Etymology of the Word Rum by Darnell Davis (1885)

A fun snippet from the files is this 1885 look at the etymology of the word rum. Judging by titles of his other works, the author, the honorable Darnell Davis, was quite the character, but so far I haven’t figured out if he was any kind of colonialist racist or not. Google has no full view of his essays, but I’ve yet to consult other resources (too busy at the foundry).

Davis’ work comes a whole 200 years after the birth of the word, rum, at a time that was pretty much the birth of modern rum with any stylistic identity (beginning of chemical and then later biological control).

Most enthusiasts today believe there are few works on the subject, but rum it turns out, has the most well documented history of any spirit category. This blog has become sort of a monument to and repository of that technical history.

Categorizing rum is all the rage, and lately in discussions, I’ve been promoting the top most categories of fine rum and commodity rum (which we will eventually sub categorize). This backs away from cliches like sipping and mixing as well as industrial and artisan. It is no revolution in rum categorization, but the words are semantically powerful and have been very valuable to understanding wine. Wine, we will repeatedly see, is where we should look when figuring out how to categorize and market rum.

My big point is that fine rums exist, and they are certainly out there on the market, but the category does not yet exist. We cannot have fine rums sorted from all the commodity junk until the complete history of rum comes out. We just went from thinking Jamaican rum was shrouded in mystery to finding out it has the most documented history of any spirit complete with time stamps, intimate anecdotes, and first names galore.

Fine wines tell a story, and that is largely their whole point, but we cannot read it unless we clearly know how they were produced. Things we don’t quite understand like the contribution of cane varieties cannot be pulled apart until the other variable are isolated by disclosure. We still have no wide acknowledgement of Schizosaccharomyces Pombe as a rum yeast. Giant holes exist in rum knowledge that would change any categorization system so I think a lot of people are getting ahead of themselves.

Fine rums cannot tell their story until we know more about them starting with their technical history and evolution. This has nothing to do with banishing caramel coloring or the arbitrary numbers attached to a solera system. Dwelling there will just set rum back. The future of fine rum literature will probably resemble Andrew Jefford’s writing on wine, but it is nowhere near there at the moment.

Darnell Davis’ 1885 etymology of rum is another step in telling the history of rum that will get us closer to the category of fine rum. Pulling these papers out is less about helping to produce better rum (like some of my efforts for new distillers) and more about helping to read rum. We need a continuous story from the birth of the word to the bottles we are currently enjoying.

Spirits get shaped by countless influences from the cultural to the philosophical to the scientific. Wars shape spirits and so do unique government programs like the various experiment stations or the infamous Rum Pilot Plant. The fine category begins with chemical and biological control to sculpt a spirit into an ideal and then the philosophical is free to take over.

Fine wine, we must remember, was born in the lab. The American winners of the Judgement of Paris were all lab technicians turned winemakers. This allowed them to follow the progressive process of incremental improvement for their wine. These producers, particularly Warren Winiarski, were deeply involved in the philosophical end of wine construction, but they also had the technical foundation to execute all their ideas.

Let’s quote Winiarski because it is wildly relevant:

That was also there. All of those things. We didn’t talk about the major ingredient, the accumulation of scientific information and things that people did at Davis. Maynard Amerine’s work with grapes and where they grow best –that bulletin of the Agriculture Experiment Station at the University of California that I used as a Bible, reading it in a devotional way. Every day you read a little bit of this, at night you read a little bit of that, getting intimately immersed in the contents. You read another chapter and tried to figure out what these must analyses could mean and what their significance was. The existence of such a rich body of knowledge was certainly another major ingredient. And I think the other thing was the people, among whom I count myself, whose taste and aspirations were formed elsewhere and who brought in the ability to actually accomplish the coming together of these several elements.

Maynard Amerine and the culture of that UC Davis era have always been a guide for the work at the Bostonapothecary. A Winiarski or a Grgich of the rum world will not come along until we assemble and digest all the literature. Also, notice that Winiarski et al. were studying texts meant for commodity wine production. These fine wine makers literally sat in (old school non degree sat in) the back of the class to learn anything that might help them produce fine wines. What are the differences between fine and commodity? Philosophy, scale, and compromise.

A big problem the new distilling movement has is a shoddy notion of philosophical ideals and absolutely zero chemical and biological control. With few exceptions, they have all pretty much only gotten as far as: “look mom, I made rum”. And of course it is not rum, which is a concept that pops up in the literature time and again, best reinforced by Arroyo. Not all things made from sugar cane products are rum and if they’re not rum, they are in the commodity category. The commodity category has things that aren’t fit to be called rum as well as things fit to be called rum, but not fit to be called fine. Right now we are seeing some of the most expensive commodity distillates ever produced hitting the market from the new distilling scene.

Skimmings communicate in a far greater degree than molasses the characteristic stamp to rum. A spirit made of pure molasses and water would scarcely be rum; and instances are familiar of molasses having been removed from one place and distilled at another, which, with different skimmings, have produced an entirely different rum. -J.S., 1871

Ideas evolved a bit and rum, according to Arroyo, starts with a rum yeast, and what is special about that yeast is that it takes advantage of precursors in the substrate to produce extraordinary congeners, of low frequency of occurrence, and of universal harmonic value, all the while limiting congeners like fusel oil which overshadow when in excess. Yet we’ve only learned all that recently by rediscovering literature that had been lost for decades.

Just like the chemical and biological aspects of rum production have a history, so too does the philosophical and that heritage goes back much further than anyone had recently thought. Just the other day, a paper turns up from 1871 with an author (J.S. also quoted above) describing the idea of forcing versus intercepting flavour. Though it is proto-philosophy, the concept sit parallel to the idea of wines of effort versus wines of terroir.

Only with recently revealed technical history could we read more of the story of the fine rums of Cape Verde because much of their unique character has to do with their sugar cane juice not being centrifuged and defecated like the rhums of Martinique.

Don’t forget that many of the fine rums of the last ten years from independent bottlers such as Plantation were not very conscientious nor produced with much enlightened philosophy. They were found art, accidentally over aged, and accidentally ending up extraordinary after missing their modest targets. Their architects weren’t part of contemporary culinary with their own twitter accounts, but were often government employees and at the most generous, many could be called outsider artists (brilliant and conscientious, but within a tiny bubble). The faceless nature and the way so many producers imploded is a big part of the intrigue for the sleeping relics they left behind. But on distilling day for the 1986 Barbados rum bottled by Plantation, if you said fine or asked about forcing or intercepting flavour, the Barbados boys would say: ‘the fuck you talk’n about?’ It was distilled like a brick house, but with commodity ambitions as the basis for some anonymous blend somewhere.

Anyhow, read Darnell Davis and marvel at his tracing the etymologies of rum and his tales of digging through the libraries of Europe to do it.

J.S. Tells of Rum, Jamaica 1871

Alongside Patrick Neilson in the 1871 edition of The Sugar Cane was this account by an author signed J.S. I’m supposed to be putting down my investigations on rum to focus on the Houghton Street Foundry, but I could not resist.

The J.S. account is of a slightly different perspective, so it may be helpful to comb through it and see how it lines up. J.S. seems relatively less focused on rum production and more involved with cane cultivation and sugar production. Half of J.S.’s article is about cultivation issues before going into rum production, but I’ll skip that.

Leaving the sugar to drain, let us return to the millhouse to collect materials for the distillery. Mill-bed trash, sour, or rat-spoiled cane, suckers, &c., are all collected and ground for the purpose of making rum. Then from the boiling-house is taken the trash and lees from syphons, and skimmings from the coppers. All these meet and mingle in a large receiver, or mixing vat, which is continually ebbing and refilling, and kept fermenting. From this a certain quantity is put in the bottom of each vat or cistern to be set up, generally about 250 gallons to a vat of 1000, which with 475 gallons Dunder, 200 gallons of water, and 75 gallons molasses, will make up a vat of liquor standing thus by Long’s saccharometer (which shows degrees of specific gravity above water, and about 7½ to 1 of Baumé’s scale):

For starters, these guys were smart and he goes on to crush math with fractions like a savant. Anyone in Jamaican operating at the birth of rum’s stylistic identity was well educated.

