What is up with Richard Seale? Screen shots of his online comments crossed my desk the other day. Richard Seale apparently wants to wade into the Pombe yeast discussion in his typical blowhard style of overheated rhetoric while not doing any homework. Foursquare is a truly world class distillery and I’ve enjoyed amazing rums from them over the years, but Seale, their “master” distiller (it’s a multi generation family business), has a strange communication style:Am I one of Seale’s “foreigners who arrive on the scene” who “found the name of a yeast on the internet”? One of his “saviours of Jamaica Rum”?
From what I gather in the industry, Seale compulsively feels the need to control the rum narrative, but is he up against any particular “foreigners” or merely just rum history plainly laid out in 100 years of journal articles?
If you are new to the Bostonapothecary blog, in the last couple years, it has mainly become a repository for a vast collection of first time digitized primary documents that form a near continuous timeline of the technical history of rum production. A very large amount of the documents have even been translated from French, Spanish, Dutch, and German. Some very cool scientist heroes have emerged like Rafael Arroyo who a lot of people are curious about. Many of the works almost form a rum prophecy that has yet to be realized.
“Fission” yeasts a.k.a. Schizosaccharomyces Pombe have become a hot topic in the rum world because they are repeatedly discussed in this trove of literature which has not been seen by the current generation of rum producers. These yeasts, according to the literature, produce the best rums. For the most part, historically, all true heavy rum distillates are from Pombe ferments. Supposedly quite a few distilleries use these yeasts while not aware or simply they thought it wasn’t newsworthy. In some cases, it may have been a minor secret attached to other processes. Pombe yeast rums are out there.
Demand for heavier fine rum is outpacing supply. Seale, of course, writes his initial comment in the wrong place, then has to amend it to mention he is criticizing a consumer for expressing their simple desire to buy more interesting premium rums. Consumers are waving dollars and saying if you make it, we will buy it, and Seale is saying… they are ignorant? If this was the more competitive world of wine, Four Square would have to commit Harakiri for such a faux pas.
This blog is descended from a research tradition I learned from studying the golden era of U.C. Davis, particularly from professors Maynard Amerine and James Guymon. Basically, be a bibliophile collector, translate, write letters around the world, make friends and be free with your time, stay rooted in agriculture, don’t get tainted by brands, keep an open mind, and don’t have a creepy agenda. In writings, I don’t explain—I explore.
To get back to Richard Seale’s comments, awareness of Pombe yeasts for the most part starts with Percival Greig in Jamaica in the 1890’s. Greig isolates numerous Pombe yeasts in Jamaica rum ferments but finds extraordinary aroma with his particular top fermenting yeast no. 18 under certain conditions he tests experimentally. Greig’s writings are both beautiful and accessible reads. At roughly the same time Christiaan Eijkman (who later wins a Nobel prize) isolates Pombe yeasts from Batavia Arrack in Indonesia. The significance here is that Pombe yeasts were the driver of the two most prized and valued spirits of the world at the time. Coincidence? Other productions had not successfully harnessed Pombe yeasts.
EIJKMAN (C.) — Mikrobiologisches ueber die arrak fabrikation in Batavia Zent. Bakt. Parasit. XVI, 97-108, 1894.
Seale’s quoted researcher, Charles Allan, came next and the cherry picked quote is either ignorance of rum history or intellectual dishonesty. At the time, a debate started, is it the yeast or bacteria? This debate was continued by various French authors like Pairault and we get the best summaries from probably the most important text on rum, Kervégant’s Rhum and Cane Eau-de-vie (1946) which I translated all 500 pages of. Read Kervégant’s chapter devoted to yeasts and you will find fission yeasts were no obscure curiosity. Not every one knew how to use them or find an example with rum aptitude.
ALLAN (Ch) — Report on the manufacture of Jamaica rum. Jamaica Sugar Exp. Sta. Rept. for 1905, 119-140 ; West Ind. Bull VII, 141-152,1906.
PAIRAULT (E.A.). — Le rhum et sa fabrication C. Naud, Paris, 1903.
After Allan, came Ashby who was a more important researcher and we see some incredible works. A remarkable paper is Yeast in Jamaica Rum Distilleries, 1909. We even see photographs of Schizosaccharomyces Pombe fission yeasts from his microscope.Ashby wrote other fascinating papers that demonstrate the importance of these yeasts. The Jamaican Pombe yeast I’m currently testing, collected in 1912, was likely isolated by S.F. Ashby at Hampden under the direction of H.H. Cousins who was an important figure in the development of Jamaica rums. Current marketing at Hampden is attributing a lot of their process to the 19th century, but very likely most of it comes from the very early 20th century under the advice of Ashby and Cousins (this does not diminish anything). Jamaica back then actually had a yeast service collecting high value yeasts and bacteria to be shared by the industry. There were mid century calls to restart the service which never materialized. Cousins actually developed the proprietary high ether distilling process Hampden uses. We recently acquired 2 of the 3 known copies of his Instructions for Making High Ether Rums (1906).
