L. Wray, The Sugar Planter’s Companion. Chapter IV, 1844.

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Before Wray wrote his famous 1848 text, he wrote another shorter work, from a unique perspective aimed at the Indian market. The chapter on distillation is 28 pages and here it is:

If you think you know Wray, be prepared for something different.


CHAPTER IV.

On the Distillation of Rum in all its branches colouring and imparting a good flavour, &c. &c. &c.

It has been truly said that nothing is ought to be lost of the cane on a sugar estate, and when we notice its progress from the field through the mill, boiling, and curing houses, until its juice is transformed into sugar, (by the aid of its own trash used as fuel), and its molasses, and every particle of refuse in the distill house, are collected, economized and converted into rum, leaving absolutely nothing from which anything can be extracted or turned to account; even to the making of manure for the next crop when we mark all this, we cannot but be struck with the singular value of this plant and the excellent adaption of all the working details on an estate in this its double manufacture.

But it is the still house where its very essentials are literally formed of the scum and refuse of the other manufactory, and which notwithstanding, yields at a small cost so rich a return as on some estates in the olden time to have paid the expenses of the season leaving the crop of sugar as clear profit.

It is very certain that this could happen, but seldom: but that it should happen at all shows in an astonishing manner the great value of a distill house to an estate, and it may readily be inferred that no West Indian Estate was without one. Amongst all the famous West Indian rums that of Jamaica always has been, and still is, the most celebrated and consequently commands the very highest price in the markets of the world; yet few imagine the very great difference that exists in the quality of Jamaica rums. One estate with the same apparatus advantages and skillful management as its immediate neighbour half a mile distant makes quite a different quality rum perhaps better or worse whilst the north and south sides of the island produce a spirit totally unlike the former being infinitely superior. In India, it is common to hear people express their surprise at their wretched molasses spirit (which they call rum) not equaling the rum of the West Indies, whereas the idea is as absurd, as the expectation of effecting an impossibility can make it. Let us consider what are the materials used in a West India still house and compare them with that of the East. First then we have the fine fresh skimmings of the cane liquor from the boilers, the scum, and precipitates from the clarifiers, and the rich fresh and unadulterated molasses from the curing house which after the first day’s distillation are strengthened and enriched by the addition of the light clear dunder (or redundár*) which the still contributes in the form of wash, from which the spirit has been extracted.

(* A spanish work literally signifying, to rebound, to contribute.)

These set up in well ascertained proportions, with every advantage of a dry, warm, well appointed fermenting house and skillful management are the common necessaries of a West India Still house. In India, the common, fermented, sour, and trebly adulterated draining from doomah, or from date sugar, known by the name of molasses, forms the sole material in the first “setting up” which is afterwards somewhat assisted by its own very inferior dunder. In some of the large sugar refineries conducted by Europeans, the treacle is certainly of a better description but bears not the slightest similitude to pure molasses. In refineries working from cane stuff alone, much might also be gained from the refuse of the khar and goor, which would be available for still house use in setting up liquor, but I know of no refinery that does not use date khar very extensively, and thereby much prejudice their treacle for distilling purposes. Excellent distillery men, old West India planters, are in the country who have erected distilleries, and done all that skill and good management can accomplish to improve the quality of the spirit, and have exceedingly improved it; but to these I may address those well known lines, in “Lewis’s” elegant translation:—

“Alas! dear Sirs, you try in vain,
Impossibilities to gain;
No bee from Corsica’s rank juice,
Hyblæan honey can produce.”

Nor can these gentlemen ever succeed with such materials in making other than a common “treacle spirit”, which parties may call “molasses spirit” if they please, but to dignify by the name of “rum“, is a wilful absurdity.

As sugar estates conducted by Europeans become more common in the country, so may we expect to find an improvement in this branch, and I do not think that any one embarking in a sugar cane cultivation should be in any way discouraged from adding a distillery to his works on the score of East Indian spirit obtaining bad and unremunerative prices; for if my brother planters will only consider the undeniable truth contained in the foregoing remarks, they must see, that it would be out of the question to apply those low prices to that superior description of spirit, which it would be in their power to make, and which might most justly be titled “rum“.

Their’s would be the pure, unadulterated rich molasses with the boiler skimmings, and other stuff, the same as used in the West, and if they did not make a good rum, it would be their own fault, and not chargeable on lack of good material. Why then with every requisite should they not make good, strong, and well flavoured rum in the East Indies, and why should not such rum obtain a respectable price in the home market?

The home dealers are experienced men, and quick at detecting a superior article; they would assuredly no more let such improved flavour escape their notice, than they would refuse to pay an increased price for it; both are as reasonable as they are certain, and as certain as reasonable. In a very short space of time a name would be established, which would be another material advantage, and as the rum was permitted to attain age, and gain the additional excellence resulting therefrom, the rivalry betwist East and West, would yet more nearly approximate.

Estates are now springing up in abundance in India, Penang, Province Wellesley, Ceylon and other adjacent places, whose proprietors or managers may find an interest in having a plain exposition of facts laid before them, ere they decide on adding a distill house to their Estates, and I shall therefore enter on this enquiry with all brevity and conciseness. According to late accounts received from the West Indies, I find that in the Agricultural reports there is an increase of 30% expected from their molasses which is to be re-boiled, and all the sugar extracted previous to being sent into the distill house, but whether this large proportion can in practice be realized, is most doubtful, and it has yet to be proved how far such a proceeding would be profitable.