J.S. is also describing a system very much like Patrick Neilson’s where the trash cistern is being used as a sort of yeast/bacteria generator and that footing is used to setup the entire wash. He writes sort of clinically and does not sing the praises of the individual raw materials like Neilson.

The above should take about six days to ferment, and is an average specimen of the wash set and distilled here; but on each side of this average there are considerable variations, some setting at so low a degree of gravity that fermentation is over in two days—others so high that is may take two weeks. This can be done without materially interfering with the percentage of sweets added, or return of spirit produced, the dunder being the medium effecting this, which may be kept at any standard of gravity from 20 to 60.

Maybe we should reference Rum, Osmotolerance, and the Lash. Without changing the percentage of sweets, a.k.a. fermentable sugars, other variables can extend or shorten the duration of fermentation. Arroyo really pushes an understanding of this to the max.

Such differences in the mode of treating wash does not fail in producing corresponding variations in the quality of rums—that from the waterish and quickly fermented liquor being of a harsh and bare alcoholic odour; while the other, even new from the still, will smell mild and full-bodied. It is nevertheless asserted that the former turns out the more drinkable article by age, as is said to be the case of whisky of a similar stamp distilled from raw grain. Notwithstanding the superior character of Jamaica rum in general, there arises baffling dissimilarities in the flavour and value of rums made even on neighboring estates—the price realised for one being sometimes nearly double that of the other. That such differences would give rise to various speculations as to their cause, as well as endeavours at competition, is but natural to infer. Such endeavours have not been few, nor unattended in single instances with fair results, but the theories alighted on by experimentalists are varied and incongruous. The means adopted are principally confined to the treatment of the wash in fermentation. Pursuing the course indicated by the fact that better rum being producing by slow fermentation, the direction has been followed to the utmost limit consistent with a reasonable sacrifice of quantity and quality. Such sluggish fermentations are often induced as to present  not only unmistakable signs of a highly acetous, but an apparently morbose process, which instead of dissipating—as might be inferred of a rapid process—tend to fix, develop, or dissolve (as chemical investigation might determine) the aromatic principle (or substance containing such) constituting the valued flavour. Were the result attending this rather hazardous experiment always a success, we might be contented to abide by the conclusion that this aroma is entirely the effect of a certain process of fermentation; but as such fails to be the fact, the more natural supposition seems to be that it is a peculiarity incidental to certain soils, extracted principally by the albuminous matters of the cane juice and sent in the skimmings to the still-house.

#morboseprocess Here we she admission of “experimentalists”, probably of the like of Neilson, who are developing the early Jamaican rum process. At the very end J.S. also notes the importance of skimmings.

In commendation of this it may be stated that flavour is always strongest in the bottom part of the wash in the fermenting vat, when the albumen and yeast, &c., have subsided after fermentation. It is to be remarked, however, that rums of the most natural and most valued flavours are made in the most ordinary way, and without any effort of forcing, which fact directs and strengthens the belief that flavours may be intercepted, but not directly forced, by fermentation. I believe the water used in setting to have more connection in imparting flavours than is generally allowed. It is beyond dispute that the superiority of Scotch Glenlivat and Irish Poteen whiskies is owing to the soft, mellow, sweetish waters derived from surrounding peat bogs, and using in mashing and brewing. These whiskies are to all others what Jamaica is with rum.

A very subtle admission happens here when J.S. grapples with intercepting versus forcing flavours. My reading is that there is an admission of peculiar character other than esters which is rum oil. Esters are forced by the #morboseprocess while rum oil is thought to be intercepted and dissolved from products like the skimmings. Rum oil has been bred out of our rums but when you find it, you’ll know it. Esters can be faked in contrived ways, as I’ve stated so many times before, but rum oil is nearly divine. Rum oil is produced during fermentation through the hydrolysis of glycosides (a discovery first reported on this blog but pretty much stolen from the latest Cognac literature) and many variables such as a long fermentation, and even a resting stage, increase the potential to split the glycosides. Please see: Mezan XO challenge.

Skimmings communicate in a far greater degree than molasses the characteristic stamp to rum. A spirit made of pure molasses and water would scarcely be rum; and instances are familiar of molasses having been removed from one place and distilled at another, which, with different skimmings, have produced an entirely different rum.

This is a powerful statement that parallels much of what was said by Neilson and draws into question the greatness of New England rums. The current naive generation of new New England rums scarcely have any rum character and this I believe is what J.S. is talking about. However, decades later, Harris Eastman Sawyer would enter the fray in New England, and judging by his few writings as well as his sales to the tobacco industry, Eastman was able to make a rum purely from molasses that had that peculiar character.

Among other efforts to impart a flavour may be noticed that of adding certain odorous ingredients to the wash previous to distillation, or lucious fruits during fermentation. Of distillation little need be said. The apparatuses used are the common still for wash and generally retorts for the high and low wines. Low still heads are approved of as admitting more free passage for essential oils, but with these caution must be used in firing, so as not to force over bad oils which ought to remain in the lees, and at the same time prevent foul running. The running should be conducted slowly so as to cause the spirit to arrive perfectly condensed and cool. Flavour is always strongest in the first half of the spirit from the still, and it is sometimes the practice to put this up separately, and ship it under a different brand from the other.

For starters, we are catching up with some of Jamaican rum’s infamous  myths, but without much specificity. We also see that J.S. was conscious of the shape of the still head influencing the flavor of the distillate (low still heads). Foul running likely implies an overly rapid boiling creating foam that spills over through the condensor and into the distillate. Isolating for sale the first half of the distillate is a primitive form of super fractionation I’ve talked abut in the past where distillates are chopped up into more than the traditional fractions and reassembled as specific products. The big incentive of it here is because the taxes are so atrociously high and the market is fairly efficient. German buyers are happy to bid up the price based on how far they can stretch the concentrate, and the tax will be the same no mater what, so there is a big incentive to remove anything neutral from the rum. The reason this doesn’t really work in producing a truly great product is because the most valued congener, rum oil, is not in the first half, but rather a product that appears in the second half alongside fusel oil (hence benefit of colder fermentations).

That rum has not only been the staple and principle support of the many ill paying estates during bad years, but has acted indirectly as a barrier to the introduction of improvement in sugar manufacture, even on highly remunerative properties, there can be little reason to doubt. Proprietors when asked to adopt such and such an improvement, or send out certain new machinery, at once become jealous of the quality and proportion of their rum, and answer “no,” making such excuses as that they expect greater improvements to be arrived in course. The invention of the concrete process—the latest stride in advance—was not in the direction of Jamaica, unless for exceptional estates producing rum, so poor in quality as to be of the remotest consideration.

The concrete process is where cane juice is vacuum concentrated into bricks. No molasses is separated. Jamaica was very slow to adopt new sugar producing efficiencies because it, at the time, was far more successful in rum producing than anyone else. Producers were putting high value on byproducts like quality molasses or skimmings that were less rum beneficial in more sugar efficient processes.

Not only is ordinary rum netting £15 per puncheon, sometimes a more profitable article than sugar, but high classed brand at £18 to £25 per puncheon∗ in such cases make sugar quite a secondary consideration, and often attempt the turning of such an undue proportion of materials down to the still house as to seriously affect the value of the rum itself. So long as this state of matters continues, there is little likelihood of an sudden changes in our boiling houses here, yet it is to be hoped, as well as expected (especially should the recent favourable years continue, with returning confidence and capital to the island), that as the old taches and syphons become “burned out,” more advanced methods of manufacture will be adopted, having for their object the turning of cane juice to the best possible account, in the direction of its more legitimate end—namely sugar.


Trelawny, Jamaica,
23rd January, 1871.

J.S. appears to think that rum is morally inferior to sugar production and morality somewhat has an influence on the economics of can cultivation. This moral sentiment had profound influence on other islands and was the reason rum production never took off on Hawaii. No doubt there are quite a few other examples.