Arguments about yeast or bacteria flounder a bit over the years until Rafael Arroyo comes along and that is what the blog is best known for. Until a few years ago, Arroyo’s works were pretty much all lost except a few widely shared patents digitized by google. Very recently, I translated what adds up to an incredible lost serialized preface for Arroyo’s Studies on Rum (1945). Currently my research partner is working with Arroyo’s particular butyricum and mildew yeast, Suaveolens:
Aroma beneficial bacteria (and alt-yeast) does indeed produce a lot of the aroma attributed to heavy rums, but Pombe yeasts are their best symbiotic partner. This is not always the case and Arroyo actually used the Suaveolens mildew yeast with a Saccharomyces yeast. Spontaneous fermentations with bacterial complications often require yeasts that can multiply and produce ethanol under conditions of dizzyingly high osmotic pressure. Hampden supposedly has pH’s as low as 3.0!
What Darwin really meant by “survival of the fittest” was survival of what we would have to say today as fitment. Everything must fit together. Rum production featuring fermentation complications is a beautiful place to experience Darwin’s concept.
Last month we collected the lost J.A.S.T. papers which tell a strange mid century story of Jamaica mostly losing the ability to use fission yeasts outside of a few small enigmatic distilleries like Hampden and the now defunkt Cambridge (their productions were incredibly small). It is revealed that Jamaica almost hired Arroyo through a Panamanian intermediary to reintroduce them to these yeasts. Somehow it never came to be. Arroyo died young and the boom and bust cycle of the industry prevented a lot of fascinating possibilities from being applied. J.A.S.T had beautiful forums where papers and ideas were exchanged followed by a question section. These distillers conducted themselves in an incredibly dignified and respectful way which would be great to see return today.
Later in the 20th century, a Pombe revival almost came along through the incredible work of A. Parfait, Berthe Ganou-Parfait, and Louis Fahrasmane. Fahrasmane (a helpful pen pal) even goes on to isolate the most widely used Saccharomyces yeast for rum sold by Lallemand. These French works are absolutely beautiful and I translated almost everything they published.
So Seale claims to use this yeast, but also that it is unremarkable and apparently not even worth a marketing mention even though he loves “transparency”. In his Probitas product, pombe is very likely from a grand arôme mark contributed by Hampden (“in a very small role”). Its impact is not remarkable yet it is very likely a salient driver of identity for Hampden?
As Seale mentions, oenolgists have studied Pombe yeasts for their unique abilities to convert malic acid in wine (often in surplus) to ethanol. What he doesn’t mention because he does no homework is that these scientists did not stop there, but have further explored the aroma contribution of resting wines on Pombe lees. Something special about these yeasts is their extra thick cell walls, made of building blocks which eventually break down to become aroma, and this is also the source of their desirable high osmotolerance. Schizosaccharomyces muck has more to contribute than typical saccharomyces muck. Pombe dunder may be more valuable than other dunder… Pombe yeasts exhibit a spectrum of behavior (many are duds) but on average (without bacteria) they produce more esters than saccharomyces yeast because an amount of cell well dissolves into the ferment at every instance of cell division. Pombe yeasts on average also produce less fusel oil than saccharomyces yeast which is a big piece of the puzzle.
We haven’t even gotten to the part where these yeasts exhibit unique enzyme activity to release the highest amount of non-saponifiable aroma derived from carotene originating in the cane. This is where Arroyo’s rum oil comes in (also called Bauer oil which also implies a mixture of long chain esters), the highest value congener class in rum. Carotene derived aroma may exhibit the perceptual property described by perfumers as radiance that can valorize other compounds like esters.
Foursquare rums possess rum oil and so too does Hampden (the finest!), but the character is dramatically different. This was articulately described by Arroyo and is something I have experienced first hand with the birectifier, a distillery analysis tool I have revived.
Currently, my research partner and I have a collection of 14 historic Pombe yeasts, almost all of which are associated with rum production. One is from Jamaica and isolated over a century ago, very likely by Ashby or Cousins at Hampden. Another yeast, roughly 95 years old, is from one of the five great firms of Batavia. We are testing them with our limited resources and getting close to integrating bacterial complications. My partner is a brilliant microbiologist based in Chicago and I, based in Philadelphia, am merely trying to duplicate his work and learn to wield all the basics of pure culture technique.
Working with this collection will likely only help us understand what is possible when we isolate our own Pombe yeasts in the wild. They are also a training ground for integrating bacteria under controlled conditions which is no easy task.
We are also holding back from everyone a few key research papers and secrets of rum production we have learned in correspondence.
I’m out of time, thank you! Fission yeasts are our future!