Yeast in Rum (or S. Pombe Revisited)

Following on from the three part collected article titled “Aeneas Coffey, John Dore and Foursquare”, Richard Seale posted an in depth look at “Yeast in Rum” in a 6 part series on his personal page, with his agreement I have again collated them into one single reference article below.

Yeast in Rum (or S. Pombe Revisited)

Part One – Yeast History

Back in October/November 2019, I created a quite a stir with some comments and a very brief post challenging some of the myths being created around the novel sacred cow that is S. Pombe yeast. At Foursquare we carry out natural fermentations (which contain S. Pombe) and having made some ‘high ester’ rums last year, it seems a good moment to make a further comment giving more details on the work of Jamaican chemists Percival H Greg, Charles Allan and S. F. Ashby.

A Little History:

Yeast cells were among the first microbes seen in early microscopes and some of the earliest observations concluded it was produced by fermentation rather than the agent of fermentation. In 1755, Dr. Johnson is his famous dictionary defined ‘yest’ as ‘the foam spume, or flower of beer in fermentation’. See also his cross reference with the definition of ‘barm’.

Lavoisier (1789) investigated wine fermentation by qualitative methods and could not find a role for yeast in the reaction that produced alcohol. However, by this time scientists believed yeast (or ferment as it was called) played a role in starting the process. Berzelius called this catalysis. German Scientist Theodor Schwann identified yeast as a living organism and call it ‘zukerpilz’ – the sugar fungus (or sugar mushroom). His colleague Franz Meyen that provided the modern latin name in 1838 – saccharomyces cerevisiae – literally ‘beer sugar-fungus’ for the species of yeast in common use today (through the use of thousands of strains of the species). Pasteur also supported the idea that fermentation was a biological process, that is a process by living organisms.

Famed German biologist Justus Von Liebig disagreed with this ‘vitalist’ theory arguing that alcoholic fermentation was a purely chemical process – no living organisms were involved – and this led of one of the most famous disputes in Science. Liebig believed the yeast was kind of nitrogenous organic compound which decomposed the sugar and a product was deposited described as an insoluble ferment. This ferment could be used as ‘ferment’ in another sugar solution. Pasteur would eventually settle the debate through a set of brilliant experiments.

Ultimately neither scientist was entirely correct or entirely wrong. Eduard Buchner obtained pure samples of the fluid inside the yeast cell and discovered that the fluid could ferment a sugar solution despite the fact the yeast cell was obviously dead. He realised that fermentation reactions were a chemical process inside the yeast cell by what we know today as collection of enzymes. So alcoholic fermentation is after all a bio-chemical process. Buchner would publish his work in 1897 for which he would be awarded the Nobel Prize.

Pasteur’s work would extend to improving wine making. He observed that soured wine was caused by the presence of lactic acid. He further observed that sour wine contained not only oval yeast cells but small rod shaped bacteria. While alcoholic fermentation occurred via yeast, lactic acid fermentation occurred via bacteria. Pasteur developed the process of heating the wine to a specific temperature for a short time to kill the bacteria a process we know today as ‘pasteurisation’ which would eventually find widespread use in the beer, milk and juice industries.

Danish mycologist Emile Christian Hansen, working at the Carlsberg Laboratory would take yeast understanding a step further. Pasteur had not fully solved the problem of brewing cloudy and off tasting beer despite pitching bacteria free yeast cultures. Pasteur had seen yeast as homogeneous cells, Hansen was the first to isolate different strains/species of saccharomyces yeasts. He discovered that certain strains were directly responsible for the cloudy beer and so by isolating and selecting particular strains for the brewery the problem of cloudy and sour beer could be solved. So now it was necessary to not only eliminate bacteria from beer fermentation but also so called ‘wild yeasts’.

The work of Liebig, Pasteur and Hansen are important to understanding the work of two giants of the Jamaica Rum industry – the planter and distiller Leonard Wray and the chemist Percival H Greg which we will consider in Part two.

 

Part Two – Wray and Greg

Leonard Wray (family to the more familiar J Wray) published his famous treatise in 1848 and his understanding of fermentation was based on the work of Liebig.

For Wray, the nitrogenous matter that would initiate fermentation was already contained in the raw material and so no yeast (or ferment) needed to be added:

“it is seen that molasses and skimmings each contain sugar, gluten, and water; so that fermentation will occur spontaneously in them without the intervention of any foreign substance, such as yeast”

As Lavoisier had quantitatively demonstrated before him, Wray stated the elements of the yeast (the glutenous or albuminous matter) “take no appreciable part in the transposition of the elements of the sugar ; for in the products resulting from the action, we find no component part of this substance”

For Wray, as Lavoisier, the yeast had no part of the final product, for Wray “the peculiar flavour of rum is generally understood to proceed from the resinous, aromatic gum (or essential oil), contained in the rind of the cane”.

Wray relayed an anecdote which marvelously echoes today:

“It is not more than a few days ago, that I was asked by a person why yeast was not used by our sugar planters as ferment instead of dunder ; intimating in very significant terms, that he considered all the West India distillers a very choice pack of fools. Now, this person says that he has been for a long while manager of one of the largest distilleries in the world. He has written a pamphlet on distillation, with a view to enlighten the minds of all distillers, and no doubt fancies himself possessed of all possible knowledge of the subject. And yet this person, who is a clever man, and no doubt very competent to instruct English distillers, does not know what dunder is, or what is its use in the fermentation of wash.”

Wray in his seminal work put his erudite view in the strongest terms, “no foreign agent — such as yeast — is necessary. Nay, further, that such is extremely undesirable ; as it would change altogether the character of the fermentation” (my emphasis).

Wray’s understanding of fermentation was not precisely correct but in practical terms, he was not wrong. Moreover, he was prescient. Everything needed for fermentation was indeed there, no ‘foreign agent’ was needed but the rise of pitched yeast with isolated, sterile yeast strains would forever change the fundamental character of rum fermentation not just in Jamaica but in every rum producing country. Today, just a handful of rum distilleries operate under Wray’s philosophy, almost all of them in Jamaica, most notably the Hampden and Long Pond Estates in Trelawny.

The first serious challenge to this approach would come from Percival H. Greg. Greg was the first chemist to isolate individual strains of yeast as found in Jamaica distilleries. Greg was strongly influenced by the work of Emile Hansen and travelled to Copenhagen to work at the Carlsberg laboratory under the supervision of Hansen’s colleague, Prof. Alfred Jorgensen. At the Carlsberg Lab, he conducted a series of experiments on molasses and dunder sent over from Jamaica. Greg became convinced of the merits of isolating, selecting and pitching a strain of yeast as was now becoming practice in breweries and distilleries around the world. Writing in ‘The Sugar Cane’ in 1893, Greg advocated:

“Not only must we do away with spontaneous fermentation by using a ‘pitching’ yeast, as brewers term it, i.e. adding some previously prepared yeast to set our vats in fermentation at once, but I strongly recommend the selection and cultivation of a suitable type of yeast in a state of absolute purity”

Greg was not alone in his ideas. Pairault (1903) and Kayser (1913) also suggested that starter culture yeasts for rum production should be selected. Both Pairault (1903) and Kayser (1913) recognized that bacteria were also endemic to rum but in their view they negatively impacted on production efficiency and quality. Fahrasmane (2002) reported that “after 1918, some distillers in the French West Indies who wanted to increase the alcoholic yield decided to put into practice the advice of Pairault and Kayser on pure fermentations. Although the result was an increase in yields, the quality of these products evidently fell because of their increased chemical neutrality”.

The star of the show of the strains tested by Greg in Copenhagen was a fission yeast, aka Schizzosaccharomyces Pombe (S. Pombe) which he dubbed No. 18. It is this earliest work in yeast selection that still resonates today in those who believe this type of yeast to be the holy grail in the search for the best Jamaica rum. Following Pasteur and Hansen, Greg at this time saw bacteria as only a source of potential disaster.

Enter Charles Allan who took entirely the opposite view. We will examine that in Part three.

