Kervegant Preface + Chapter I Generalities and History

[I’m slowly releasing the first part of the book chapter by chapter instead of in page blocks. I’ll also try to edit as much as I can but I’m limited by time. This was a challenging chapter because it is historical. The language is more open unlike the more technical chapters that are more grounded in logic. There were some horrible paragraphs where I must have been falling asleep!]

Kervegant Preface + Chapter I Generalities and History: [PDF]

Pages 0 – 27

Rhums et
Eaux-de-Vie de canne

Ingénieur principal de l’Agriculture des Colonies Chef du Service de l’Agriculture à la Martinique

Professeur de Distillerie « l’Ecole Nationale des Industries Agricoles
President de l’Association des Chimistes ar Ingénieurs de Sucrerie, de Distillerie et des Industries Agricoles
Président d’Honneur de l’Association des Ingénieurs des Industries Agricoles

1946 Tous droits réservés
Dipot igal te trimestre 1947 N• 8



Although many books have been devoted to rum, none has treated the subject in such a comprehensive manner, examining not only questions relating to manufacturing technique, but also all those likely to be of interest to both men and women, the producer, the trader, the consumer and even the hygienist.

From the history to the sale of the product, nothing is missing in this masterful study and attention is retained from the first to the last line. The most scholarly reader finding at any moment unpublished information and documentation without gaps.

I thank Mr. Kervégant for asking me to write this Preface. Reading his manuscript was for me a joy and a revelation, and I do not hesitate to declare that it is a masterpiece, which constitutes a real Distillery Treatise.

We must congratulate the author for having given to our technical literature of agricultural industries, currently impoverished by the years of occupation, our industrialists, our technicians, who search in vain for the pre-war works, remains exhausted and obsolete, indicating to me nothing of the considerable progress accomplished during the last ten years, a perfect improvement of the various sides of the distillery.

With admirable patience, M. Kervégant has collected books and journals from all over the world, in all languages, all that has been published on the chemistry of musts and wines, fermentation, distillation, methods of manufacture, aging, trade issues, production statistics, and rum markets.

This volume, which is essential for all cruxes interested in Rum and Cane eau-de-vie, will also be sought, as a result of its general documentation, by all the distillers and technicians of the distillery, in all the French language countries. Everyone will find in his reading, extreme pleasure and interest.

If rum is produced by many countries (the author examines the particularities of its manufacture in each of them), the French Empire occupies a place of choice, and our rum is worthily alongside the cognacs, armagnacs, grape eau-de-vie, calvados, fruit spirits of the metropolis whose reputation is well known. For the maintenance and extension of our privileged situation in the world, it is necessary by an incessant action, to assure the perfection of quality, which made our reputation.

At a time when our country has so much need of foreign exchange, where the increase of our exports is indispensable, spirits and liqueurs have more than ever a privileged role to assure, the articles to be exported being unfortunately few in France.

Regulations have, fortunately, stopped attempts to manufacture by new techniques, which, in favor of performance could compromise the quality of our metropolitan products. Before the war, it was the same for rum.

All efforts must focus on improving quality. Mr. Kervégant deals at length with this question, and gives a good deal of information on this subject, as on the others. Whether it is the composition of the rum, aromatic factors, malodorous products whose formation must be prevented, tasting, chemical analysis, the reader will find all the information that is desirable.

In congratulating the writer on this excellent production for our Agricultural Industries, I can assure him that the rapid spread of his work will bring him the reward he deserves.

Professeur de Distillerie à l’Ecole Nationale des Industries Agricoles. Président de l’Association des Chimistes et Ingénieurs de Sucrerie,
de Distillerie et des Industries Agricoles, Président d’honneur de l’Association des Ingénieurs
des Industries Agricoles.


Definition du rhum

Rum is generally defined as a spirit derived from alcoholic fermentation and distillation of sugar cane juice, molasses and by-products of cane sugar manufacture.

In some countries legal definition is more restrictive. In France, the decree of August 19, 1921 establishes that “the denomination of rum or tafia is reserved for eau-de-vie coming exclusively from the alcoholic fermentation and the distillation of sugar cane juice, not deprived by the defecation of the principles aromas to which rums and tafias owe their specific characteristics”. The legislator’s concern to exclude products with a low non-alcohol coefficient was also reflected in the Decree of 20 May 1923, which obliges rums of French colonies imported into France duty-free not to be distilled at more than 65° GL.

In the United States, the regulations of the Federal Alcohol Administration specify that rum comes from the fermentation of cane or its by-products, to be distilled at an alcoholic strength below 95° G.L. and possess the taste, aroma and characteristics generally attributed to this spirit. The “New England Rum” must be distilled at less than 80°.

In England, rum is legally a spirit resulting from the fermentation and distillation of sugar cane products in a country where cane is grown. Great Britain has always imported large quantities of cane molasses for the manufacture of alcohol. Since the spirit obtained is generally of inferior quality, and in any case possesses a very different bouquet from that of the rums of colonial origin, it is understood that it was intended to make a clear distinction between the two products (1). This, however, has the disadvantage of not having the spirits manufactured in certain parts of the United States (New England) admitted as real rums, or from the beginning of colonization the distillation of cane molasses imported and or the product of this distillation has been traditionally designated and sold under the name of rum.

Most countries, however, tolerate the sale, under the name of fantasy rum or imitation rum, of mixtures of natural rum with neutral alcohols, and even that of imitations of rum obtained by simply adding dyes and aromatic “enhancers”. Quite often, the qualifier “fantasy” or “imitation” is omitted, or replaced by another word that can be confusing. In Germany and Austria, for example, the Kubarum and Inlander-rum denominations were used to designate artificial rums some years ago, and the Deutcher rum denomination a distillate made from beet molasses by a special process and with a certain resemblance to rum.

(1) In various European countries, attempts have been made to produce rum with cane molasses, but it has never been possible to obtain a product having the organoleptic characteristics of rums from hot countries (Gaber).

“It is not only in the islands that molasses eau-de-vie is made,” wrote Le Normand in 1817. “In sugar refineries, where molasses is obtained, they are applied to manufacturing distillates. We can not pronounce on the causes that prevent molasses eau-de-vie manufactured in France to acquire this perfection, this perfume that we recognize with pleasure in the rum of the islands and particularly in that of Jamaica”.

In England, the name imitation rum refers to all the spirits with the characteristics of rum and come from countries where sugar cane is not cultivated. In the United States, the federal alcohol administration applies the term to rum containing neutral alcohol, a spirit other than rum or any rum flavor product.

In France, the legislation is more restrictive. The law of December 31st, 1922, prohibits the designation of rum or tafia, with or without any qualifier, any alcohol not coming exclusively from the distillation of cane juice, molasses or cane syrup, while that of August 16th, 1930 formally prohibits all mixtures of rum and alcohol, apart from a few special cases (preparation of therapeutic compositions and liqueurs). Only rums of origin, reduced or not, may be sold under the name “rum” without the addition of any other spirits.

