apart from other luxury spirits into a realm of their own. I would not be surprised if their value overtakes that of fine Cognac and becomes the very top shelf dram you can experience after a great meal. What other spirits start with decadent ABV’s as low as 5% requiring the double retort process? What other spirit must lose roughly 1/3 of its ethanol through topical maturation to arrive at a conclusion with maximum esterification and radiance? It is not just a rum, it is in that 1% of rums that are likely fission yeast rums! As a hipster, I no longer drink budding yeast rums unless they are from cane juice.

MMW as a mark is short for Monymusk Wedderburn from the Monymusk distillery in Jamaica’s Clarendon. Sherriff was purchasing more of it than any other non-Long Pond mark in the early 1950’s. Either more of it was available or they just liked it more.

MMW is the heaviest mid century mark from Monymusk, and besides that, before column stills they produced:
M/R◊S Monymusk common clean
MRS Monymusk common clean
C/HP Monymusk common clean
MG Monymusk common clean
MM/T Monymusk common clean
RDC Monymusk common clean
S/MG Monymusk common clean
EMB Monymusk common clean (transferred from Bog estate, 1949) [Medium Pot, blend component]

[Single Cask Rum shares the wonderful detail that the Bog EMB mark is considered a blend component. Additionally we see an “MLC Monymusk Light Continental, Heavy Pot” added to the line up. For other pot distilled rums which feature short duration ferments, they also produce:
MSP Sevens Estate, Light Pot
MPG St. Thomas, Light Pot

Mid century, Sevens only produced one mark disclosed in the Long Pond Papers, the S◊P common clean. It may have been renamed MSP (Monymusk Sevens Pot?). What is very exciting is that in Part 3 of the Long Pond papers I noted MPG as a lost mark, but here it turns up at Monymusk! Myers held a few odd hogsheads of it from 1916 and 1921. So there is a hell of a fun story in there even if it is a light pot rum. Did that mark briefly disappear and resurface? What was that conversation like, and did someone poke around in some dusty hand written notebooks to bring it back to life? Myers is clinging to relevancy and yet they potentially have beautiful opinions on marks that stretch back generations?]

When you search through all the Long Pond papers, you don’t actually find many references to Monymusk or MMW.

There are not many historic references to MMW but was it in any famous but extinct blends [or just Myers]? Does knowing the historic use of MMW then, help MMW now if it wants to find its own market as an unblended mark? [YES!] How many people have been stewards of this mark and who had the longest career and does every person to touch it think their predecessor did it better (like any artisan craft)? Are we stuck with these marks as detached aesthetic objects or will there ever be characters attached to them? These distilleries leave consumers hanging.

The punchline to this spirit is that you find the mythic pineapple aroma beyond anything else I have found elsewhere. But at the same time, there is no obvious rum oil like a Hampden which raises a few questions. Besides the obvious question of what their ferment was like [surprisingly no dunder?], I really want to know what their new make spirit was like? To exude pineapple ester in such a focused glorious way, where did that esterification happen? It could either be in the ferment as a bio-transformation, brute force in the still, or during extreme duration maturation. Some of the literature (Le Cognac) makes it seem like esterification in the still is harder to pull off than is commonly assumed so does that make the other opportunities a stronger bet? Even if butyric acid is created by bacteria, enzymes from yeast may be able to bio-transform it to ester in the ferment under narrow conditions that are generally elusive. This is the grandest magic that we just don’t know enough about. Conversely, you may be able to put a free butyric acid train wreck in a barrel and let it sit for over a decade evaporating in the tropical heat.

My own projects with plenty of free butyric acid are only sitting in glass, but I have not seen any obvious transformation to ester, however our entry proofs are very different. Entry at fairly high ABV could be a key to maximizing esterification during tropical maturation. You can sip this stuff and have a great time wondering how all of the character got there. I feel I appreciate these rums even more now that I have been personally exploring fission yeasts and heritage style ferments.

To backup to the rum oil question, is this the same MMW as what was purchased bulk by Sherriff & Long Pond in 195X? Some of the theories about rum oil in heritage “slow process” ferments revolve around very particular lactic acid bacteria that is always in danger of getting displaced by blander stuff (the biome of civilization). Ferments may require strategies to continuously re-wild the biome to maintain the magic and that is the pinnacle of the terroir idea. Microbial terroir in wine, to a large degree, is assumed to be some sort of fixed thing, while in rum and other distilled spirits, it may always be under threat of encroachment and bland gentrification unless properly stewarded. Wineries, typically, have a chance to heal after a single ferment until the next season, while distilleries have a series of ferments in succession so opportunities for any biome disturbance multiply. This scientific territory gets incredibly tricky to work in and observe. You can see yeasts under a cheap microscope at 400X and differentiate budding from fission yeasts, but for bacteria, it is just a different ball game and if you lose your magic you cannot easily tell (besides aroma) without tools that are, even in the 21rst century, only available at the research university level.

[I speculate above that this mark could have lost its rum oil, but upon doing a little more reading we see the disclosure on the wonderful Single Cask Rum blog that this particular mark may have been produced without dunder, limiting its potential for rum oil. We also catch another wonder statement that helps piece things together:

Taste-wise, their rums are known for flavours of butyric acids, a very special profile that is not to everyone’s liking. The differences between the vintages can be quite high, however.

