2016 Retrospective

Being December, it is time for the year end retrospective. Like usual, I felt like I didn’t accomplish much, but I did write about 20 posts with some containing distilled spirits’ most significant historic discoveries for the year (examining Arroyo) and others containing distilled spirits’ most progressive ideas (congeners derived from glycosides).

I have put a lot of beverage work on hold to become a design world darling and start the Houghton Street Foundry (IG: @houghtonstfoundry) which makes exquisite door hardware and offers architectural machining services. I have ghost written a few products for small distilleries with one being the hottest off premise specialty product in New England, though I actually think I designed it last calendar year. My beverage pace has slowed down, but I’m still holding significant technique and history secrets from the industry (to punish you all!).

The year started with Rum Comparatively: Understanding Anything Goes and explains how production compares to other spirits categories and why rum is the most progressive spirit with unique production templates that other categories do not use.

Aggressive collecting led me to Excise Anecdotes from Arrack Country which tells some of the most breath taking (and heart breaking) distilling stories ever recorded. It also ends with a beautiful discovery and meditation on terroir.

There is a ton of WTF? in Rum, Mitogenic Radiation & The Bio-photon. Brilliant Science writer, Adam Rogers, was cool enough to spend time weighing in so I had a lot of fun with the post. It does show that Rafael Arroyo was a far out thinker with an ear to the ground and yet again reinforces the idea of rum as the most progressive spirit. Nearly a century of science later not much is clarified.

This was particularly important to me because I’ve long been a champion of the rums of Cape Verde. In Cape Verde and Sugar Cane Juice Rum Categories I apply explanations from Arroyo to my favorite distilling tradition and explain the origins of their distinct aromas. There are so many supposed rum experts and they are still avoiding Cape Verde and the island of Madeira. Berry’s or Plantations rums, where you at? I’ll connect you to Cape Verde’s most brilliant distillery.

Here I describe my plan for discovering a new generation of champion rum yeasts: Team Pombe and the Yeast Olympiad. So far I haven’t been able to get it off the ground because of a lack of interest from the small distilleries in my circle (and the very expensive process). I will likely finance and execute the ideas by myself and I’m not afraid if it takes quick a few years. No one else seems to be too interested in this territory.

Rum, Osmotolerance and the Lash was so much more than a cute title and looks at forces that shape microbial communities, especially when trying to cultivate a dominant Pombe fermentation.

I had heard murmers of these ideas so long ago from Ed Hamilton so I decided to tackle them in Aroma Breakage and Rum Design. Arroyo as usual was on top of everything. Some new producers like Maggie Campbell of Privateer are known to be very much hip to this and weave the ideas in production.

Ageing, Accelerated Ageing, & Élevage ==> Lies, Damn Lies & Statistics This was my look at Arroyo’s progressive musing on the aging topic. I think this was before I read UC Davis great, Vernon Singleton’s, legendary paper which I probably should have given its own post (2017!)

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.

There is so much good stuff in the symposium.

I had never done a spirits review before and of course I did it on my own terms. This post, Spirits Review: Mezan XO Jamaica Rum, also ends up with a challenge of drinking 10 ounces in one sitting to test a theory many are anecdotally validating. I also drop one of the most progressive ideas in all distilling and introduce a new congener category. Its not my fault if people cannot keep up.

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Before I left to run a popup in Province Town this summer, I introduced For Sale: Large Bottle Bottler. This tool is particularly awesome but not for everyone and I don’t push it. Some bars are killing it with my bottlers and I am in some of the world’s top programs while other notable programs cannot assemble a team that can handle the tasks. A lot of a sales go to winemakers doing research projects for their own product development. I owe you all a new post on kegging to show you’ve all been doing it so so wrong.

In the frustration of the election and inspired by blog hero George Lakoff, I penned Public foundations for Private Spirits Companies. The post is a meditation on how private companies get built on a foundation of public research and how we are starting to forget that. A new generation of distilleries is popping up that often flounders with the technical aspects of product development because they do not seek out any of the amazing research that came before them. Most distillers are in disbelief the research exists when I introduce it to them. This rickety blog is the largest source of advanced educational material for the new American distilling industry which is approaching a billion dollars in revenue and quite a few hundred million in investment.

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Here I introduce the Alaska Ice Crusher and describe a stunning restored version produced by a new friend. I’ve used Alaskas for a quite a few years and lately have been seeing them popping up in finer bars. They have become a Boston bar scene thing and collectively we own quite a few.

In A Few Papers For The Industrious I take a break from foundry work to read from papers that Rex sent in which I’d been hoping to come across for a few years now. Having gotten in the mood, I also shared up some delicious snippets from the archives of rum arcana.

Patrick Neilson Tells of Rum (Like No Other), 1871 This was easily my favorite piece of the entire years with its companion article J.S. Tells of Rum, Jamaica 1871. These papers kick off the fine rum era and are full of the choicest opinions on things like skimmings that many of us have heard of but don’t quite understand.

This piece was short and fun and simply shows that even as far back as 1885, which is a few life times out from the birth of the term, people were into tracking down etymologies: Etymology of the Word Rum by Darnell Davis (1885).

This is only for nerds and if you’re short on time and need to triage your reading, skip this, Occurance of Lime-Incrustations in Rum Stills (1903), and the next post, Scientific Control of a Rum Distillery by F. I. Scard.

As I collect papers, a genre of writings is emerging and this is an enjoyable example from a seldom described island. W. M. Miller Tells of Rum in Guyana for Timehri (1890)

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We ended the year with the Return of the Champagne Bottle Manifold where I mastered single point threading on the manual engine lathe and started cutting the proprietary 19/32-18 threads myself to improve the design. My design over the years has evolved to be really spectacular, but they didn’t really catch on because programs didn’t want to pay for them and those that did had them frequently stolen. The most serious users ended up being Champagne sales reps.

Who knows what next year will bring. Sadly for the Bostonapothecary blog, my focus will be in the workshop. Ask questions or challenge me and I may sit down and post.

Cheers!

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!

Aroma Breakage and Rum Design

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Arroyo spends a lot of time discussing the topic of of aroma breakage due to diluting spirits with water. This is a curious topic I’ve never seen discussed in other research papers. I suspect this is because it is so hard to quantify. Apparently, the sudden shock of adding water to spirits, particularly rum, because much of its character is dependent on esters and rum oil, is capable of splitting the esters via hydrolysis and possibly precipitating aromatic substances as salts.

The ideal raw distillate, however, would be one needing no dilution or treatment of any kind before proceeding with its curing, either slow or natural; or accelerated or artificial. These conditions are attainable through proper yeast and raw material selection, appropriate methods of fermentation and post fermentation treatment of the beers; followed by carefully controlled distillation technic based on the principle of selective extraction. Present manufacturing methods with few exceptions, have not come to this high state of development as yet. Hence, mention must be made of the important changes occurring during the diluting, or the diluting and carbon treatment process during rectification.