The meaning of the terms “rum” and “tafia” has changed somewhat since the beginning. In the early days of colonization, cane eau-de-vie was called in the French islands guildive or tafia. The name “rum”, which the ancient authors write rome or rum, was reserved for the product coming from the English colonies and which proved to be much superior to tafia. When, in the first half of the nineteenth century, English methods were introduced in the French West Indies, the term was used to designate the finest eau-de-vie obtained by replacing the froths with well clarified vesou in the composition of musts; then the molasses eau-de-vie made with care.

“The real rum of Jamaica,” wrote Lanessan (1) in 1886, was formerly made directly with vesou itself of the violet cane and possessed a particular aroma. Tafia was the product of molasses distillation. Today rum and tafia come only from molasses, and under the first name we designate molasses eau-de-vie manufactured with care, and we sell tafia-like alcohol whose quality and perfume are inferior”.

Rocques (2), however, still gives the following definitions in 1913: “The name of rum is more particularly reserved for the product of the fermentation and distillation of sugar cane juice, and the name of tafia for spirits originating from wine of sugar cane molasses.”

Currently, the distinction between rum and tafla is no longer made in France, at least in the retail trade. However, it remains in the French West Indies, where the first term always refers to a product of superior quality, but obtained by aging the newly distilled eau-de-vie in charred oak barrels. The names are reserved for molasses (industrial tafia) or cane juice (tafia habitant or grappe blanche).

The same distinction is made in Haiti between the clairin, which is the green product freshly distilled, and rhum eau-de-vie rectified and aged in cask. In Venezuela, the term ron also refers to cane eau-de-vie (aguardiente de cana) aged by natural processes.

The guildive designation, originally applied to molasses or cane juice eau-de-vie, was later reserved for the former. Charpentier de Cossigny (3) wrote about eaux-de-vies of sugar cane:

“It is made of several species in the colonies, which have different names. One is called guildive it is the one that is removed by the distillation of juice expressed from sugarcane, after letting it ferment: The other is called taffia: it is made with molasses, or gros sirops, and sugar skins, which are deluged in water, fermented and distilled; it is preferred to the guildive, but it is inferior to the name, which is nothing but tafia rectified.”

(1) Les plantes utiles des colonies francaises. p. 244, Paris, 1866
(2) Eaux-de-vie naturelles et industrielles. Paris, 1913.
(3) See Bibliography. In principle, we give at the bottom of the pages only the references to the publications not nested in the Bibliography.

Finally, it should be noted that for a long time the term arak has been used to describe rum in Mauritius and Comores. The real arak of Batavia is obtained in Java, by forming in a fermentation of cane, a special yeast prepared from rice.

Etymology of the terms alcohol, rum, tafia, etc …

Liquid from the distillation of wine was first called by the alchemists of the Middle Ages, aqua ardens, ardent water, a denomination that has been preserved in the Spanish-speaking countries in the form aguardiente (1): or aqua vitae (2), eau-de-vie, because of the property attributed to it to maintain youthfulness and prolong life. The word whiskey would also be a corruption of the Celtic expression Wisge beatha (eau-de-vie), which one first made usquebaugh, long used in Ireland, and finally whisky.

(1) This term, used to describe spirits in general, is applied more particularly in certain countries of Central America (El Salvador, etc.) to cane eau-de-vie.

(2) In Norway, aquavit is still used to refer to potato alcohol flavored with certain herbs (caraway, etc.) and can be considered as the national liquor of the country.

It is probable that the term alcohol is of Arab origin (al, article: le, la — and cohol, kool, which comes from qochl: subtle thing, very fine powder). For a long time, in the old pharmacopoeia, alcohol or alkohol was used to designate substances reduced to powder of extreme fineness. Glaser gives the following definition in his “Traité de la Chymie”, (1663): “Alcoholiser is to reduce some matter into very subtle and impalpable powder, it is also used when one has exalted some spirit or essence and when it has been well deprived of its phlegm and of all impure substances: that is where it derives that wine alcohol is called well rectified spirit”. In the 6th edition of the Dictionary of the Academy (1877), the etymology (preserved in English and German) was deleted and the word alcohol has taken its definitive form.

Rhum comes from the English rum, which gave rum in German, ron in Spanish and Portuguese, rom in Russian and Swedish. The origin of the word is obscure. We can not accept the hypothesis put forward by some and that it represents the last syllable of the generic name of sugar cane, Saccharum. It has also been derived from the term Malay brum, which means “spirit-like” (3).

(3) P. Doire — Dictionnaire des Sciences et leurs applications.

More likely, rum would come from the contraction of rumbustion or rumbullion, old terms used in Devonshire and meaning “trouble, agitation, disorder”. We find, indeed, these words used before that of rum, and today some sailors use the expression rumbowling to designate grog.

An old writer wrote in 1651 about Jamaica: “The chief feedling they make in the Island is Rumbullion, aka Kill-Devill, and this is made of sugar canes distilled, a hot, hellish and terrible liquor” (4). Hughes (5) reports in 1672: “They … make a sort of strong water they call Rumbullion, stronger than spirit of wine”. The first official mention made of this spirit under the name “rum” appears to be in an Order of the Governor and Council of Jamaica, dated July 3, 1661.

(4) D. Davis — Cavaliers and Roundheads Barbados, 112, 1887 [Darnell Davis also wrote an etymology of the word rum in 1885.]
(5) Amer, Physitian, 34 1672.

The old French writers usually wrote rum, which is the best spelling, writes Littré in his “Dictionary of the French language, being the spelling of the English who passed on the product to us” Others spelled rome (de Cossigny). It was not until the middle of the last century that the use prevailed of inserting an “h” and writing rhum (6).

(6) This spelling already appears in 1° “Encyclopedie” of Diderot and d’Alembert (art. punch), but it did not generalize until much later.

The origin of the term tafia (or taffia) is even more uncertain than that of rum. It seems that it was born among the natives of the French West Indies, according to a statement by P. Labat, who writes: “The brandy that is fired from the cane is called guildive, the savages and negros call it taffia.” However, in Malay dictionaries, one also finds this word, with the meaning of molasses eau-de-vie (1).

(1) The Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford, 1933.

As for the term guildive, now fallen into disuse, except in Haiti, Reunion and Mauritius, where it would still be used sometimes, it seems to derive from Kill-Devil, an expression frequently used in the English islands from the beginnings of colonization. Littré reports on this subject: “Mr. Roullin made some conjectures, supposing that giul represents either guiller, fermenter, or giler, a popular term for spring, and then dive, a corrupt form of devil”

Origin of eaux-de-vie.

Fermented drinks have been known since ancient times. Genesis attributes to Noah the discovery of wine, the year following the Flood. The Egyptians, who probably came from Asia 5000 BC, knew the art of making wine; they also prepared a kind of beer. It has been argued that in the Far East the manufacture of fermented beverages was already widespread 2000 years before the Christian era. Udoy Chand Dutt gives the Sanskrit names for two alcoholic liquors from sugar cane: the sidhu provided by the cane juice, and the gaudi obtained with molasses.