A Jamaica estate making 500 tons of sugar, would give something like 40,000 gallons of pure molasses, or 40,000 gallons of rum; which in the home market, would most probably fetch 4 shillings a gallon, or 8,000l., from which manufacturing charges, freight, etc., would have to be deducted, say something considerably below 1,000l. for all costs.

To re-boil these 40,000 gallons, even allowing for argument sake, that 30% was obtained, the out-turn of inferior sugar would be 12,000 gallons, or something like 652 cwt. which at 26 shillings per cwt. in bond, would yield 815l., leaving manufacturing charges, freight, etc. to be deducted. To this 815l. gross, may be added the value of the inferior or second quality molasses, or treacle, which in quantity may be (allowing the low rate of 5% for waste,) about 16,600 gallons for sale or distillation, and in value say equal to making 12,450 gallons inferior rum, which under the same circumstances, would fetch 2s. 6d. a gallon,* or something like 1,606l. exclusive of manufacturing charges, freight, etc. I will not add more to this comparative showing for it seems to me to carry, on the very face of it, a decided answer to the question of re-boiling in the West Indies. But many will say that 4s. is a very high price, calculating as I have done, but I can assure those persons, that I have often seen rum, of only a few months’ old sell in Kingston, Jamaica, (by the puncheon) at from 4s. to 6s. per gallon to the retailers, who on their own account, pay Government a sum of something like 30l. sterling per annum† for their license to sell. The tax on the manufacturer is very light for rum they sell in the island; the license tax making up a large revenue.

(* Perhaps 3s. might be obtained.)
(† This license tax I state on memory.)

Sugar estates in India are supposed to have every requisite for making a well-flavoured rum, as well as their rivals of the West, and it rests then to consider how far the above remarks are alike applicable.

In establishing a distillery here, application must be made to the authorities for permission so to do, and this is usually granted, on the superintendent and proprietor entering into a joint bond to abide by certain rules and regulations, imposed by the Board of Customs, and depositing the sum of rupees 5,000 as security against infringement; besides, this the distillery is subject to the strictest surveillance of the Custom House Peons, two of whom are located on the premises, and watch every drop of spirit that is delivered from the still. Periodical visits are also made by the Darogah to inquire into the state of things, and enable him to make his report. Once a week his presence may be expected, and through him orders are obtained, from the higher authorities, to ship, or otherwise dispose of the spirit on the premises, as without this official permit, not an iota can leave the distillery; nor is a less quantity than one thousand gallons allowed to pass at a time, and even that is seizable if found to be under proof. In and about Calcutta the salaries of these Custom House Peons are defrayed by Government, the distiller having to provide them with a house only; but in the country the establishment has to find houses for, and pay salaries to, not only the two peons at 8 rupees each, but the Darogah also at 16 rupees per mensem, making 32 rupees a month for being watched. Of course, sugar estates would have to submit to this latter expense, if contemplating the maintenance of a distillery; and although a statement of these rules is strictly called for here, yet an enquiry into their wisdom, or the immaculate honesty of the subordinate officers employed, forms no part of my object in this work.

The deposit of rupees 5,000 sounds very harshly on the imagination of an intending distiller; but when we consider that this sum may be in “Company’s paper” bearing interest, a great portion of that feeling becomes reconcilable, especially if the rate be high.

These are the real legal disadvantages under which a distillery labours in India, to which may be added the fact, that the spirit, however bad it may be, cannot be re-distilled unless a requisition be sent in to that effect, and permission granted; the deficiency is then allowed to credit.

With the foregoing brief remarks, I will now proceed to explain the working details; and although I shall be happy if I can suggest anything useful to those engaged in distillation alone, yet my observations are more particularly directed to the guidance of planters in management of sugar estates, who have the means at their disposal of working on the whole of the usual material.

The erection of the distillery is the primary object, and to combine every thing that is simple and economical with that which is most efficient and lasting, is what is demanded by the planter in the out-set. Years of experience and probable loss in his own proper person, will only bring him in the end to the same point at which he may at once arrive by availing himself of the well-tried experience of others. Grievous loss and lasting disgust have often been entailed by an exhibition of wilful obstinacy in this particular, and I would therefore strongly urge the importance of commencing on a general principle and detailed arrangement, which can be justified by the successful practice of many years.

By following this line of conduct, we may expect to do well of a surety, whilst speculative theorists succeed by chance; I therefore recommend to my brother planters nothing but what has my own practical experience to confirm it. The distill house, as I before laid down, should be warm, light, and dry. The fermenting vessels, cisterns sunk in the ground, and the distilling apparatus, a common still and double retorts. I may perhaps mention a simple though material addition to this latter; but as it does not alter the principle or general arrangement, I will leave it until I advance a little deeper into my subject.

[Here we see Wray recommending double retorts in 1844, but its hard to say how many places in the East ever adopted them with the coming of continuous distillation. Wray proposes adding a wash pre-heater and writes about it later in the document.]