I was first casually introduced to the topic many years ago by Ed Hamilton who explained to me the phenomenon as a past problem with Martinique rhums shipped to France for bottling. According to Ed, these rhums would be improperly diluted, rushing the process, and the aroma would be detrimentally effected. The science on the topic so far is not as easy to fully explain as I’d like, but there is one overall solution pointed out above and that is to distill at lower proofs so much of the water is already integrated. Easier said than done, lets let Arroyo drop a little more science:

When a freshly distilled rum is diluted, its chemical composition as well as its physical characteristics are affected. The action of the diluent is felt to a greater or less extent, in accordance with: (1) original proof at which distillation took place; (2) chemical composition of the original distillate; (3) nature of the diluent, and manner in which it is applied. The deleterious action of rum dilution is twofold: chemical and physical. The first consists in a dissociation of part of the ester content through the hydrolytic action of the diluent acting in an acid medium; the second operates by salting out or separating certain essential oils through shock, and by the lowering effect on the alcoholic concentration of the raw distillate through the addition of the diluent. Among these oils we have some of the most valuable  natural constituents of a genuine rum. When the raw rum has been distilled at a very high proof, say between 170-180 degrees, a very large amount of diluent must be added in order to bring the proof down, say to 110 degrees. Now, the more diluent added the stronger will its hydrolytic effect be on the esters present in the raw distillate, and the stronger will be the tendency toward separation of essential oils. Hence, the caution previously given in the chapter on rum distillation that rum should be distilled at the lowest possible proof compatible with high quality of distillate. When the original chemical composition of the raw rum in its relation to the process of dilution is considered, it will readily be seen that the higher the free acidity and the ester content of the raw distillate, the faster and the more intense will become the hydrolyzing effect of the diluent on the ester content of the raw spirit. The same holds true on the salting out of valuable essential oils.

Lets stop him for a minute. It appears that the fullest flavored rums have the most to lose. It also seems like little inhomogenous zones get briefly created in the spirit where there isn’t enough ethanol to keep certain things in solution like the rum oil and, though brief, it is enough to shock stuff out. With the esters it is a little different and my favorite explanation of ester hydrolysis comes from Peter Atkin’s Reactions: The Private Life of Atoms. What I would think is that everything would eventually come back to equilibrium and that would easily re-dissolve the rum oil. I guess it doesn’t happen fast enough and there is a danger of stuff getting left behind when spirits are being only temporarily held in a vat that needs to be turned over for another process.

The nature of, and manner of adding the diluent, will also become a factor of importance during the process of dilution. There are at least six classes of diluents commonly used for this process: (1) ordinary tap water from the city mains; (2) well water; (3) rain water; (4) distilled water; (5) chemically treated water; (6) alcoholic solution in distilled or rain water, previously cured by either natural or artificial means. This last mentioned diluent is the least harmful and best recommended for this purpose, but is the one less used on account of the trouble of preparing and storing under suitable conditions large quantities of these weakly alcoholic solutions. Good practice should restrain the number of diluents to be three of the six mentioned above, and these should include; (1) distilled aerated water, (2) rain water, and (3) alcoholic solutions. Of the two plain water diluents, rain water is to be preferred, as it contains plenty of air and, therefore, lacks the flatness of taste peculiar to distilled water. Thoroughly aerated distilled water has the advantage of being readily available at all time. Diluting with aged mixtures of alcohol and water, or rum and water, will be the best method to follow; but as explained before, this method has its shortcomings especially for the large producer.

I remember reading this and wondering if Arroyo’s ideas like the ethanol-water mixture were arm chair ideas, dreamed up but never tried, or if anyone got it off the ground. Could it be worked into a strategy that would give a small producer an advantage when they typically lack any advantage due to scale? I could see column distilled relatively light rums being easily diluted much under 40% and then averaged up with stocks of aged, extra heavy, pot still spirit (to protect the pot still spirit which has more to lose). Sadly, I suspect not many small new Continental producers are making anything at risk of aroma breakage or using that template.

Now, whatever the nature of the diluent used, the manner of its application will have considerable influence in the extent of ester hydrolysis, and especially as to the degree of separation of valuable essential oils constituents. Cold diluent, suddently added in bulk or added in a very short period of time, will prove the most harmful. The opposite conditions of applying the diluent, that is, slightly warm, slowly and in an atomized form, will prove the least harmful.

The water so many distilleries use is at the mercy of the seasons. They aren’t really in a position to raise a large volume of distilled water much above room temperature. I suspect the cheap alternative would be to use the still’s condenser as a heat exchanger and warm diluting water during distilling runs. I can’t imagine rigging up a atomizer with an agitator would be too difficult.

In the course of these studies on rum we have observed that the harmful effect of the diluent in rum diluting last over an appreciable period of time, never less than for three moths, and extending up to six months. It is really a very important matter that has been lightly, too lightly, considered up to the present time.

Whatever vats you have, you’d definitely need back sooner than three months and whatever precipitated would not be evenly distributed between the barrels or bottles. Whatever is precipitated could also be left as an oil clinging to the side of the vat. If the tail end barrel did get an appreciable extra quantity to try and re-dissolve it may not do it properly. Many blending practices where spirits are briefly re-barreled after marrying may be related to the concepts Arroyo is presenting. Whiskey’s may have different congener sets, but they may also be subject to similar forces.

Its will be noticed that strong dissociation of the ester molecules occur in every instance after the raw rums have been diluted, and that this state of original esters hydrolysis is not ameliorated even after three months of curing in an oak keg. The ester loss through hydrolysis is heavier in those rums originally high in ester content. Organoleptic tests on the undiluted and the diluted sample are consistently in favor of the former. Hence, rum dilution is really a complicated problem, and the ill effects of dilution interfere also with the proper and expected progress in quality during the first few months of the curing period. If to obviate the ill effect on the curing of the raw rum during the ageing period occasioned by the diluting process, the raw rums are barrelled at the high proofs of distillation, nothing is gained in the long run; for if it true that it will mature quicker during aging in this case, it is also true that its proof must be lowered before it is bottled up. When diluting the cured rum, the effect of the diluent will be more disasterous even than in the case when the beverage was diluted as a raw product. These considerations make the problem of dilution an arduous one. The solution must come during the distillation stage of rum manufacture. Raw distillates much be distilled at low enough proof so that no dilution, or at least very little dilution should be required during rectification and curing. And this must take effect in such a manner that the quality of the commercial rum shall remain unimpaired.

I have a feeling Arroyo was not always popular because he was usually advocating taking the long road and being thorough. To distill rums at a lower proof you’d have to design fermentations worthy of a lower proof. Or you might not have to if you’ve got the time. Arroyo mentions that rum, unlike a whiskey, can be enjoyed right from the still and will have no objectionable roughness like a white dog. On the other hand, Peter Valaer, in 1937 for an IRS survey, describes the legendary extra aged New England rums as being rough right from the still and distilled at 60% which is considered fairly low. Valaer also briefly mentions the use of “pure culture rum yeasts prepared from a single cell in some of the most scientifically controlled rum distilleries” in the U.S. Who knows if U.S. producer’s like Felton & Son’s conducted their own Olympiad to select a champion rum yeast, but it does look like they had the technology. I’m not sure if they used a Pombe yeast because I have not been able to find hints of their fermentation durations which would imply an answer.

Many spirits out there distill at curiously low proofs such as cachaça and many tequilas. They raise the question, are these cruder spirits like the New England rum Valaer describes or are they produced from unique ferments with less objectionable congeners than the average whiskey ferment? The answer is probably the latter. If one tried to optimize a fermentation to distill at a lower proof, what would it look like?

The answer lies in limiting ordinary esters and short chain fatty acids typically separated from the hearts fraction by the heads cut as well as limiting fusel oil which is hard to eliminate during distillation because it risks reducing rum oil. Fusel oil in rums is best reduced by careful yeast selection and then careful optimization of other variables like fermentation temperature with a lower temperature typically correlating to less. Fusel oil production tests were part of the yeast Olympiad I described recently.