On the other hand, alcohol as a distilled liquid was only known from a relatively recent time. No text of the ancient writers, Egyptians, Greeks in the Hebrew, relate to it, and it is necessary to arrive at the alchemists of the Middle Ages to find allusions to this product. The Greek scientists of the School of Alexandria (II century), who studied distillation very much and imagined many forms of apparatus to be distilled, did not think of applying it to fermented drinks. Those of the Arab School, from the 8th to the 12th century, who in their writings speak at length of distillation, do not seem to have thought of it more, according to Berthelot. The first author who gives a definite name to the liquid resulting from the distillation of wine seems to have been Marcus Graecus, whose writings date back to the thirteenth century, according to Hoefer. Arnaud de Villeneuve (1250-1314), to whom some mistakenly attributed the discovery of eau-de-vie, was the first alchemist who studied in some detail the distillation of wine.

During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, eau-de-vie, prepared only by the alchemists, remained a rare and very expensive substance. It was considered as a special sovereign and a prince’s remedy, of which the great lords alone could procure some flasks. The use began to spread towards the end of the sixteenth century.

In 1624, the corporation of distillers was organized in France for the manufacture and sale of spirits, operations which were hitherto carried out by privileged traders, apothecary grocers and vinegar makers. Around 1630, the provinces of Aunis and Saintonge (Charentes) began to convert wines from the region into brandy. At the end of the century, the production of alcohol had become so important that the Government, by an edict of December, 1686, thought it ought to establish a fourth and eighth tax, raised to 50 livres 8 sols at the entrances to Paris, “in order to prevent the great consumption which is done in the kingdom.”

From the 18th century, wine distillation in France became a prosperous industry. In the second half of the century, exports of Cognac brandies abroad amounted to 10 to 15,000 hl and by 1750, the totality of wine spirits shipped annually by the port of La Rochelle amounted to 35-40,000 barrels of 200 liters. This era dates the creation of the great Cognac houses: Martell et Cie (1705), Hennessy and Co. (1765), Otard-Dupuy (1795), etc.

In order to protect the wine spirits trade against competition from other spirits, a Declaration of the King, dated January 24, 1713, forbade “a fine of 3,000 pounds of fine and confiscation, the manufacture of eau-de-vie of cider and pear, throughout the whole of the kingdom, with the exception of the province of Normandy and the various dioceses which compose that of Brittany, to carry such spirits from one of the said provinces to the other and in all the other places and provinces of the kingdom, a fine of 2,000 pounds and confiscation of spirits and carriages, carry these spirits to the foreign country, and embark on foreign vessels, under penalty of the same fines and confiscation”. This edict also defended, under the same penalties, manufacture and trade of spirits of “syrup, molasses, grain, beer, boissiere, marc of grapes, mead and all other matter than wine.”

The origins of rum in the XIX century.

Rum making probably followed the establishment of Europeans in America.

On his second voyage to America (1493), Columbus transported sugar cane from the Canary Islands to Hispaniola (Santo Domingo). The plant reached Mexico in 1520, Brazil in 1532 and Peru in 1533. Its introduction to the French and English Antilles probably dates from around 1630. In any case, cane existed in 1640 in Martinique and Guadeloupe and as early as 1635, directors of the “Company of the Islands of America” committed settlers to its cultivation.

Consumption of alcohol began to spread at that time, so it is possible that the first settlers thought of fermenting and distilling cane juice before extracting sugar. Be that as it may, as soon as the sugar industry was established around the middle of the seventeenth century, rum making appeared as the normal use of by-products: defecation foam and molasses, or “big syrups”, from the wastes of raw sugars.

One of the first authors to talk about the alcoholic use of cane is P. du Tertre, who made several trips to the French West Indies between 1640 and 1657. “The canes, broken and exhausted of their juice,” he writes in his article. The general history of Antilles inhabited by the French (1667), “as well as the foams from boiling are not useless, because the foam of the second and third boilers, and all that is spread by stirring it, falls on the glaze furnaces and sinks in a basin, where it is reserved to make eau-de-vie, the Negroes make drinks that inebriate and of which we have a pretty good flow in the Islands… The juice of the canes which not having been put in the boilers quickly enough, becomes sour, being mixed with water, boiling and making a drink called Vesoü, which sells very well in the Islands, and all the little buyers have to pay expenses for a whole family owning a sugar plantation.”

Among the references of English authors, one can quote, in addition to those already given, Warren (1): “Rum is a spirit extracted from the juice of the sugar cane, generally twice as strong as brandy”. Hughes: “Rum is usually consumed by the planters, both alone and in the form of punch.” R. Ligon (2), who lived in Barbados about 1650, does not mention rum: he only points out that one made, by heating together sugar and water and leaving the mixture to himself for 10 days, an alcoholic drink called punch.

(1) Descr. Surinam VI, 17, 1667.
(2) A true and exact History of the Island of Barbados. London 1657.

P. Labat, who arrived in the West Indies in 1694 and lived there for 11 years, describes at length the fabrication of guildive, in his “New voyage to the Isles of America”.

“Eau-de-vie that is distilled from canes is called guildive, the savages and the negroes call it tafia, it is very strong and has an unpleasant and acrid odor much like grain eau-de-vie, that it is difficult to remove.”

“The place where it is done is called vinaigrerie (3) .. I do not know why it has been given this name which does not suit it in any way. I have already noticed that it would be more-about to name it a distillateire, but it is not easy to change these sorts of names, when they are once in use. This place must be joined, or at least very close to the sucrerie, so that the froths and the big syrups can be carried comfortably, or with saddles and buckets, or by means of a gutter. In the dwellings where there is a water mill, it is necessary to place the vinaigrerie so that one can drive there, with gutters, the water that escapes from the wheel, so much to fill the vats, as to continually refresh the condensers.”

(3) This term does not come, as suggested by Pairault, from the fact that fermentation tanks were to be easily invaded by the acetic ferment, but that originally, in France, eau-de-vie was manufactured by the corporation of vinegar makers. It remains in use in the French West Indies until about the middle of the 19th century.

“The utensils of a vinegar factory consist of a few wooden vats, one or two boilers with their capitals and their condenser, a skimmer, a few jars, pots and bowls or buckets.”

“The vats are of different sizes, depending on the capacity of the building and the work that can be done there. They use wooden vats rather than masonry, because the vats are made of wood they soak up the juice that has soured in it, which helps considerably to sour and ferment whatever is put in it.”

“The vats are filled with water up to two-thirds, sometimes as much as three-quarters, and they are filled with large syrups and scums and covered with balsam leaves and boards over them and at the end of two or three days, according to the goodness of the foam and the syrup, this liquor ferments, boils and throws up a rather thick foam to which all the filth which was in the syrup or in when it has acquired the degree of force and bitterness which is necessary to it, what is known about its color which becomes yellow, its taste which is very sour, and its odor which is strong and penetrating, it is put in the boilers, after having removed with a skimmer all the foam and all the garbage are stuck on it”.

