The Micro-Organism of Faulty Rum

This strange book came across my desk as I was looking for scientists that worked on New England rum: The Micro-Organism of Faulty Rum (1898) What a title! Its a whole book? (64 pages) What the hell is this all about? (There is a big punchline at the end, but if you are really lazy feel free to scroll to the very end and read backwards.)

The book was referenced in Cane Sugar: A text-book on the agriculture of the sugar cane, the manufacture of cane sugar, and the analysis of sugar house production together with a chapter on the fermentation of molasses by Noel Deerr, sugar technologist at the experiment station of the Hawaiian sugar planter’s association, 1911.

So back in 1898 this husband and wife team of researchers were finding micro organisms in rum. This confused a lot of people so they took their samples to another more esteemed micro biologist, Emil. Chr. Hansen of the Carlsberg laboratory. Dr. Hansen “confirmed our results, though not our conclusions in their entirety […]”. It seems like Hansen says, yes you’ve got micro organism in your rum but I don’t think they grew there.

Lets back track to Noel Deer:

“Faulty Rum.—By faulty rum is meant a spirit which on dilution with water becomes cloudy and throws down a deposit. The causes to which this behaviour are attributed are:—The presence of caramels soluble in strong and insoluble in dilute spirit; the presence of higher fatty acids, due to care less distillation, which are precipitated on dilution; the presence of terpenes extracted by the spirit from the casks; the presence of a micro organism capable of life and reproduction in 75 per cent, alcohol; the latter view was brought forward by V. H. and L. Y. Veley who named the supposed organism Coleothrix methystes and stated that it is extremely resistant to ordinary methods of destruction, survives desiccation, is air borne, and both aerobic and anaerobic; in certain of their publications the organism is described as multi-Inlying and living actively in 75 per cent, rum and in other places as merely surviving in spirit. The whole of the results of V. H. and L. Y. Veley were challenged by Scard and Harrison, who were unable to obtain any of the effects noticed by the Yeleys. They found, however, in Demerara rums remains of organisms similar to the one in question, and were of opinion that fauiltiness in rum was due to the first three causes mentioned above.”

So these researchers that took it upon themselves to investigate the Veley’s results only found questionable micro organisms in Demerara rum. Presumably they tried all types of rum?

Noel Deerr goes on a little more with his own experiences and describes finding fungal growths that possibly were in barrels and survived the journey to England:

“The writer thinks it quite possible that masses of the organism, to the existence of which he gives credence, have found their way into casks and puncheons, and have thus been present and alive on arrival in England, but does not think they can be called the cause of faulty rum.”

From the Introductory Chapter I:

So the problems pretty much only afflict the Demerara rums of Guyana. And there was enough interest in the problem to interest the Agricultural Committe of Guyana to spend time figuring it out.

From Mr. Harrisson, the appointed Agricultural Committee investigator:

The text goes on to report the private nature of correspondences probably regarding conspiracy theory that no one wanted to get out to the public because they would shatter confidence in the rums diminishing their value.

Its starting to get complicated. They pretty much try and salt out any chemical compounds like fatty acids that could be causing the problem. What is left are organic bodies.

Back then they were probably thinking they were in x-files territory. If over proof rum can’t kill it, what if it escapes and eats our flesh? Its also coming from deep within the jungles of the Demerara river.

Did they think it was dividing actively because they assumed it entered the rum as a single spore and grew from there into significance? And if they were able to grow it further, were they not making a mistake and growing something else similar local to their environs. We’ve recently found new ways bacteria can protect itself, such as with trehalose, and there are some forms thought to be near immortal that can grow weird protective shells that survive all sort of extremes like the vacuum of space.

So they’ve never been there. The Vely’s eventually show some statistics of faulty rum, which was first noted as a phenomenon sixteen years prior. Its hard to draw conclusions whether every fault was related to bacteria. The faults could have been due to the other categories like excess fatty acids and issues with caramel.

The samples keep coming and there are just as many that are faulty for ones that are not.

So I interpret this as they can’t get anything to grow in the rum. What they then try is to grow bacteria out of rum then add it to rum to see if they can get faulty results which is the clouding.

They go on to shoot down Harrison and the work done in the tropics for not being rigorous enough and probably making obvious errors. This is their grounds:

Death of the microbes in the rum can still cause clouding. But how did they get there?

“alleged bacterium”. At some point in time there was probably serious name calling.

They find micro organisms in the caramel used for coloring. But they are not using fresh caramel, they are using caramel that made the trip from Guyana to England.

They examine Liverpool water and find no micro organisms.

Basically it is not louching because of excess free fatty acids because some not faulty spirits had more free volatile acids than faulty spirits. Though this does not take into account the exact distribution of types of fatty acids.

They get into turbidity, opalescence, and florescence.

Harrison’s resin theory where turbid compounds were extracted from the wood is disproved because all barrels from all firms were made from the same lumber.

They break out the petroleum spirit.

They break out some optics theory.

I promise we are getting closer to the punch line.

Everything is getting complicated:

There are shreds of possibility to this:

This quote is taken out of context:

Fearing x-files type shit, they tested on animals:

Some of many closing remarks in the conclusion that they acknowledge might work against their findings:

And then they name it:

This is where they kept the beast:

Behold the beast!

Orgy of beasts:

Let’s put this all to rest and reference IRS chemist Peter Valaer, 1937:

raw meat

Long ago I tried this so you don’t have to.

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