All in all, J.S. seems quite aware of all the ins and outs of rum production with an ear to the ground, but he is no experimentalist like Patrick Neilson. A deeply flawed moral conviction keeps his interest always with sugar over rum and that is just sad.

Patrick Neilson Tells of Rum (Like No Other), 1871

I’m supposed to be working on a new photo shoot for the Houghton Street Foundry, but I couldn’t resist sharing up this pearl of rum history.

A note from my archives which I had shared up the other day had a wonderful quote by Scotsman in Jamaica, Patrick Neilson. It was hinted that he wrote a great paper on rum in one of the very first editions of The Sugar Cane.

I will easily say that it is one of the most significant papers on the topic of early Jamaica rum. It is a ten page origin story that draws from his European experience, the opinions of the German buyers, anecdotes galore, and it just plain fills in a lot of gaps. Neilson’s pursuits are also aroma-centric and I think he is setting a precedent in the literature (1871).

Neilson tells of the mythic rum canes (which so far exist in reference nowhere else but this blog), early ripening canes having more aroma, and Bourbon cane producing his favorite rum. The German buyers paid the most for the first five batches of the season and we find out why. There are admissions of “lucious fruits”, the likely arrival at a pombe fermentation, small estates doing it better. Read it for yourself.

Neilson supports a big point that this blog has been driving for years, which is that distillation itself is no big deal and he glosses over it. Fermentation and the raw materials are everything. My Distiller’s Workbook has always aimed at giving a thorough understanding of still operation so that involvement can be deepened in the other stages. The still operator can be an intern while the fermentation chemist is everything.

Its 1871 and Patrick Neilson is expounding the virtues of slow fermentations and cool temperatures.

[…] quite the opposite to the system usually carried on, namely, the hurrying in of all material, keeping the vats boiling like a pot, fermentation over in three days, closed doors and a heated apartment, consigning all the refuse and bottoms to a dirty cistern, where all, or at least a considerable portion is in a manner lost.”

I would have thought by all I’ve read that the legendary long fermentations started much later but this is 1871.

In order to show the great difference that exists between quick and slow fermentation we have only to look at the method pursued in some parts of Germany for the production of what is known as Bavarian beer, which is the product of a very slow and protracted fermentation, combined with a low temperature, for a full description thereof I would refer to Liebig’s works—a few extracts here however will serve my purpose so far,

This is exciting to me because I want to know where the ideas came from. Now Neilson quotes Liebig:

“the wort after having been treated with hops in the usual manner is thrown into wide flat vessels, in which a large surface of the liquid is exposed to the air, the fermentation is allowed to proceed while the temperature of the chamber in which the vessels are placed is never allowed to rise above 60°. The fermentation lasts from three to six weeks, and the carbonic acid evolved during its continuance is not in large bubbles which burst upon the surface of the liquid but in small bubbles like those which escape from an acidulous mineral water, a great deal of yeast is deposited on the bottom of the vessel in the form of a viscous sediment; this precipitated yeast does not excite ordinary fermentation again, and when the yeast is used again several times in succession the temperature may be increased much higher.”

I highlight the whole quote because Patrick single it out (by now he is Patrick to me). This check list is on his mind and you see such differentiation of fermentation phenomena on the minds of other Jamaican rum chroniclers that came much later. Vat size and shape would become important and would be a factor others were in tune to as they pursued fermentation with symbiotic cultures.

The beer so obtained is entirely different and far superior to many other sorts; and if this superiority is got simply from a slower fermentation  then I hold that like results may be obtained in rum making.

Jamaican rum styles were not evolving out of the success of neglect or anything like that, they were being directly inspired by beer!

What in fact first drew my attention to seeking out a flavour in rum was the running I first got from what is known here as the dirty cistern, a receptacle for all the refuse, bottoms, &c. of the other vats; I was astonished to find at the can pit mouth, as the run came over, an exquisite flavour. I considered and said, why not make all the other vats, dirty cisterns, or at least to come extent, and I proceeded accordingly, with very happy results.

This is the very first experiment with cane trash and it has a time stamp and a first name. After this the ferments get a little more complex and feature more cane byproducts and ratios of cane byproducts as seen in the Experiment Station works.

I may state that the said dirty cistern besides being a receptacle for all refuse, is allowed to go on fermenting away, sometimes dead, sometimes alive, for three or four weeks; in fact, a sort of putrefaction goes on, and an acidity is produced which frees the aroma, hence a fine flavour when full.

This is some fine organoleptic investigation. What I think he is noticing is that fermentations are going on that produce all manner of fatty acids. Alkaline lime marl is also being added, but not intentionally as will come later in history. At this point its just excess from cane boiling. The lime alters pH, restarting fermentation when it runs away and becomes too acidic. The lime also has an affinity for shorter chain less noble fatty acids and it frees longer chain acids that were previously bound as salts. This is more pronounced as the cistern gets full of liquid and that is what Patrick is noticing. In the not too distant future they will know all the specifics.

Following up my ideas, I then proceeded to turn half of the vats, gradually increasing up to two-thirds, into slow fermentation, and commenced by adding material in small quantities to each vat. The vats were about six feet deep, holding about 2000 gallons. I only put in liquor to cover about two feet at the commencement and added from day to day as I saw them dying off, keeping them always gently excited till they were filled up. I kept them moving this way for two weeks, sometimes less, sometimes even more.

I see this as wildly important and I’ve been collecting these anecdotes about the very beginnings of the seasons where practices may differ from later on. Every detail influences the microbial community. Patrick may have been starting a fission yeast Pombe ferment as opposed to a conventional budding yeast ferment. Whatever trash he started with may have dropped the pH low even that an alt yeast took hold.

As these vats began to work I soon found a rich fruity odour pervading the house, and I then knew I had the right thing, which was confirmed at the can pit mouth.

On resetting up these vats I did not as customary, pitch the bottoms into the dirty cistern, but set up again on them, continuing to so for three or four successive occasions when the liquor began to get muddy and I had to throw them out.

What Patrick is describing here is a back slopping technique often used in Cachaca ferments. A microbial community will soon evolve to an equilibrium. The yeast though can get tired and they may require conditions better suited for reproduction.

I found at about the third setting up, a round from which I obtained the finest flavour, after that the vat began to get too heavy and sluggish besides acid. I then threw the whole away, dunder included, and drew from the other third, that is, I kept one-third of the vats working on the old system, for the sole purpose of obtaining a fresh and sweet dunder.

Without chemical control, they have yet to be working on continuous system and instead are on everything third batch you start again.

By setting up on these bottoms I extracted all their virtues, not so by a dirty cistern, it is far too clogged up, and there is not half enough liquor in it for the solubility of the precipitations, there is a loss there also, as the dunder has to be thrown away at every running of a dirty cistern.

This shows the more primitive system Patrick was getting away from. They knew there was alcohol in the byproduct and they periodically ran it through the still.

By thus working I changed the character of the fermentation very soon, only small bubbles working on the surface quite gently, something like an acidulous mineral spring.

Noticing something different, he may have found our hero Pombe.

When I wrote my first paper on the subject it gave rise to some comment—why could I only make two-thirds of my rum crop good and not the whole?

I highlight this because we may find that article.

Besides that, I then quietly withdrew all my low wine stills. I was the first to do this, but it has now become a common practice on many estates. I would however suggest that these low wine stills be redistilled—it would take away the low winey flavour.

This is a little hard to interpret and I think it means that they started to find, now that they were producing more aroma, more virtue in fractions further along the run.

In addition to what has been said, there are many minor details requisite for procuring flavour, none more so than getting plenty of Rum Cane liquor, that is the half rotten or rat eaten cane, unsuitable for sugar and generally sent to the still house, not at all for flavour, but from economical motives, however the bookkeeper often gets flavour thereby quite unwittingly. The rum canes have gone through a process themselves of a slow fermentation, lying in the field and yard, hence their efficacy.

This to me is among the most exciting parts of the paper because it discusses a tradition that may have been completely erased. If a microbial community needs to be created from scratch, this may be the place to look. It would likely be the subject of an awesome PhD paper. This also parallels whole cluster fermentation in wine grapes and is known to produce a distinct character with specific chemical markers.