At the commencement of crop, the skimmings from the boilers and the precipitates, with the washings of the clarifiers flow along the skimmings gutter* into the still-house, and are received in the first vessel, termed the skimmings receiver, (as shewn in Plate 2) where it* [(*the mixture)] accumulates until nearly full, when it is turned off into the next empty one; the full one being allowed time to settle and clarify itself. When this is found to be perfected, it is drawn down into one of the fermenting cisterns, and the first molasses that can be obtained from the hogshead first potted, is immediately added to it, and preserves it, and the succeeding additions of skimmings for some days (until sufficient molasses has been realized, to commence setting up a few cisterns). At the beginning of crop, (should no old dunder be on hand from last year,) the cisterns are cold, and what is termed, out of season, and consequently take sometime in settling a fermentation, for which reason, it is a common practice to put a quantity of cane trash into the empty cistern and set it on fire, whereby the cistern is slightly heated, whilst others put hot-water in, to induce a more early fermentation.†

(* See Plate IV, Vol. II.) [I tried to track this down, but so far somehow have missed it.]
(† The host skimmings are a great assistance in heating them, but sometimes filling the cisterns with green trash from the mill yard is a good plan, as it speedily begins to sweet [sweat?] and steam, warming the cisterns thoroughly, they are then very slightly lime, and filled with wash.)

[Fascinating and we see more details about warming the vats! I thought a fire was just in the room, but here a small fire is in the bottom of the vat! We also see the “out of season” language related to spontaneous fermentation and various techniques to induce it more strongly. If molasses is added to skimmings to “preserve it”, essentially creating a very high gravity mixture, wold that do anything to select for a fission yeast? They are known to reproduce a very high gravity. I imagine this mixture could sit around for days whereas skimmings alone burst into rapid fermentation.]

Old customs are sometimes very well, and this, anent hot-water, is not a bad one, where the house is cold; but the fact is, the cisterns are out of season, which is their wood is not so tainted as to affect the new year’s liquor, and bring on a speedy fermentation. However, the second setting up does away with this want, and the cisterns are then termed, seasoned for crop. A portion of dunder saved from the last crop, instead of being thrown away, materially assists in bringing on a fermentation, and at the same time adds much to the flavour of the rum.

Crop commencing Monday morning at 5 o’clock A.M. would have the boiling house at work by 7, and fire called to the boilers by 9 or 10 o’clock A.M., and would consequently have next morning (with a powerful mill and two sets of boilers) 3 or 4 hogsheads or tons of new sugar to pot, which would in 24 hours have given a sufficient quantity of molasses to preserve the skimmings sent into the still house from spoiling.

But if the skimmings should betray symptoms of acidity previous to the curing house supplying any molasses, a little lime may safely be applied to arrest fermentation, or vapour of sulphur may perhaps be more advisable, as being less injurious and more effective, besides it will not require any molasses to be added. If an abundance of skimmings accumulates on you, take a few old puncheons or hogsheads and draw it down into them, taking care to burn a few sulphur matches in them immediately before filling each cask, and their contents will thus be preserved until molasses sufficient has drained to commence setting up cisterns. This is the first step; viz. to preserve the first skimmings until molasses is ready to set up with. Immediately the supply of this latter warrants draw down into the fermenting cistern, direct,* the quantity of skimmings your stock will afford, and add molasses and water according to a fixed per centage. Thus the first duty of a still house superintendent is to discover what rate per cent. yields best in the house under his management: this is done by setting up different marked cisterns at different rates per cent. of sweets; viz. molasses and skimmings, and by keeping a memo. of their time, rates and return in spirit, to judge which affords the best return, in point of time, sweets and fuel consumed. This is easily ascertained, and when once settled by an experienced hand, continues perhaps for years on the same standard. For instance, say on an estate, I found 10% molasses with 20% skimmings answer best. I would expect to see an entry in “distill house book” to something like the effect shown in the annexed account of weekly work done on an estate making 500 tons per annum.

(*If sulphur is used, the skimmings will require to be slightly heated to get rid of the sulphur, which would otherwise prevent fermentation.)

I do not aim, in that weekly work, to show more than what is likely, for circumstances may so much alter the whole material employed, as to call for a corresponding alteration in the proportions. I estimate good average skimmings received in still house to be in comparison to molasses as ten to one: one gallon of molasses being about equal to ten gallons of good average skimmings. Porter and Fitzmaurice, estimate it at five and six, and Roughley at eight to one: but I am persuaded that the average of a crop would more nearly approach ten which I therefore take as my rule in “setting up”. Immediately the skimmings receiver has had time to clarify its contents, the cock is turned, and the liquor runs off quite clear, and luke-warm (generally), into the fermenting cistern; next the quantum of molasses is discharged from molasses receiver, also by gutter, then the clear dunder, and lastly the water, which should be soft and pure.

[I have seen in the literature the variety of numbers described above of what skimmings compares to molasses in terms of sugar content.]

The cisterns being built square, as mentioned before, a measuring rod or staff, say eight feet long, two inches broad and half an inch thick, should be provided, and the exact depth of the cistern taken on it, and this marked off again (if a thousand gallon cistern) into ten deep lines denoting hundreds, and betwixt these by lighter ones denoting tens; each line having in its centre a slight perforation to admit of a small nail being stuck in for a mark. In this manner drawing down your skimmings you place the nail at the second large line, and direct the stillerman to stop the cock as soon as that quantity, viz. 200 gallons, has been delivered; then for the molasses put another nail at the next deep line, which hundred gallons is given the same way; next for dunder, the bottom nail is moved up to the desired quantity, say 500 gallons more, and lastly the remaining 200 gallons is filled up with water. By this method the European superintendent has only to mark the different stages with the nails, successively for the workman to understand perfectly how much of each he is to give.