The still used was a copper boiler, measuring about 0 m 80 in diameter and 1 m 30 in height surmounted by a copper capital. The latter was connected to a serpentine condenser, made of copper or tin, placed in a barrel containing cold water, which was renewed in a continuous manner (see Chapter VII).

“The first liquor that comes from a boiler is called small water, because it does not have much strength. You keep everything you get from small water during the first five days of the week, and one or two boilers are filled for repassing Saturday, and the spirit that comes out of it is really the eau-de-vie, taffia or guildive, which is very strong and very violent.”

“In sugar houses, where there are two boilers for eau-de-vie, one must make 160 pots or about a measure of Paris a week, and sell it usually at 10 sols per pot, and sometimes more, on everything in times when we do not make sugar, and when the French brandy and the wines are rare and expensive.”

H. Sloane (1) gives the following information:

“Our most common drinks are Madeira wine and rum-punch. The first, mixed with water, is the drink of honest people, the people and the servants use a lot of the other… Rum-punch is aptly named Kill devil, because there may be no year that he kills more than a thousand people. When the newly landed makes the slightest excess, they expose themselves extremely, because this liquor warms the blood and soon causes a fever which in a few hours puts you in the tomb. It can not be used too moderately, and it would be best to refrain from it altogether, at least until one has the body made in the air of the country.”

(1) A voyage to the Islands Maderas, Barbados, Nieves, Saint-Christophers and Jamaica with the natural History of the last of these Islands. London 1707 — 25. Traduit en francais par M…, sous le titre “Histoire de la Jamaique”, Londres 1751.

“It is with the foam of sugar and molasses that rum is made, for this purpose, we put in a tank a portion of molasses with four parts of water. The whole is stirred twice in 24 hours with a spoon of copper; after ten days, we put everything in a still well strained and distill ordinarily.”

The Journal Œconomique (1783, p.141) describes how rum was prepared in the mid-eighteenth century as follows:

“Take one-third of the boilers’ scum, one-third of wash water and one-third of cold, clear liquor (vinasse) to warm up and ferment the whole thing. Now, by adding a few gallons of molasses, an expert distiller can vary these measures without losing his success. When these cold ingredients are put together and cooked well, fermentation begins soon, and. in 24 hours time, it will be advanced enough to add molasses at the rate of about 3 gallons on every 100 gallons of wash or leaguer. This molasses perfects the mixture, thickens the fermentation; and about 24 hours after the liquor is ready to receive the second and last dose of molasses, which is about the same quantity as the first; but we must be careful not to give him the debt of molasses before the fermentation diminishes, otherwise the liquor would become slack and lazy, and give not the same quantity of spirit. Fermentation decreases little by little after four or five days. And when the Liquor becomes beautiful and pushes the surface with clear and infrequent air bubbles, it is suitable for putting into the still, from which the spirit is distilled by means of an equal and constant fire; during this time, care must be taken to maintain cold water in the coolant. For the colder it is, the stronger the spirit will be, in great quantity and ripeness.”

“Although this is the usual proportion of the method of working ingredients that go into the rum composition, many planters who distill every year a considerable quantity of this liquor, mix their ingredients in the following manner: they employ three parts of water, 1 1/2 parts of molasses and as much dregs. This composition requires a long fermentation that usually lasts from ten to twenty days and gives a large amount of good spirit. Others who, by negligence, by accident or because they lack workers, have large quantities of bad canes, ferment the juice and use it to make rum, but it has fermented enough in three days, it never provides good spirit or abundance.”

“The best economics, on plantations, usually make 200 gallons of ordinary good rum for every three cubes of sugar. This proportion, however, is liable to vary according to the quality of the cane, because there are plants whose juice is more viscous and makes more foam and molasses than the others.”

Roman writes, in the “Encyclopedia” of Diderot and d’Alembert, about the preparation of the taffia:

“We begin by putting in large wooden vats built in one piece, two parts of clear water, on which we pour a portion of large syrup of froths and melted debris of sugar: we cover the vats with boards and give time for fermentation to produce its effect.”

“It is usually with color, as well as with smell, that the worker judges whether the batch is in a condition to be passed to the still. So we remove very exactly all the garbage and the scum that floats and we pour the bunch into large boilers placed on a stove in which a fire is made.”

“When the spirit does not rise in the capital, the joints of the neck are loosened, and after having seen the boiler they are filled with new batches, and the distillation is repeated to obtain a certain quantity of first distilled water, which being weak needs to be repassed a second time to the still. This rectification acquires a lot of clarity and strength. It is very spirited, but by a few precautions, it always contracts an airiness and tanned leather smell very unpleasant to those who are not accustomed to it.”

Dutrone La Couture (1) reports:

“In the first part of the rummerie, fermentation vats are stored standing. These pieces receive syrups diluted with water in a proportion such that they carry 11 & 12 degrees to the hydrometer, in this state they take the name of rasps. The fermented rasp are carried to a still where they are distilled. The product that we obtain is rum or taffia according to the state of the syrup, and according to the circumstances which have accompanied the fermentation and the distillation of the rasps.”

(1) Precis sur la canne et sur les moyens d’en extraire le sel essentiel. Paris, 1790.

“We distill as long as we see “proof” of the liquor, says de Prefontaine (2): when it gives no more, it is called petit taffia. It is rejected on a second quantity of fermented liquor, it serves to fortify the taffia that one draws. For, instead of water, we can use what remains of the previous distillation to fill the vats, provided that it is fresh.”

(2) Maison rustique a l’usage des habitants de cayenne. Paris 1763.

A former inhabitant of Santo Domingo, S.J. Ducœurjoly, describes at length the manufacture of rum according to the English method, towards the end of the 18th century.

According to this author, a well-established rhummerie had to include: two 300-gallon stills each, a 150-gallon still, to distill the small water: oak fermentation tanks, 310 gallons of capacity and conical shape, at number of 10-12 per alembic: two 5-gallon links or tubs, to measure liquids used in the composition of bunches in high-capacity tanks, to receive scoops and “drainages” (vinasses): finally, barrels in 500-600 gallon oak yard for rum conservation.

Fermentation time of musts, consisting of a mixture of froths, molasses, vinasse and water in varying proportions (see Chapter V), was usually 7-8 days, but could reach 11- 12 days. The author insists on the need to rinse well the “pièces à grappe” with each operation, to carefully remove the foam rising on the surface of the musts and to cover the vats with a wooden lid or, better, with thick mats made with dried banana leaves.

Distillation was cut off when the degree of rum fell to 30° below proof (40° GL). Small waters which were then collected were distilled apart and provided a “spirit” at 46-47° GL, which served to raise the degree of rum too low. Commercial rum was usually 25-26 degrees below proof (41-42 degrees), exceptionally 22 degrees (45.5 degrees) when it was destined for the London market.

