Rum Distilling, Edward Denman, Queensland, 1892

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Edward Denman (a terrible colonial labor exploiter) had experience in the West Indies before moving to Queensland. The journal that published this article circulated in Queensland, New South Wales, Fiji, and Mauritius. What he presents is a version of the rule-of-thumb distilling of the early 19th century. What is odd is that having experience in Demerara, he makes no specific mention of adding sulphuric acid to the wash. He does present some very cool details like a difference in the taste of London and Liverpool which mostly amounts to coloring. We learn later in another issue of the journal that the color is about its use for vatting with other lighter colored West Indies rums. Denman uses no dunder, which he refers to as lees, but does use skimmings, rum cane juice from damaged canes, and plenty of wash washer. Much of the water used to clean boiling equipment, cisterns, and connecting gutters went directly to the mixing cistern. This was a method of collecting residual sugar, but no doubt introduced lime to the process, volatile acidity, and a spectrum of bacteria and yeast.

Denman mentions that washes set up for house usage would be done differently but does not elaborate on how. My only guess is more skimmings and less molasses. We do know that house rums were often distilled to a lower ABV.

What is described may seem a lot like what was practiced in Jamaica, but there are some differences. For starters, Jamaica added no mineral acids like sulphuric, so the acid content was all organic and contributed by both souring in the mixing cistern and from the dunder. Jamaica may have also used cane varieties congruent to certain terroirs like Battavia or Ribbon cane that were deep purple with short joints (features correlated to aroma) which produced lower sugar yields but were known to be better for rum.

The Sugar Journal and Tropical Cultivator, May 15, 1892.

Rum Distilling.

Editor Sugar Journal:

Queensland manufacturers having tried the London market with their sugars with satisfactory results, distillers will no doubt follow their example with rum. The former have had to, and so must the latter, study the requirements and tastes of the market if they wish to obtain good results.

Rum that would find ready sale in the Liverpool, would find no sale in the London market. As most of the direct shipping from Queensland goes to London that is the market they will most likely try and they will do well to get samples before they’ ship. The London buyers require a very deep colored rum not less than 36 0.p. [77.71% ABV], and the rum though deeply colored must have a fine fiery sparkle, not the dull hazy color peculiar to some.

If you think that the following actual working of a Demerara distillery would be of interest to any of your readers you may publish it. Some of the details may appear minute, but they are of great importance in actual work. The space that you can allow in your journal (if any) for this subject must necessarily be small, so that I must omit to go too much into details. As the plant differed somewhat from the stills generally in use in Queensland a description will be necessary and a rough outline will enable it to be better understood.

It was what is known as a double still consisting of 800 and 700 gallons wash stills, low wine still, rectifier, and worm, the whole connected by goose necks. The still was heated by fire. The liquor loft contained eighteen 900 gallons fermenting vats, and the rum store the necessary butts, vats and pumps, with hydrometer, bubbles, syphons and gauging rods, etc.

The rum store acts as a bond. In the boiling house was a large skimming box into which all the skimmings and sweet water from the copper wall and clarifiers, and all the juice from the damaged cane was run until required for setting up. Near to this was a mixing cistern of 2700 gallons capacity. Without a mixing cistern it is impossible to set up with anything like accuracy, and it not only saves a great deal of labor, but also saves all the water used for washing floors, coolers, and utensils which goes to make rum, not a particle of sugar or molasses being lost. Into this cistern water and skimmings were run, and molasses pumped and thoroughly mixed until brought to a density of 12 by Twaddle’s saccharonometer [SG 1.060]. Twelve by Twaddle is equal to eight Beaume. The wash must be thoroughly mixed otherwise if it is being brought up with molasses the top might be 12 and the bottom 10, and the consequences will be that the proper percentage of rum will not be obtained and the manager will, and most probably the commissary also may, want to know the reason.

The wash was then pumped into the fermenting vats where it requires to be stirred and skimmed. If the temperature of the loft was properly regulated (which is also a thing of importance) in about eight days the wash would be down to zero and fit for the still. Most distillers can tell by putting their hand into the wash if it is down without using an instrument.

A still should not be charged too full. The wash stills in question although of a joint capacity of 1500 gallons were never charged to more than 1350. While the wash was running into the stills the low wines were being pumped into the low wine still, the manhole doors closed and the fire started. The quality of the rum depends upon the setting up. Every building’s overseer who has had any experience knows how differently wash is set up when the still is run for house or owner’s use. Lees should never be used for setting up as the rum always has a very harsh unpleasant flavor

The empty vats require to be well washed inside and out; throwing in a few buckets of water is not sufficient. The gutters must also be well washed each day directly running and pumping wash is finished. If these precautions are neglected in a very short time there will be a falling off in the return from the wash. An inspection of the liquor loft will discover a number of minute bluish green flies. This is an infallible sign that either gutters or vats have been neglected and allowed to become sour. If prompt action is not taken to arrest this in a very short time the fermentation will be changed and no rum will be got. On one occasion the writer saw 4500 gallons of wash distilled from which no rum was obtained.