Excessive ordinary esters get reduced in the ferment by salting them out. Short chain fatty acids like acetic and formic have a higher affinity for alkaline substances than longer chain fatty acids and thus combine to become non-volatile salts. If this is done with precision, which basically requires analysis and systematic trials, there will be less objectionable congeners in the ferment and distillation can proceed at a lower proof incorporating more water. Extraordinary esters of a lower frequency of occurrence, that form in both the ferment and the still, will suffer less occasion to split apart. New England rums in 1937 may not have been benefiting from the careful pH buffering that Arroyo was using to distill at lower proof. Harris Eastman Sawyer, who I identified as the architect of modern New England rum, sadly died in 1911. Though he was progressive, he was not likely to be that far ahead of anyone else.

By this point, most of you are probably thinking: why don’t you just super fractionate as explained previously, over dilute the central neutral fraction which is taking Arroyo’s advice of diluting with an ethanol water solution and see if that keeps more of the esters together? I didn’t realize it was that obvious, but what is left is to simply put it to the test and see what happens. And to hope the logistics aren’t a deal breaking nightmare.

Even more of you are probably thinking: where is Lost Spirits during these recent revelations on rum design? Lost Spirits has put most all their emphasis on post distillation curing ideas thinking that that is what makes a rum great. Arroyo would probably laugh them out the door. He time and time again explains that you need a distillate worth maturation to even bother, and there is little emphasis on that (so far) in the Lost Spirits camp. You also need to get a well crafted ferment to get a distillate worth a damn. But if you could bring all those things together it may well be more worth accelerated maturation and I hope they do. On the other hand, if you really nailed all those processes, you’d probably not feel the need to accelerate anything.

One of the major things I’m forgetting about maturation is that a significant change, according to Arroyo, during the first legs of curing in a barrel are excessive ordinary congeners, with a high frequency of occurrence, namely ethyl acetate and acetaldehyde, actually evaporating with the angel’s share because they are so volatile. Accelerated maturation techniques, like that of Lost Spirits, have no angel’s share and cannot benefit from this mechanism. If they need the same effect, they’ll have to spend more time with their ferments. If they develop spirits with significant ester contents which is their goal, I hope they are taking all precautions to prevent aroma breakage when they get diluted to drinking proof.

Next up will be Arroyo’s thoughts on curing, he didn’t like the term aging, and the ideas are more relevant now than ever.

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Rum, Osmotolerance and the Lash

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Osmotolerance is basically the ability of micro organisms to tolerate stress. The stress comes from solutes dissolved in a solvent. Yeast stressors (or lack there of) are probably one of the most significant ways by which rum fermentations differ. In many naive cases, the stressors select the yeasts and in cases where you pick the yeasts (team Pombe!), you need to follow up with appropriate stressors (if you cannot work completely sterile). I’m probably using language biologists would cringe at, but what the hell, this is a blog.

Osmotolerance relates to the Delle stabilization concept I’ve talked about before. We use simplified rules of thumb that a wine becomes stable at 18% alcohol, but according to professor Delle, each percentage point of sugar can offset an amount of ethanol and you can start to achieve stability at far lower alcohol levels. If you add carbonation on top of both, you can start to achieve stability even lower and that may be the secret of wines like Moscato d’Asti which are often stable at 5%. The point here is that all these variables function in a system of stressors and changing one variable changes response to the others.

All these variables exist in rum fermentations and then some. Rum in most cases isn’t just one single yeast or bacteria but a varied community. Changes to the stressor matrix shifts the ability of any member of the microbial community to grow at all or even to become dominant. Schizosaccharomyces Pombe yeasts are known for their osmotolerance relative to budding yeasts and in many cases, though they have a lower frequency of occurrence, they can become dominant in spontaneous ferments. Before anyone thinks to play around and go huge hoping for greatness, remember, its easy to create a ferment so stressful near nothing beneficial grows but bacteria you don’t want and you end up with an unpredictable sluggish brew working so slowly your economy goes to hell, half the vats stick, and you quickly go out of business. Rum magic only happens when you know what you are doing so you can walk that magic line.

If common clean rum is being made stick to common clean and never allow things to drift in the direction of making flavoured rum in the pious hope that you may wake up some day to find that you have become famous by making flavoured rum where it was never been made before. You are much more likely to find an infuriated Busha awaiting to tell you that your services are no longer required on that estate.

Playing with osmotolerance is like playing with fire. Arroyo actually didn’t want to play the game and went in the other direction pioneering molasses pre-treatment and creating conditions where ferments could produce extraordinary aroma while fermenting to high concentrations of ethanol with great economy and in record time.

Arroyo went osmo-intolerant by heating to sterilize molasses just like a grain mash, but with modified pH and calibrated buffers to preserve aroma (an epic trick!). He then somehow got a hold of an Alfa Laval pilot plant continuous centrifuge (in the late 1930’s!) and clarified the molasses. This changes the stressor matrix and it also sets up the ferment to be distilled in a continuous column still where scaling is much more of an issue than a batch still. Molasses pre-treatment became a rule of thumb to anyone using a continuous still. No longer related to osmotolerance, Arroyo also employed the same centrifuge again pre-distillation to remove the lees as well as dissolved gases. From what I gather, unlike other spirits such as Cognac, Arroyo didn’t even distill heavy rums on their lees.

I recently contacted Alfa Laval and am trying to get more information on their continuous centrifuges and what exactly they sell that is pilot plant scale. They have models, seemingly small, but are for tasks like centrifuging bio diesel and not molasses. Alfa Laval sells to all the big Kentucky distilleries who centrifuge their stillage to remove water and prepare it to become animal feed. They also sell to very large breweries who centrifuge their beers to gain economy from the bottom of the vats. I have yet to find out conclusively, but I’m estimating a pilot plant continuous centrifuge for distillery tasks may cost about $30K. A barrel a day distillery would still have room to grow into their pilot plant scale equipment. That cost, only on the hunch that it is really beneficial, is very hard to swallow. They promised me more information so hopefully I can update this with something optimistic.

The big takeaway is that so many of the rums we know, love and are inspired by are the products of these very serious centrifuges. Small distilleries will have a lot of trouble going osmo-intolerant (my funny arbitrary term for opposition by the way). If a small scale, low involvement distiller says they don’t like the effect of centrifuging or any molasses pre-treatment, they basically have no clue and just need to accept their limitations when being “small batch”. Another category of rums are naive rums, endearingly produced by people who do not know their options and some of these rums are the most extraordinary and tell the best stories. Distillation requires certain scale and the new arm of the industry is slow to accept that.

As I always say, there is nothing finer than rum as we make it and no category of rum ferment is superior to another. Osmo-intolerant is the direction rums are commonly taken when pure yeast cultures are used and when economy is a large consideration. These rums are more likely to be distilled continuously and they are more likely to be lower risk over all. Due to a few other really cool reasons I’ll get to eventually these spirits will also age much quicker.

There are very few spontaneous ferments these days, but due to techniques like back slopping of yeast, exotic starters, and the usage of bacteria infected dunder, some ferments can use osmotolerance to create a sort of chaotic timbre. Stressors will effect the growth kinetics of the varied microbial community that eventually develops. The pure yeast culture that kicks things off at the beginning of the season may eventually be supplanted by a wild yeast that rises to dominance under the conditions encountered. Big windows for chaos through which we glimpse terroir, are opened by producers both consciously and unconsciously. There is risk, chance, and irrational energy, the duende!, all over the place. This category is a place for both the naive and the truly masterful. The most masterful of wrangling glorious chaos these days is probably Hampden estates in Jamaica which is known to be very significant to the Smith & Cross blend. I’ve aspired to make a similar rum, but don’t think I can do it until I really explore and master all of the analytic techniques. I request 20 years.