If the skimmings abound and can therefore be afforded, 300 gallons will be desirable, with 90 gallons of molasses, 400 gallons dunder, and 210 gallons water, in setting up a thousand gallon cistern, or tun. Some still houses work best at 10% sweets, others at 12, whilst others again range from 14 to 15%, therefore as I said before, experience must teach this: however my own idea is that for India 12% molasses and 20% skimmings (or 14% sweets in toto), is the best proportion a new beginner can commence on in practice; always bearing in mind that the first round of the still house at the beginning of crop, requires to be set rather lighter, as the cisterns are cold and out of season; but after that, the rate can be increased to the desired standard, and the house will soon exhibit its capabilities and requirements. Cleanliness in a still house is one of the chief necessaries, for without that, an acid taint gets in, and ruins everything; then come anxiety and loss, every vessel must be emptied, scoured out and doubly white-limed, until the whole from skimmings gutter to still, are thoroughly cleansed and the taint eradicated.

A fresh start must be made, and all old dunder rejected; in fact, it is a most annoying and vexatious occurrence, which can only be chargeable to gross neglect and bad management. The gutter from boiling house should be washed thoroughly every night, and white-washed with lime water; the skimmings receivers, well washed and scrubbed every time they are emptied, the cisterns also, with all moveable gutters pumps, etc. etc. Too much care cannot be taken, and this must also extend to the molasses and dunder; one drop of rain or other water must not be suffered to mix with them, until they reach the fermenting cisterns, otherwise they are sure to be much injured.

The question of dunder being conducive to the good flavour of rum, has often been discussed, and many old authorities even say, that it injures the flavour, though it increases the quantity of the spirit*. To this opinion I cannot subscribe, in fact I believe it to be totally incorrect, and opposed to every day experience. In Trelawny and other parishes on the north side of the island of Jamaica, the very finest flavoured rum is made, and although this may and does arise from more than one cause, yet to my own certain knowledge, the planters there use a far larger proportion of dunder in setting up their wash, than is common on the south side. Having myself been a planter for some years on the south side, I afterwards was appointed to an estate on the north side, and remember well how surprised I was at finding so much dunder used in setting up wash, and how it, at first, shocked my ideas of still house management; but I quickly found that my former notion was quite erroneous, and that if the dunder was good and light, there was no necessity for using any water whatever in setting up a cistern. Water becomes necessary when the dunder is dark and heavy, otherwise the liquor will work too sluggishly in the cisterns, and take too long a time to “die”. These distinctions are apparent to practical men at first sight, and here it is indeed where practice avails, the entire absence of water, or a greater or less requirement, is indicated at once by the state of the materials, and the manner in which they behave whilst undergoing fermentation. This will be better understood when I explain, that sometimes a cistern will work so slowly, or heavily (as it is termed), as to take two, three, four, five, and sometimes even six weeks, before it becomes ready for the still; whereas from six to eight days is the usual and proper time. If set up at a high per centage, ten days is not uncommon, and I think it not unlikely that the proportions I have named, as suitable to East Indian estate’s-distilleries, may cause the cisterns to occupy that space of time.

(* See Porter and Bryan Edwards.)

I do not intend that a planter shall confine himself to my per centage, but if inexperienced, try that first, and in a few days after first returns are shown, experimentalise on a few different per centages from ten upwards. From what I have before said it will be seen, how imperative this trial is, and moreover how necessary it is to attend to it oneself, instead of trusting irresponsible and careless subordinates.

The process of fermentation is one of the most singular instances of matter acting on matter, and by the aid of elementary influence changing each its character, until the transformation, effected by the general operation, places it in a position to accomplish after a season, yet further transformations, and thereby produce various new compounds.

That fermentation which takes place in a distillery, exhibits in a remarkable manner the metamorphosis that its various components undergo. I have it not in my power at present to furnish a correct analysis of good average wash; but in the scum and precipitates from clarifiers, skimmings from boilers and dunder, we have a number of bodies combined, whose peculiar action on each other, during the process of fermentation, is of a most interesting character.

From the resinous aromatic gum, resident in the rind of the cane*, the well known flavour of rum is generally understood to proceed: but this is very different when a spirit is manufactured from molasses alone, for then although no trace can be discovered of this distinguishing aroma, yet a very plentiful impregnation of an empyreumatic oil is disagreeably perceptible. This is accounted for by the pernicious transformation effected on the resinous gum contained by the intense heat of the boilers, during its passage through them. In the skimmings this action has been but exceedingly partial in consequence of the comparatively very slight degree of heat it has been subject to.

(* Volatile oil contained in plants is changed into resin by the absoption of oxygen. See Leibig.)

[This is quite a fascinating theory and builds on the idea that you cannot make rum from molasses alone. Wray posits that skimmings see less heat, or possibly time under heat relative to molasses, and that is why they contribute so much better aroma. This all becomes quite important as true skimmings are no longer a part of rum making.]

Besides this essential oil of the cane, we have reason to believe, that a further accession is gained during the process of fermentation, from small pieces of the cellular tissue in the wash generating an essential oil as its decomposition takes place*. I have myself no doubt that such is the case, and a few simple reasons for my belief may suffice; for instance, in making rum with a very rich perfume of pine-apple, it is only necessary that we put the bare rind of the fruit into the fermenting cistern, and let it remain there until the process is completed: this is only that the rind in which the essential oil resides, shall as it decomposes impart to the wash its peculiar flavour, which it then does, abundantly and freely. This fermented wash, so impregnated, yields on distillation what is generally called “Pineapple rum.

(*See Liebig and Ure.)