 

Part Three – Allan and Ashby

In 1903, the Jamaica Board of Agriculture decided to hire a specialist Fermentation chemist as well as to set up a sugar laboratory, a fermentation laboratory and an experimental distillery with a 50 gallon still with a “telescopic head” and detachable retorts. The purpose was to study rum making with a view to improving yields, quality and studying the types of yeast involved. Charles Allan would be given a three year contract for the role under the supervision of legendary ‘Island Chemist’, H H Cousins. In 1905, it was Allan who supervised the implementation of Cousins High Ether Process at a specially built plant at Hampden Estate. A process still in use today.

Allan was able to show that the “flavour” of Jamaican rum was not the result of alcoholic fermentation by yeasts but due to acidic fermentations by bacteria.

“The point I wish to emphasize at present is that the value of rum depends mainly on the secondary products [the congeners] it contains. I will show you by means of experiments in the laboratory that cane juice or molasses fermented by yeasts alone produce but very little of the secondary products. These, therefore, must be formed by other organisms, chiefly bacteria which swarm in the washes of Jamaican distilleries”

Allan contrasted the modern approach of breweries of his era with the approach needed by the Jamaican distiller to make the best rum.

“In the most up-to-date breweries now not only are all bacteria excluded but yeast which has been carefully cultivated from selected seed are only used. The effect of this on the article produced was to alter to an appreciable extent its flavour but it ensured its stability in character and in a short time the newly acquired flavour got to be appreciated. In the case of Jamaica rum however we have an article of a very different nature to deal with. The flavour is of a very pronounced character and is one of its chief assets. The flavour of beer is very delicate and is produced by the yeast itself whereas I am of title opinion that the yeasts contribute but a small amount of the flavour of rum”

Allan’s successor at the Jamaica Government Laboratory was S. F. Ashby. Ashby had also studied yeasts at Copenhagen and was the Bacteriologist at famous Rothamsted Experimental Station in the UK before arriving in Jamaica in November of 1905.

He set about to explore further the contribution of yeast to Jamaica rum. He set up ten experiments with sterile washes seeded with strains of the fabled S. Pombe, selected due to the earlier work of Greg. The results were a disaster.

“The rum could hardly be called by that name, and it showed the same character for all ten yeasts; in no case was any characteristic flavour produced”.

Ashby continued with another series of experiments where acid was added to the otherwise sterile washes seeded again with S. Pombe.

“The conclusion to be drawn from these experiments is that, whereas none of the fission yeast isolated from the estate washes was able to produce flavour on its own account, the top yeast owing to its slower fermentation admitted a greater amount of chemical ether production in a wash originally high in volatile acids. The latter result is in accordance with distillers’ experience as they consider that a wash showing a strong fatty head due to the top fermenting fission yeast yields the best flavoured rum.”

Ashby set up further experiments again with added acids but this time observing the behaviour of each species of yeast (S. Cerevisiae and S. Pombe) with each type of acid (acetic, lactic, butyric) these being the common acids in distillery washes (produced primarily by bacteria).

“The ability of the budding type [S. Cervisiae] to multiply and ferment more rapidly from the outset in the weaker acid liquors, like cane juice washes and fresh skimmings, explains why this is the only kind found in such liquor the acidity of which is generally under 0.5%. In the usual estate washes containing dunder, molasses, acid skimmings, and frequently specially added acid, [this would be known as ‘flavour’ made in a muck pit or trash cistern ] the budding yeast [S. Cerevisiae] is largely suppressed, but the more slowly developing and very acid resistant fission type [S. Pombe] takes possession, and is practically the only form found in washes the acidity of which is 1.0% and over”.

Ashby demonstrated in experimental work that the remarkable qualities of S. Pombe are not in its ability to produce flavour of its own account but its ability to make alcohol in washes that are set up to make the characteristic flavour of high ester Jamaica Rum. Its slow rate of fermentation is also particularly important in allowing these characteristic flavours to be developed rather than rapidly consuming the available nutrients and producing the sterilising alcohol which would retard their development.

After his contact was concluded, Ashby would continue to have an illustrious career, he would also work in Trinidad before culminating his career as the mycologist at the Imperial Mycology Institute located at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew.

In fact Greg too in his work had also demonstrated that S. Pombe was no panacea – a simple trial of No. 18 in the absence of dunder produced no flavour. In his final paper on Rum aroma published in 1895, Greg concluded:

“If one may be allowed to theorize a little, there seems sufficient grounds for concluding, from the results which I have up to now attained, that though the aroma of rum is in the first instance derived from the soil, that this influence is chiefly potential not actual; that it is latent , dormant , and only brought into existence during the process of manufacture”.

Greg was back to Wray even before the arrival of Allan and Ashby.

So what does yeast contribute? We look at that in Part four.

 

Part Four – Yeast Flavour

Yeast is a bit of sacred cow itself in distilling, not least of all the current fad of S. Pombe. The primary mission in this series of posts is to explain the role of yeast in the context of traditional Jamaica high ester rum, not to diminish its broader importance. The role of yeast in any spirit category is wholly dependent on the culture in which that spirit is made. Yeasts and bacteria are the organisms directly responsible to creating flavour in alcoholic fermentations. Allan summarised well the challenge of striking the balance between the two:

“In making rum the first consideration is to produce alcohol. This can be done by encouraging the development of yeasts but in so doing you are discouraging the growth of bacteria and again if you encourage the development of bacteria you are setting up conditions which are against the interests of the yeasts. You must choose a middle course and it is just here where our greatest difficulty arises.”

Fortunately yeast does not only make alcohol but flavour congeners are produced as by products of yeast metabolism. These include higher alcohols (propanol, amyl alcohol etc), acids (acetic, lactic etc) esters (ethyl acetate), acetaldehyde and diacetyl. Further esters are formed by combining the produced acids with alcohol. Nykanan and Suomalainen (1983) listed 400 flavour metabolites of yeast fermentation. Of course only the volatile ones that pass over into the distilled spirit would be relevant for rum or whisky.

Yeasts are not a typical fungus in that their spores do not migrate by air currents. They are thought to be carried in the stomachs of insects. Recent research in Belgium – Christiaens et al 2014 – showed that fruit flies could use the aromatic odour produced by yeast to find fruit. The yeast helps the fruit fly find the fruit and the fruit fly helps the yeast move around. In short, fruit flies defecate yeast, and yeasts defecate alcohol (and some nice smelling bits).

Yeast autolysis is the degradation (by its own enzymes) of the cell wall and its contents following the death of the yeast cell. Yeast death is not a function of age but of how many times the cell has reproduced. This autolysate or ‘yeast extract’ notwithstanding its foremost importance to making marmite plays an important role in flavour development in fermented wines and spirits. Autolysis is strongly influenced by acidity and ethanol both of which are abundant at the end of fermentation. Several flavour compounds are released during autolysis including fatty acids (which will make esters and aldehydes) and heavy esters (e.g iso amyl caproate), terpenes (thought to be the constituent of what famed Puerto Rican chemist Arroyo called ‘rum oil’) and higher alcohols such as iso amyl alcohol.

Yeast autolysis is a very important part of the champagne method where the where the wine is kept in contact with the yeast autolysate in the bottle. It is also known as the ‘sur-lie’ method for making white burgundy. The autolysate is also a source of nutrients for bacteria. Greg, in one of his caveats for using yeast No. 18 advised it was important that the ‘dead wash’ sit for a couple of days before distillation. Ashby noted that S. Pombe produced far more autolysate than S. Cerevisiae. This is because of the double wall thickness of the fission yeast. This extra biomass is mainly polysaccharides. It does not contribute to flavour in distilled spirits save for providing nutrients to bacteria.

So just how did Jamaicans strike the balance described by Allan. That is for part five.

