Rum Miscellany

We are closing in on the capstone paper of the last 150 years of rum, the most malleable of spirits. I thought I’d share some of the interesting miscellany I’ve come across and probably later on there is going to be some stragglers that are still out on inter library loan.

An interesting article was Industrial Alcohol by James Doran. He starts with a history of industrial alcohol in America which gives a small time line and lets us know how sophisticated producers were in America early on.

Pure Products is an interesting series and if you search through it you can find wild things about alcohol and other early agricultural products. Page 578 has a great article on the Alcohol Distillation From Molasses by George M. Appell and focuses on building efficient fuel ethanol plants in the Caribbean. Something surprising is that scientists thought all gains and real need for expertise in production was on plant design and fermentation chemistry. The actual handling of the still which we fetishize today was very simple if not trivial.

Another Pure Products article on page 30, Distillery Practice and its Scientific Control by Dr. H. Lange. This article spends time looking at acidity at various stages of fermentation which people were realizing was of particular importance. I don’t think pH had become a thing yet (this was 1917?) and titration was still the method of measurement. I think I should upgrade the significance of the article and look into who Dr. H. Lange was.

History of the Coconut Tree (1825) from the Boston Journal of Philosophy and the Arts. The article spends a nice amount of time describing Arrack.

This 19th century Journal of Banking article was interesting:

“For my part,” said Tom, “I look upon New England rum as the best standard of value.”— Hereat I laughed : but Tom told me not to laugh, but to listen, while he compared certain qualities of New England rum with those qualities of gold and silver which, according to the Political Economists, fit them to perform the functions of standards and measures of value.
“In the first place,” said Tom, “the demand for New England rum, is universal and incessant, the efforts of the Temperance Societies to the contrary notwithstanding; and the supply exactly equals the demand. Every Political Economist will admit that the laws of supply and demand, affect New England rum in the same way that they affect gold and silver.

“In the second place, it (New England rum) is divisable into extremely minute portions, and capable of reunion without any sensible loss of weight or value. This divisibility and capability of reunion, Say, in his Political Economy, places first in his enumeration of the qualities of gold and silver which fit them for the purposes of money. But every man knows that any given portion of New England rum can be divided and reunited with much more ease than any given mass of gold or silver.

“The exact strength, and consequently the purity, of New England rum, can readily be ascertained by means of a hydrometer. To ascertain the fineness of gold and silver, we have to resort to the troublesome process of assaying.

“Time, weather, and damp, says Say, have no power to alter the quality of gold and silver.— Neither do they injuriously affect New England rum. It rather improves by age. You can carry it into any climate. In very cold regions, it is indeed liable to be frozen; but then it can be cut into blocks, and serve very conveniently the purposes of a circulating medium. In this form, I have no doubt, it would be highly prized by the Esquimaux. If the Abyssinians use salt bricks, as money, why should not the Esquimaux use little blocks of frozen rum?

“Molasses was once a kind of secondary standard of value with our Yankee boys. Nothing used to be more common with them than to say that they had got for their produce,’half cash and half molasses,’ meaning thereby, not molasses literally, but various commodities, of which they made molasses the general representative. In like manner, New England Rum was a kind of standard of value, and even currency, contributions for public objects being made in that medium. Of this, History affords us a remarkable example. When the New Hampshire troops were preparing to join the forces under Gen. Gates, contributions were made to defray their expanses, and among others, Governor Langdon subscribed a large sum. But how did he pay it? In gold and silver? No. He was not so foolish as that. He knew that gold and silver could be neither eat nor drunk; and, like a sensible man, he rolled out his four or five hundred barrels of New England Rum. With these, supplies for the troops were procured. And to his rum contribution we are, at least in part, indebted for the glorious victory of Saratoga, and the consequent capture of Burgoyne and his forces.”

Pretty well for Tom. When he had done, I told him that he ought to write to Professor
of the University of Pennsylvania, and Professor of the College of South Carolina. As one of them had made the discovery that “the whole utility of specie as money is its power of creating a confidence,” and the other the no less notable discovery that “money is not wealth,” I could not doubt they would duly appreciate his discovery of a new standard of value. Tom said he would think of it. He had his fears, that, if he wrote to those gentlemen, they would seize hold on his theory, dress it up anew, and give it to the world as their own, thus robbing him of honors justly his due.

This Jamaican rum factory designed in Berlin, depicted in Industrial and Manufacturing Chemistry, Volume 1 by Geoffrey Martin features a shower to cool the fermenting vats. I wonder if this was ever built because the shower seems like an inefficient idea, but if you consider the tax structure where Jamaican rums were taxed at many multiples their wholesale, there were giant incentives to improve quality. There was plenty of room to sell flavored rums at a much higher price without making a that big a different to the after tax price.

I’m dying to get this doctoral thesis by Ian Leighton Thompson: Studies on the maturation of Jamaican rum. The abstract is here.

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