Stressors reduced by Arroyo style molasses pre-treatment are mainly gums and ash. The pH is also adjusted to be optimized for the selected yeast. Total sugars are increased due to the decrease in volume of the precipitated and separated fractions. Because the yeast can now ferment to higher concentrations of sugar, they can also better take advantage of the nutrients so less need to be added though they are often carefully calibrated. Dunder, on the other hand, though it leads to an accumulation of gums and ash, also brings yeast nutrients. It probably also brings nefarious copper salts leached from a copper boiler under acidic conditions, but I don’t recall seeing research specifically tied to that yet.

So dunder itself brings brings stress and relief. Many dunders were and/or are ripened to accumulate hopefully beneficial bacteria. The most desirable being Clostridium Sacharo Butyricum. The byproduct of bacteria’s metabolism is fatty acids and those can stress the yeasts by lowering the pH. They can also stress the bacteria themselves.

In the Arroyo method, the pH is carefully adjusted to remain constant, and far higher than you’d think which is possible because of the pure cultures he employed. As pH decreases, alkaline substances are carefully added to lock up the acids as salts. The acids that have the most affinity for salting also happen to be the most ordinary like acetic and formic. These ordinary (as opposed to extraordinary cough cough frequency of occurrence!) acids and their ethyl esters are typically in part separated during distillation. Having less to remove due to salting means the heads fraction can be smaller and the spirits will mature faster. Spirits going both ways with osmotolerance can benefit from the pH buffering / salting method but spirits produced using the Arroyo method are more likely to employ it.

If the pH were allowed to run away the accumulation of stressors would slow down or completely shut down various actors in the microbial community. This can be a feature or a flaw. Low pH ferments can produce lighter spirits because bacteria has less leeway to act.

These ideas were definitely not new to rum making and go back to Jamaica well into the nineteen century. The great Agricola, W.F. Whitehouse, (father of modern rum according to me) mentions how alkaline lime was introduced to Jamaica by Dr. Bryan Higgins. It became central to the operation of a muck hole. The contents would undergo putrefactive fermentation producing acids until the pH dropped too low maxing out the osmotolerance of the bacteria then lime would bring the pH back up and fermentation would restart. The process would go on and on. The locked up aromas would unlock when combined in a ferment with another acid, the most ignoble acids fortunately having an affinity for staying locked up.

But don’t forget, though salts buffer the pH, they are also a stressor and yeasts and bacteria will have different resistance to salt concentrations. Another big source of osmotic pressure is ethanol, and Arroyo reminds us we can’t just think of alcohol tolerance itself because it is always relative to temperature. Yeasts can resist the osmotic pressure of ethanol much better at low fermentation temperatures than high.

Arroyo re-imagined and re-applied all the concepts with more finesse and calculation. Not all fatty acids and not all esters are created equal and Arroyo more than anyone else at the time kept his eye on the price of creating and selecting for the most extraordinary and suave (his favorite rum descriptor). The concept of osmotolerance is at the heart of coaxing all of it out.

I’d love to work on this more but I’m out of time

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Team Pombe and the Yeast Olympiad

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I think it is finally time to delve into some yeast topics regarding rum. I’ve sort of avoided it though Arroyo states you should always start with yeast selection. Factory design and equipment purchases, Arroyo explains, are dependent on yeast choices. How fast they ferment and their alcohol tolerance dictates how many vats. Do they produce aroma worthy of batch distillation or should you go continuous? It all begins with yeasts.

When I first read the works of Percival Greg in Jamaica and his descriptions of yeast no. 18, I became wildly curious about Schizosaccharomyces Pombe. Pombe is a fission yeast as opposed to a budding yeast so they divide differently. All brewers yeasts are budding yeasts and pretty much no beverage uses Pombe yeast but rum (industrial wineries are exploring Pombe to reduce malic acid because they can metabolize it into alcohol). The name Pombe is Swahili for beer and it was first identified in African millet beers in the late 19th century. It has been explored in conventional beers, but is known to produce off aromas in the context. Not even all rums use Pombe yeasts, but typically those of the grand arôme tradition do (I use that term without nationality because I like the ô). Geneticists have been studying them as a model organism for looking at mutations because of how they divide, so when searching for information you have to wade through a lot of genetic science.

Yeast type seems to be something beverage people have forgotten about and connoisseurs don’t even know to make the distinction. If used properly, Pombe can make the heaviest, most suave of rums, but they can also be used to make straight light rums. Many producers inoculate with them and many other producers accidentally end up with them. Among the serendipitous category, some end up producing a heavy type of rum while most others sort of sabotage their chances of grand arôme by other contingent practices. Typically, producers of heavy rums, are keener on their science and with great care, coax their Pombe yeasts into producing tons of gorgeous aroma.

[Fermentor at Hampden estate in Jamaica, likely a top fermenting Pombe yeast and closely matches the description of Percival Greg’s. Image credit Rum Gallery]

Schizosaccharomyces Pombe yeasts have sub categories just like budding yeasts and there are top fermenting and bottom fermenting varieties. As a rule of thumb top fermenting yeasts produce a fuller bodied aroma and ferment even slower. Pombe yeasts do not produce all the aroma themselves, and the slowness of their ferment means that favorable bacteria can take hold and produce desirable aroma compounds. It also leaves room for undesirable bacteria and Pombe yeasts typically require more care which is why many distilleries avoid them.

Pombe yeasts relate to the dunder process because as a rule of thumb they have significantly more osmotolerance than budding yeasts. This means they can withstand the stress of high acidity, high initial sugar contents, and high contents of dissolved minerals that accumulate in dunder. Jamaica and many other areas likely ended up discovering Pombe yeasts via sloppy fermentation practices where things weren’t measured properly. Empirically it was revealed that dramatically different results could be gotten. There was a time where distillers were just learning about bacteria and how it was inhibited by acidity, so to protect yields they were heavy handed and eventually ended up with a rare yeast type. When acidity is high, Pombe will take hold as the dominant yeast, but bacteria will not and this is a way to get particularly light rums as a result of using Pombe. This idea may have great bearing on older Haitian rums pre-1980’s and many small production Cachaças.

It was initially thought that high acidity correlated to fuller flavored rums but that isn’t exactly true, the Jamaicans were sort of wrong and Arroyo straightened it all out. More on that later, because it gets really profound.

Another point I should make is that fission yeasts relative to budding yeasts have a low frequency of occurrence. That is why they are typically not dominant, but can be made to be dominant as part of a community by messing with fermentation kinetics. The low frequency of occurrence, coupled with being abandoned by the industry, and the rise of in house research by certain sophisticated firms means there are no industrial catalogs of Pombe yeasts to choose from like there is with budding yeasts. There is a Pombe society, but it is a group of geneticists and not a group of rum aficionados.

If you want to mess with fission yeasts, you need to round a bunch up and have them go through a fermentation Olympiad. This is what Jamaican had done very early on and their Agricultural experiment station would send a new yeast out at the beginning of the season. Later in the season they would find that it often wasn’t still dominant. Arroyo conducted his own Olympics with some extra wild results, and the French have held their own games for themselves. Arroyo doesn’t say much on the actual methods of discovery, but he does describe his pentathlon better than anybody.

The big test is the yeast’s ability to produce rum oil, which is the mysterious prized metabolite and something fission yeasts produce more of than budding yeasts. Pombe yeasts have to be found at random (a strategic random), purified, then run through feats of strength. After they pass the rum oil tests, they have to go to the fusel oil event. For grand arôme rums, fusel oil has to be minimized during fermentation because fusel oil and rum oil fractions overlap in the still. If you use a fusel oil separator in a continuous still, or a decanting technique in a batch process, prized rum oil will be lost, so unlike other spirits, rum has to be that much more in tune with its yeasts. You can ferment molasses with yeasts, distill it, and not get rum, (but my God will they try to call it rum!) They will also probably try to adulterate it instead of learning more about fermentation. Rum is that much more profound than other spirits.