(pictured – A schematic overview of the main metabolic routes inside the yeast cell contributing to the synthesis of higher alcohols and esters when inserted in the fermenting medium)

 

Part Five – Striking the Balance

The addition of dunder (and its analogs of sour mash in bourbon or backset in whisky) as practised by all rum makers in the West Indies from the 17th century was precisely to set the balance described by Allan. By adding the acidic dunder at the outset, the acidity of the wash was increased to bring it into a zone that was still tolerable for yeast but inhibitory to bacteria. Favouring yeast was paramount because making alcohol is paramount. No point having bacteria produced flavour if they have gobbled up all the sugar and there is little or no alcohol. Many distillers today still adjust acidity in their pitched yeast fermentations by the addition of sulphuric or other acids.

Jamaica (and to a limited extent Barbados) would dimensionalize the molasses/juice/water formula of Wray by the addition of soured juice skimmings and something literally called ‘flavour’. Flavour was produced by a sort of parallel bacterial ferment using cane materials in a ‘trash cistern’ or ‘muck pit’. Each high ester rum making estate developed their own formula and method for ‘flavour’.

It is this use of soured juice and ‘flavour’ that tips the pendulum of aroma development in Jamaica Rum to bacteria over yeast, not that we wish to understate the importance of their symbiotic relationship. The creation and addition of ‘flavour’ in the Jamaican high ester rum making is the cultural equivalent of a bourbon distiller selecting and pitching their own favoured yeast strain. For wine and beer, yeast is king. In Scotch whisky, they do not boil the wort as in beer but rather heat it to 64C for a short time and so some bacteria is inevitably present during fermentation. With the early dominance of pitched yeast, the bacteria, chiefly lactic acid producing bacteria makes its presence felt at the end of fermentation – no role required for S. Pombe. Yeast autolysis would provide the nutrient requirements for the lactic bacteria. Late lactic bacteria is now widely considered to have a positive contribution to the flavour of the whisky (Geddes and Rifkin 1989). So in Scotch whisky, yeast is still king but the pendulum is swung a little in the direction of bacteria.

Today nearly every beer, wine or spirit including much of the rum in Jamaica is now made by pitching selected yeast strains, the practice outlined by Hansen in the late 19th century. The yeasts used are mostly of the saccharomyces type particularly the species saccharomyces cerevisiae for which there are literally thousands of strains. Saccharomyces types have such broad application because it fits the needs of the distiller so well. It is very efficient producing rapid fermentations, dominant (killer strains release a toxin to kill wild yeasts), tolerant of high alcohol content and by species/strain selection it reliably produces the desired flavour.

The yeasts used in whisky industry are mostly S. cerevisiae although various secondary species have been used. Lager yeast is S. pastorianus, ale yeasts include S. cerevisiae and apparently some S.bayanus strains. The wine industry mostly use S. cerevisiae and/or S. bayanus. Some wine makers and craft brewers use non saccharomyces types including Kloeckera, Saccharomycodes, Schizosaccharomyces, Hansenula, Candida, Pichia and Torulopsis. The use of non saccharomyces types is more practical in brewing because they can use a sterile wort. Trying to use non Saccharomyces types in rum is impractical as wild Saccharomyces strains will quickly dominate. Peynaud & Sudrand (1986), Haraldson and Rosen (1984) and Fahrasmane et al (1986) all found that Schizisaccaromyces strains in pure culture produced very few congeners.

In the past, Schizosaccharomyces yeasts were often detected in wines suffering from organoleptic faults through the appearance of sulfidric acid (hydrogen sulphide), acetic acid, acetaldehyde, acetoin and ethyl acetate. Most of these would not necessarily be a fault in rum making. Further research with highly selected strains of S. Pombe showed much better results (for wine) but their attraction for wine making was more related to the ability of this yeast to degrade malic acid rather than any remarkable aromatic profile. It should be noted that Ashby reported the existence of a ‘fruit ether’ yeast of the budding type, that is to say it was not S. Pombe.

It has been suggested in some circles that S. Pombe needs to be “reintroduced” into rum making. It is a ridiculous statement, it never left. S. Pombe plays its usual role at Hampden estate as it has done for over 250 years and S. Pombe can be found wherever rum is made. Several early studies identified S. Pombe in molasses and juice in rum distilleries in the Caribbean. More recently Fahrasmane (1988) found S. Pombe prevalent in Haitain distilleries. Bonilla-Salinas et al (1995) found S. Pombe in Mexican distilleries and Green (2015) found significant counts of S. Pombe yeasts in molasses at Bundaberg in Australia. You can find S. Pombe in our fermentations at Foursquare where their role varies depending on the rum to be produced.

The revised interest and circulation of the papers of Greg, Allan, Ashby et al by bloggers, enthusiasts, distillers and writers is absolutely to be applauded. I cant praise these efforts enough. That this 100 year old work still serves as inspiration to younger craft distillers is a joy to observe. My caution is not to take the work in isolation and consider it hand in hand with later work and the practical operations of West Indian Rum today that has built on and added to that knowledge. That such is not readily available via google should not detract from its value. As Wray warned, do not take the West Indian distillers for a ‘pack of fools’.

We do not need to reintroduce S. Pombe to rum, what we need to do is protect the traditional way in which it is used.

We will consider that in part six.

 

Part Six – The Jamaica GI

The core of traditional Jamaica rum making is the art of using simply sugar cane derivatives, spontaneous fermentation and batch distillation. Distillers were able to improve and innovate without ever breaking these fundamental core principles. In 1893, the year Greg published his first paper, 148 Jamaica distilleries operated this way. By 1948 there were just 25. Today just one distillery owner exclusively practices these methods. Pitched yeast and continuous distillation have changed Jamaica Rum (and Barbados Rum) forever as warned by Wray and J C Nolan (special commissioner to the UK for Jamaica rum) respectively. These two horses have bolted. There is no putting them back. But we can stop here and forever protect these methods.

In 2016, the Jamaican distilleries by unanimous agreement restricted the addition of fermentation agents ( those foreign agents of Wray! ) to yeast and only to yeast of the saccharomyces types. There was no restriction on native yeasts and bacteria proceeding in their normal spontaneous and natural way. How could they? Forced Sterilisation? One-third of the shares in a single Jamaica distillery changed hands in 2017 and since then, that pernicious shareholder has sought to discredit the GI as registered – most wickedly by mischaracterising the GI restriction as “narrowing to one genus of yeast we are wiping out hundreds of years of history of rum making”. Willful ignorance or just ignorance, I let my hopefully now better informed readers be the judge.

The distillery has now demanded through their team of lawyers that the Jamaica IP office unilaterally rewrite the GI to their personal specifications despite the protests of the remaining three distillers. One of my Jamaican colleagues, very high in the industry there, called this “insidious re-colonialization, putting his own selfish needs ahead of the industry and in contravention of the spirit of the GI.” I call someone who acquires a minority interest in a Jamaica distillery in 2017 and who then demands the GI be rewritten to their unilateral specification a megalomaniac.

Among the demanded changes, all designed to render the GI nugatory, is a demand to add other fermenting agents including bacteria. So pitched yeast and now pitched bacteria. A kind of rapid, cheaper ersatz Jamaica rum to be made and sold under a cloud of trite, hyperbolic marketing clichés. Pitched yeast and pitched bacteria take us further away from the true terroir of Jamaica Rum.

I suspect part of the motivation to rewrite the GI is the delusion based on the once again trendy advocation of Greg that magical Jamaica Rum will produced by simply pitching S. Pombe. It takes a high level of Dunning-Kruger type stupidity to think you are going to “innovate” Jamaica Rum by simply changing the brand of added yeast. You need to take West Indian distillers for a ‘pack of fools’ to believe this.

I will let Maggie Campbell, artisan distiller, yeast guru and esteemed colleague have the last word:

“It is wise to remember this is the life’s work and lived experience of these GI supporting Jamaican producers, they are not unwise or foolish, rather they are guardians of their culture and community. No one needs to benevolently jump in and fight to save Jamaican rum from itself, they are protecting it just fine themselves and the GI laws are set up to do just that”.
“If you do not want to participate in the community standards and cultural practices then you do not also get to demand instant access to leverage that community’s and culture’s hard won reputation for excellence.”

