Distillation of Molasses for the Manufacture of Tafia and Rum (1871)

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This wonderful translation comes to us from Canadian blog reader and friend of rum, Nathalie Dwane. I had singled this paper out as possibly worth translating during Operation Rum Babelfish where the bibliographic citations of sugar technologist Hubert Von Olbrich were collected and translated. It is hard to believe they were so sophisticated and industrial back in 1871. The only other noteworthy papers I can think of from that time is Patrick Nielson and then also J.S., both writing from Jamaica in 1871 and telling of rum like no other.

This translation is an important contribution to rum history. Thank you Nathalie!

Anonymous. Distillation des mélasses pour la fabrication des tafias et des rhums, Sucrerie Indigène 6, (1871/72) p. 486-491. [original French]

Distillation of Molasses for the Manufacture of Tafia and Rum

The distillation of molasses from beet sugar manufacturers is currently done to perfection in France. Their fermentation process is according to a method perfected by Mr. Corenwinder, which significantly augments the alcohol yield. Expenses associated with this work have been reduced by good practitioners who mix saccharified products into the fermentation; thus cheaply obtaining the necessary acid and yeast. The fermented juices are distilled and the alcohols are then rectified using Savalle apparatus. And finally, by use of the Porion oven, vinasse is evaporated in the manufacture of potassium. The distillation of molasses from cane sugar has generally not followed the progressive march of similar products in Europe; it is still done in a very imperfect and primitive manner. A few big sugar factories in Martinique have adopted the Savalle distillation apparatus but most are realizing only a very modest profit from their molasses. Some discard it on their grounds where it constitutes an expensive and mediocre quality fertilizer; others use distillation methods so wanting that a large quantity of alcohol passes to the state of acid; moreover, they use ancient alembics which do a very poor job.

To bring the distillation of cane molasses to a state which could rival other similar manufacturing, fermentation methods must be modified and distillation equipment perfected. Fermentation is the foundation work of any distillery. Rather than charging tanks with juices measuring 6 degrees on the density meter and letting it ferment freely for six or seven days, one should use juices measuring but 4 degrees, and adding to the thus-diluted molasses, when possible, 10 % of vesou, that is to say, juice extracted from sugar cane. Fermentation thus happens very actively and finishes in 48 hours. It is urgent, especially in hot countries, to ferment as quickly as possible so that the ferment does not become acid. To obtain a considerable product of good quality, we must use the apparatus constructed by D. Savalle and Sons Co. of Paris, represented in figures 21 and 22. To date, in the Savalle distilleries, only one such apparatus had been used. It is the one represented on the left side of the drawing by the letters ABCDEF; it is advantageous to add to it a second apparatus as we will explain.

The first apparatus supplies tafia at 60 to 62 centesimal degrees. The juices are treated upon exiting the fermentation tanks. Before explaining the process, we first give the legend of the various components of the system:

A. Regulator for the steam heating the apparatus;
B. Distillation column made from either cast iron or copper;
C. Foam breaker;
D. Tubular wine heater;
E. Coolant;
F. Tubes for tafia outflow;
G. Tafia reservoir;
H. Fermented juice reservoir to feed the apparatus;
1. Regulator tap valve;
2. Breather to avoid vacuum collapse of the apparatus;
3. Manhole applied to large units;
4. Water level;
5. Vinasse drain tap;
6. Tap and conduit for feeding wine to the wine heater;
7. Cold water tap for coolant.

To operate, we start by using a pump to fill the fermented juice reservoir H. We also fill the wine heater D and the trays of column B. Then we introduce the heating steam which goes through valve 1 to the base of the column. When the whole column is hot, the alcohol vapours pass through the foam breakers C, to the wine heater D; where they condense and cede their caloric [give up their heat] to the fermented material.

Fig. 21. – Elevation of a Savalle distillery for cane molasses with a rectification apparatus

From there, they further pass to cooler E, to be cooled by water. Thus we avoid alcohol losses experienced by equipment which only uses relatively hot fermented material for condensing and cooling. The resulting tafia flows through tube F into reservoir G.