The yield was good under 120-130 gallons of marketable rum per 300 gallons of must and 1 gallon of rum per gallon of molasses or 5 gallons of skimmings used. Outside of the season, when canes had the highest amount of saccharine (March to May), they were usually much lower.

From the foregoing indications it follows that the methods of making cane spirits used in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries varied considerably. The quality of the product obtained was generally mediocre or frankly bad, which was due to inferior quality of the raw materials employed (1), little care given to the fermentations and especially to a faulty distillation. Eau-de-vie from musts in which acetic ferments (favored by the flat shape of wooden “vats”), butyric or even putrid (alkaline foam) were to be easily developed would have needed to be strongly rectified to be free of bad tastes. However, the average alcoholic strength of the distillate rarely exceeded 42° G.L. and was often weaker, especially in the French colonies.

(1) Defecation foams, rich in ferments of all kinds and with an alkaline reaction favorable to the development of bacterial fermentations, presented themselves as particularly defective. They mixed with washing water and cane debris to produce an inferior tafia.

“Rum of better quality,” writes Le Normand, in his Treatise on the Art of the Distiller of Spirits and Spirits (Paris 1817), “is that which is made only with molasses; but that is in the the fermentation of which we leave the debris of the sugar cane, the foam, etc.. always retains a touch of disagreeable acid, and often contracts a burning taste, which makes it rejected by commerce, abandoned to the negroes who work in sugar mill; it is called for this reason Negro rum.”

Rums of the English islands, especially those of Barbados and Jamaica, were much superior to the guildives and tafias of the French colonies, especially because they were the object of a more thorough rectification.

Various authors report that the French colonists mixed the “small waters” obtained at the end of the distillation with tafia, while the English subjected them to a new distillation and used the strong alcohol resulting from this operation to increase the alcoholic strength of the commercial rum (Ducœurjoly).

Charpentier de Cossigny, who published in 1781 and 1782 in the Ile-de-France (now Mauritius), two remarkable “Memoirs on the manufacture of sugar spirits”, wrote on this subject:

“A modern author who has treated in the greatest detail the manufacture of English rum, claims that the product of this liqueur forms one-third of the revenue of the sugar of this colony (Jamaica). He adds that the French mix small water (this is the last part of each distillation) with taffia, and that the English set it apart and rectify it. It is attributed to this process the great difference that exists between the two liquors.”

“It does not seem to me possible that the French mix small water, which is also called blanquette, and which has a milky color, with taffia. Not only, it would bespoil it, but make it far too weak it would be no longer marketable, and would be, so to speak, worthless. The rectification of the small water is a process known to everybody, and absolutely necessary. This is not what gives quality to the English rome: it is the rectification of the taffia itself, and probably the attention that Jamaican distillers give to removing froths from their batches, after two or three days of fermentation, because they would become putrid or they would communicate a bad taste and a foul odor to the batch and, consequently, to the eau-de-vie. In addition, it is advisable to filter the batches, before putting them in the still, to remove all the coarse materials which are prone to burning, and which, afterwards, communicate to the distillation an empyreumatic odor…”

“I will insist on the advice I gave the distillers to rectify the liquor destined for export, and not to deliver it to the trade which at least, at the Baumé armeometer, is 21 degrees. They must understand that this object can become very considerable for them, and that if they want their rum to compete with that of the English, they must give it more quality because they have to fight a made reputation. The first quality is the strength of the liquor… At Teneriffe I had a little bit of Jamaica rum from an English catch: it measured 21.5 degrees. it was a little colored. I had another, which measured 21 degrees and a half, also colored… ”

Dazille (1) points out, however, that guildive, “a pungent and harmful drink when it has just been made,” was considerably improved by storage in barrels. “It has been observed,” he writes, “that it takes only two years to make it lose these bad qualities. In some colonies, regulations had even been passed requiring the spirits to be kept in barrels for a certain time before being sold (2), but they were rarely enforced.

(1) Observations sur les maladies des Nègres, leurs causes, leur traitement et les moyens de les prévenir. Paris, 1776.

(2) The Ordinance of August 2, 1781 from the Governor and Intendant of the Ile de France, prohibits under penalty of very severe penalties, the sale of sugar cane spirits of less than 3 months from manufacture, as well as that of eaux-de-vie having an empyreumatic taste, or containing “plots of copper or lead.”

Rums and tafias were mostly consumed locally at first by people too poor to buy wines from France or Spain, or even the eau-de-vie, reserved for the rich.

“The eau-de-vie that is made in the islands with froths and sugar syrups,” says P. Labat, “is not one of the least used beverages. Savages, negroes, the little inhabitants and tradesmen do not seek any other, and their intemperance on this article can not be said, it is enough for them that this liquor be strong, violent and cheap, it does not matter to them that it be rough and unpleasant.”

The legislator had to intervene to regulate consumption and circulation of the product. The Ordinance of the King of March, 1685, concerning “the Discipline of the Church and the Status and Quality of Slave Negroes in the Islands of America”, forbade masters to give slaves “eau-de-vie de cannes or guildive”, to take the place of subsistence for which the weekly supply was obligatory (2 and a half pots of cassava flour or 3 cassavas weighing at least 2 and a half pounds each, with 2 pounds of salted beef or 3 pounds of fish).

The ordinance of the Intendant of Martinique of April 19, 1713 prohibits “to all sugar workers of any condition that they are, to sell to and sell by their Negroes and others, in their houses or elsewhere, tafia or eau-de-vie of the country: may be sold by barriques, barrels and canes, which barrels and canes will contain no less than five cans; may also exchange for poultry, eggs, ropes and vegetables, even under the pot; will be and will remain responsible in their private names and under the same penalties as by them the facts of their negroes who will be surprised selling in detail in their huts, squares or intersections, in any way… ” The sale of spirits at retail was reserved for the innkeepers.

In English colonies, rum was consumed mainly in the form of Punch, which the old French writers wrote ponche. “This is the favorite liquor of the English,” said Savary des Brulons in his “Dictionnaire Universel” (1759), which was invented in the islands owned by this nation in America, from where it passed to the French Islands. It is composed of two parts of eau-de-vie and one of ordinary water; sugar, cinnamon, clove powder, roast bread and egg yolks, which make it as thick as a broth, often instead of water, one puts milk, and it is most valued, very nourishing and is good for the chest.”

Fr. Xavier de Charlevoix (3) declares: “The Poor still have a great resource for the drink in eau-de-vie that is made with sugar canes, and which has this double advantage over that of France, that it is cheaper and healthier, it will not be difficult even to take away from it the taste of canes, which gives it an unpleasant disappointment, since it is the bottom of the Water of Barbados, which has not. The English still make from it a kind of lemonade, which they call Ponche, and it can be varied in a thousand ways, by bringing in various ingredients, which one finds more to one’s pleasure or which one will judge more beneficial.”

(3) Histoire de l’Ile Espagnole ou de St-Domingue. Amsterdam, 1733.