 

Again, huge thanks to Richard for allowing me to collate and reproduce the information here

© Steven James, Rum Diaries Blog and Richard Seale. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, both written and photographic without the express and written permission from this blog/sites author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Steven James, Richard Seale and Rum Diaries Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Aeneas Coffey, John Dore and Foursquare

Richard Seale recently posted a very informative and interesting series of articles surrounding Continuous and Batch Distillation on his personal page, with his agreement I have collated them into one single reference article below.

Aeneas Coffey, John Dore and Foursquare

Part One – The Continuous Still

Aeneas Coffey was not the first to invent the continuous still, nor was it the first continuous still to be used in Scotch Whisky however between 1834 and the 1876, seventeen newly installed Coffey stills would be making whisky in Scotland. It proved the foundation for the development of blended scotch whisky (developed around 1860), arguably the most successful spirit category of them all. How did it all happen? What follows is really only a brief overview of a history that is both very complex and very profound.

The late 18th century through the mid 19th century saw remarkable developments in spirit distillation. A drive to increase proof, efficiency and throughput underpinned these developments. We are focusing on the British, Irish and European developments as this directly impacted the West Indies but the American story is also very complex and worth your time.

Early stills by Adam (1801), Pistorius (1817) and Corty (1818) and several others too numerous to detail were essentially modifications of the simple batch (pot) still to add fractionation to simple distillation. In London at the Belmont Distillery in Vauxhall Jean-Jaques Saint Marc patented a batch (pot) still with a rectifying head in 1824. While used by Saint Marc for potato spirit, this concept would be a forerunner of the carter-head and the ‘Lomond’ still at Loch Lomond distillery. A notable step (see the post script) but still in the realm of discontinuous (ie batch) distillation.

The first genuine continuous still was patented by Jean-Baptiste Cellier-Blumenthal in 1813. In 1828 Robert Stein, a member of the Stein-Haig distilling family would also patent a continuous still and this would be the first licensed continuous still used in Scotland at Cameronbridge in 1830. Coffey would first patent his continuous still in 1830 and it bore remarkable similarity to the Cellier-Blumenthal still.

Aeneas Coffey had been an Irish Inspector of Excise until his retirement in 1824. During his work as an excise officer he invented the Spirit Safe an early insight to his genius. Purportedly of French birth he may have had contact with the work of Cellier-Blumenthal. It was also thought he was familiar with another early continuous still of Cork distiller Anthony Perrier patented in 1822 as well as the continuous still of Robert Stein. Coffey’s Father, Andrew Coffey was the engineer in charge of the waterworks for the Dublin Corporation and reputed to be quite ingenious. He may have also had an influence on Coffey’s engineering skills. Coffey’s first still was at Dock Distillery in Dublin and licensed in 1832. This distillery was not successful and the business was soon changed to one of still manufacture. The first Coffey still in Scotland was at Grange in 1834.

Coffey proved not to be successful in Ireland. Kerr (1946) humorously reflected:

“between good advertising and the effeminate palates of the English, which were not robust enough to appreciate really good whisky like the Irish, this type of whisky [blended] captured the English market and still holds it to an undeserved extent”.

The reasons were likely more nuanced. The early Coffey stills used iron pipes which gave the whisky an unpleasant flavour no doubt contributing to the early failure. Ireland did not license small distillers and legal Irish whisky was dominated by large stills. We suspect this would have played a role in making Coffey’s continuous still less attractive by comparison. Big pot stills would have good throughput if not the fuel efficiency of the continuous still. Ironically, it was Coffey in his role as Excise Office who suppressed the small illicit distillers. In 1810, he was left for dead having been attacked with a bayonet during the ‘poitin wars’. A reward for the capture of his attackers was unsuccessful, excise officers then as now were less than popular.

In 1835, the firm Aeneas Coffey and Sons was established in Bromley in the UK. His failure in Ireland contrasted by early success in Scotland (Inverkeithing and Bonnington had soon followed Grange) and potential sales of his still to rectifiers and gin distillers probably prompted the move. In 1840, Aeneas Coffey Jr established the first patent distillery in London at Lewisham which ended in rather unfortunate circumstances. The Secretary arranged for a large release of spirits from bond and presented the cheque for excise duty at a Directors meeting which did not contain the payee’s name. The secretary filled in his own name, cashed the cheque and was never seen again. The distillery went bankrupt and the Coffeys once again continued on as still makers.

The success of the Coffey still was really due to the evolution of the original design which had been little more than an improved Cellier-Blumenthal still. By 1840, the Coffey still would have copper piping, copper plates (trays) perforated with bubble caps and the still was split into two columns – analyzer (or stripping) column and the rectifying column. This separation of stripping and rectifying would be the foundation of nearly every spirit still in operation today. The use of perforated copper plates (trays) would be a marked improvement on the Stein continuous still which did not have contacting plates and the wash needed to be misted to ensure good liquid / vapour mixing. Even the Haig family would install a Coffey still.

The Cellier-Blumenthal still would also be improved by French Engineer and Dutch Sugar Trader Armand Savalle and by French Pharmacist Louis-Charles Derosne. Savalle and Cellier-Blumenthal were collaborators. Cellier-Blumenthal would sell his patent to Derosne who improved it and filed his own patent while Savalle continued to work independently. Savalle stills can be found today in Demerara and the French Islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe.

While some un-malted grains had been used by highland single malt distillers the advent of the continuous still precipitated the split where highland batch stills were solely single malt with the cheaper un-malted grains going to the lowland continuous Coffey stills. This more economic and more available ‘grain whisky’ in the hands of entrepreneurs like John Dewar, James Chivas and William Teacher was the foundation of the enormous success that Scotch Whisky is today. Some luck played a role as well. In 1863, there was the phylloxera in France which had affected most of Europe by 1879. Blended Scotch filled the void for the well to do English created by shortages of claret and brandy.

The influence of raw materiel on the acceptance and adoption of the continuous still should not be underestimated. We see the same in rum. Demerara was the first to develop vacuum pan sugar – the famed Demerara sugar – but the corollary of that is vacuum pan molasses lower in value to muscovado molasses and Demerara was the first of the anglophone producers to adopt the continuous still. In Martinique, early restructuring of the sugar industry into central factories (and thereby pan sugar) in the mid 19th century is the pre-cursor to the city based (Saint Pierre) production of Rhum Industrial with pan molasses.
In Barbados the rum industry collapses after 1870, due to taxation and economic malaise. By the 1890s, the only estates still making rum are using lower value pan molasses as the famous ‘Barbados Molasses’ (made either as the prime product of the estate or secondary to muscovado sugar) is too valuable to be converted into Barbados rum (which is only sold locally at this time). Barbados would see its first continuous still using pan molasses in 1893 to fill the void as muscovado estates went out of rum production. By the 1920s centralisation of sugar factories (producing pan molasses) would be well underway and two more continuous stills would follow – one at Mount Gay and another in Bridgetown.

For Jamaica by contrast, rum was the primary product for many estates as it was more valuable than Jamaica Sugar. Rum in Jamaica was made from cane juice (Appleton) or ‘first boil’ molasses. Jamaica would not adopt the continuous still until the 1960s.

Notwithstanding the success of still sales to Scotland, the business of still making slowed by the late 1860s and in 1872, Philip Coffey, son of Aeneas would transfer the business to his long time foreman John Dore. Aeneas’s grandson, Aeneas H Coffey would act as consultant to John Dore for many years. By 1887, business would revive and Barnard’s – ‘The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom’ – published that year reported Coffey Stills in all major Scotch Whisky distilleries.

John Dore & Co Ltd would continue as successors to Aeneas Coffey, still operating from Bromley and supply Coffey Stills to the West Indies including to Jamaica, Barbados, Guyana, St Vincent, St Lucia and Grenada. Coffey stills and their derivative designs would be also be sold by Scottish still makers such as Blairs and McMillans including to rum distillers in the West Indies. Following the general demise of British manufacturing, Blairs would cease operation in 1977 and John Dore would cease operating in the early 1990s although the trade mark was sold and has been used subsequently on stills built by other copper works. McMillans continues operations till this day although now it exclusively builds pot stills.