I have long wanted to bring fission yeast to New England and I’ve slowly been hatching a plan. My initial plan had to be scrapped as I learned much more. You cannot exactly get a pombe yeast from the catalogs. I mean, you can for $350USD, but it has yet to be vetted and win a gold medal, and it has to compete against a lot of other candidates so ultimately you would need a few thousand dollars just for your first cultures and they’d come with no story. Rum has to have a story, and typically they all do, more so than any other spirit.

I plan on taking a slightly different tack, I am going to do discovery myself, and then hold my own Olympic trials. I will try wide ranging local discovery with various fruits, but it doesn’t look promising (I need to verify that hunch is correct regardless). Isolating budding yeast is easy, but even when understanding their typical kinetics, isolating fission yeast, with their low frequency of occurrence is hard. I have hatched an extra novel plan which would get me a standing ovation with the yeast biologists if I can execute it. I have an extraction protocol with a track record of success and I’ve already been collecting exciting sample media from around the world. Arroyo isolated near all his contestants from sugarcane, but I do not think that is the only way. I’ll have contestants coming from as far away as Sardinia and I have eight potential contestants from within Minnesota alone, that with genetic testing I can give first names to. Will any be the same or will they all be unique? And what will my distribution of tops and bottoms be? Or am I completely wrong and all the gold medal winners must come from sugar cane because they are best adapted? There is only one way to find out! I do have a yeast biologist partner in crime for this so I’m hoping the protocol will be successful.

My initial plan was to understand Pombe kinetics enough to create dominant cultures in varying mediums like apples, raspberries, foraged blueberries, etc very much like what is rumored to happen at Hampden estates. This would also come with free riding bacterial communities. This plan was dashed because though I could possibly construct a starter one way and build a large footing to optimize aroma and fusel oil production. The rest of the wash would be very different and the community would change significantly. An entire community from a starter would bring an elegant sense of terroir, but it would not be correlated to the most extraordinary of sensory values. Until I learn more, my initial best bet is Arroyo style pure culture fermentation.

The majority of the rum industry that found themselves with Pombe yeasts have abandoned the practice and in many cases because it didn’t meet their objectives or technical abilities. For a long time, and for much of the world without any established reputation, rum sold largely on price. Being most competitive required continuous stills which need continuous streams of wash to run. Vats require capital expenditure and to feed the hungry stills, a quick fermenting budding yeast could turn around a vat much faster, thus reducing expense. In many scenarios Pombe yeasts also have less alcohol tolerance than budding yeast which means more energy to separate all the extra water. Arroyo and a few other consultants tell tales of massive distillery wastes due to incomplete fermentations. Pombe yeasts are never singled out as at fault, but these distilleries were never testing the boundaries and limits of their workhorses. Biological control requires chemical control and if you don’t even have that, you just cannot mess with fission yeasts.

We are going to see a fission yeast renaissance. The first step is recognizing their current usage on the market and their usage historically. Did New England rum at Felton & Son’s ever use a fission yeast? They did make very full bodied rums and were using dunder. There is one untapped resource left to possibly find this information (and I’m working on it!). Is Hampden estates using the most noble of grand arôme fission yeast processes? Does Cape Verde end up using a fission yeast? In the previous post I attributed much of their character to cane juice not being defecated or clarified, but if a cachaça producer could end up with a fission yeast, why couldn’t a grogue maker? Answering that question may be as simple as asking how long their fermentation lasts.

The next step is bringing it to the new distillery movement. There are countless new distilleries producing rum but do any of them have progressive yeast labs and is anyone holding systematic trials for their yeasts? (Hint: partner with a university!)

Yeasts we will see are where it all begins, but they guarantee nothing if not followed up with chemical control and more in depth understanding of their specific metabolisms. Next, and after I gather a little more information, we will move down the road and look deeper at comparative fermentation options for rum making.

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Cape Verde and Sugar Cane Juice Rum Categories

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I finally finished Arroyo’s Studies on Rum and thought it was really inspiring (I will upload my copy when I get a chance to optimize the PDF). I aim to give an in depth optimistic and pessimistic review of his work soon, but I’m a bit busy and might build up to it as I do more background research.

One thing that caught my eye towards the end of the book was Arroyo’s explanation of sugar cane juice rum categories that we just don’t seem to recognize anymore. This was the difference between defacated & clarified rums versus raw and pure types. Arroyo was an advocate for clarifying sugar cane juice, observing that it’s rums matured faster, while I am an advocate for the raw state or at least celebrating both. Martinique would be a prime example of a defacated and clarified style while Cape Verde would be an example of the raw style. If these were Chardonnays, Martinique would be something a banker would prize out of California and a Cape Verdean grogue would be something garagiste & cult out of Burgundy.

Let me see if I can find Arroyo’s own language, It starts on page 171 in the chapter on Rum Aroma:

[…], a raw sugar cane juice will produce a raw rum quite different in aromatic tone to that of defecated and clarified juice. The rum produced by the raw sugar cane juice will be much richer in the makeup of its Non-Alcohol-Number than that obtained from the defecated and clarified juice. Hence raw cane juice will tend to produce a “heavy” type of rum, while defecated and clarified cane juice will tend to produce a very light type of rum.

Our experiments dealing with sugar cane juice rums have demonstrated that:

(1) The rums produced from raw cane juice are more aromatic, but the aroma lacks the finesse of those produced from defecated and clarified sugar cane juice. These rums also will take a longer period of ageing to reach maturity. When the organoleptic tests from aroma are applied to a sample of this type of rum, it gives the impression that a blend of various rums rather than a single one is being tested; in a word, the rum aroma lacks stability and uniformity, being also rather pungent.

(2) The rums obtained from pasteurized sugar cane juices, but not clarified, occupy an intermediate position with respect to the quality of the aromatic gama. Their aroma is more uniform, stable, suave and delicate. It possesses a more harmonious blend of the different components. Complexity of aroma may be present, but it is stable; and presents a single aromatic effect.

(3) The rums produced from the defecated and clarified sugar cane juice have the same general characteristics as those produced in the same case of pasteurized cane juice; but they possess, besides, greater amplitude and penetration of aroma. Certain tinge of the peculiar odor of matured rums may also be observed in the bouquet of these particular products.

The natural aromatic constituents present in the raw materials used will become another important factor in the bouquet of the resulting rum. In this particular we have that different varieties of sugar cane yield juices with different classes and amounts of aroma. Also in a given cane variety, the aromatic tone will differ according to state of maturity, time elapsed between cutting and grinding the cane, whether burned or fresh cane is cut and ground, etc. etc.

Wow. What beautiful language and he never says that word balanced that I abhor. You can sense Arroyo really grapples with language to meet you on the same plane of experience. He gives us uniformity, which is the language of space, stability which is temporal, suavity which is more abstract, cultural, and definitely reflecting his Spanish stance (#phenomenology). There is harmony, amplitude, and tone which are most commonly the language of sound and music. Arroyo uses tinge which refers to a grappling with scale (remember my obsessions with the scaler adjective problem?). Arroyo’s language is really refreshing and a lot of my first collecting projects were to look for evidence of unique language used by producers to convey sensory experiences.

I identify with this Arroyo guy because he is also tuned into metaphor in a way others aren’t yet. In a few paragraphs he also shows us we know near nothing about rum. All the rum talk of the recent renaissance is bunk (but hopefully that is liberating and leaves you optimistic).