[This is quite profound and different from how we think of pineapple rum today. This is not flavoured by mere juice, but rather by a bio transformation of glycosidically bound aroma. I was first introduced to these ideas in Die Fabrikation des Jamaika Rums und des Batavia Arraks published in the 1936 journal, Deutsche Destillateurs Zeitung. Discussion of such ideas go way back, and apparently as far as Wray which I didn’t realize. We are also see a description of what other authors have called “luscious fruits” in rum production, but only touched upon very briefly.]

Peach rum again, is made by placing the skins and kernels of the fruit, with the blossoms, into the fermenting wash, by which the essential oil is separated and becomes incorporated with the wash, by which its characteristic perfume is secured to the distilled spirit. Indeed this change of flavour may always be influenced at pleasure, and a good distiller knows well how to improve his crop in this manner, so as to command a very superior rate in the market, without having recourse to the various deleterious compounds which are used by less able, but more dishonest operators. In making use of the essential oil of foreign auxiliaries, it should be borne in mind, that the flavour is very fleeting, and in no way to be relied on, whereas that obtained from its own plant, the cane, is its natural aroma, and not so readily volatilized; therefore it is in my opinion, a good plan to have a small quantity of the cellular tissue of the cane thrown into each cistern set up.

[None of this advice about including cellular tissue from the cane in each cistern makes it into Wray’s 1848 text.]

In some canes this resinous gum (and essential oil generated on fermentation) more particularly abounds, and has a very pernicious effect on the sugar and rum made therefrom the latter in such case must be peculiarly treated as I will show in its place.

When the cistern is set up in proper proportions, the wash must be well stirred up and left to ferment, taking care to skim off all the scum and dirt that rises during the process until in about eight or ten days the liquor will be fit to distill. It is then pumped into the still and the two retorts allowed a few gallons of low-wines; fire is placed, the still boils and the steam passing into the first retort, heats its contents, and then proceeds in like manner to the next or second retort, which when fully heated, rises the spirit vapour through the escape pipe, which is joined to the worm in the condensing tank, and by it is conducted into the distill house can-pit, where it is received into cans holding a fixed measure, (generally 5 gallons), and transferred to the rum butts. The strength of the spirit ensuing, is tested either with the hydrometer, or the common proof bubbles (or beads), and as soon as it becomes too weak for the rum required to be shipped, it is then thrown into the low-wines’ butt, until no more strength is perceptible in the running.

The quantity of low wines obtained in this manner from a still with double retorts is very seldom more than sufficient to charge the retorts with next time; for instance, a still of 1000 gallons and two retorts of about 80 and 70 gallons each, on the commencement of crop would require say 10 gallons of water* in the larger and 7 gallons in the smaller retort, and the still loaded with wash, the return from which, the first running, would perhaps be say 100 gallons of rum 30% over proof [74.28% ABV], and from 70 to 80 gallons of good low-wines. The second charging of the retorts would then be of low-wines about 40 galls. into the larger and 30 into the smaller, and the still with wash, the return from which would be most probably 120 or 130 gallons same proof as before and continue thus (according to the strength of the wash) constantly.

(*Water is merely put in, as no low-wines are supposed to be on hand.)

[Water is put in just enough to cover the perforated part of the down pipe. This way vapor coming in is directed under the liquid line.]

It is a bad plan to put too much low wines into the retorts, as it is liable to blow over the helm, or if it does not do so, it may materially injure the flavour of the rum in another manner; viz. by imparting to it a strong taste of low-wines or more correctly, speaking, an empyreumatic odour. The proportion therefore may more advantageously be taken perhaps at 35 gallons for the one, and 25 for the other; besides by this, only 60 gallons of low-wines will be required (or 12 cans) to be taken off, after the rum is finished, consequently the low-wines will be very superior, and will in the next running produce better flavoured rum. To understand this, it must be explained that as the low-wines run off, each succeeding can is weaker, and more abounding in this empyreumatic oil, than the preceding one, and as it comes towards the end, the last can or two (though containing some little strength) are of such very bad quality, as to injure very much the flavour of the foregoing cans, and can therefore be well dispensed with*.

(*Some people throw salt into the liquor about to be distilled, to improve the spirit.)

[With this note on salt, I think the idea is that dissolving salt, may reduce the solubility of other undesirably compounds which can be decanted and separated before the re-dstillation.]

I have seen a still house book keeper working with such apparatus, improve on this plan, by placing wet cloths or swabs on the top of his second or smaller retort, and every now and then dashing them with cold water from the receiver, especially towards the middle of the rum running, when the spirit was getting weak, also with the low-wines. I consider it a very good plan, and one that might well be followed up, and better regulated, in the application of water to the second retort. In addition to the still and double retorts, a great improvement may be made by having a “charging condenser”, otherwise called a “wash heater“, attached. This should be placed betwixt the 2d retort and the condensing (water) cistern, and is nothing more than a long cylindrical vessel (either of copper or wood), which is three parts filled with wash, and through which the pipe from 2nd retort passes, on its way to the condensing cistern. The heat of the spirit vapour passing through this pipe, heats the wash in the “charger”, and brings it, by the time the still is run off, to the boiling point; when the still being discharged and retorts reloaded, the heated wash is drawn down into the still, and the work proceeds. The charger is again loaded, and as the spirit distills over, and passes into the still house, so does the wash again become heated, and arrives at the boiling point, by the time the still requires re-charging. Care must be taken that the wash in the charger does not become too much heated, or the vessel will burst, if not provided with an escape pipe: this latter is common in the West Indies, and is usually conducted through the condensing cistern into the still house, where it delivers the spirit it has distilled over. But perhaps it will be found sufficient to bring the wash in the charger just to the boiling point, and no further, so that when the still requires re-charging, the boiling liquor is transferred into it, in all its strength.