Post Script:
The addition of rectification in 1824 to a batch (pot) still before the development of the continuous (column) is notable. In fact as early as 1813, Florentine Baglioni added a column section to a batch still for grappa. Unfortunately, it did not work well with the ‘vinnacia’.

Today terms such as ‘hybrid still’ are a source of confusion. There is no such thing as a hybrid still. The dichotomy is not pot still v column still but batch still v continuous still. All still designs fall into one of the latter two categories. The addition of fractionation or enhanced rectification to a batch still is still a batch still. The simple batch still relies solely on the lyne arm for rectification. Enhancing this effect does not change the fundamental nature of the still.

A batch still will produce a changing output over time (colloquially the heads, then hearts, then tails) from a single charge (batch) that itself changes as it is distilled. A continuous still produces an unchanged output that varies by position (not by time) on an unchanging charge that is fed continuously. Heads, hearts, tails are drawn off simultaneously from different positions. This is the fundamental distinction between the two processes which also explains why the two can never make the identical spirit.

Early column shaped stills (e.g. the columnar Pistorius still) should not be confused with a column or continuous still, it was a batch still and the Savalle or Cellier Blumental stills are not fitted with “a pot still” just because they had a pot shaped base/kettle – there were in fact continuous (or column) stills.

Part Two – The Batch Still

The myriad of still patents developed between the late 18th and mid 19th century is extraordinary and the few mentioned in part one does not do it remotely justice. This work, applied to simple batch distillation led to the development of the continuous still and the distillation world never looked back.

Curiously, the extensive developments on batch distillation had little impact on the batch (pot) stills of Scotland, Ireland and Cognac and they continue to employ simple batch distillation, either double or triple to make whisky and cognac today. To see advanced batch distillation in the 19th and 20th century, one must travel to the West Indies and observe rum distillation.

It is often claimed that the double retort still used in West Indies is an “Adam’s still”. No explanation is ever offered as to why the English colonies would have purchased a French still (of which only three were made) at the height of the Napoleonic wars (let alone been able to import it). As mentioned in part one, Edouard Adam (1801) made an improvement to the simple still. He did so by adding fractionation to the batch still via a series of egg shaped vessels. Adam’s work was based on the work of Professor Laurent Solimani and the two would go on to jointly patent further improvements. There is no denying the similarly in principle to a pot still with multiple retorts but how the West Indies came to use the double retort is rather more nuanced and much more likely from a parallel bit of work of Joseph Corty.

In 1818, Joseph Corty developed a double “compound” still with the second still containing external cooling (similar to that of Pistorius). DT Shears & Sons of Bristol would acquire this design and these double stills proved to be of “such repute” that Shears would supply “numbers of them for the colonies, but particularly Demerara” – Wray (1848). Double stills of varying designs could also found in the West Indies, some notable examples include one at the Londonderry Estate in Dominica (built at the copper works in Barbados) and of course the one at Port Mourant still in operation today. These double stills are the forerunner of the pot/double retort in common use today in Barbados, Jamaica, Guyana, St Lucia, Grenada among others. Early retort stills carried external cooling heads, no doubt the influence of the original Corty Still.

Leonard Wray (family to the perhaps better known J Wray) in his seminal work – The Practical Sugar Planter (1848) – wrote:

“But of all the arrangements, I have never known any to surpass the common still and double retorts”

This was no idle boast, Wray had extensive experience including of the Stills of Cellier-Blumenthal, Laugier (another type of double still) and Coffey.

At this time double stills, single retort stills and double retort stills were all in use and each of these types were supplied by Shears of Bristol. Improvements would continue – attached is a single retort of Blairs, produced around the turn of the century with the open cooling head replaced by a modern condenser. Rectification heads would be added to retort stills in Barbados and Guyana but notably not Jamaica. You can find a rectification head on the Port Mourant double still in Guyana.

While there is little evolution in the simple batch (pot) stills of Scotland, Ireland or Cognac on the scale of that in the West Indies, there are some common improvements that have been adopted.
In 1802, Charles Wyatt patented the application of steam “tubes” to distillation instead of direct fired stills which avoids the burning the wash on the bottom of the still. Today almost all stills in Scotland are steam heated but even here the West Indians were the more progressive. The steam used in the Coffey stills was thought to destroy the esters and it would not be until 1887 before Glenfiddich installed a still with steam coils. Famed Jamaican chemist HH Cousins carried out research in Jamaica on the use of steam and found it superior. This resulted in a quicker widespread adoption in Jamaica of the steam coil over Scotland. The Americans would also be quicker to adopt steam distillation over direct fire. Famously today cognac must be distilled by direct fire.

“I am convinced from the results obtained at Shrewsbury estate in Westmoreland, that all home trade rums could with advantage be distilled in stills heated by a steam coil. Burnt rum should then be unknown. The fetish of the ‘direct fire’ that still lingers in the minds of Scotch whiskey distillers has no basis at all where Jamaica rum is concerned, since any excessive firing results in a most serious injury to the spirit produced”

H H Cousins, West Indian Bulletin, 1907

The earliest stills cooled the vapour by passing it through a simple worm (or coil). Originally this was solely atmospheric cooling but in 1771, German Chemist Wiegel invented the worm tub where the worm is placed in a tub into which cold water is continuously pumped. In 1825, William Grimble invented the shell and tube condenser which replaced the worm tub for cooling the distilled vapour. Barnard’s encyclopedic work on Scottish distilleries in 1887 shows they were widely in use by then. Today just a small minority of Scottish distillers use a worm tub and most rum producers in Anglophone Caribbean use shell and tube condensers. The shell and tube condenser proved superior because it cools the vapour markedly more slowly and this in turn has a significant impact on the copper’s catalytic effect in removing undesirable sulphur compounds from the spirit. As vigorous molasses fermentations tend to produce more sulphury components over other washes, the popularity and rapid adoption of the shell and tube condenser in rum is of little surprise.

Visiting the region you can see the culmination of this history with double retort stills (some with rectification heads) dominating the rum producers of the Anglophone Caribbean.

Part Three – Foursquare

The myriad of still designs from past is overwhelming. Nostalgia makes us believe there is something better that has been lost to time whereas the reality is that much of what was discarded was inferior to how we distill today. Innovations that did not deliver did not last. Evolutions that worked became the norm. Different spirit cultures evolved though the different routes that worked for them and the progressive rum distillation techniques may not have delivered for Scotch what they delivered for Rum.

By examining this brief overview of the evolution of distillation, everyone can better grasp what we do at Foursquare and why.

Our twin column continuous still is based on that design principle of separation of the analyser and the rectifier first developed by Coffey in the 1830s. Likewise it produces a spirit that complements rather than competes with the spirit produced by our batch still. However, unlike the classic Coffey still the still operates under vacuum pressure. Instead of our wash boiling at a little over 100°C, our wash boils at just about 80°C with the consequent marked improvement in spirit quality. The high suspended solid content of a molasses wash make this technological advance all the more rewarding.

Our two batch stills are the classic pot/double retort design as used throughout the West Indies from Grenada to Jamaica. A design developed in the first half of the 19th century, “unsurpassed” in the words of Wray. Our retorts feature cooling heads, a feature first developed by Pistorius (1817) and Corty(1818) and popular in the West Indies in the stills built by Shears. It was Simon Dore, great grandson of John Dore who suggested to us that we revive the use of cooling heads on retorts.

Apprenticed to John Dore were the Carter brothers who developed the Carter-Head, an evolution of the rectification heads found on Shear’s double still and Saint Marc Still of 1824. Loch Lomond operates similar rectification heads today. At Foursquare, we have our own evolution of the Carter-Head on both of our stills. We have incorporated in these heads the use of ‘nano copper’ surfaces. This was developed by the CREA Research Centre (University of Siena) in collaboration with Green Engineering. The practical effect of these copper surfaces is to improve the catalytic effect of the copper. In this way, the thermodynamic process is unchanged but the chemical effect is improved. That is to say, one nano copper tray has the catalytic effect of six trays but the rectification power of a single tray.

