Organic Acid Trickery / High Ether Rum / Ether Theory

For sale: birectifier ($1800USD)

I just found another cache of interesting papers on Jamaica rum. What is interesting is that they are firmly in the 20th century and have forgotten about the Great Agricola and a lot of the work that has come before them. They show the very beginnings of bacterial, yeast and fermentation science. Something that emerges is that some scientists thought the character of full flavored rum was the result of bacterial action while others thought it was the result of yeasts. We now think its is a combination of the two.

Perplexing me is where the hell was New England rum this whole time? I’m beginning to think New England rum was nothing special flavorwise and any high regard it held was nationalistic opinion [I rescind that notion!]. But I may be able to get to the bottom of that. Loft apartments have taken over the most notable New England distillery and the building superintendent has a closet full of their old documents. The documents may have bibliographies and possibly point to a collaboration with MIT in the very early 20th century which would likely yield work with more bibliographies. My hunch is that anything New England learned, they learned from Jamaica and any work with MIT would be about implementation and not about research which is why there are no distinct papers. Knowledge of what was happening in Jamaica appeared all over the Louisiana Planter and Sugar Manufacturer. The building super is busy adding new condos, but has promised me an eventual glimpse of what documents they have.

[later I discovered Felton & Son’s actually hired a Harvard trained chemist, Harris Eastman Sawyer. MIT was not in the picture.]

This document below might have been written by H.H. Cousins or Mr. Joseph Shore, but I haven’t been able to confirm that yet. It appears in a few appendixes, but without attribution of the author. The patent mentioned at the end might be findable as well.

(Society paper no. 274)
Investigations of Jamaica Rum

From the report of the island and agricultural chemist, Jamaica 18th March, 1907

This work which was started in 1903 by the appointment on a three years’ contract of Mr. C. Allan, B.Sc., as Fermentation Chemist to co-operate with the Laboratory staff in the investigation of Jamaica Rum has reached the first stage in its progress by the completion of Mr. Allan’s period of service.

At the outset practically nothing was known as to the composition of the materials used and of the changes which occurred during the process of fermentation employed in the manufacture of Jamaica Rum, and Mr. Allan carried out a valuable piece of work in securing information on these points.

He was able to establish the general principle upon which the fermentation of the various products was based and to show clearly that the “flavour” of Jamaica Rum to which the great variety in character and quality of our island spirits is due was the result not of alcoholic fermentation by yeasts but to acidic and putrefactive fermentations by bacteria.

This is a fact of prime importance in the scientific study of Rum manufacture, and a further study of the chemical composition of Jamaica rums indicated that the compound ethers are the chief source of the special aroma on which the commercial value depends.

Mr. Allan summarised the results of the experiment that had been made in the Laboratory, the Experimental Distillery and on estates in a course of lectures which he gave to the distillers in October. These are to be published as part of a general publication on Jamaica rum for the use of our distillers which is now in preparation.

In November Mr. S. F. Ashby, B.Sc., late Carnegie Research Fellow and Bacteriologist at the Rothamsted Experimental Station, was appointed to take up the combined duties of Bacteriologist, and Fermentation Chemist. Mr. Ashby is devoting himself to the isolation and study of the individual organisms at work in estates’ materials and to the investigation of the comparative value for alcohol production and flavour of the yeasts and other organisms thus obtained.

It is hoped that during the next three years some valuable discoveries capable of affecting favourably the productive power of our distilleries will result from these labours.

The High Ether Process as invented by me for reinforcing the Ether Content of rum by recovering the volatile acids left in the spent liquor from the retorts and returning them into the process was carried out on a commercial scale on six estates during the crop.

On three estates making a common clean rum the process was systematically carried out to increase the standard of ethers and the whole crop was carefully regulated to a uniform standard about fifty per cent higher than that otherwise obtainable. As the materials employed were identically those resulting from the fermentation in each case, the result was simply that of an intensification of the normal flavour of the rum without altering its
character. The rums were sold in London and favourably reported upon by brokers and merchants as improved in quality. The manager of one estate gave me figures showing a net profit of £200 on the season’s operations under the process applied in this way.

It was necessary to keep this enterprise secret owing to the baseless and ill-informed prejudices of brokers and others in the rum trade against the new process. It was ignorantly supposed to be a process of chemical adulteration, and some London brokers even declared their belief that sulphuric acid was a necessary ingredient of rum produced under the process.