Fermented material is continuously fed from the tap, fitted with a graduated dial, 6, into the wine heater D, and successively dumps into all the plates in column B. It is on these plates that it is completely divested of the alcohol it contains. It exits in the state of vinasse from tap 5.

Fig. 22. –Plan of a Savalle distillery for the production of rhums and tafias.

That has been the extent of the process in most operations established in Martinique to date. But we conceive of obtaining much finer product by submitting the tafia to a second distillation. It is this progress which permits realizing the second apparatus IJKLMN (fig. 21 and 22) to daily treat the raw tafia product produced on the previous day and stored in reservoir G. The goal of this second operation, which is a true rectification, is to remove from the raw rum the etheric acid parts as well as heavy oils which today only happens by letting the liquid age over long years, abandoning to time the care of separating by evaporation and absorption the infected parts which constitute the inferiority of new rum obtained by a single simple distillation of the fermented juices. Here is the legend of this apparatus:

I. Copper boiler
J. Dome for alcoholic vapours
K. Tubular copper-wrapped coolant suspended from the upper floor
L. Cold water reservoir
M. Steam regulator
N. Flow tube for rectified rum
9. Boiler breather
10. Water level
11. Drain tap for etheric rum
12. Drain tap for perfect rum
13. Drain tap for second-worked rum
14. Cold water feed tap for the cooler
15. Three-way tap for charging and emptying the boiler

The boiler has its copper sheets brazed; flanges and bolts join the sections, the cover and the bottom. The boiler is also provided with a manhole which allows for inserting or removing the heating coil which can be disassembled at will. Tap 11 serves at the beginning of the operation to flow out the rum which is etheric and has a piercing acidic odour. This rum is returned to the fermented tanks ready to be distilled; it is purified by cutting and returning to the primary apparatus before being once again rectified. This portion of rum is about 3 percent. Next we obtain a less nasty rum which flows out from tap 13 and which is mixed back into reservoir G with the raw tafia. At last we obtain the perfect rum which flows to the store from tap 12. At the end of the operation, we get more rum which is mixed with heavy oils; these are flowed out through tap 11; they are also returned to fermented material to be re-distilled.

[so they’re returning foreshots and tails to the next wash, and heads to the next strip run, interesting -N.D.]

The addition of the second apparatus remains a novelty which doesn’t yet exist in the tafia distilleries of the house of Savalle, and which nevertheless has already lent a particular reputation to their products.

The prices of the simple apparatus are as follows:

Dimension Number  Capacity per 10 hour day 

Litres of Tafia at 60 degrees 

Price for apparatus in red copper, with steam regulator, 


1  700  6,750 
2  1,000  8,500 
3  1,250  10,100 
4  1,500  11,800 
5  1,750  13,500 
6  2,000  15,200 
7  2,250  16,800 
8  2,500  18,500 
9  2,750  20,200 
10  3,000  22,000 
11  4,000  29,200 
12  5,000  36,000 

The second apparatus annexed to simple distilleries giving tafia and rum at 60 degrees, is also priced proportionately to the output capacity.

Rectified rum from the second apparatus is of a vastly superior quality to that from facilities which content themselves with getting first draft raw tafia from the single distillation of fermented molasses. Its commercial value is immediately equal to tafia which has been aged in storage for many years. It is smooth, it has lost the flavour incorrectly identified as apparatus-flavour; it only contains the agreeable parts of the aroma of rum. Its clean qualities are acquired by way of elimination of volatile etheric parts and heavy oils. By adding a rectification column and condenser to the second apparatus, we can at will obtain fine alcohols rectified to 96 degrees. This manner of working may be of benefit in times when rum is abundant on the market and where, by consequence, there is a means of using fine alcohol in the production of eaux-de-vie, Cognac and various liqueurs. Most molasses distilleries are annexed to sugar factories and require very little material, as it suffices to have a few wooden tanks for fermentation, a distilling apparatus and a pump for raising fermented liquids. As for the steam needed for heating, it is borrowed from the factory. One could nonetheless establish dedicated distilleries which would process molasses purchased from various sugar factories, as exist in Europe distilleries which are stand-alone factories. The culture of cane could give rise to all of the industries created in relation to the culture of beets.

(Journal of Agriculture)

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