Note that alongside wine and spirits, there were still, at least in the Lesser Antilles, fermented drinks of Caribbean origin: the l’ouicou, obtained by fermenting cakes of cassava for 2 or 3 days, with some potatoes cut into pieces and some concentrated syrup; and maby, a kind of beer made with thick syrup, sweet potatoes and oranges. Fermented cane juice was also consumed under the name of vesoü (du Tertre), grappe (Labat) or even punch (Ligon).

Foams and thick sugar syrups, as well as damaged canes unsuitable for the manufacture of sugar, constitute an abundant raw material for the distillery, early thought was given to exporting the cane eau-de-vie, “There are plenty of them,” Labat said in 1696, “to the Spaniards of the Carac Coast, Cartagena, Hondures, and Great Islands; they do not make any differentiation from that made of wine,
as long as it is in English glass bottles sealed with brass wire or Dutch canevettes of ten or twelve flasks.”

The English favored the new industry from the beginning, rum being a particularly interesting product for trade with the Indian tribes of North America and trade on the coast of Africa. Spaniards settled on the American continent and in the Greater Antilles also bought large quantities. The Metropolis, which produced at that time only a small amount of whiskey and consumed mainly wine spirits imported from France, constituted on the other hand, a significant outlet for colonial rums. Finally, thanks to their maritime supremacy, which enabled them to trade with all Europe, the English could gradually develop the consumption of this spirit in the countries of the North and in Germany.

The colonies where rum production seems to have developed most are Barbados, Jamaica and New England. Barbados eau-de-vie, known as d’eau de Barbades (1), was the most popular. “This water is of great consumption in England, which supplies all Europe,” says Savary ds Brulons, “Rum or tafia is one of the best branches of commerce in Barbados. This is a considerable consumption in the English colonies of North America, and seafarers also consume a great deal.”

(1) Later on, a liquor was applied consisting of rum flavored with orange and lemon peel, cloves and coriander.

Jamaica rum was also famous early. William Burck (2) states that in 1753 about 4,000 puncheons were exported (15,000 hl). “That of this Isle is considered the best, written, so we use almost no other in England.”

(2) Histoire des colonies européennes dans l’Amérique, trad, par M E. Paris, 1767.

New England (now Massachusetts State) received considerable quantities of molasses from various West Indian sugar regions and turned them into alcohol. “The quantity of spirit liquors distilled in Boston,” writes Burck, “is as surprising as the low price at which they are sold. They are worth about 2 schelins a gallon. They supply all our colonies in North America, the Indians of the country, the vessels that go fishing in Newfoundland, and even those who trade in Africa, but their rum is not highly esteemed.” In 1791, more than 7 million gallons of molasses were imported for rum production.

The sale of molasses and cane eau-de-vie gave the island’s sugar producers substantial profits. “It is expected that when things are well managed, rum and molasses will pay for a plantation, and that sugar is the net profit,” says Burck. Savary des Brulons writes: “It is expected that the American who makes 100 barrels of guildives and already fetched from his fund 400 thousand of sugar, and that the 100 barrels of guildives worth 7000 pounds of France, 70 pounds the barrel: if instead of making this eau-de-vie, he sells his syrups he will have 2 to 3,000 pounds less, so it would be an advantage for the settler to make and sell this kind of eau-de-vie.”

Labat, at the end of the eighteenth century, calculated: “This manufactory makes a considerable profit for our inhabitants: for when we work only 45 weeks a year, it would still be 60 barrels of eau-de-vie that the rest would be made, of which at least 54 could be sold, the rest being consumed in the house: 54 barrels with 120 pots each must produce more than 6,000 crowns, which are enough to maintain clothes, meat, tools and others required for a troop of 120 negroes.”

“America makes a great consumption of rum,” writes Ducœurjoly, “and the English islands can not supply a sufficient quantity of it, and, being unable to draw from our colonies, which do not distill it, the Americans come and take our syrups to distill themselves, we lose the manpower, as well as the foam. In the sale of syrups, more than half is lost; for a gallon of syrup is sold for only twenty sous, and the result would be a gallon of rum, which would be sold for two or ten pounds, or even three pounds.”

“The manufacture of rum is an object that has not yet been appreciated in the French colonies. This branch of commerce forms one-third of the revenue of the English sugar industry, while we confine ourselves to making some bad tafias whose burnt and stinky taste is repugnant to the delicate consumer.”

In France, guildive and tafia appeared from the beginning as dangerous competitors for grape eau-de-vie, and we have already indicated that a Declaration of the King of 24 January 1713 had come to forbid manufacture and trading of molasses and syrup spirits and, “in order to sacrifice all to the important commerce of wine-brandy, which is done both inside and outside the Kingdom.”

The planters of the Antilles protested energetically against this prohibition, which did not prevent them from making and smuggling their guildives abroad, especially in New England.

Butel-Dumont (1) writes on this subject: “The inhabitants of New England also exercise with the French islands a trade of contraband in which they receive money, rum, molasses, sugar for their woods, their horses and their edible provisions. The injustice caused by this traffic in the West Indies obliged Parliament to interfere with it by imposing very heavy duties on rum, molasses and raw sugar of foreign colonies imported into colonies of England’s dependency.”

(1) Histoire et Commerce des Colonies anglaises de l’Amérique Sepuentrionale. Londres, 1755

The thesis of the metropolitan distillers, opposed to the claims of the settlers of the West Indies, is exposed in a “Memory for the Corpsde-ville de la Rochelle”, published in the Journal de Commerce of August 1759 and analyzed in the “Universal Dictionary” of Savary of the Brulons:

“Supporters of guildives manufacture say that guildive is a taste only for the poor who can not afford to buy brandy wine, because a pint of guildive sells for 7 to 8 sols to America, and that of brandy wine 15 to 16. Thus the brandy wine declines in proportion to those of guildives that one would like to defend for this reason since the trade of those of France, and that of the colonies depend on the metropolis which founded them. They include, for example, Quebec City and Isle Royale. They take the consumption of France, they deprive France of the consumption of her spirits, they make trade unsuccessful, they cause losses. It is therefore necessary to defend this transport, without which the state in itself, giving its colonies its own trade, enriching them at its expense, sacrificing its own cultures, the work of the people.”

“It is said that guildive spirits are good for Negroes on the coast of Guinea, so that they come back for cheaper, but on the other hand, it shows that they succeed better by the way of the wine brandy, which Negroes prefer.”

“In the aforementioned Declaration it is said that “guildives are of a very bad use and very prejudicial to the human body.” It is on experiences and reports that have been made during three years by the Gentlemen Intendants of the Provinces, with all the Corps of the State, that this Declaration has been made.”

“The daily practice proves again the prejudice that all the French have against guildives, which is not without foundation. All the Captains of the King’s Vessels, all the Captains even of the Merchant ships, who pride themselves on watching over the preservation of their crews, banish guildive from their side, and forbid their sailors to drink it.”

Fig 3.- Cane mill moved by the wind (Martinique, XIX century).