If the vats are to be idle for some time, after well washing they should be allowed to dry and then get a thin coating of lime wash. This must be well washed off before again using. A little bi-sulphate of lime is also a very good thing to have in the liquor loft.

When the rum is running the water in the worm tank must be kept quite cold. When required for setting up it was allowed to overflow from the ton into the hot water cistern and when not required the outlet was from the bottom. If the fire is not well regulated and the water supply not well kept up the rum will run hot and cut much quicker. From the quantity of wash (1350), set up at 12 Twaddle, 7½ per cent of rum was always got, the return from each stilling being 100 gallons cut, so that when colored for the London market (coloring generally reduces the strength from 1 to 2 degrees) it would stand 36 o.p. [77.71% ABV] the strength at which it was shipped. [A little math estimates the ABV of the ferment at 5.7% which is inline with his potential ABV of a 1.060 ferment. This also implies his wash had a very high sugar to ash ratio so his molasses was not full of the usual over exhausted inhibitory modern junk.]

Rum being bought by the proof gallon a saving in packages is gained by shipping at greater strength. The glass bubbles were always used for cutting and although we had Sykes’ hydrometer and tables, Twaddle’s hydrometer was always used for testing. Rum is colored with burnt sugar or burnt molasses cooled down with either water, low wines, or high wines. The best coloring is made with good molasses burnt and cooled down with high wines.

The fine fiery sparkle that buyers like can never be obtained when color is used that has been cooled down with water or low wines, the rum always having a dull hazy look. Care must be taken that the sample vials are of the same tint and thickness. The sample in the rum store was always sealed to prevent tampering with, and another one kept elsewhere in case of accident. The difference in the coloring for the two markets was so distinct that any planter going into a distillery could toll by a glance at the sample for which market, London or Liverpool, the rum was intended. When a shipment was ready a permit to ship had to be obtained and the rum shipped within three days.

Puncheons had to be filled so that if the hand is laid flat on the cask and the thumb inserted into the bung hole the rum would reach the joint of the thumb. Each month the distillery was visited by the Commissary of Taxation who took a copy of the distillery journal (upon the inside cover of which the license to distill was pasted) in which was kept an accurate account of the gallons of wash set up, density, gallons wash used, gallons wash on hand, number of stills run, gallons rum made, proof, gallons rum shipped, and on hand.

He then took stock of wash in liquor loft and rum on hand in rum store, and if these did not agree with the journal a heavy fine was inflicted. Each commissary has a separate district the one in question comprising 16 estates making from 35,000 to 100,000 gallons each. No rum can be taken out of the rum store even if bunged up, without a permit.

Many people fancy that Jamaica possesses some trade secret by which they are enabled to make a superior article. Such is not the case now and I doubt if it ever was. They have, however, one advantage—viz., water especially suited for distilling purposes. The preference for Jamaica rum is rather due to the fact that at the time when that island was the chief source of supply they made an article that caught the public eye and taste, made them their study, created a good name for their rum, and that good name has ever since been their best advertisement.

With proper attention to setting up, temperature of liquor loft, coloring and distilling, and above all cleanliness, Queensland distillers will attain a like result. Their first shipments will either make or mar their future prospects of success. Their first object then should be to find out what is required by the market they intend to try, and having ascertained this it almost entirely lies with themselves whether they will have to withdraw from, or become successful competitors in the great markets of the world.


[An interesting remark from another issue. We see that darker rum was valued for its ability to vat with other lighter colored rums.]

Next to strength, color is the great desideratum and here it is that some at least of the rum recently shipped has come to grief. Buyers desire “a full good dark” color, which is scarce and required for vatting with light colored West Indian sorts. As in dealing with all produce, buyers’ tastes should be constantly and carefully studied and even in the matter of packages the London buyers have their fancies. They object to brandy hogsheads or quarter casks, and prefer beer barrels and hogsheads, and then whiskey hogsheads and quarter casks. When attention has been paid to the above details Queenslanders may hope to relieve their own congested markets and profit thereby in two directions—at home and abroad. Owing to the variations in London prices it may be required at times to hold considerable stocks, but the relief, present and prospective, of knowing that we have a sure, if intermittent, outlet for our rum should lead to the expansion of the industry and consequently a more profitable sale for one of the great bye-products of the sugar industry.

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