Arroyo’s words also defy my Chardonnay analogy and sort of challenge notions of manipulation relative to terroir, but I am standing my ground as an advocate for Cape Verde as producer of the greatest fresh sugar cane juice rums of the world. I originally saw that pungency as a sense of place, though now I know it is mostly a matter of technique (though it is likely the last place to use the technique!). I even speculated that it may have gotten there by not fermenting the beers to dryness and thus getting an exaggerated ratio of aroma to alcohol (a la mosto verde Pisco), but now I know I was wrong. Whatever it was, it’s low frequency of occurrence among the rums of the world really captured my attention.

But those aromas, that lack of uniformity, and over the top pungency take on rich cultural symbolism. It is all very similar conceptually to Mezcal. It is hearty like a home cooked meal and so often that beats carefully composed restaurant food. There are no regrets or missed opportunities in the heads & tales cuts, but those aromas are wild. We could also find a word that would be in the same category of suavity, but it would mean something quite different. I bet the Cape Verdean dialect of Portuguese has a word readily available, you probably use your hands as you say it.

Cape Verdean life is no picnic and hard work is done by hand infusing itself into the spirit. The cane is crushed by hand power with a trapiche. The music of Cape Verde, the mornas, popularized by Cesária Evora, originally moved to the slow beat of the trapiche. This poor country where everybody lends a hand pushing the trapiche has no continuous super centrifuge of Arroyo. The fires of the still are tended to by hand, fueled by cane bagasse and the temperature is maintained by intuition coupled with watching the flow out of the wooden condenser.

Romance is wonderful, but some of these spirits can slum it a little too much and wind up with taint from copper corrosion due to not nearly enough condensing power or the lack of stainless steel that much of the distilling world has gravitated towards for condensers to reduce ethyl carbamate as well as copper salts. University research papers that cover grogue, and draw comparisons to Cachaca, pretty much only dwell on condensing issues related to quality.

Not all of Cape Verdean production is so rustic and I suspect some of the rums that I love the best, such as Vale d’Paul and Joao Monteiro, are produced in facilities that are relatively more modern. As I checked for spelling, I found some vintage egullet talk on the grogue subject worth browsing.

Not everyone quickly regards the Cape Verdean rums like I do, but how does that change as you’ve come to appreciate Mezcal or learned how it is fermented in the truly raw state unlike the centrifuged, clarified and defecated spirits of Martinique?

Cape Verde still has a lore that much of the rum world has come to lack (on its surface). There never was a sugar cane industry in Cape Verde. Sugar Cane was a failed experiment and became a backyard crop which has to be grown with extreme sensitivity because of the desertification that afflicts much of Cape Verdean agriculture. Rum production goes back centuries but it was completely illegal for much of that time and thus could be seen as the greatest moonshining tradition of the world (second only to the Medronhos of the Al Garve).

The last time I sat down to talk grogue with a producer’s son, I was told of an amazing heritage. The head distiller of Vale d’Paul is in his nineties and has distilled his entire life. He has even recognized plots within his own property that produce the best cane for rum making and he sets them aside for himself. At the end of this recent post, there was a telling of terroir recognition among Sri Lankan Arracks, and it no doubt also exists in cane juice rums though we as imbibers have not matured enough to create a demand for it. I’m dying to taste those single plots of Vale d’Paul.

Should we launch a kick starter to buy Cape Verde some Swiss Alfa Laval continuous centrifuges or should we embrace them as they are and hear their story of undisrupted rum production?

Is Cape Verde the living link to rum production of the 19th and early 20th century?

New non-molasses producers are entering the fray, but do they truly know how to sculpt rum? (I am always for sale by the way, and I’m still keeping a lot of secrets from you all.)

We have a long way to go and a lot to see, I have a feeling drinking rum will keep getting better and better.

[Where do we go next? Astute reader, David Wondrich, was quick to point out that many Brazilian cachaças are produced unfiltered & defecated yet do not have defining characteristics found in Cape Verdean rums. So how do we explain that? It has long perplexed me that cachaças don’t share more characteristics in common with Martinique rhums and I’m just beginning to find explanations for that as well.

If we backtrack to Arroyo for a minute:

Also in a given cane variety, the aromatic tone will differ according to state of maturity, time elapsed between cutting and grinding the cane, whether burned or fresh cane is cut and ground, etc. etc.

Some of these ideas are relevant and of course we know they matter in theory, but what we don’t know is the very specifics of how things differ practice. We also latch on to ideas like cane variety or the type of still used and too often ignore specifics of fermentation yet I suspect that is where the most salient aspects of differentiation come into play. I’d like to think I’m well versed in fermentation and most importantly, comparative fermentation, but I’ve put off writing about it for quite some time. Slowly I’ll tackle fermentation options. I’m itching to tackle some yeast and bacteria topics, but I’m waiting for consulting project to materialize a little further.]

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Rum, Mitogenic Radiation & The Bio-photon

[Preface: This is a controversial subject and most scientists are extremely skeptical. Bio-photonic concepts are very abstract so it is hard to believe in them, but I intend to explore some of the ideas first hand by recreating Arroyo’s experiments. I would love to get the results Arroyo got whether they can be attributed to mitogenic radiation or not. I’ll never been in a position to pinpoint anything, but it will just raise curiosity and be fun. At this point I think I believe that mitogenic radiation is possible, but that the results are simply not always positive or the relationship is very weak. In many experimental examples the effect is a negative so there is no easy cure-all. It sort of reminds me of the olfactory hallucination idea. Most people are not capable of spotting them when they are harmonious because they do not raise the same kind of flag as when they are inharmonious. When they are already difficult to spot, this makes everything twice as difficult. I just got some papers from the skeptics camp and hopefully I can incorporate their ideas in here in a few days.]

What the hell is mitogenic radiation and what does it have to do with rum fermentation? Rafael Arroyo has a chapter on the subject within his 1945 opus, Studies on Rum, but for some reason wine, beer, and basically no one else is even aware of it. Oh, this is an interesting one!

Mitogenic radiation is an older term relating to the field of bio photonics which is some of the freshest, most controversial science out there and may re-write a lot of what we know about biology in general as well as specifics regarding the very origins of life. It is very fitting that it would be applied to rum first, because as I spelled out recently, rum is by leaps and bounds the most progressive spirit.

A bio photon is light emitted by organisms and even some things not quite alive. It allows physical rather then chemical communication between organisms which can often bring them into strange synchronous states. To cut to the chase in regards to rum, Arroyo was attempting fermentations of simultaneous pure cultures of bacteria & yeast to produce very heavy Jamaica-type rums and repeatably getting amazing results that upended every rule of thumb of fermentation science. When fermentation science says these cultures should compete for resources and inhibit each other, bacteria was making the yeast grow faster and ferment significantly quicker. But was it chemical or physical?

Arroyo had a serious ear to the ground for an agricultural scientist working on a tiny island pre WWII. He was aware of ideas in mitogenic radiation though he knew they were controversial and should be approached with skepticism. Arroyo tried many experiments to prove that no chemical products of the bacteria’s metabolism turbo charged the yeast, but rather that it was light based. The final experiment was fermenting pure cultures separated by a quartz barrier (cylinder within a cylinder) so that they were chemically separate but physically in visual contact and he observed the same results of the yeasts synchronizing with the bacteria. Arroyo was confirming controversial ideas in mitogenic radiation and applying them to a commercial product.