“The Englishman sells these guildives to the Negroes; the necessity, the jealousies of nations, the perpetual fear with which England is agitated to give France too great advantages, by trading in wine-brandy, all this makes the eyes of the English on the trade of guildives. If the English had vineyards, they would not allow this trade in guildives. If, on the other hand, the French did not have vineyards, they would be like the English. It is interest that guides Commerce.”

It was only in 1763 that the colonies were officially granted permission to export syrups and tafias abroad, in exchange for certain food products and other products (animals, rice, wood, brick, tiles, etc.) the Metropolis could not provide in sufficient quantities. A Memoir of the King, dated April 18th, 1763, intended to serve as Instruction of General to the Governors and Intendants of his colonies, specifies that:

“His Majesty desiring to procure for those of His subjects who live in the colonies the aid which they can not procure for the Kingdom, both for their subsistence and for the other needs of life, and considering that the abundance of these succours is the the most secure way to reduce both the expenses of the Administration and those of private individuals at an appropriate rate, and it has decided to permit the importation of the following articles from abroad into its colonies; to exchange them with the Syrups and Tafias which these colonies abound and which can be only a pure loss for the colonists or prejudicial to the Health of the Soldiers.”

“On these considerations, SM, decided that in the future and to begin on the 1rst of January of 1764, will allow from all the foreign Ports of his islands and colonies the species of Goods that will be detailed below and designated by nature, in exchange for Syrups and Tafias only, from the growth of each colony, and that consequently all the Foreign Buildings carrying these kinds of goods there shall be unloaded without any obstacle or other impediment of any kind, nor to their refilling in Syrups and Tafias, which will be exempt from all exit taxes in the said colonies.

This was, with the consecration of a previous and prolonged state of affairs, the first attack in the legislative texts on the rigid principles of the Colonial Pact, according to which the colonies were only to buy in the metropolis and to not produce anything which could diminish the importance of these purchases: to sell only to the French merchants, who in return could only buy from the French colonies; according to which finally all the transports had to be done by national buildings.

A Memoir of the King of March 31, 1776, to encourage the planters: establish guildiveries, declared the slaves employed at these establishments exempt from any right of capitation. A Ministerial Dispatch of June 1, 1777 allowed temporary admission in France of syrups and tafias intended to be exported then abroad. Lastly, the law of the 8th Floreal Year X authorized entry, for consumption, of tafias from the French colonies, for an entry fee of 10 francs per hectolitre. Importation of foreign rums was prohibited. However, those taken from the enemy by warships or armed vessels in the race were for consumption at a rate of 40% ad valorem Decree of 24th June 1808).

In spite of official opposition, rum had acquired right of city in France towards the end of the XVIII century. “Since 1789,” writes de Cossigny, “the popularity of this liquor, the use of which had been introduced into France more than twenty years ago (1), has gained much favor and extension. in Rome, in Paris, in all the classes, and much is consumed in the sea ports and on the vessels: the custom of taking it hot and very strong in spirits has prevailed. that it is necessary, or at least a liquor which passes for such, that it is prejudiced that it alone is suitable for punch, although the l’araque de Batavia is judged better by the connoisseurs of all the nations, and even by the English. The result of this preference is that the flow of the French taffia is like no other in Europe, while the rum of Jamaica is very popular in Germany and throughout the North. This may be due to the fault of our colonists who do not pay enough attention to the preparation of their spirits.”

(1) Savary des Bruions also points out that rum was already used extensively in Normandy.

Rum from the 19th century to the present day.

The increase in alcohol consumption by the lower classes, economic liberalism, the crises which struck grape eau-de-vie [Phylloxera?] determined, during the 19th century, a great development of the rum industry in the West Indies. On the other hand, the extension of cane growing in Central and South America, Australia, South Africa, led to the creation of new rum-producing centers (Natal, Queensland, etc.).

It was towards the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century that trade of this spirit reached its peak. Subsequently, the decline in alcohol consumption, as a result of alcohol control and the rise in consumption taxes and protectionist policies adopted by some countries towards national spirits gradually reduced the demand for rum. Molasses from sugar manufacture was increasingly used for manufacture of industrial alcohol.

In the British colonies of the West Indies, rum production already reached a high figure at the beginning of the nineteenth century. In 1823 imports into England were 4,833,811 gallons (1), broken down by country of origin as follows:

(1) The English gallon, or imperial gallon, corresponds to 4.543 L and the US gallon 3.785 L. The English gallon proof is equivalent to 2.583 L of 100° alcohol and the American gallon proof has 1.89 L;

Jamaica’s exports have generally fluctuated between 1,200,000 and 2,000,000 gallons during the nineteenth century. High duties on spirits having come to greatly reduce rum consumption in Great Britain, they have fallen in recent years to about 400,000 to 500,000 gallons. In Demerara, 2,500,000 gallons on average per year over the last century, have dropped to about one million gallons. As for the other English colonies of the West Indies, their production, after having maintained a certain importance until the end of the nineteenth century, has greatly diminished since the disappearance of the sugar houses and their replacement by central factories. It is currently limited, except for a few islands (Trinidad), to meet the needs of local consumption. In 1876, exports were as follows (in gallons):

A large part of the residual molasses obtained in the English colonies, instead of being locally processed into rum, were exported and continue to be exported to England or North America. It’s only in Jamaica that they were fully processed on site.

In the French colonies, production of rum remained relatively low until about the middle of the 19th century: an average of 3 to 4 million liters per year for Martinique, Guadeloupe and French Guiana combined, of which one million to a million and a half liters were exported, almost exclusively to the metropolis. Molasses exports, made mainly to the United States, reached 5 to 10 million liters annually.

The disease of oidium, which determined, from 1853 to 1857, the rarefaction and the price of alcohol in France, suppression of the customs duties on colonial spirits (decree of June 26, 1854) caused an appreciable increase in rum exports, which reached in 1854, 4,205,000 L for Martinique and 1,472,000 L for Guadeloupe.

The phylloxera crisis (1876-1892) struck even more severely than that of oidium on the French vineyards and the wine spirits industry, whose production fell by 545,994 hl in 1876, to about 30,000 hl of pure alcohol during the period 1880-91. The rum industry took advantage at the same time as the beet alcohol industry, of the space left free. In 1882, exports from Martinique exceeded 11,600,000 and in 1892 they reached 19,021,000. Those of Guadeloupe remained at about two million liters. In the first of these islands, molasses exports had practically ceased since 1846. Local sugar factories could not provide a raw material abundant enough for the production of industrial distilleries who had settled in Saint-Pierre, and the colonies near them (Demerara, Trinidad, Guadeloupe) had large quantities of molasses (up to 170,000 in 1892).

Following the destruction of Saint-Pierre in 1902, Martinique’s exports fell to 8,800,000 liters in 1903, while those of Guadeloupe to 5,297,000 liters, and those of Reunion, which were very low earlier, at 1,800,000 liters.