Our older batch still has steam coils but our new batch still features a twin system of steam coil and bain-marie. A bain-marie is a steam or water jacketed still developed in the 16th century but mainly used by alchemists. Today, several craft distillers use small stills heated via a bain-marie. The twin system provides the most consistent and even way of heating a batch still. A smoky flavour is a natural component of a peated whisky but a smoky flavour in rum is just bad distillation.

We also use the shell and tube condenser on our batch stills for its superiority over the older worm tube vapour cooling system. Sulphury, metallic, “petrolly” rums are not our style.
As a homage to all that that has been learned and incorporated from the past, the man door on our new batch (pot) still is from an actual cast as used by John Dore & Co Ltd.

There is another innovation on our latest batch still, probably the most ambitious of all. But we will wait till its proved in the field before revealing.

Big thanks to Richard for agreeing to allow me to collate this information….Stay tuned for the Six Part collected article “Yeast In Rum (or S. Pombe Revisited)”

© Steven James, Rum Diaries Blog and Richard Seale. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, both written and photographic without the express and written permission from this blog/sites author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Steven James, Richard Seale and Rum Diaries Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Whisky Auctioneer Random Rum Tasting

A little bit of a strange one but just run with it……Back in May, the website Whisky Auctioneer held their first dedicated Rum Auction. They decided to do this as they believe that they had seen a significant rise in the number of Rums being entered in their regular monthly Whisky Auctions. As a result of this and to promote their auction at the time, a few writers were asked to write a series of notes about bottles that were to be entered into the auction. Different writers received different bottles. I received a suitably eclectic selection and I had sat on these notes for a few months to ensure that I wouldn’t be posting information on bottlings that would never see the light of day anywhere. But truth be told, I have seen close to all of these bottles pop up on Auction sites in the past few months and some are readily available still so I thought that this would be worthwhile sharing. No real background information, just quick fire tasting notes……so here goes.

Ron Zacapa Centenario Etiqueta Negra – 43% abv – Modern Rum

Nose: Quite confected. A caramel bitterness. Noticeably viscous due to the post distillation additions. Creme Caramel. Wood influence is minimal. Milk chocolate. Prominent coffee notes.

Mouth: Very sweet entry. Almost no alcohol from the spirit which is a slight worry. Palate remains consistent with the nose. Caramel. Fudge. Milky coffee. Chocolate milkshake. Bitterness and a touch of wood influence on the relatively short finish that adds darker chocolate notes to the palate.

Just disappointing. Similar to others in the range to be honest. The extra 3% abv helps lift it above something that you’d expect a child to drink but it’s just dulled due to the additions. Even a nip of harshness from young alcohol would be welcome but it drinks like boozy chocolate milk.

0.5/5

 

Havana Club 15 – 40% abv – Modern Rum

Nose: Classic longer matured a Havana a Club nose. Prominent honey and vanilla pod. Milk chocolate. Sweetness. A lot of sweetness. There is also a sour note. Tobacco is definitely hanging around but it’s nudged out of the way by the over zealous sweetening and honeyed notes.

Mouth: Honeyed entry carrying a light floral but syrupy sweetness. There is a touch of spice backing this up. Fresh green apples. Vanilla. Cocoa. Sweet wine like notes. The finish is of medium length and is what I now expect from Havana Club. A little peppery barrel spice, mild tobacco and milk chocolate.

I don’t really touch Cuban Rums nowadays, and this is a classic example of why. They’re a touch “samey”. They have hints of promise but fail to deliver consistently for me. Nose outperforms palate close on 100% of the time.

1.5/5

 

Velier 70th Anniversary Chamarel 2010-2014 – 56.5% abv – Vatted Single Rum

Nose: Heavily spice driven. Fennel seeds. Fenugreek. A hint of jeera. The vibrancy of fresh cane and the sweetness that it brings. Cinnamon. Black pepper. There is also a growing anise note reminiscent freshly cut fennel. Dusty wood, vanilla and red bean paste.

Mouth: Very spicy entry with the full heat of the alcohol hitting hard. Quite apparent fruit carried on the sugarcane notes. Hazelnuts. Lots of dusty oak and wet cardboard. Celery. Definite notes of chicory and the associated bitterness. The finish is led by growing wood spice, drying oak and the ever present cane notes. Not hugely complex but it drinks well.

I fortunately own a bottle already. Not massively complex but it’s spice led approach work and the experience is pleasant. It’s a good drinker.

3/5

 

Velier Enmore 1987 Full Proof – 56.6% abv – Traditional Rum

Nose: Quite a bit thinner than expected. It’s a little spirity and there’s certainly a touch of fuel about it. Conference pear slices with fresh cream. Mid palate brings chocolate. Powdery cocoa. Royal icing. Cookie dough. A hint of spice and wet wood.

Mouth: It hits with a lot of heat and a lot of spice. Citrus oil. A saline like quality. Caramelised Sugar. Vanilla. Creme brûlée. Light wood. Plenty of pepper. Candied citrus peels. Raisins. The finish fades and is the sum of its parts with light oak, vanilla, cocoa and mixed raisins and peels.

I found this too ‘spirity’ and not forthcoming…I also found it lacking in depth.

2/5

 

Damoiseau 1980 (Damoiseau Release) – 60% abv – Traditional Rum

Nose: Full on medicinal heaven. Sticking plasters. A lot of depth. Cough sweets. Liquorice. Bronchial cough mixture. It carries heft but is remarkably approachable. It plays very nicely. Time brings a developing fruity character. Black cherry yoghurt. Sour cherries. Victoria plums. A hint of florals and a cologne like nature that brings a sharper aspect and allows spiced oak to show itself.

Mouth: Medium body and carrying a pleasant mouth coating oily quality. The bitterness of a classic tropically matured Demerara. Liquorice sweets and liquorice root. Warm prunes. Sweet and bitter in equal measures. Bourbon cherries and an almost dairy quality. Quite medicinal still as on the nose and the mid palate brings cloth sticking plasters, salted Dutch liquorice and stone fruit. The finish just goes on and on. It remains consistent with the beautiful depth of liquorice, stone fruit, bitter / sweet interplay. Kop kop sweets. Cough mixture. A hint of salinity grows. This is a very, very good rum.

If I could afford it….I’d buy it. It hits so many sweet spots for me. Medicinal. Liquorice. Stone fruit. Saline. Floral. It’s why I love the Bellevue independent bottlings. A deep, flavourful and aroma packed delight.

4.5/5

Preparing these notes was good fun spread over a week of tasting. Some were instantly forgetful, some were good drinkers, some were disappointing and one was an absolute belter. I consider myself fortunate to have got to try them and I hope that you enjoyed this eclectic set of notes.

© Steven James and Rum Diaries Blog 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, both written and photographic without the express and written permission from this blog/sites author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Steven James and Rum Diaries Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Diablesse Caribbean Rum

New Rum brands are popping up everywhere…..and here is another…..but I have a little more knowledge about this one. Around two years ago I met brand owner Cleo Farman for lunch in South Manchester. She had contacted me as a result of a mutual friend suggesting that we discuss her ideas for bringing a new Rum blend to market. I had prepared a few of my own blends from my home stock for us to discuss at that initial meeting. There were a few real stand outs (for me) and a few were pretty ropey. Anyhow, we discussed distilleries and principles and the state of the industry from a consumer standpoint. As is often pointed out, we Rum Enthusiasts sometimes exist in an echo chamber whereby we are surrounded by similar views on what constitutes good Rum. My focus during discussions was on the formulation of an honest product, free from additives and nonsense. Cleo, who has previously owned multiple successful bars in Manchester happily agreed and listened as I rabbited on about the importance of not messing around with Rum. If you are doing it, do it justice. I sang the virtues of distilleries like Foursquare, Mount Gay, Worthy Park, Hampden and St Lucia Distillers and all of this information was absorbed. Things were going well and I was hopefully going to be more involved in the project but then due to personal issues (if you know, you know) in early May last year I had to back away and sort a few things out. Fortunately Cleo pursued the project and with the help of a few quality bar tending friends progressed with sourcing and trialing blends. Fast forward to early November 2018 and I met for lunch with Cleo again. In her hand she had the final blend. She also had a brand name and label images. In mid February I was able to purchase this creation from Master of Malt. I’d imagine this to be a pretty proud moment and reward for Cleo’s hard work….and financial outlay! Below is a little image that I took at the launch at Cottonopolis in Manchester…..one of the signature drinks is a quite awesome Roasted Banana Daiquiri. So we know that it plays very nicely in cocktails…..but what does it taste like?