[The wet cloths would increase the natural reflux of the pot still increasing the ABV of the spirit. I cannot imagine this having a significant impact if they are not changed frequently because of how much energy they could potential absorb without becoming quite hot. Without adding plates, another modification is called the brandy-ball where a continuous flow of water is trickled over the top of a pot still capital.]

To compass this, it is only requisite to determine the length of pipe which is to traverse the charger, and so regulate it, that the contents may just arrive at the boiling point as it is required. Never mind if it is even a degree below that, as it will be safer and make very little actual difference in time, etc.

This is very easily done, and it will be apparent, that by this system of wash-heating, much time and fuel are saved; and a still with double retorts which runs three times a day, with this improvement may run off five or six charges in the same time, and with much the same fuel. The charger should, as I stated above, be only three parts full to allow for expansion, and prevent accidents; although the escape pipe and loaded valve would always ensure safety, and at the same time prevent the loss of any spirit vapour. A good stout cask, holding as much as would fill the still, and one-third more, (if unprovided with an escape pipe,) is all that is necessary; but if any apprehensions should exist, then let the cask be large enough to hold only 50 gallons more than the still, and in centre, place a copper pipe, (three inches in diameter,) which carry up at least five feet perpendicularly, and then downwards (two inches diameter), through the condensing tank, into still house so that if any spirit distills over, it will be received in the can pit. In hanging the still over its furnace, a distance of 20 inches, between bars and still bottom, should be allowed, if coal, be used or 30 inches if wood: the heated air and smoke from the furnace instead of going up the chimney direct, are conducted by a flue all round (the side of) the still, so as to give the still the benefit of all the heat possible.

A thousand gallon still and two retorts, well hung and furnished with a “Charger“, should run off six charges a day, making (with wash at 12%) say about 700 gallons of rum 30% over proof [74.28% ABV], in that time, cost of such apparatus may be estimated as follows:

New copper still and worm very best workmanship, Rs. 4000
Two wooden retorts (white pine) with copper pipes about,  Rs. 200
Wooden charger with flanges and escape pipe say, Rs. 300
Whole apparatus Total, Rs. 4500

When all the strength of the wash has been distilled over, the fire damped, the steam plugs, or cocks of retorts are withdrawn or opened, and then the “Man-door” of still is taken off, and the spent wash (now called dunder) is drawn down into the dunder receiver: taking care to stir it up well before it leaves the still otherwise a great deal of dirt be left at the bottom. The retorts are emptied of their contents, (now called lees) by turning the cocks, at bottom; which lees, are carefully conveyed off by a small gutter, as they are very corrosive, and cannot be made use of again. All this being effected, the still and retorts are reloaded, and the operation continues over and over again. The dunder from still is, as I before said, drawn down into dunder cisterns, situate below the level of the still, and after becoming partially cool, and settled, is pumped up into other receivers immediately above them, and there remain to cool perfectly, and clarify, until required in still house for setting up wash anew. These dunder receivers are, always, to be under shelter, and by erecting them as described, (the upper exactly above the lower), one small shed will answer for both sets. Sometimes more dunder collects than can be contained in the dunder receivers, and it is then common to draw down a quantity of it, into any empty fermenting cistern in still house, until it is wanted to set up with. This more particularly happens when the dunder is of a fine, rich quality, and should there be a few empty cisterns available, it is divided amongst them, giving each first as much as will suffice to set up that cistern as soon as the other materials are ready.

[The mention of lees from the retorts being corrosive and not usable again is very odd. They get conveyed off by a gutter to where? Wray may mean that they don’t get recycled to ferments as we have seen other authors spell out. He may also not be aware of acid catalyzed esterification and the idea that they may be beneficial to creating aroma in the still. In this period of Jamaica rum everything was very limey. They even added lime to new make spirit. For the most part, they may have only benefited from esters that formed in their ferments as a bio transformation. What Wray has already described as empyreumatic oil may have been quite a few things. It could have been scorched aroma from a direct fire still loaded with solids, it could have been tufo from cooked lees, it could have been free bases from too much lime, and it even could have been overly sweaty free volatile acids that the science of the day had yet to identify. Their distillates, certain had assets that we don’t see today such as the aroma derived from skimmings, but they also juggled a variety of liabilities they didn’t necessarily know how to categorize or attribute.]

Plenty of good light dunder should always be kept on hand, for very often, from a variety of circumstances, heavy, thick and bad dunder may result from still, which must be all thrown away, and not allowed to come into use again, on which occasions the good dunder that has been carefully husbanded, comes into service. It was a common practice of my own, and many other West India planters, to fill up all cisterns, one by one, towards the end of crop, by which plan the cisterns were kept in season, and prevented from leaking, whilst the old dunder came in admirably at the commencing of the next crop, for the first round of the house. Using old dunder in this manner is perfectly safe and altogether advisable, but care must be taken not to give too large a quantity of it to each cistern, or the fermentation will be heavy and long in working off: therefore in a thousand gallon cistern, at starting, the proportion may be, molasses 60 gallons, skimmings 400 galls. dunder (old) 240 gallons and water 300 gallons which will work light, and quickly. As soon as new dunder can be had, throw away all the old stuff, as the cisterns containing it come into requisition.