I have known some estates making rum one year worth £25 in England, and the next only getting £17. I could trace it to the want of rum cane; when rum cane is not to be had, sweet cane liquor is as good only subjected to proper treatment.

Cane liquor likely being fresh sugar cane juice which brings its microbial community because it was not sterilized in the boilers like molasses. The experiment station documents decades later make use of lots of fresh sugar cane juice and if I remember correctly fail to acknowledge the rum cane. I suspect hat as more trained scientists entered the fray they absolutely could not rap their heads around rat eaten cane.

Another indispensable article is skimmings; a distiller cannot get too much of these. I have seen some estates giving away the half of them to the working mules, they were very probably throwing away £5 per puncheon; very few mules now enjoy that beverage, the value being better understood.

We all know of skimmings but we have not seen such an endorsement nor such an anecdote!

The skimmings are the fat or cream of the liquor, and it is for want of that commodity that our large distillers in the United Kingdom can only distill guid Scotch whiskey out of molasses, in place of rum. Skimmings are a powerful agent in fermentation, and vats set up with molasses alone will not yield nearly as much as when mixed with a proportion of skimmings. Skimmings have a very acid reaction.

Hell of an opening metaphor and “guid” is a little Robert Burns-esque slang sort of like guid enough for a drunk. Euphonically it explains itself (I consulted David Ferry who had a lot of fun doing the voices). What I have not found is a chemical look at skimmings. How do they boost aroma? Do they hold the mythic glycosides? New England rums, we must remember, had no skimmings.

I believe that temperature has something to do with making a good spirit,—”heat yer maut slow and ye will get the sweeter liquor” is an old Scotch saying, perhaps applicable here; it may be owing to this that our October brewing of ales at home are always the best.

Oh yeah? Tell us more…

I often thought that in the beginning of the crop here, that is after the first round of vats, that the best rum was made, owing to the temperature—January being very cool. I have also heard German rum buyers here say that they have engaged whole crops of rum on the faith of the first five puncheons submitted to them, but towards the end of the crop they were miserably disappointed.

These anecdotes are treasure.

Canes also, scarcely ripe, will produce much more for the stillhouse, and bye the way, flavour also; even cane tops in a dry season are a very good thing for rum—just as good as rum cane, sometimes better.

Oh really Patrick? [bats eyelashes]

What also affects cane juice, but in flavour of the stillhouse, is the distance sometimes that the grinding apparatus is from the coppers, especially where there are windmills, the liquor has often to travel 200 yard in an open gutter. That the manner of boiling  cane juice does affect after products is shown by the fact which I heard stated on good authority, that where on an estate usually producing a good rum, they were compelled, owing to an accident in their machinery, to send their canes to be ground in a neighboring estate, the rum turned out perfectly different.

Patrick and I may or may not be half way through a Mezan XO challenge. Write drunk, edit sober.

What sort of cane is most favourable for good rum it would be difficult to say, but I certainly prefer the Bourbon.


Leaving the fermentation house, we come to the last process in rum making, namely, the distillation of the fermented wash or liquor, this is so simple that no description is necessary. The still in use here are mostly those having one or two retorts, which produce rum at one distillation, there are a few estates yet using the old single still, which involves three distinct distillation and great extra expense for fuel and attendance. It would be difficult to say which still produces the best rum. One would imagine that with the retorts great opposition is offered to the essential oils, or flavour coming over, and yet some of our best rum are obtained by retorts.


I have seen some bookkeepers using the spent lees of the retorts again, saying they get better returns; there never was a greater fallacy, and of all things I would eschew this, the low winey poison is just what I would seek to avoid. It is amusing to hear the different opinions about loading the retorts, the fact being that as long as the induction pipe is covered it is all the same, the alcohol will come over, it may be either in rum or low wines. To save trouble it is best to keep strong spirit in the retorts, and when kept up a better spirit is got. Consign weak rum to the low wine cistern.

When Patrick says spent lees of the retorts he is describing a fraction that doesn’t usually have a name. He says lees but there are no yeast present. This fraction is the non-volatized part of a fraction already distilled. It is mainly water, fusel oils, and less volatile fatty acids. When I’ve discussed the loops of fraction recycling in the past, this fraction is a point where things exit the loop and are not recycled.

I will close my paper with a few general remarks on the subject. It has been observed that few very large estates make fine rum—always the smaller ones. I account for this by the bookkeeper being obliged to keep pace with the large crop, and in consequence, hurry on all his materials. Molasses, for instance, should not be used till they are a week or two old, they oxydize as it were, and certainly change their character. Perhaps it is from other causes that our “we still whiskey” at home is famed.

Another important matter that will affect rum is the quality of the water used. I believe that the name of some our more celebrated brewers and distillers in England depends upon this.

Here we have Patrick christening the category of fine rum (as opposed to commodity rum) in 1871. I try and reinforce these as the too highest level categories of spirits. Mixing and sipping are cliches that should die as well as industrial and artisanal. A commodity producer can produce a fine product even on industrial equipment.

Fine and commodity also better capture quality for purpose and justify the existence of other styles. I’ve discussed in the past that some rum producers have realities we fail to recognize. Short fermentations often exist because of pressure to move substrate along. The molasses is stacking up. These producers are not cheating anyone and they price their products appropriately. We undervalue commodity producers and as urban American hipsters fail to recognize that the laborers of the world need an affordable drunk.

A Few Papers For The Industrious

I’ve taken a break from the blog to start a door hardware company, but wonderful papers keep rolling in and I’ve been hoarding quite a few notables that in the right hands can move the industry. I’m not ready to share them yet, but I will share a few others.

Rex recently brought up a paper that I have written about a few times but apparently never shared. DW Clutton has written some of the most interesting things about gin over the years and supposedly has a new one on the market I’m itching to try (can anyone arrange for Clutton to be interviewed on the Bostonapothecary?).

Rex was also kind enough to share up a great series of curiosities that has been on my list so long I forgot about it. In the early 1960’s, L.A. Warwicker wrote a three part (I, II, III) series about instability in potable spirits. This was the era before stainless steel and apparently before filter pads become more inert. This was also when Arroyo‘s teachings of how spirits can be broken by dilution were lost.

Do new American distilleries have instability issues? I’m just not in tuned any more. I do remember seeing lots of strange condensation in the exposed neck of filled bottles and hearing that it could be remedied by setting up a bottle washer that rinsed new bottles with the product to be filled.

I did also experiment with using common sand as a filtration media to remove excess terpenes from gin with a lot of success.

In the spring, I collected a lot of notes on rum. I’ll share the briefest ones, a favorite being a note on the moral superiority of rum (a must read).

This note from 1921 provides a time stamp on the idea that Trawlany was still churning out full flavored rum despite the serious industry slump.

Associated with Guadalupe, Rhums de fantasie according to this 1921 note were apparently fabricated rhum-like products which drove down the price of the genuine article. I did recently have a nip of one that was bottled in the 1970’s.

If we go way way back, we can invoke Patrick Neilson of Trelawny who describes the “dirty cistern”.

“what in fact first drew my attention to seeking out a flavour in rum was the running I first got from what is known here was the ‘dirty cistern,’ a receptacle for all the refuse, bottoms, etc., of the other vats; I was astonished for find at the can pit mouth as the rum came over, an exquisite flavour . . .”

Oh yes, and scoring big bostonapothecary points, there is a mention of the rum cane I’ve been talking up. “that is rotten or half eaten cane, which had been allowed to undergo a slow fermentation while lying in the field and yard.”

So, there is a first name, and a time stamp, and a reference to even more literature written by Patrick Neilson. Have at it.

The lost rums and early investigators really make a mockery of the new distilling scene in sophistication of inquiry. This note with a citation for Keyser’s original paper even looked at vat size and shape for optimizing aroma production from schizosaccharomyces pombe. I have more from Keyser elsewhere I should share up.