Diablesse Caribbean Rum – 40% abv – Blended Rum

So here we have it. Diablesse Caribbean Rum. There is a marketing tale to accompany the Diablesse name but I’ll let you view the brand website for that. Presentation is in a nice heavy bottomed squat bottle….similar to the one that the excellent Woods has started using and from the wooden topped cork stopper to the label design and material its a pretty classy package. But its whats in the bottle that counts. This Rum is blend of three Rums. An 8-year-old Single Blended Rum from Foursquare Distillery in Barbados, a 4-year-old Pure Single Rum from Worthy Park in Jamaica and a 2 year old Traditional Rum from the Enmore Coffey Still at DDL in Guyana. Proportions wise, though not deadly accurate, we have roughly 45% Barbados, 35% Jamaica and 20% Guyana. Along with the sourcing of credible Rums for the blend is the little note on the label……Pure, Golden Rum free from added sugar and other adulteration…..It is this principle that I put so much emphasis on during our early discussions….and the fact that it made such an impact on Cleo that it has made it to the label is very satisfying on a personal level.

Tasting Notes

Nose: A beautiful candied aroma. The Worthy Park definitely rules the early exchanges. Tropical fruit punch. Trademark overripe banana. Molasses. This leads into a char-grilled pineapple. The maturity of the Foursquare component brings coconut shavings and a warming, well-integrated oak with just a hint of spice notes from the barrel. Cocoa powder and vanilla fudge. Beautifully light marshmallow.

Mouth: Very soft and gentle entry. Butterscotch Angel Delight. Freshly sliced tropical fruit accompanied by a gooseberry like sharpness. Relatively thin mouthfeel and a little alcohol bite….but a touch of youthful exuberance never did any harm. Mid palate brings spice bun and mashed banana with just a sip of black tea before warming, peppery oak and vanilla hits home. Subsequent visits reveal more of the interplay between the banana of the Worthy Park and the well-integrated oak and classic peach vapours of Foursquare. The moderate length finish is warm and spice led with banana bread, dried cranberries, pineapple cubes and a little black pepper.

3.5/5

*Hydrometer Test Result – Label stated abv 40% – Measured abv 40% – 0 g/l additives*

Price wise this sits at the higher end of standard at £37. Like Neptune which is the last top quality new brand that came before it, it is an economy of scale thing. But like that Rum, as sales increase, pricing may change. I’ve definitely spent a lot more on a less honest and poorer quality product. This is no-nonsense tasty blend of two of my favourite distilleries plus a little Enmore column still to lighten things up. It’s clear that Cleo cares about the Rum given her emphasis on no additives. I’d buy another, and I reckon that you should pick one up too.

© Steven James and Rum Diaries Blog 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, both written and photographic without the express and written permission from this blog/sites author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Steven James and Rum Diaries Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Paulsen Collection Foursquare Vintage 1998

We’re back into it with another Foursquare. Some bottle hunters are seeking the ‘unicorn’ Exceptional Cask Release I, more commonly known as Foursquare 1998. Bottles are rare with Gayle Seale herself having to pick them up from property auctions in Barbados. They do exist in the wild but sightings are rare and can be very expensive. So what we have here in this Paulsen Collection bottling is that very same ‘unicorn’, but perhaps without the rainbow mane and golden horn…..maybe just dressed as a regular old horse. It was available until recently quite readily and I believe it may still be available in Europe. I gained a bottle a while back as a present from my wife, I then subsequently picked up another 2 bottles from Richard Blesgraaf over in Holland. Less than 50 Euros per bottle I think.

Now you will be fully aware reading these pages that I enjoy Foursquare Rums, a quick click here will link to quite a few articles on their products to get your juices flowing about the place. Anyhow, let’s get into it.

The Paulsen Collection Foursquare Vintage 1998 – 40% abv – Traditional Rum

This Rum is, amazingly, the product of only the Coffey Column Still at Foursquare Distillery. Distilled in 1998, this Rum was matured in ex-bourbon barrels for around 8 years. It was then decanted, reduced to around bottling strength and then re-barreled for an additional 2 years of maturation totaling a minimum of 10 years tropical maturation. Presented an a heavy based square edged glass bottle with a cork closure and wax seal on the label it certainly looks the part….if that kind of thing matters to you.

Coffey Column Still at Foursquare Distillery

Tasting Notes

Nose: Classic Foursquare profile on the nose…..Vanilla, butterscotch and a beautiful marshmallow note. Peppery and well-integrated oak lays down a solid foundation for the sweeter notes to play off. A touch of dried fruit and powdery cocoa appear given time. Relatively simple and straightforward nose to this Rum, but quite enjoyable.

Mouth: Lightly sweet and far more complex on the palate. Initial vanilla and cocoa give way to a drying and quite punchy oak that scatterguns fresh fruity peppercorns and charred, spicy barrel notes. A little banana chip and dried coconut sits alongside cocoa nibs and fresh, zingy ginger juice. A medium length finish carries the oak, vanilla and cocoa into those familiar peach vapours at the back of the throat.

You sometimes have to remind yourself that this is the product of the Coffey Column still only…..nothing from their pot still. Whilst it lacks a bit of heft on the palate, I can think of no better rum to adequately display just how effective the creation of Aeneas Coffey is when in the right hands. I was going to conclude this review by saying that this Rum was very much of its time, and it’s amazing to see how far things have moved on since it’s release in 2008. Not just in the Rum world in general but in the output and confidence of Foursquare Distillery. But the truth is, released today, maybe at the island abv of 43%, it’d fly off the shelves. It’s like a more mature Old Brigand, proper enjoyable, even if it’s not the most complex offering. Column Still Rum never tasted so good.

4 / 5

© Steven James and Rum Diaries Blog 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, both written and photographic without the express and written permission from this blog/sites author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Steven James and Rum Diaries Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Barbados GI & Why It Will NOT Threaten Diversity & Innovation

There has been talk within Rum circles and Facebook Forums about the proposed Barbados and recently completed Jamaican GI, and how there are concerns that this may stifle innovation and quell diversity. The following is the ‘as written’ response to this fallacy by Richard Seale which he has kindly agreed to allow me to publish in its entirety….and it is the best thing that you’ll read on the subject. Enjoy.

THE PROTECTION OF BARBADOS RUM

As Jamaica has completed their Geographical Indication for “Jamaican Rum” and Barbados moves to completion of their GI, it becomes increasingly important to dispel the canards around this important process.

With rum we have many canards – rum has no rules – rum is diverse and varied because of this wonderful lack of rules. Unlike other spirits, we are told Rum has no “global rules”. And that there are efforts to have a global rule which will crush our diversity.

See my takedown of this here – https://cocktailwonk.com/2017/08/richard-seales-epic-takedown-rum-no-rules.html

A recent canard is that a GI (a registered intellectual property) is a further threat to this diversity and a threat to “innovation”.

The irony of this situation is that a GI seeks to preserve and protect this diversity. It is the essential tool by which this is accomplished. And the dreaded fear of selling rum under one “unified” rule is EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENS NOW AND IS PRECISELY WHAT A GI WILL SOLVE.

If Caribbean producers sell rum into the US, it is not the standards of identity (“the rules”) of Jamaica, Martinique or Barbados that apply. It is the rules of the United States TTB that apply. That is right, despite being from three very different and diverse rum producing countries, they will be sold in the US under the same ONE rule. This means that although AGAINST THE LAW OF JAMAICA to add anything to rum besides caramel a Jamaica Rum can be sold in the US with added flavours including sugar (and labeled as Jamaican Rum) because the generic rule for Rum sold in the US allows blenders to be added to any rum.

