Top Ten Blog Moments In Rum

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It seem like a fun idea to count down the top ten Bostonapothecary moments in rum. Did the blog ever shake shit up? Did you catch all of these? Did we inspire any writers?

10. The list starts off with Thirty Years of Rum Technology at INRA which is essentially the end of rum history in the 20th century. This incredible organization attempted a fission yeast renaissance, but were not able to develop interest. What we find here is a beautiful road map for the future of rum and I translated 10+ of their research papers. If rum is your business, spend the time. Professor Fahrasmane even became a pen pal and warned me about grand arôme rums, “there is the real and the so-called.” At the end of their paper is large bibliography as well as links to everything I have collected and translated.

9. Almost two years ago, I came across the rum oil smoking gun which ties Rafael Arroyo’s idea of rum oil (and Karl Micko’s even earlier) to rose ketones like damascenone. Many people are obsessed with esters, but carotene derived aroma may be of even higher value and possess radiance that can valorize other aromas it is paired with. Since then, we have identified this aroma in the very finest rums on the market as well as produced it at incredible levels in our experimental rums. Perfumers consider rose ketones the most beautiful theoretic odorants and posit that your immune system can bend around them in a state of relaxation. Other spirits have them, but heavy rums can have by far the most. Molasses becomes an investment product, not a salvage product.

8. Eventually, after turning a lot of stones, I made rediscovery of Arroyo’s birectifier laboratory analysis still. And, wow, is it incredible! Since then I have widely explored the tool across spirit categories and have found that it can give modern methods like GCMS a run for their money because operation is simple and interpretation has less learning curve. Evaluation of high value congeners like rum oil is easily possible with the birectifier whereas it is a blind spot for common forms of GCMS used by industry. The tool has allowed confirmation of many of Arroyo’s ideas. It’s also cheap as far as laboratory instruments go!

7. Over 7 years ago, I tracked down IRS chemist Peter Valaer’s exhaustive 1937 survey of Foreign and Domestic Rum. Even many of Kervegant’s descriptions of various rum producing regions relied on Valaer’s survey. Cuban rum had a lot of mythology until this document provided hard numbers, the same for New England rum. The infamous idea of raw meat in Guyana rum was also found here. This document inspired a lot of people.

6. Last fall, I completed an English translation of the impossibly rare 500 page Rhum and Cane Eau-de-vie by Kervégant which may be the most important survey of rum history and technology. This text no doubt will be the backbone of reinvigorating the rum category. Most of the primary documents synthesized by Kervegant had been previously covered on the blog. Yet, a few notable ones are yet to be found.

5. Yves recovered the lost J.A.S.T Journals with one, History of the Rum Pool 1958, telling a remarkable year by year tale of distillery consolidation and what marks went where. Also, in others, we learn that Jamaica contacted Rafael Arroyo through an intermediary to consult for them on rum. There are repeated mentions of losing control of fission yeasts and it is implied that Arroyo would help reboot them (which never happens). By the 1940’s, it appears that most remembrance of Allen, Ashby, and Cousins was erased. There was no longer a government yeast service helping Jamaican distilleries.

4. Both Klaus and the Professor tracked down two of the three known copies of H.H. Cousins (1906) Confidential: Instruction For Making High-Ether Rum. One copy was a beautiful scanning while the other was owned by renowned sugar cane technologist Hubert Von Olbrich who never mentions the document in his bibliographies. Everyone is curious about this process so there it is. Be warned, this process must be justified. If your ferments and resulting distillates cannot support it, you are completely wasting your time. H.H. Cousins developed this for Hampden.

3. Back in 2015, we rediscovered Rafael Arroyo which started with a few citations from Professor Murtaugh (first author of Lallemand’s Alcohol Textbook) and those grew and grew to become the Lost Papers. Later, I got the first scanning of Studies on Rum which has been shared with the 50+ plus people that have written to me over the years. No one had seen the text this side of culinary except Wired journalist Adam Rogers who introduced many to it in his popular 2014 text, Proof. After that, I translated Circular 106 and eventually was led to a lost serialized preface to Studies on Rum. Arroyo was a big champion of fission yeasts and many unique processes which we are currently studying.

2. The next great moment was discovering Percival Greig and his yeast No. 18 which is the first reference to fission yeast in the rum literature and it is glowing. Greig [Greg] excites a lot of people and starts the race to understand these yeasts. He finds extraordinary aroma from a particular top fermenting variety. Eventually, he leaves Jamaica to start a distillery but his whereabouts become unknown (Trinidad). Allen, Ashby [1,2,3,4] and H.H. Cousins come after Greig and continue investigating yeast and bacteria in Jamaican distilleries. The Jamaican fission yeast I use may have been collected by Ashby in 1912.

1. I consider the top blog moment the discovery of W.F. Whitehouse, the great Agricola because this identified the true beginning of rum history which happened to be in Jamaica. Anything before this moment in 1843 is proto-rum. It also starts with an epic Mark Twain style distill-off between Whitehouse and the “interlopers” who have come to the island selling a new patent rum making process. Isn’t that just an enduring story line for rum? Yes, other things before this moment were called rum, but that doesn’t matter. The act of rum making is a conscientious intention to unlock the potential invested in molasses. The importance of the great Agricola’s reflection is best explained by Leonard Wray in The Practical Sugar Planter ,1848. Regarding Whitehouse, Wray writes: “Thus a spirit was implanted—a curiosity engendered, which cannot fail to develope itself to the benefit of “the planting interest” [the public good]. At that moment, the ball got rolling and from there we can trace a continuous technical history of rum production all the way to Louis Fahrasmane. Where does the torch go next?

In the post, I took Whitehouse’s vast writings and edited them down to a narrative about the distill-off with his adversary, O’Keefe. We never get the the other side of the story, but it no doubt exists in the Jamaica National Library and would be worth tracking down. Daniel Day-Lewis would play Whitehouse in the film adaptation.

Honorable mention. The continuous history of rum has one unique island in it and that is Harris Eastman Sawyer who is responsible for anything positive you hear about New England rum at the beginning of the 20th century. He was unknown until recently and was as far as I can tell intellectually alone. He went to Harvard and was originally a leather tanning chemist. Among the most legendary rums ever built were those by Sawyer at the Felton & Son’s distillery anticipating prohibition and many were aged for over 20 years. Sawyer leveraged his government connections to allow Felton to continue producing heavy rum through prohibition for the tobacco industry. Eventualy they became blending stocks at the outset of repeal. Valaer describes these rums in his 1937 article. Somewhere, I have photo of my friend at a rock concern in the ancient subterranean stone molasses cistern of this distillery in the late 1980’s right as it was becoming artist lofts.

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