H.H. Cousins, who invented the high ester process, was optimistic that a generation of British WWI soldiers exposed to the comforts of Jamaican rum during the war would return to it as civilians. He was also hip to rotating bananas and sugar cane in the fields of St. Catherine.

At the same time that British soldiers were drinking a type of Jamaican rum, the German market for German rum was collapsing. In this note, distillers producing German rums actually change up their production to common clean. Its easy to gloss over this, but it implies that they knew how to shift gears and were not so worried about losing the ability to resume production of full flavored rum (coffin full of muck, mold on the walls). It also reinforces the idea that there were very different economies to producing each style.

[… the causation of the complaint. As an instance of this we may mention that in the rum from the several distilleries which are under the control of one of us, faultiness, which of late has been found on mark only, has been distinctly traced to the use, in this particular case, of packages made from comparatively new and uncured staves.

We may remind your readers that in certain wine-growing districts the wood intended for use in packages is tested by portions of it being soaked in brandy for some weeks, and samples causing in the spirits used, upon dilution with water, the turbidity which in rums is termed faultiness, are rejected.
We have the honour to be, Sir,
Your obedient servants,
J.B. Harrison,
Frederic J. Scard.
Georgetown, British Guiana,
May 9th, 1900.

Meanwhile in Paraguay, at Empresa Azucarera, description of a lost rum of unique prodcution…

A superior quality of rum is distilled in Paraguay, being made from uncrushed cane. Small amounts of this spirit have been shipped to Germany and, it is said, obtained good prices.

Are we missing a few details? Is this carbonic maceration with whole canes fermenting within liquid juice, or something else? If anyone still did anything like this it would be a chachaca here and there at the beginning of the season.

Alaska Ice Crusher

One of my prized possessions is my Alaska model No. 1 ice crusher. To be honest, I own a few of them and insist they are at any bar I’m working. Many in the cocktail scene aren’t familiar with them, but the bars of Boston are home to quite a few (And D.C.’s Green Zone just got its first fully restored unit!).

The Alaska is a big, hundred year old, fly wheel driven, block ice crusher that can shred cold draft cubes like it’s no ones business. They were used on fishing boats, in general stores, science labs, pretty much any where an awesome crush was required. With little effort you can fill five gallon buckets of crush in mere minutes (especially if you fit it with a hopper!). A 115 volt motor just can’t match the torque of a hand driven flywheel so there is nothing electric in its size range that can rival it (actually, if you’ve got the space you can attach a motor).

For years people have loved stopping by our house for a Caipirinha, the house drink, and crushing their own ice. “Oh yeah, the house with that big crusher.” It has always been the center of a lot of drunk memories. One of ours may or may not have made a pilgrimage to Burning Man.

Owning a great, clean and functional Alaska has just gotten easier because Brandon Neal’s PA Writing Tools & Restoration has started restoring them. Buying a restored machine will set you back $375-425 and Brandon can restore an existing machine for $200. Not too bad for a hundred year old statement piece.


Unrestored Alaska’s are prone to dripping a little rust here and there because they were made from tin coated steel, but Brandon solves all that with a food safe powder coating. Restoration involves disassembly and sand blasting, boring the worn axle holes, rethreading the flywheel spindle, food safe powder coating, fitment with plastic bushing to prevent metal on metal abrasion, and finally a new handle. Brandon can even fabricate new metal tins to catch the crush if desired.

Boring of the axle holes, which are typically elongated by wear, is a modern update and a really great touch. When worn, the spinning drum tends to jump and rock side to side making noise and increasing the wear. When fitted with plastic bushings, there is no more metal on metal contact and a much more precise movement.

If you’re interested in an Alaska, leave a comment here or hit up Brandon on Facebook. There is often a waiting list because Alaska’s are a highly collected cult antique. They are increasingly behind the scenes of better bars and becoming statement pieces for distillery tasting rooms. I finally own enough of them that I’m comfortable telling you about them. [If your bar uses an Alaska, leave a comment. It would be great to know who else is in the club.]

Nothing rivals an Alaska.

I own a few 19th century Chandler’s
(This person owns a fleet! I must have lost auctions to them)
(Japaned or galvanized, take your pick!)


I own a few Little Giants:


I’ve owned the legendary Flak Mak’r:


But the Alaska is king. Happy crushing.

Public foundations for Private Spirits Companies

[Something really important to consider here is the public research contribution to the spirits industry versus the pharmaceutical industry. In the spirits industry public research lifts all boats and works as its supposed to. In pharma public research gets coerced into a patent that can not lift all boats. Pharma companies from around the world flock to the U.S. to take advantage of public research they can funnel into protected patents. The spirits industry should likely be a template for how things should go yet the work does not continue and instead is from a bygone era.]

Recently, long time blog hero, the super star linguist George Lakoff, wrote a wonderful article explaining the rhetoric of the Trump campaign and at the end made some strategy suggestions for democrats. The big one was to take the time and highlight what public resources have done for private companies (republicans are in denial) and one of the supreme examples may be the spirits industry. Trump remember, did try and sell vodka.

This blog, home to my obsessive collecting of papers on spirits research, is more or less a shrine to great public works. I will boldly claim that this modest blog has also become the biggest source of advanced educational material for the new arm of the distilling industry that is domestically approaching $1 billion in market value (and a very significant employer). I did it all mainly by collecting public works that were either lost or taken for granted and making them more accessible, very much a la Aaron Swartz. I do write a lot of original material and annotate papers I find, but it is nowhere near as valuable as the original public works (I’m even hiding some of the best stuff). A large part of why I do it is because I want to start my own private business and I can only do this if I draw from public resources.

Articles continuously get released in reputable publications that claim that no significant public works have been conducted on topics as specific as barrel aging but that is so far from the truth. The IRS at one point in time was even advanced enough to conduct studies of whiskey aged in plywood barrels for four years. There was even an eight year follow up I have yet to recover. Public researcher John Piggott has done eye opening work on the topic that informs many of the world’s great whiskeys.

Another very timely topic is the accelerated aging of spirits, and constant junk articles repeatedly claim very little work has been done on the subject. These authors have yet to discover the definitive literature review and bibliography of famed U.C. Davis professor Vernon Singleton published publicly in Hilgardia. Our private companies are either botching it by not using public resources or we are an entire generation removed from anyone even aware of pragmatic publicly financed works that support entrepreneurship. Private business is clearly not reaching its potential by using public resources.

Origins of public research in the alcoholic beverage industry go back very far and it would be great to put focus on rum distiller and Victorian genius, the Great Agricola, W.F. Whitehouse who convinced the British Government to award prizes for essays that led to agricultural advances. He recognized early on that a high tide lifts all boats. I’m still searching for three prize winning essays on Guyana rum production from 1879 that exist in pampthlets that were the precursor the amazing public Guyanese journal Timehri. Last year following leads in my Agricola post I tracked down and annotated a vast collection of public works (newly digitized) that showed how Jamaican rum came to be from the public agricultural projects of the Sugar Cane Experiment Station of Jamaica. This was all complete with time stamps and first names that very completely tell the story of the birth and evolution of the Jamaican rum style squarely placing all advancement in relationships between the public and private companies.

The same public and private relationships can be seen elsewhere around the world such as in the papers on Sri Lankan Arrack I had a lot of fun profiling.

[I’m actually at the beach running a pop-up restaurant so don’t expect much. I may bounce around a bit then try to tighten it up.]

In a brilliant paper I haven’t released, public research by the famed James Guymon (1950’s or 60’s) gave neutral spirits production a 2% economy which the private company Seagrams was the first to employ and has since made them hundreds of millions of dollars. Other large vodka producers no doubt have benefited and the recurring benefits of a single published paper (that is basically lost) must be approaching a billion dollars in created value.

The modern tequila industry was rapidly built on significant public research that helped private firms modernized and scale up to meet global demand. I say rapid because in other industries the trickle-over is slow and often takes decades, but in spirits, private companies have capitalized surprisingly quickly.