It should be understood that nothing passes into the rum which is not normally present, and that the use of lime to combine with the acids in the lees to enable a solid residue to be recovered by evaporation and the subsequent liberation of the acids by the addition of the requisite amount of sulphuric acid to the lime or salts, simply results in a sediment of inert sulphate of lime which is removed by filtration and the practical result is that volatile acids produced by fermentation and at present wasted are recovered and returned into the process to increase the output of ether natural to the rum in question.

It should also be understood that the process does not create flavour or impart a high flavour to a common rum but is merely a convenient practical means of reinforcing the normal flavour of a rum as resulting from the products of the fermentation by which it was produced.

On three estates the process was tried on an estate scale with high-flavoured or German rums. In one case although the rum was sold at a higher price, the general management of the fermentation was unsatisfactory and the yield so poor that the distiller was dismissed and a reversion to the old method was decided upon. The poor yield was in no way due to the process, but to attempts to produce a superior flavour and to provide the requisite supply of acid material for the production of a high ether rum, whereas in view of trade prejudices it was decided by the management to make a rum of ordinary ether standard.

This experiment threw no light on the merits of the process as applied to a high flavoured rum, and I am satisfied from experience that under favourable conditions of management the financial outcome should have been encouraging.

At Hampden Estate an excellent plant for operating the whole production of the distillery under the high ether process was erected. Thirty puncheons of rum varying but slightly from a uniform standard of 3,500 parts of ethers as against 900 for the ordinary liquor rum and 300 for the low wines rum was produced.

This product was boycotted by the merchants and brokers in Jamaica and London and was finally reported upon as “commercially unsaleable” by the London agents of the estate.

It was considered valuable by some buyers in Germany, but they were afraid to buy it because some expert pronounced it to be flavoured with chemical essences. The outlook for the proprietor of Hampden Estate who had taken up this experiment with great zeal and had carried out the process with extraordinary skill and success was so discouraging that I decided personally while on leave to enquire into the matter in England and in Germany in the course of my enquiries into the rum trade.

Having obtained a fortnight’s extra leave on half pay I visited London, Glasgow, Hamburg and Bremen with introductions from the Customs and the Foreign Office which enabled me to interview traders as an accredited Government officer. It is gratifying to be able to report that all the rum was sold as a result of this effort and that the bulk of the thirty puncheons was sold for 8s. per gallon. It was evident that the large holders of stocks of the ordinary “German” or “ Export Quality” rums viewed with apprehension a process for increasing the blending value of Jamaica rums as likely to depreciate the value of old stocks. Again, the standard of ethers in this rum being four times that of the ordinary make caused the concentrated rum to be viewed with suspicion as an artificial essence.

This experiment proved that the whole output could be turned into a rum at 3,500 ethers from the same materials now producing a rum averaging about 700 ethers (liquor and low wines rum together). In other words, the process is capable of increasing the ether content of a “German” rum five-fold.

It must be noted that the fermentation and materials were not interfered with in any way.

The financial results on the process rum were most encouraging, but it is to be regretted that the rum made by the old process after the concentrated rum was reported unsaleable at any price in London realised poor prices and I cannot help thinking was deliberately under priced in London as a result of trade prejudices.

The commercial bearings of this matter are very complicated and some years will be required before the real merits of the case can be decided.

A very interesting experiment was carried out on an estate in Vere making a common clean rum. In this case a special fermentation of flavouring materials for making acids was set up separately and this was distilled separately so as to obtain the volatile acids. These were then introduced by my process into the ordinary common clean materials and a rum was obtained of about 2,000 ethers that sold for 5s. 6d. per gallon. This was tested by blenders on the Continent and found so satisfactory that a large order was sent which could not be filled owing to crop having been completed. This is the most remarkable demonstration of the ether theory yet obtained. Rum was raised from 2s. 3d. to 5s. 6d. a gallon simply by increasing the ethers and developing a suitable fermentation of flavouring material for the supply of the volatile acids.

At the wish of the two Planters’ Associations, Patents have been taken out in my name for the benefit of the Sugar Experiment Station, should the Patents possess a commercial value, in the following countries :—
United Kingdom

As the process is applicable to Whisky and Brandy, it is possible that it might find use for reinforcing the ether content of these spirits, and that Royalties might be obtained from the foreign rights under the Patents.

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