When I tried to find a primer of the subject, the best was written by Stanford scientist Cody Jones and for some reason hosted by Linden Larouche, possibly because it touches on cosmic radiation which relates to plans for colonizing space. It is a wonderful read, but I was left wondering how it got associated with an ultra fringe political group. Jones has an interview on a Larouche news program that begins with political insanity and ends presenting him as a finely articulate speaker. Other pursuits of the subject also brushed up against political weirdness.

After reading Cody Jones’ primer I was reminded of an intriguing Scientific American article from last year, describing the work of Jeremy England at M.I.T., and it turned out to ground everything in some serious respectability. England has been looking at the very origins of life before it grows to anything described by Darwin. At the earliest points there is significant grey area between what is alive and what isn’t and bio photons are still important. They give seemingly non-living or abiotic things the power to organize themselves. This is sort of like a gravity that constantly moves towards life.

It is probably useful to cover some classic experiments to get a better handle on things and all of them are paraphrased by Cody Jones. The first person to recognize the bio photon was Alexander Gurwitsch and the first experiment was performed on onions in 1923.

It is demonstrated that cell mitosis can be induced in an onion stem via extremely low-intensity ultraviolet (UV) emissions from the root of another onion—is that chromatin (as in chromosomes, DNA) is the source of this biological radiation, measured by him in the UV range, and that this radiation stimulates and regulates the mitosis of other cells. In other words, UV radiation emanating from one cell can trigger the act of mitosis in another cell.

This really makes you wonder if we see any of this in agriculture. Many planting decisions are based on competition for chemical resources and designing experiments to isolate the effect of bio photons may prove near impossible. But there are murmurs of cosmo-culture techniques used in wine making and when you consider the possible effects of cosmic radiation on cell function, they might not be so silly.

I found this experiment described by Cody Jones interesting because it dealt specifically with yeast:

Other studies were done on the influence of non-thermal microwaves on the growth rate of yeast cells, were it was found that the effect of either enhanced growth, no effect, or deteriorated growth rate, occurred in repeated studies at very specific frequencies. A significant difference of effect was demonstrated in a narrow microwave range around 42GHz (109 Hz), with a maximum increase in growth rates, relative to a baseline growth rate, occurring at 41.782 GHz and maximum decreased growth rates occurring at the 41.788 GHz. Interestingly, when the applied frequency range was doubled (from 42 to 84GHz range), the new frequency that corresponded to the maximum growth rate was double that of the maximum growth frequency of the previous tests (from 41.782 GHz to 83.564 GHz). These results again demonstrate a highly tuned quality of interaction of radiation with living processes, with fundamental differences of effect occurring within a very narrow range of frequency, as well as a periodicity of effects within a broader range of radiation quality (i.e. microwave), as seen with the growth effect occurring at doubled frequencies.

Not all effects are positive and synchronous effects as seen here can sometimes be damaging.

Here is a great one:

One such experiment done with unicellular flagellate protists, know as dinoflagellates, demonstrated that when two different groups of the protists were brought into optical contact with each other, though still physically separated by quartz containers, they would start to engage in synchronous bio-luminescent flickering among members of the the two different samples, whereas when in non-optical contact, the relationship of the flickering was random.

There is lots of interest in bio photons and cancer, both for detection and therapies:

In another experiment, tests were done on the delayed luminescence from stimulated liver cells, of both the healthy and tumorous variety. It was found that as you increase the density of the healthy tissue, the rate of luminescence increased up to a maximum, at which point it started to decrease with further density increase, whereas with the tumor tissue there was a steady hyperbolic increase in rate of luminosity which continued irrespective of how dense the population of cells became. This was interpreted, in light of Gurwitsch’s work on the role of bio-photon emission in stimulating cell mitosis, as a breakdown in a regulatory function in the tumor tissue, which did not occur in the healthy tissue.

A wildly interesting one:

It is worth mentioning another series of experiments which show similar types of effects conducted by A.B. Burlakov, a Russian scientist following in the Gurwitsch tradition, who looked at the effect of optical contact between fish eggs of differing ages. What he found was that if a group of young eggs was brought into contact with another group just slightly older, the younger group actually accelerated its growth rate as if to catch up, whereas if the difference was of a greater interval, past a certain threshold, the effect was deleterious, resulting in mutations and higher death rates.

And the finale:

We can add to the list of experimental phenomena that orient towards understanding the radiation expression of life, the work currently being done by Dr. Luc Montagnier, the discoverer of the HIV virus. What he has demonstrated is that microscopic fragments of the DNA of various viruses and bacteria in highly dilute solution produce detectable electromagnetic waves, even when the DNA fragments are so minute that they are undetectable by any other means. In one experiment, his lab set up a container of pure water that was in close proximity to a dilute solution that was emitting the measurable electromagnetic waves, but was not in material contact with it. When constituent genetic material (nucleotides, primers, polymerase) was add to the pure water solution there was a synthesis of DNA strands of the same sequence as that which was in the initial dilute solution. The electromagnetic waves of the solution produced in the pure water a characteristic shaped living space, that, when material was added, took the form of that shaped field. We see this as not only the role of radiation in living processes, but this brings into question we actually draw the bounds of what we consider the living substance: clearly in this case it extends far beyond what is conventionally recognized as living material.

This was the experiment that I saw most relevant to the work of Jeremy English as described in Scientific American. I would love to know if this work has been duplicated.

If you’ve got the time, another wonderful primer was written by Compton Rom Bada. The most important ideas within is that there are diseases posited to be symptomatic of a loss of coherent light (chaos) like cancer while there are diseases from too much coherent light like Multiple Schlerosis (order) where cells are too in sync with others of different functions which prevent the cells from acting as individuals and performing their own special functions. The take away here is that even if you believe in bio-photonic effect, its no easy positive.

The idea of chaos is very important to concepts important to wine like terroir. It is interesting to speculate how synchrony from bio photons may cause a ripple of order through the chaos, but it is also very hard to tease out anything confidently. A metaphor that I like to use for techniques wine makers and distillers use is to create and frame windows for chaos. There are things we can control and things we cannot that are left to happen chaotically within certain bounds. The inverse now looks true with mitogenic radiation where distillers can frame windows for synchrony, but it will still resemble chaos.

Mitogenic radiation and synchronizing a yeast culture with a bacterial culture is at the heart of Rafael Arroyo’s technique for creating heavy rums. Arroyo also started to classify heavy rums by the dominant auxiliary culture. Jamaica-type heavy rums were created by a fission yeast culture partnered with Clostridium Sacharo Butyricum, but the others did not parallel established traditions. With molasses, Arroyo also explored Propionobacterium Technicum and with fresh sugar cane juice, the Imperfecti mold Oidium Suaveolens, “isolated by the writer from the sap of a tree much used in Puerto Rico for shading coffee plantations.” Um, wow. Anyone know what that tree may be?

What on the market specifically can be tied to any of these ideas?

Fake aging is pointless if the ferments aren’t epic, helping us tease out ideas related to the birth of all life, and emitting bio photons left and right. Can bourbon do any of that? My infatuation with rum just grew again. If its lore, its lore, but its pretty good lore.

The Prior Patents of Rafael Arroyo

So who was this guy, Rafael Arroyo, and why did he win the contract to advance Puerto Rican rum? Could anyone else have done as good a job? Was this guy some sort of genius or coincidentally just a native with the right scientific skill set? (my bet is staggering genius.)

In tracking down his lost papers I found another patent of his. Arroyo is known to most contemporary rum enthusiasts through his patent on producing heavy bodied rums which was digitized by google and thus accessible.