Brazilian Cachaça, and many other spirits around the world (Scotch and near everybody actually), rapidly used public research projects to overcome the ethyl carbamate problem in spirits after it was labelled a toxic congener and cleverly set up as a trade barrier to prevent importation. There were very large Cachaça companies but the work was commissioned by the Brazilian government to help all of its private companies expand into new markets. Cachaça production currently sees some of the most advanced public fermentation studies conducted anywhere to help increase quality so exports can grow.

Rum got its next leg up in the 1940’s from the publicly commissioned works of Rafael Arroyo and the Sugar Cane Experiment Station of Puerto Rico. The fortune of the Bacardi company, and near every long established rum producer is based on Arroyo’s public works and the public works that followed from the Rum Pilot Plant (these papers are not easily accessible but I do have their definitive annotated bibliography). Private American rum producers have been reinventing the wheel (poorly) because Arroyo’s works were absolutely lost until I recovered and republished them with the help of Boston Public Library. Arroyo’s seminal text on distilling which I think is the greatest out there (and I’ve read everything) was intended to be given for free to private companies and yet I have the only accessible copy. Countless commercial distillers read the Bostonapothecary and only one has asked me to share Arroyo’s book.

Gin may be the only spirits category to resist being built on a public foundation and I’ve ended up being the only source for the few public works. I am still sitting on the greatest public work which was the gift of the Seagram’s corporation before WWII and its appendix contains their spectacular botanical assessment protocols that should be the foundation of quite a few new American distilleries. Private American industry would have a lot to gain if old school style agricultural bulletins were written to aid new american producers. I’m dreaming of doing a youtube video series on the Seagram’s techniques (but I need some money to finance the rest of the tools).

Quite a few public works exist on the subject of Vermouth and this very blog launched a lot of ships when it made them re-accessible with the help of the Boston Public Library. Quite a few companies have acknowledge finding their confidence and getting their start by reading the papers I’ve dug up. Quite a few popular authors have also used the public documents as the cornerstone of their privately published texts.

Its not hard to see that public work is the pulse of the ever evolving spirits industry. It has been and always will be. I’ve even skipped over quite a few spirits categories and not even discussed wine which is where things really get staggering.

I’m already exhausted and I didn’t get deeper into the wild contributions of the IRS laboratories (which had their budgets cut and basicaly no longer exist) and their amazing contributions under super star chemists like Peter Valaer. I mentioned two U.C. Davis figures but not yet even Maynard Amerine who made the most prolific contributions.

We’ve taken the relationship of public resources to private business for granted. Private businesses are clearly missing opportunities and a big step to help them will be to re-expose and re-publish the works which are public property. It would be of amazing use to see others in the spirits industry start to properly recognize prior public works and for other industries to take Lakoff’s advice and meditate on their use of public resources.

Private companies should demand easy access to public resources that benefit them and newly emerging (or re-emerging) sectors should demand new public resources to help them build a foundation and tackle their problems.

I wish this wasn’t so soberly written but WTF America, Get it together.

For Sale: Large Bottle Bottler

(I was recently able to drop the price on this after finally figuring out how to get the canisters wholesale in the specific design revision. They are a pretty serious piece of hardware.)

For Sale (190USD+20 to ship)



The product here is a counter pressure keg-to-bottle bottling device that can do many sizes of large bottles with a particular focus on Champagne 750’s and 22 oz. beer bottles. The innovation here is that it creates a seal with a ballistic plastic enclosure all the way around the bottle (via a very specific high pressure water filter housing) rather than with the tops of the various proprietary bottles like other designs.


This is the big brother of the Small Bottle Bottler and works exactly the same, but is larger. Due to its size, the enclosure also doubles as a very useful research scale keg. See the case studies below for usage ideas.


This also makes bottling safer because a bottle cannot break during filling because of how pressure is formed completely around them (inside and out! clever, right?). Bottles are fully contained in an ultra strong clear enclosure rated to multiples times transfer pressure. If a bottle overflows due to operator error, the liquid is caught in the food safe plastic sump and can be recycled. Or, optionally, if you want to fill the negative space with chilled water, less CO2 will be used and the bottles will be kept colder, reducing bonding time and risk of foaming when releasing pressure.


The last popular counter pressure bottler design has been around for more than 20 years. This is the counter pressure bottler design for the next 20 years… Modular, affordable, safe. It has been kicking ass in the hands of some of the country’s best bar programs and home brewers. The design features all the valuable lessons I’ve learned from designing the Champagne Bottle Manifold which is basically to only use uncompromising stainless steel Cornelius quick release fittings. Hardly an innovation, but I use one ambidextrous quick release fitting going into the bottler. This fitting can take a gas line to flush the bottle and bring the bottler to the same pressure as the keg then be switched to the liquid line to fill the bottle. This differs from other death trap designs which use multiple hardwired lines preventing units from being used in an array or being portable (or easy to clean).

The product is highly evolved and articulate for the task. The water filter housing is a particular design revision and other similar revisions do not seal as efficiently [The machining is slightly more complicated than you’d think and I’d be happy to discuss what the hell I do to make the thing if anyone wants. The lid needs to be modified on the milling machine and the stainless fittings require modification on the metal lathe].


The bottler is easy to store behind the bar, easy to clean & keep sanitary, and because of the chosen fittings, seamless to integrate into restaurant programs already using Cornelius cocktail on tap equipment. To reduce inactive time and make bottling as fast as possible, they can be used in an array of multiple units on any counter top because the device takes up less square footage (that restaurants don’t have) than competing designs like the Melvico and its very expensive clones.IMG_7041

1. Put in your bottle of choice and securely screw the top onto the sump with the down tube sticking down the center of the bottle (refer to pictures).
2. Connect the gas hose and release the side valve to flush the bottle of Oxygen. Close the side valve which also brings unit to the same pressure as the keg. Disconnect the gas line (you are probably only transferring at 20-30 PSI).
3. Connect the liquid line from the keg and slowly release the side valve to create a low pressure system drawing liquid into the bottle. Close the side valve at your desired fill level.
4. Disconnect the liquid line and let the bottle bond for 30 seconds so that it does not foam upon releasing pressure (at this time you could start working on another unit).
5. 30 seconds later… Release pressure using the side valve. Remove the bottle and promptly cap it.
6. Start a new bottle!Feel free to ask any and all questions. Cheers! -Stephen
For Sale (190USD+20 to ship)

Case study 1: The unit was deployed in a distillery to bottle products for the tasting room and for events. Cocktails were kegged in 15 gallon sanke kegs and transferred using an array of five bottlers which goes quite fast. A plywood cutout was eventually made on a work bench to fit the profile of the sump and act as a wrench for quickly loosening the lids. Carbonation helped a simple distillery product show its best in a new diversifying context to keep guest engagement.

Case study 2: A small brewery with no bottling line used both the small bottle bottler and the large bottle bottler for sales sample preparation. Beer was transferred to bottles from a 5 gallon sanke keg. The brewer felt more confident in the fidelity of the bottled product than other designs on the market. The price was also noted as greatly appreciated!

Case study 3: A renowned and technically quite brilliant bar with serious space constraints used the large bottle bottler as small scale keg because it fit their fridges better than stainless three gallon units (they own no walk-in). They then transferred their carbonated cocktails to 200mL bottles using the small bottle bottler. This was achieved at very high carbonation levels in a postage stamp of a space! They notably appreciated how the bottles could be chilled by filling the sump filled with iced water which didn’t require any extra containers or overly deplete their ice. The down tube to the large bottle bottler was extended to reaching the bottom of the sump using a short length of beverage line tube and the fill level of the “keg” could be seen at all times. They did pay $25 extra to have an extra Cornelius post mounted on the large bottle bottler for a second quick release gas-in option.


Case study 4: A cocktail caterer specializing in weddings used the deluxe extra large sump (which isn’t typically for sale) to bottle magnum bottles via a full enclosure. They specifically wanted a full enclosure solution to minimize safety risks as much as possible because staff of different training levels were using the equipment. A false bottom had to be fabricated for the bottom of the sump so the magnums never slipped down too far and wedged themselves against the sides (the sump expands ever so slightly under pressure then contracts as pressure drops). Three dozen magnums were bottled! Mission accomplished!