When the still boils the loud rumbling of the retorts gives intimation of the fact, and warns the stillermen to prepare for the spirit in the can pit: the fire, if burning strongly is slightly checked, clean cans are placed in readiness, (one being under the pipe), and the superintendent stands by with his proof bubbles, ready to test the strength of the spirit. It now begins to run, and a strong empyreumatic flavour is perceptible at first, therefore the first half a can, (2½ gallons), or can, is thrown into the low wine butt, then comes the strong rum, varying from 40 to 55 over proof [80 to 88.57% ABV].

[The first quantitity that is being recycled is enough volume to rinse out the condenser because a certain amount of the previous distillation are clinging to the surface of the coil. Sometimes this is called the de-misting test and spirit is diverted or recycled until that spirit when diluted is not longer milky.]

First the 16 bubble [82.85% ABV], then so many cans of the 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, and 22 [each bubble # roughly represents a drop of 2.85% ABV], in succession, according to the strength of the spirit to be shipped. If 30% over proof [74.28% ABV] is required directly the 20 bubble [71.43% ABV] rises in the proof phial, cease throwing the spirit into the rum butt, and instead let the succeeding cans be thrown into the low-wine butt; but if proof rum be wanted, then the spirit may continue to be taken to the rum butt, until the 28 bubble rises [48.47% ABV], which will bring it to 23 [62.85% ABV] (generally), allowing one bubble for coloring, and one for evaporation, in all bringing it to the 25 bubble or proof [57.14% ABV].

[The data on bubbles was taken from a set that I own which is supposedly from the early 19th century. The bubble numbers first correspond to the sikes scale which I then converted.]

The London and Glasgow bubbles vary from each other much, the former being much stronger; a short time since I tried a box of Liverpool bubbles by Sikes’ hydrometer, and found that,

But many of these proof bubbles are very bad guides, and full many a time and oft have I had trouble in getting them near the truth, grinding some, and adding to others according to a good old set. By taking this trouble they are brought to answer very well, and are generally used in the West Indies, whereas Sykes’ hydrometer is very uncommon; I imagine in consequence of its being so very expensive. Our rum in Jamaica when intended for shipment to England, was generally sent to wharf at a strength that would cause the 19 bubble [74.28% ABV] to sink down freely even when colored: or about 30% over proof. Other times again it was put up at what we called “market proof”, in which the 23 bubble would sink [62.85% ABV].

It is a generally received opinion in the West Indies, that rum put up for the home market at 30% overproof [74.28% ABV], was of a superior flavour to that set up at a higher strength. This opinion was so strong, that in putting up rum for the house use, on estate, a few cans only would be taken from each running, (mostly on the 19 and 20 bubble [74.28% and 71.43% ABV]), until the puncheon was filled. This rum so taken was termed the middle runnings, as being neither very strong, or very weak: and was considered that which would turn out the finest flavour, when it had acquired age. I think that no good is gained by sending the spirit from India to England so strong as they usually do. Thirty per cent. overproof [74.28% ABV] when colored, is, in my opinion, the best, paying strength to ship at.

When the rum is running from the still, it is a good plan to let it run into a deep narrow basket, or cylindrical box filled with layers of charcoal, coarse at top and finer below; which serves to free the spirit from a great deal of that empyreumatic taste, so apparent in new rum. Some take great pains in improving the quality of their rum, and to my own knowledge the trouble is nothing, positively nothing, when the wonderful improvement of the spirit is considered.

One of the most safe and efficient of these plans I will notice, as I know that it was so successfully practiced as to cause rum only a few months old to sell as two and three years old, even in the Island (Jamaica).

The rum as it came from the still was received into a deep basket, containing layers of charcoal, through which it drained into the cans beneath, and was carried off to the rum butt, fixed at a good elevation. Here it was (when the butt was filled) treated with a little caustic alkali, and some grained charcoal, well stirred up, and permitted to rest for a few days. It was then drawn down by the cock (in a very small drippling stream), through a pipe 20 feet long, stuffed with alternate layers of grained charcoal and sand, into a white oak butt, the inside of which had been well charred. If the butt were large it would take perhaps a couple of days to run off, or probably more, however two days and two nights generally sufficed for a moderate sized butt.

When it had all run off into the lower tier of butts, the spirit was again treated, according to taste, and improvement, with a small quantity of sweet spirits of nitre, tea leaves, and other little matters that are not particularly essential. It was then colored, and remained ready either for shipment or sale*.

(* A loss of strength was always sustained by this method, varying from one to two bubbles [2.85% ABV per bubble], but the improved flavour was so material, that it sold as old rum in the market.)

If intended for estate’s use, it would be diluted with water, (which had been boiled, and had had a few avocada pear leaves in it,) to the general standard proof, or 25 bubble [57.14% ABV]; otherwise to the 28 [48.57% ABV] or even 30 bubble [42.86%]. And when all had been done, it was sent from the still house to the manager’s dwelling house store, for use. If the improvement of rum be of value in the planter’s estimation, as it should be, he ought to attend to this, and have the rum store so constructed, or rather the rum butts so arranged, that one tier of butts should be above the other, sufficiently high as to allow of the entire transmission of the contents of the former into the latter, and again from the lower into puncheons or hogsheads for shipment or sale. The highest butts (being 6 feet high), would require therefore to be on a platform of 11 feet high, and the lower, on a horse of 4 feet. Three or four butts on the upper tier will be quite sufficient, and on the lower, double the number; whilst it must be remarked, that each butt requires to have a large hole at the bottom, to drain it off and cleanse it out thoroughly, occasionally; also that the cock must be placed some 6 inches from the bottom, otherwise a great portion of the dirt and other matter which has precipitated, will be again put in motion, and drawn down with the clear spirit.