The demand for alcohol that manifested itself during the 1914-18 war led to a “race for production”: in 1917 Martinique alone shipped 29,564,000 liters of rum. The consequence was, in 1920, a collapse of the prices on the metropolitan market and a very severe crisis, of which all rhum producing colonies had to suffer. As a result of this crisis, the law of December 31, 1922, fixed the quota of colonial rums liable to be introduced into France free of the tax imposed on foreign spirits at 160,000 hectoliters of pure alcohol, subsequently increased to 200,000 hl. Nearly 45% of the global quota (87,715 hl.) was allocated to Martinique.

Thus, initially frustrated by the application of the “Colonial Pact”, the rum industry was able to take in the French colonies, when this application was softened, a superb development, while in the English colonies, it decreased progressively in importance as Britain’s excise tax increases and customs barriers rose in foreign countries.

Since the early nineteenth century, profound changes have affected the structure of the rhum industry and manufacturing techniques.

Until about 1865, when the central factories began to replace the old sugar houses, the rhummerie was an annex to the sugar refinery. The average sugar plantation in the French West Indies consisted of 100 squares (130 ha) of land, about 60 of which were planted in cane: a sugar mill with two or three “crews”, batteries of 5 boilers for clarification and cooking of syrups) and a “purgerie” for the draining of raw sugars; finally, a distillery working the defecation foam and waste syrups (molasses) from the sugar refinery. Rum having a limited outlet, many of the most important house, had no distilleries, they sold their molasses for export, or, more rarely, in the colony even to distillers installed in the cities.

This organization has continued to this day in Jamaica, with the difference, however, that the old crews have generally been replaced, since the beginning of the twentieth century, with more modern appliances to evaporate and cook. Elsewhere, sugar houses have been absorbed by central factories or have abandoned cane cultivation. In some countries, special distilleries, known as industrial distilleries, have been established to process molasses from sugar factories. That’s what happened in Martinique: about twenty rhummeries, the largest of which could produce 4 and 5,000 liters of rum per 12 hour day and whose total production was of the order of 10 million liters per year rose in Saint-Pierre around 1881.

More often, however, the sugar plants added distilleries for processing their by-products. This was the case in English Guiana, Trinidad, and Martinique, when the catastrophe of 1902 caused the disappearance of Saint-Pierre’s rhummeries.

At the same time, some colonies, particularly in the French West Indies and French Guiana, set up agricultural distilleries, carrying out direct alcoholization of the cane. Some owners of old sugar houses far from the factories, instead of selling their canes with high transportation costs or trying to obtain domestic quality sugar, found it more advantageous to turn their crops into rum, by fermenting the juice, directly (rum of raw vesou) or after defecation and concentration (rum of syrup). These eaux-de-vie acquired a rather large importance from 1883, when the low price of sugar made it less profitable to manufacture it, but especially from the 1914-18 war. At present, agricultural rums account for about 50% of total production in Martinique, 35% in Guadeloupe and nearly 100% in French Guiana.

Improvements in fermentation technology have had a profound impact on rhummeries, especially in the last thirty years.

Rum manufacture had already reached a high degree of perfection in the English colonies in the first half of the nineteenth century, as can be seen from the presentation made by Wray in his “The Practical Sugar Planter” (1848). Methods of fermentation and distillation described by this author are, with some modifications of detail near, still in use today in Jamaica.

It was not the same in the French colonies, whose tafias, insufficiently rectified, remained of very inferior quality. “There is in our colonies”, notes a report of the time (1), “only a few inhabitants who distill their syrups. It is for them a very secondary branch, abandoned to their negroes, and to which they place little importance. Hence the little progress and improvement which has kept us so far away from our neighbors, for this object of industry.”

(1) Notes on the Distillery Institution administered by Payan and Fonblanc, in St-Pierre Martinique. Feb. 15 1818.

Following the occupation of Martinique by the British, from 1809 to 1815, distillation processes were gradually improved.

As early as 1818, two merchants from Bordeaux were creating an industrial Rhummerie in Saint-Pierre of Martinique, which could process 12,000 gallons of molasses per month. The facility consisted of 50 tanks of 760 gallons capacity each, and for distillation, two Baglioni continuous units, capable of distilling 5,000 gallons of fermented must per 15-hour day. The rum obtained a strength of 18 to 25° at the Cartier hydrometer (46 to 67° GL).

In spite of the quality of the product obtained, the establishment seemed to be in decline, apparently as a result of competition from English rums, which could enter the colony freely and were then re-exported to France as local products.

However, in 1859 a columnist (2) wrote, on the occasion of an agricultural exhibition held in Fort-de-France:

(2) Monit de la Martinique, No 80 et 84. 1859.

“The art of working with metals has been perfected among us, at the same time as the knowledge of distillation is being diffused… Tafia, thanks to these precious changes, is no longer what it once was; it no longer inspires delicate palates with a legitimate horror; it is no longer considered, unless it is abused, like a dangerous poison. Some 30 years ago, all our spirits were included under the same denomination, we did not make rum, this legitimate brother of tafia was banished from the paternal roof, and the drink that well-off people consumed under this name was produced by the English islands, especially Jamaica and Grenada. At this moment, we are closer to yielding a delicious liquor to these colonies than to import them… and the rum that comes out of the stills of some of our big owners or vinegar makers is the same as that of Grenada.”

After 1880, continuous distillation apparatuses were progressively replacing, in the important rhummeries of Martinique and Guadeloupe, the old discontinuous stills, to which the English continued to remain faithful. Although the alcoholic strength of the eau-de-vie remained higher in the English colonies (55-60°, at 80° and above), improvements made to the apparatus made it possible to obtain a product free from bad tastes.

The rum from the French colonies most appreciated on the metropolitan market was that of Martinique, whose reputation was established by the industrial distilleries of Saint-Pierre. The product, obtained by long-term fermentation, had a very aromatic bouquet, probably lacking finesse, but remarkably suitable for the purpose for which it was intended (preparation of grogs and punches). This type of spirits continues to be made on a small scale in the colony, under the name of “rum grand arôme”.

From the end of the nineteenth century, there was a tendency to make fermentations purer and faster. First of all, working conditions of spontaneous yeasts were improved by lowering the density of the musts and adding sulfuric acid and ammonium sulphate to them. Then, the use of pure yeasts, sometimes even acclimated to certain antiseptic fluorides) spread in many distilleries of the French West Indies, Cuba, etc., especially after 1918.

The application of pure fermentation methods to rum production, recommended especially by Pairault in his work “Rum and its manufacture” (1903), has not always given satisfactory results. Although the yield of alcohol has been significantly improved, the quality of the product has generally been reduced. The eaux-de-vie obtained are finer, but, too light and insufficiently aromatic, they no longer correspond to the “organoleptic concept” of rum, accepted by the majority of European consumers. To deliver them to the consumer, one is often obliged either to add special “sauces” to them (rums from Demerara and Cuba), or to mix them with grand arôme rum (rums of Guadeloupe and Indochina).

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