Case study 5: The large bottle bottler was used as a mini keg to fill a five gallon sanke to do a bar take over and put a cocktail on tap for an event. The bar owned Cornelius kegs but they were in service and the receiving bar was not set up for Cornelius kegs anyways. The bar did not own sanke kegs, but used two empty cider kegs awaiting return to the distributor. A filler head was made by simply removing the one way valves from a clean sanke coupler and attaching a bleeder valve. The first sanke keg was flushed with one gallon of water to remove residual cider. One gallon at a time, five gallons of cocktail were transferred to the flushed sanke keg so it could be put on tap at the event. The second sanke keg was filled with multiple gallons of line cleaning solution. The line was quickly cleaned before the event and after by using the second keg. The brand was really happy to see themselves kegged and a few bar managers were wowed by what little equipment it took to do it. The two sanke’s were labelled and carefully returned to their appropriate restaurant.


Spirits Review: Mezan XO Jamaica Rum

The Mezan XO Jamaica rum is likely the greatest deal in all of spirits at the moment, yet it has been slow to catch on. Even in this unprecedented era of spirits education buyers seem slow to discover anything. The product is a very smart blend likely assembled by E & A Sheer, who has unparalleled access to blending stocks. The product forgoes traditional coloring and subtle sugaring giving it a very sleek modern truth seeking quality.

Despite a righteous flavor and probable noble E & A Sheer heritage, the branding comes across as a vodka startup like veneer that may irk some. Don’t fall into that trap, the gates to MGP whiskey may be wide open, but access to the lost rums of the world is elusive and I recommend taking it any way you can get it.

This rum from Mezan has that je ne sais quoi, and that is appreciable quantities of rum oil, the most noble (if not divine!) of all the congeners. The new generation of spirits connoisseurs is slowly digesting the concept of esters, but the king congener class is the fairly high boiling point terpenes that are the product of glycoside hydrolysis (these are different from gin botanical terpenes). This is absolutely at the forefront of distillation research, being led by Cognac and also finds itself at the forefront of theoretical oenology where researchers are pointing to the same congener class as a significant layer of the terroir phenomenon.

You can fake esters, but you cannot fake rum oil. If you target esters in your production you will produce some rum oil, but if you target rum oil you maximize your potential and you get all the esters you want at the same time. This is easier said that done and was the dogged pursuit of the 1940’s rum researcher, Rafael Arroyo (it is pretty much what his 1945 book is all about). Production ends up requiring a virtuosic attention to detail or wild amount of divine chance. It is hard to say how the producers behind Mezan XO do it.

Two distilleries can start with the same substrate and thus the same amount of glycosides yet end up with wildly different amounts of rum oil. This aroma can be seen as silent or bound aroma that needs to be unlocked with care. Glycosides are typically split via enzymes produced by yeast. Alt, non-sacharomyces yeasts produce far more enzymes than typical sacharomyces (think budding bakers or brewers yeasts). This is where our hero from other posts, Schizosacharomyces Pombe, comes in (as well as a few others).

Catalysts, like acidity, also act to increase rum oil production as well as that expensive ingredient of time. Longer fermentations (and resting periods) yield more opportunity for glycoside hydrolysis, but at the risk of aroma-detrimental bacterial infections. Risk is worth money and that is why we should prize this congener class. Authenticity is also worth money, and unlike esters, this congener class is something that cannot be faked. There is no easy road to rum oil.

We are building up to the Mezan XO challenge, but first we need to go a little bit further.

Many spirits of great repute have lost this congener class as their production has been scaled upwards because no one really knew where it originated. The main loss comes from migration to low risk pure culture fermentations adopted by many formerly traditional distilleries because typical sacharomyces yeast produce less of the enzymes needed to split glycosides. Besides spirits, this has profound implications for wine. Pure culture fermentations forgo a lot of this aroma because they result in a much narrower microbial community. For spirits, tequila may have been the most negatively affected by yeast changes as production scaled up.

Devastating changes to a spirit often happen when a distillery changes physical buildings as result of increasing production because so much of the microbial community is held in the architecture. Hampden estates, with some production areas covered in aroma-beneficial molds, is the perfect nth degree case study while others like the cult beer producer Cantillion are also notable.

So little basic science has been done on architecture embedded microbial communities that we don’t even know how they start or get balanced forming a SCOBY (I have a collection of anecdotes!). Aroma-beneficial molds are often over looked in Jamaican rum production in favor of aroma-beneficial ester producing bacteria, but they likely have their origins in the long forgotten “rum canes”. When Jamaican rum wash bills used percentages of fresh sugar cane juice, it likely came from Rum Canes which were canes infected with molds. These could be analogous to the noble rot in wine grapes, but definitely different in the finer points. They might not even exist anymore having been eradicated by modern cultivation methods and pesticides and thus only available through the physical buildings we take for granted.

We’re getting closer to the Mezan XO challenge, but first we have to look at the end of rum science history in the 1990’s and how and why Cognac took over. Rum science seems to end in the 1990’s with a call to explore alt yeasts but never directly pointing the finger at aroma from glycosides as the most significant source of rum quality. Cognac picks up where rum leaves off for some really interesting reasons. This means that if we want to advance rum further we have to look to Cognac and some of the ideas at the forefront of oenology research.

Bon vivants will note that there is a lot of overlapping character between the finest rums and the finest Cognacs. Many rums historically were designed to mimic Cognac. Grapes used for Cognac production are also high in glycosides. Cognac production also has a few other properties overlapping with rum we could go into, but I’ll spare you.

Cognac oil as a congener class, just like rum oil, has been recognized for over a hundred years, but the big driving force behind why the torch was passed to Cognac is because they have their back up against a wall. Everyone else focuses on expansion instead of quality improvement, but Cognac is a small region and their product has been legendary for centuries. They have cultivated near all viable area. They cannot expand, they can only improve so that is where they spend their energies and do it so well.

We can only hope the new American distilleries end up similarly with their back up against a wall. Right now they are all trying to expand rapidly, forgoing quality. If new American distilleries balloon from 600 to 3000, the focus will likely go from expansion to quality improvement as a way of staying competitive.

Cognac researchers are also notably in tune with their heritage and they bring us from an era of traditional practices to guided traditional practices. Chaotic diversified microbial communities are the hallmark of traditional practices and science is starting to recognize the importance of minority community member’s role of producing the rarest most extraordinary aroma. Tradition alone, in this context, is associated with ignorance and ideology best exemplified in the sloppy natural wines flooding the market. While guided tradition recognizes the science behind the chaos, does not seek to master it so much as frame careful windows around it to reign in the risk. The resultant products are consistently extraordinary (In wine, I would single out Randall Grahm immediately, but so many deserve cognition).

Before the Mezan XO challenge I’d quickly like to note that certain Armagnacs are very high in aroma from glycosides and they can be very hard to tell apart from Jamaica rums. Certain tequilas are notably high, but fewer than there used to be. Older rums from cult producers had it and lost it. Use your nose and keep track (there are also a few amazing chemical tests taught by Arroyo*). If we highlight exemplary producers they will become stronger guided traditionalists and be mindful as they scale up to global demands.

(*The most basic test is to take a 2 oz. sample and add sulfuric acid which will destroy all the esters and aldehydes subtracting their aroma. If strong residual aroma remains, it can be attributed to the rum oil congener class. This sample is now undrinkable!)

Rum oil, Cognac oil, and aroma derived from glycosides may have pharmacological effects, that is what the challenge is about. If you drink spirits high in these congeners you may feel significantly less dehydrated by the ethanol. Your buzz may seem to hang broadly in a really lovely way. It is a different drunk with lots of anecdotal evidence to support it. Search your recollections, have you ever experienced something like it? Is rum oil the pattern behind mysterious lack of hangover after significant consumption? Are wines of terroir more gentle?

Most all congener classes have been widely studied and ruled out as specifically contributing to hangovers in broad populations. Rum oil has not been studied because of near no awareness and that it is appreciable in less than 1% of all spirits. It is the product of very specific microbial communities just like so many drugs, there is no scientific reason to immediately dismiss its unique potential power.