[Avocado leaf tea has long been known to have health benefits, but I didn’t expect it to pop up here…]

Colouring rum is another very particular part of a distillerman’s business, and accordingly should be strictly attended to, for I have often known really good rum spoilt by color.

The best sugar for making color, is that well grained brown sugar, (not too dark, nor too fair), commonly used in Jamaica for this purpose. It is put into a copper or iron boiling pan, and heat is applied; one man stands by with a wooden staff and stirs it about continually, from the moment it begins to warm until it is finished; another makes the fire, which should be of cane trash, and instantly checked at will. The boiling goes on changing the color of the stuff from brown to a deep black; bubbles rise, large and heavy at first, then small and quickly; the wooden stirrer shows the color increasing to its proper shade, and the taste of the operator distinguishes the peculiar flavour desired. This nicety of taste, is the chief part of the operation, as on it depends the manner in which the rum to be colored, will be affected. No sweetness should be apparent, nor should any bitterness, but just the exact medium; arrived at this stage, some strong proof rum is very cautiously added to it by degrees, to keep it in a liquid state, otherwise it will become perfectly hard when cool. This strong rum, then, is added by degrees and well mixed, (the man stirring with might and main, the very smallest heat being allowed under the boiler, but no flame, or the rum may take fire), until sufficient is thought to be given, when the boiler is removed at once from the fire, and its contents emptied into the “color cask” in the rum store. The color cask is generally a small hogshead, placed end up, on a wooden horse 2 feet high, and it has a plug-hole about 6 inches from the bottom, in order that its contents may be drawn off clear, and without disturbing any matter that might have precipitated. Well-made color, from good sugar, will require only about three pints to color a whole puncheon of one hundred gallons, and by being boiled with very strong rum, as mentioned, it lessens the strength very little. If a dark colored rum is desired, then more color may be added, until it arrives at the shade required,—but weak, bad color will take sometimes a large quantity to impart the proper color; and besides this, a very large portion often settles at the bottom, leaving the rum only slightly tinged, although ever so well mixed. Good color should be as thick as it can be without forming a mass, and as clear and bright as possible; mixed with rum, it should at once give it a clear rich tint, devoid of any haziness or muddiness, but to insure this it had better be mixed in a pail with about 5 gallons of rum at a time, then carefully strained, and thrown into the rum butt or puncheon. If the color be good, there is no necessity for coloring rum until it is drawn down into puncheons for removal, when the color can be added, as described. Every batch of rum sent down to wharf, or sold, or otherwise removed from estate, should leave a sample on estate, for reference; which sample can be put into a small phial, corked, sealed, and labelled, describing strength, age, etc. etc.

Many people in India make their color from molasses and coarse khar, but I cannot approve of the practice, nor can I recommend it; quite the contrary.

Indeed I consider boiling color from molasses a folly that no planter would be led into, who has any pretension to stillhouse experience; it is a “penny wise and pound foolish” idea, that can only be excused in a young hand, egregiously ignorant in the manufacture and treatment of rum. It is better to throw away half a dozen batches of bad colour, than to allow one puncheon of good rum to be spoiled thereby: and I hope my brother planters will bear that in mind. They must reflect on the trouble and infinite care that is bestowed by the West India planters on their rum, and consider that unless such attention were bestowed, they never could expect to realize the prices they do. How much more then is it called for here; where not only good quality, but a name has to be attained? Let East India planters but pay proper attention to the details I have set forth, and strive to improve the quality of their rum for the home market, instead of being satisfied with the horrid stuff now made, which is suitable only for the Calcutta bazars; let them I say, attend to their business and not be above it, and I will vouch for their making not only good rum, but good sugar.

The business of a sugar planter embraces many scientific pursuits, and may justly be termed an honorable profession!! one, of which no man, however well bred, has any reason to be ashamed. A thorough planter is a man of study, who calls to his aid the science of Chemistry, Horticulture and Agriculture; commands the mechanical and other arts, and differs from the followers of other learned professions, more in the freedom of his life, and the healthful employment of his time, than in the attainments resulting from education and study.

“Knowledge is power” as well in plantership, as in any other course of life that can be named, and I trust my brother planters will excuse my impressing on them the fact, that the more they strive to acquire the former, the better planters will they become, and the more successfully will they be able to yield the latter, in bringing to perfection the products of the soil they cultivate.

My task is now finished, my book is now complete, and as I have entitled it “the Sugar Planters Companion“, so may it be found, I trust, a companion, interesting and useful. I have laboured to make it such, and sincerely hope I may not be disappointed. If I have failed to make myself understood on any particular subject, I shall always be happy to explain matters more fully by letter, to any person desirous of such information, and finally I feel assured, that my endeavours to supply what has hitherto been so much wanted in India, will cause any faults contained in the work to be overlooked, in its general utility, and the good spirit in which it is written.

[Wow!]

1 thought on “L. Wray, The Sugar Planter’s Companion. Chapter IV, 1844.

  1. —-It is a bad plan to put too much low wines into the retorts, as it is liable to blow over the helm, or if it does not do so, it may materially injure the flavour of the rum in another manner; viz. by imparting to it a strong taste of low-wines or more correctly, speaking, an empyreumatic odour. —-

    Dreaded Tufo rears its ugly head. I shudder at the thought.

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