Hubert Von Olbrich, Über rum completeist \m/(-.-)\m/

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[Here we’ve got an English annotated version (thanks to awesome friend of the blog, Nicola Gref!) of the rum chapter and Olbrich’s 1970 text and it does not disappoint. More information on concentrates, more mythology on pits for bacteria, and more mythology on pineapple disease, the black mold of rum canes!]


I have long been procrastinating following a major lead on rum history given by Hubert Von Olbrich in his contribution to the 1975 rum symposium.

Olbrich authored a very large bibliography of 300 years of rum thought, but very curiously he mentions a reference from 1936 regarding Percival Greig that he doesn’t list in his bibliography. Well, I’ve finally tracked down Olbrich’s text, Geschichte der Melasse, from 1970 and found that missing citation. I even digitized Olbrich’s section on rum and hopefully some translators will appear to help the cause.

Anonymous.: “Die Fabrikation des Jamaika-Rums und des Batavia-Arraks.-Ein über die wichtigsten Originalarbeiten, besonders englischer und holländischer Forscher“, Deutsche Destillateur-Zeitung 57(1936) 114, 123-124, 145-146, 159, 182-183, 205-206.

[we finally have the PDF, but we need a translation! volunteer?]

Percival Greig left Jamaica after positively identifying the fission yeast, schizosaccharomyces Pombe, as being responsible for the unique character of Jamaican rums. He went on to start his own distillery, but it is not known where he went. The citation may spell it out or offer more clues.

Hubert Von Olbrich is a unique character and very significant. Besides being a globe trotting super consultant sugar technologist, he was also a bibliophile and historian. Very much like Maynard Amerine, Olbrich was a linguist and capable of digesting the different languages that go into telling the history of sugar cane and/or our interest, rum.

He was convinced that nothing notable happened in the development of rum technology between Percival Greig and Rafael Arroyo. I would argue that isn’t completely true, but Olbrich’s bibliographies are missing one important scientist, who I won’t name for selfish reasons, that Arroyo built upon.

I don’t speak German and I only gleaned a little bit by using google’s translator, but the chapter looks particularly interesting and may explain what Jamaica rum concentrates were all about and how they were used by Germany as blending stock, especially after WWII. The writing is also full of question marks and exclamation points so hopefully it freely dispenses aesthetic opinions of beauty.

The end of Olbrich’s text features a timeline that extends from basically the beginning of recorded history until 1970, the book’s publication. The time line is in German, but one curious thing is easy to pick out. Along the way, in 1893, he starts a countdown of Jamaican rum production. Olbrich lists how many distilleries there were and what they collectively produced.

1893    73,400 hl (hecto-liter)    148 distillereies
1901    58,200                               110
1912    40,000                               67
1922    62,400                              48
1936    43,500                               29
1948    134,700                             24
1957    70,000                               21

This was the path of consolidation. There was also a curious entry in 1934. Only that year did Puerto Rico begin rum production.

Scouring the bibliography, I came across a reference to H. Warner Allen’s wonderful Rum: The Englishman’s Spirit and was able to find this scanning of it. It is a spectacularly thoughtful history of rum and probably no one writing today has learned to convey their love of the subject quite like Allen.


4 thoughts on “Hubert Von Olbrich, Über rum completeist \m/(-.-)\m/

  1. Small note to say that I’m loving all these posts Boston. You are digging up some amazing things. Keep up the good work

  2. Thanks for sharing, Stephen. Fantastic work and insights as always. I’d like to contribute a translation of the original Olbrich text in German. I’ll need proofreading from a couple of German friends, but that should be OK. Just flagging in case any other avid reader is already on the case. Happy to share the work, obviously. All the best in the meantime.

  3. Hi Yves! I did get a volunteer and we thought it might be a better idea to just summarize it than translate it word for word.

    Though next up is the 1936 citation and I have a request in to ILL. It is only held internationally so who knows how long that will take. Percival Greig left Jamaica to start his own distillery, but the details aren’t known. Hopefully this German journal sheds some light on that.

    Anonymous.: “Die Fabrikation des Jamaika-Rums und des Batavia-Arraks.-Ein über die wichtigsten Originalarbeiten, besonders englischer und holländischer Forscher”, Deutsche Destillateur-Zeitung 57(1936) 114, 123-124, 145-146, 159, 182-183, 205-206.

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