Remember, I am the guy perceptive enough to have identified all of the olfactory illusions in the wild categorized by Richard Stevenson. When wallowing through subjectivity, my track record of acuteness rivals a neurologist.

I encourage any devoted bon vivant to take the Mezan XO challenge and consume appreciable amounts of the spirit (safely) and note the effects. Do this especially if you are aging and your tolerance for alcohol is changing negatively hangover wise. Who can afford to crush eight ounces of Martel Cordon Bleu, but anyone can afford Mezan XO. Sacrifice your body for speculative science. Design controlled drinking experiments. Supply of truly fine spirits will not come without demand and here I am unraveling the chemical pattern. No hangover research has been focused enough to look at a mythic congener class that is barely acknowledged and not widely available on the market. Maybe we can inspire researchers to pursue it. What comes before the science? This.

Take the Mezan XO challenge and/or search your recollections then please leave a comment!

Narrative of the 1975 Rum Symposium

Say it with me:
Rum is the most progressive spirits category.
Rum has the most researched spirits production.
There is nothing finer than rum as we make it.

As usual another cache of forgotten rum papers showed up that paints a narrative of rum advancement mid 19th century that is seldom looked at. It seems to be far easier to study much older periods. This collection of articles was assembled for a symposium held in the West Indies.

I’m having a busy week between the machine shop and the restaurant so I’ll just put this out there then maybe follow up on it later.

The Analytical identification of rum / R. J. Mesley, D. B. Lisle, C. P. Richards and D. F. Wardleworth
Set Level: Annales de Technologie Agricole. N.º 3-4, vol. 24 (1975), p. 361-370

This paper is part of the beginning of the chromatography era and of course rum led the way. One reason spirits finger printing was important was because of all the trade rules governing the movement of rum. If you could confidently identify a rum, there would be less chance of theft (because it had to turn back up again) or illegal aliens and rum border jumpers moving around. All analysis was conducted in a “revenue protection laboratory”. For a long time this analysis did not help advance production but was merely for revenue protection.

Formation of acetals in run : a kinetic study / K. Misselhorn
Set Level: Annales de Technologie Agricole. N.º 3-4, vol. 24 (1975), p. 371-381

The chemistry in this paper is kind of heavy. I guess the amount of acetals should be at a predictable level when at equilibrium with a given amount of aldehydes, but that isn’t always the case because of the formation of semi-acetals. The paper notes that there is dispute on the organoleptic importance of acetals. Some downplay their importance while others say some are very important to flavor. I think Piggot wrote about their importance. I don’t know enough about them.

The rum pilot plant of the agricultural experiment station of the university of Puerto Rico : past, present, future / A. E. Molini
Set Level: Annales de Technologie Agricole. N.º 3-4, vol. 24 (1975), p. 391-396

This summary of the Pilot Plant is particularly important and some of its intentions are revealed. It also helps contextualize Arroyo whom the torch was passed from. Arroyo produced a lot of “leads” for further investigation, but I don’t think the Puerto Rican industry, with its massive responsibilities (that we typically fail to recognize), were interested in making complex, fine, full bodied, Jamaica-type rums. I think their work paved the way for a lot of the rums that would give the category a bad name. There were investigations of super clean ferments using antibiotics and chemical additives, investigations of very high alcohol ferments with intense optimization of fermentation variables. At the same time there research made the industry very environmentally friendly.

As we will see in another paper, there was intense automation and optimization of high proof distillation. The paper has some brief summaries of their achievements and a unique one is that of ageing where they realize that even with all their scientific resources, there is no substitute for natural ageing in the barrel.

This paper is well worth reading and I do have the annotated bibliography of the Pilot Plant which I will eventually start collecting.

Possibilities of utilization of butyric acid bacteria for rum making / S. Nemoto
Set Level: Annales de Technologie Agricole. N.º 3-4, vol. 24 (1975), p. 397-410

Wildly interesting, but sadly a very poor scanning. Arroyo’s ideas seem to have made it all the way to Japan and the Japanese made super full bodied rums even though they weren’t rum drinkers! They made confections! They were even investigating Pombe yeasts! “Furthermore, Japanese do not drink rum so much. […] After the Second World War, goods for daily use were insufficient and their qualities were poor. Materials of confectionary, such as butter and wheat flour, were not an exception. Heavy rum was used in order to improve the taste and flavor of cake made from those bad materials. Thus, rum has been developed not as a drink, but as a confectionary use, and in Japan heavy rum was wanted. […] We had to study rum making under very different conditions from West India.”

The world is full of lost rums.

What is to be found in literature about rum production that is more than 300 years old? / H. Olbrich
Set Level: Annales de Technologie Agricole. N.º 3-4, vol. 24 (1975), p. 411-420

This paper is of wild importance and amasses a bibliography of 150 sources, much of which are in German. I find myself sympathizing with the author a lot. And he hypes my home boy, Mr. Motherfucking Pombe, Percival Greig.

“It was not until a century later that the Englishman Percival H. Greig, 1893-1895, followed with systematic results on rum manufacture. Before going to Jamaica, Greig acquainted himself with microbiological procedures, aided by the Danish scholars Hansen and Jorgensen in Copenhagen. In 1895 however, his interest in publishing any work of his was brought to a close with three papers. Greig himself had become a rum manufacturer.”

So I am acquainting myself with microbiology procedures and walking a similar path.

“In 1936, Greig’s work was still reviewed to a substantial degree in an extensive paper [where is this paper?!], as the basic position of science regarding rum manufacture. So no abundant material is to be found in literature about rum manufacture until nearly the middle of our century. In the last decades, numerous circumstances have influenced both production and market development, as well as yielding some scientific papers. It is an irrefutable fact that a library is cheaper than a laboratory [emphasis mine] and that inquiries are far less costly than investments in development work which is already being carried out elsewhere. By means of thorough information regarding the basic position of science and technique, irrational brain-work is avoided, fruitless researching and inventing activities are prevented and the squandering of economic power and capital is hindered. With other words : Ascertainment of which results and suggestions have already been published in order to solve a problem, serves the rationalization and increase in the productivity of science and practice. Unproductive searching, idle effort and erroneous investments are thus avoided. For a sequel to the examination of literature work, which is sometimes unjustly underestimated, American atomic research offers an example which should be a warning; at an expenditure of vast sums of money, problems were supposedly dealt with, for which complete results were already to be partly found in literature.”

That language! And did he just compare rum research to nuclear research, fucking profound!

And of course Olbrich provides new references to track down.

Production of light-bodied rum by an extractive distillation process / E. D. Unger, T. R. Coffey
Set Level: Annales de Technologie Agricole. N.º 3-4, vol. 24 (1975), p. 469-495

This is a very complex paper and even if you cannot wrap your head around all the science, you can see massive automation at work. You can also see the birth of spirits made from sugar cane that some like Arroyo would not call rum. For starters, this paper explains how by using computation they can take a beer with a given set of congeners then predict what the output will be given the continuous stills tuning options mainly concerning fusel oil. This explains how a bespoke fermentation for Ron del Barrilito, or even any heavy rum within a producer’s portfolio of other lighter rums, could be spliced into the feed and variables immediately adjusted to give a lower proof ferment with a different level of fusel oil reduction from the usual. This does not give the distiller unlimited potential to pick and choose congeners, but it does give more options to maximize the potential of the still.

Reduction of fusel oil during distillation is shown as a big focus of the paper, but what Arroyo has taught us is that reducing it during distillation jeopardizes reducing rum oil which is the hallmark of rum (yet is seldom discussed). For heavy rums according to Arroyo, fusel oil should be reduced by yeast selection and fermentation optimization. Distillates produced as described in the paper are sort of the antithesis of the Arroyo teachings and are something else masquerading as rum. Yet its all wildly advanced and of course applied to rum first.

Facts about Sugar, 1940, Volumes 35-36, 26-? (part I already got), 35-? (start of part VI), 64-?;id=coo.31924054773571;view=1up;seq=7;start=21;sz=10;page=search;orient=0