We can get a glimpse of Arroyo’s credentials through his other patents which are all for advanced industrial fermentations proving he entered rum work with a formidable skill set. By the 1940’s when Arroyo was working on rum he must have been well into his career and had some pretty heavy industrial experience under his belt.

Arroyo also appears to be from Puerto Rico which isn’t the biggest surprise, though it is surprising that PR industry was doing boundary pushing work in bio technology in the 1930’s.

Hopefully soon I can dig up an obituary so we can learn more about the guy.

[Added 1/17/15 courtesy awesome reader Rex Clingan]

From the American Chemical Society 1949:
Rafael Arroyo, 57, Puerto Rican industrial research chemist, died suddenly Aug. 16 in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico. He had been for many years head of the chemistry department of the Agricultural Experiment Station at Rio Piedras, and specialized in the industrial utilization of sugar cane molasses and its by-products. He originated the “Proceso Arroyo” under which the production of rum spirits by a special treatment of the molasses used in the fermentation stage was increased. He graduated in 1916 from Louisiana State University, where he had majored in sugar engineering. In the U. S. he had worked for Armour and Co., Staier Chemical Co., and the U. S. Industrial Alcohol Co. He joined ACS in 1946.

Fermentation Agent 1938

Art of producing butanol and acetone by fermentation of molasses 1938

Culture for butyric acid fermentation 1939

Fermentation process for producing butyric acid 1939

Rafael Arroyo’s Lost Papers on Rum

[If you enjoy this content, use it professionally, or simply want to support the blog, please share the artisan workshop of the bostonapothecary, the Houghton Street Foundry. It will evolve from an architecture focused machine shop to also include a laboratory for distillery analysis and applied yeast work.]

[I’ve made a great PDF of a Arroyo’s 1945 Studies on Rum and I’m pleased to say the text has even surpassed my expectations. I’m going to finishing reading it and playing with it then I’ll eventually release it. I need to de-warp some of the page scannings and reduce the size of the PDF because it currently rings in at 60MBs.]

To my knowledge there are no accessible digitized copies of Rafael Arroyo’s 1945 Studies on Rum. You’d probably have to wait a few years to find a print copy for sale and I suspect a big reason is because the book was printed so cheaply it is physically falling apart.

But what is this all about? Through a grant from the U.S. government Arroyo set out to do detailed studies of rum production and he created new techniques in fermentation that revolutionized how rum was made. Even in Jamaica, which is known for dunder pits and muck holes, the leading producer, Appleton, likely favors the Arroyo method. I’m sure if you’re here, you already know a little about Arroyo.

Not much happened with Arroyo’s work until decades later because of the timing of WWII (this was explained in Rum: Yesterday and Today), but everything was given an update with Puerto Rico’s Rum Pilot Plant and those agricultural bulletins are mostly lost as well. The RPP works are a series of twenty something bulletins and are in both English and Spanish because of how they were funded by the U.S. government. These documents transformed how rum is made around the world and were supposed to be shared and accessible, but somehow they’ve become elusive and even the most serious PhD spirits researchers do not cite them in bibliographies.

I have collected probably all of Arroyo’s citations from the journals they were originally appearing in mostly courtesy the bibliography of the late John E. Murtaugh who was one of the great distillation educators as well as a significant contributing author to the Alcohol Text book. [I should also note that German globe trotting sugar technologist, Hubert Von Olbrich, also lists most of Arroyo’s original citations in his Geschichte der Melasse, 1970. He only misses a few.]

Next I will tackle the Rum Pilot Plant bulletins and I have strong leads to their locations. I actually have the entire annotated bibliography of all articles related to the Rum Pilot Plant, but it is a pretty big under taking to collect and beyond the scope of most people’s interests.

[I’m trying to request these first three from the Experiment Station reports and not from Facts about Sugar which I am afraid is just a review and not the full article. Problem so far is Archive.org’s version of the Experiment Station reports don’t have any mention of Arroyo. Not sure if they are the same reports or a different one. I suspect these are important, not so much to learn production techniques, but to gain historical context because they are his first articles on rum.]

Arroyo R. , Manzano M. Jamaica Type Rum in Puerto Rico. University
of Puerto Rico, Agr. Expt. Station Report for 1937-38, p. 26-27; rev. : Facts
about Sugar 35 (1940) , no. 4, p . 38.

Arroyo R., Marrero F., Haravidez L. Rum Types and the creation
of new rum types from cane juice. Report University of Puerto Rico Agricultural Experiment Station, 1939, p. 43-44, rev. : Facts about Sugar 35 (1940) , no. 11 , p. 37.

Arroyo R. The Aroma of Rum : The influence of pre-treating the raw
material. Revista agricultura industria commercio; Puerto Rico 32 (1940),
no. 2, p. 284-286; rev. : Facts about Sugar 35 (1940), no. 11 , p . 37.

Arroyo, R. 1941. The manufacture of rum Part I. Sugar
36(26-27,34).

Arroyo, R. 1942. The manufacture of rum Part II. Sugar
37(29-32).

Arroyo, R. 1942. The manufacture of rum Part III. Sugar
37(26-29,33).

Arroyo R. 1942 The manufacture of rum Part IV. Sugar
37(29-31)

Arroyo R. 1942 The manufacture of rum Part V. Sugar
37(29-31)

Arroyo, R. 1942. US Patent 2,295,150. Ethanol Fermentation of Black Strap Molasses.

Arroyo R. Dilution Problem in Rum Manufacture, Sugar 38 (1943), no. 7,
p. 25, 26.

[I haven’t requested this because he covers it so well in the 1945 text.]

Arroyo R. Genuine and spurious Rums, Sugar 38 (1943), no. 8, p. 25 , 27.

Arroyo, R. 1945. US Patent 2,386,924. Production of heavy rums.

Arroyo, R. 1945. The production of heavy bodied rum. International Sugar Journal 40(11):34-39.

Arroyo, R. 1945. Studies on rum. Research Bulletin
No. 5 (University of Puerto Rico, Agricultural Experiment Station, Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico), December. [I have this but have not shared it!]

Arroyo, R. 1947. The economics of rum production. International Sugar Journal 49:292-294, 325-327. [part I, part II]

Arroyo, R. 1948a. The production of straight light rums from blackstrap. International Sugar Journal 50:150-152.

Arroyo, R. 1948b. The flavour of rum – recent chromatographic research. International Sugar Journal 50:210.

Arroyo, R. 1948c. Simultaneous production of light and heavy rum. International Sugar Journal 50:289-291.

Arroyo, R. 1949a. The Arroyo fermentation process for alcohol and light rum from molasses. Sugar Journal 11(8):5-12.

Arroyo, R. 1949b. A new rum distillation process. Sugar 44 (7):34-36.

Arroyo, R. 1949c. Rum distillery yields and efficiencies factors affecting them. International Sugar Journal 51:163-169, 189-191.

Arroyo, R. 1950. Advanced features in rum fermentation. International Sugar Journal 52:42-44.

Arroyo died in 1949 so a few of these would have published posthumously.

Additional articles of interest:

L’Anson P. 1976. Diversification in the distilleries. Wine and Spirit. 106: 38-39, 42-43, 45.

Kampen, W.H. 1975. Technology of the rum industry. Sugar y Azucar. 36-43

Kampen, W.H. 1975. Technology of the rum industry.
Sugar & Azucar 70(8):36-43. [I can’t remember were I took these two different citations from, but who knows if they are the same article?]

Aguiar, J.L., Rodriguez-Benitez, V., and Garcia Morin, M., 1968, Study of the Use and Reuse of Activated Charcoal in Rum Processing, J. Agr. Univ. P.R. 52(1).