Not to everyone’s liking, in my reading, points to the possibility of free butyric acid. Does this disclosure point towards most of the esterification here being the product of topical maturation instead of a magical bio-transformation?]

Much of this rum oil stuff is just theory and conjecture because again it is such challenging territory to work in. Not many people are thinking about it besides, Cory, Callum, and myself as well as a chain of scientists across the 20th century from Karl Micko who pioneered the birectifier method through Rafael Arroyo to various GCMS wizard scientists studying the most odor active congeners at the university level.

The fractions were so much fun to observe. The first fraction didn’t have the gross surplus of ethyl acetate that you find in many specialty bottlings that would probably be better served as blending stocks. There was also an appreciable extra ester that contributed a distinct banana note which is likely isoamyl acetate. I have seen this in very few pot distilled rums, possibly because it is obscured or not present to such a degree and I have not widely surveyed such extreme maturation. The second and third fractions were pretty typical with no odd details. The fourth fraction eluded to a very low higher alcohol quantity that predicts a fission yeast ferment, but of course we have no disclosure from the distillery. It could possibly be half that of a pot distilled whiskey! Fraction 5 was so exuberant with pineapple, I though Niagara ice wine was pouring from the condenser! Never was it sensual, musky, or animalic like obvious damascenone. Ultimately, like many heavy fraction 5’s, at the tasting it was so concentrated you thought you were observing perfume and it was hard to parse. At that point if you wanted to make comparisons, you could switch to the old German buyers’ quantitative tasting strategies that are based on systematic dilutions. This rum could probably be diluted by many multiples and any consumer would still be delighted. The facts of life with grand arôme rums is that they are better diluted. We just don’t have the marketing conventions to convey that to consumers.

[The glorious moment high value aroma begins]

Fraction 1: As this fraction was coming over, I smelt a very clear banana character which may be isoamyl-acetate. No banana is obvious when nosing the diluted fraction. This fraction does not seem overly concentrated with ethyl acetate. There are some non-culinary aromas, but nothing over the top. Upon many hours of sitting under a watch glass, the banana aroma becomes more evident.

Fraction 2: Less concentrated version of fraction 1 as expected and again not overly concentrated.

Fraction 3: Fairly neutral which is characteristic of nearly all fractions 3’s.

Fraction 4: This started to smell glorious at the very end of being collected before the transition to fraction 5. As this fraction was ending you could visually see the creep of the aqueous fraction dancing up the outer chamber of the birectifier (everything was going as planned). Even that slight amount of high value aroma collected in the last ml of this fraction is enough to dominate the nose and mostly obscure higher alcohols. You can detect some higher alcohols on the palate, but it is safe to say they are probably around the average for a fission yeast. From the literature we know higher alcohols don’t change significantly during aging.

Fraction 5: As this was being collected, there was an astoundingly focused pineapple aroma of the likes I have never experienced. An emulsion appeared only in the last 5 ml of collection which may imply ethanol being totally exhausted and the start of the completely aqueous phase. Very significant oil droplets all over the surface. No detectable rum oil and this feels very different from any Hampden rum. The aroma is overly concentrated to the point of perfume and you cannot perceive any obvious pineapple. It is acrid on the palate from so much concentration. What is remarkable is how it is perceived while being collected relative to how it is perceived in this tasting situation. All we get now is a sense of power and concentration. It may be worth investing the time to make observations while the fraction is being collected to remark on more details; sort of like true GC-Olfactometry.

Fraction 6: While this fraction was being collected there was still a pretty clear aroma of dilute pineapple. Even more concentrated than 7 & 8 and starts having a perfume like feel in its concentration that is sometimes observed in fraction 5’s. It almost becomes so tight in aroma that it is acrid. There is no obvious rum oil. Definite gustatory acidity.

Fraction 7: The fruit aroma is so much more concentrated than fraction 8. It still comes across as uncertain. You cannot make an obvious object comparison. Definite gustatory acidity and more tart than fraction 8.

Fraction 8: There is a type of uncertain fruit aroma. Definite gustatory acidity, but not as significant as I would have thought.

Stillage: Fairly neutral in aroma. Significant gustatory acidity. Does rum taste better because it has more acidity than other flabby spirits?

I’m not sure what to make of this rum. It has the mythic pineapple esters, but they aren’t as salient as you think they may be in the complete rum. It almost feels like wood is getting in the way. I really think it may benefit from blending with another rum that has more rum oil. It completely carries its price and I will be desperately seeking another bottle. I wonder if we will ever learn enough about marks as consumers to favor complementary twins blended together?

I am really into the promise of this evaluation format and think it would be very cool if we either saw it from great producers themselves or in a way where a dialogue could be established and hard questions asked. One thing we see are incredible objective markers of quality through the analysis that support value but don’t really require tasting notes that are the typical object-comparison-comma-obscure-object-comparison that make you roll your eyes… We can sort of explore rather than review and begin to celebrate all the holistic processes, attention to detail, and teamwork that bring it together. Producers may find they add monetary value to a spirit simply disclosing that they: “used to have a person who set the ferments for that mark for twenty something years and we miss them dearly, but they are now retired; that is one of theirs.” We need to add more characters to rum’s story.

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