But the situation is very different for the spirits produced by developed countries. The United States TTB will enforce the rules of Scotland for a Scotch Whisky sold in the US. The United States TTB will enforce the rules of Cognac for a Cognac sold in the US. The US will not protect a Jamaican Rum or a Barbadian Rum from adulteration in the US. The US does not control the use of the word ‘Agricole’ in the US market leading to all sorts of hideous products, not remotely consistent with the standards of ‘Agricole’ being legally labeled as Agricole

Now the US does not directly recognise GIs so creating a GI alone will not be enough to solve this issue in the US but the US illustrates the challenge of protecting our diversity very well and the GI will be the necessary first step.

The same situation applies in the EU save for the fact that the EU does recognise some GIs at this point (for example the word Agricole is protected) and it is hoped that they will recognise the GIs of Jamaican and Barbados in due course. At the moment, a Jamaica Rum and a Barbados Rum are sold in the EU under one and the same EU rule. If the EU recognises our individual GIs, it means that a Barbados Rum sold in the EU will need to meet “Barbados Rules” and a Jamaica Rum will need to meet “Jamaica Rules”. That diversity everyone wants will be protected – that dreaded ‘global rule’ for rum, avoided.

Because the EU recognises the GI for Scotch Whisky, the additional requirements to meet the standards of identity for Scotch Whisky over the EU generic standard for whisky are recognised and the label “Scotch Whisky” is protected throughout the EU. The GI for Jamaica Rum and the draft GI for Barbados pose additional requirements, over and above the generic EU definition of Rum (the “one” rule) to protect and preserve the characteristic identity of these rums. The GI is the tool by which we will protect our diversity. The GI is the tool by which we avoid having to produce under one “global rule”.

What of the claim that a GI stifles innovation?

Lets be clear as to what exactly is innovation. Marketing gimmicks that do not add value are not innovations. Changing the elements of repute in a Jamaica Rum or a Barbados Rum is not innovation. A GI is not a legal restraint on a producer. All producers continue to operate under the existing laws. A GI is a piece of intellectual property protecting how a type of “trademark” can be used – it places no law whatsoever on production. It constrains no one from producing as they please. It constrains them from labeling as they please. A Jamaican musician can play any tune just do not expect it to be called reggae unless it sounds like reggae.

So what are these innovation stifling constraints in the Barbados and Jamaica GIs:

– Barbadian trained operators

– fermented and distilled in Barbados/Jamaica

– Saccharomyces types only for yeast

– local water source only

– free of additives except caramel which must only be used for colour (Barbados draft GI has a quantitative albeit generous limit on caramel) – the same restriction in Scotch

– minimum ester levels for Jamaica rum (by marque)

– aged in oak (“small” is the Jamaica requirement, 700 litres maximum for Barbados)

– aged entirely in Jamaica (a min of two years in Barbados).

– Jamaica rum must pass an organoleptic test

I will address the wisdom of “restricting to oak” in another post, save to say that is hardly onerous and Scotch Whisky has the same “restriction”. There is a plethora of excellent oak casks available for “innovation”. One obvious point is that it keeps a point of difference between rum and cachaca and preserves an important distinction in our social and economic history.

Aging is Europe is a product of the colonial way of doing business where only limited value was earned in the colonies and product whether it be sugar, rum or bauxite was to be shipped at the lowest commodity value. Bulk brown sugar would leave the Caribbean in the ship’s hold but arrive on the supermarket shelf as branded granulated sugar. Bulk molasses sold as branded ‘treacle” once on the shelf.

The advent of continental aging therefore had nothing whatsoever to do with product quality and it is absurd as ageing Scotch Whisky in southern Spain. It simply steals value from the local producers leaving rich European brands and decrepit local operations. The Barbados GI arguably does not go far enough. Bravo to Jamaica – this “restraint” is worth millions in forex earnings. A greater share of what you pay for that bottle of rum ends up in the Caribbean with “restraints” like this.

Conforming Rums must (may?) use the words “certified Geographical Indication” on all documents including labels. Non conforming rums can be made but they will not be able to simply state “Jamaican Rum” or “Barbados Rum” and most importantly – “the use of any indication or sign which may cause a buyer to believe that a rum has the right to use the protected Geographical Indication “Jamaica Rum”, although it does not satisfy all the conditions defined in the present decree will be prosecuted”.

You cannot sell your product under another’s brand because of trademark law and you cannot sell your product under another’s protected origin because of intellectual property law. You add something to Jamaica Rum – it is no longer Jamaican Rum – that is the law of the land of Jamaica. A recognised Jamaican GI means you cannot avoid Jamaican law by selling in Europe. No more selling pure rum as “dry style rum” and sweetened rum as “rum”. In Jamaica and Barbados, rum without added sweetener is just known as rum. I have never in my life heard any Jamaican or Barbadian call it “dry style” rum. Would I dare go to Scotland and call all whiskies “dry style”? Who am I to dictate that.

So you can continue to flavour Jamaica Rum you just cannot label it in a way that may cause confusion to the buyer that they have purchased certified Jamaica Rum. The diversity and identity, created by Jamaicans, will now be protected.

Europeans created the concept of protected origins and it is used extensively by developed countries to develop and protect the intrinsic value of their products in export markets. Our time is now.

We and fellow Barbadian owned producer St Nicholas Abbey are on the record as supporting the Barbados GI as drafted.

The EU generic rule for Rum for which all Rums need to comply

The generic US TTB rule for Rum for which all Rums irrespective of origin need to comply

The US recognises and applies different rules for different types of Whisky. No such recognition for Rum – so a Rum labeled Agricole in the US need not even be from fresh juice

The US TTB will enforce the rules of different origins for different spirits but not for Rum. Even Canadian Whisky is protected.

A GI is a form of Intellectual Property – it is not a law constraining how Rum can be made

The EU will recognise GIs – they must then comply with the rules they submit through their technical file

The EU will protect a registered GI. Scotch is a GI and so Scotch sold in the EU must match the rules in the Scotch technical file, it is not enough to conform to the generic EU rule for whisky

The EU does protect some GIs for Rum. We hope to add Barbados and Jamaica to this list

An example of Cognac applying to New Zealand to say protect our origin. We need to do the same for Rum and the GI is the first step. Diversity can then be protected.

The Scotch Whisky technical file details the difference between the rules of Scotch and the generic whisky rule of the EU. They add further detail to this page.

To gain a recognised GI in the EU, a technical file must be submitted.

Jamaica has an organoleptic test requirement for its GI

I personally find it hard to understand why anyone that has an interest in the future and protection of the Rums and the people of Barbados would ever not think that the Barbados GI is an essential thing.

© Steven James and Rum Diaries Blog 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, both written and photographic without the express and written permission from this blog/sites author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Steven James and Rum Diaries Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Admiral Rodney St Lucia Rum Collection

Yes you read that right…..collection. You see, one of the best examples of 100% Coffey Column Rum is soon to gain a younger and an older sibling. Part of the new strategy from the new owners of St Lucia Distillers, Groupe Bernard Hayot (also owners of Rhum Clement and Rhum JM) is to introduce a shake up of the current ranges from the distillery and to breathe new life into the distillates from their amazing collection of stills. The Bounty range seems to be getting a push outside of St Lucia, the 1931 releases are becoming part of the Chairman’s Reserve brand and the Admiral Rodney range gains two new expressions and a rebrand of the original. I’ve written extensively about St Lucian rums here, about the Chairman’s Reserve range here, and more importantly about Admiral Rodney here.

But allow me to elaborate with a bit of marketing bumf and the story of Admiral Rodney.

Admiral George B. Rodney, 1st Baron Rodney KB (1718-1792) was a famed and brilliant naval strategist. A gambler and a collector of the spoils of war. He will historically be remembered as the Admiral who broke the French line at the Battle of the Saints thus ensuring the British domination of the Caribbean.

It’s nice to see the range expanding and to also see how the range is has been renamed. The original Admiral Rodney will renamed as HMS Royal Oak whilst the two new additions will be HMS Princessa and HMS Formidable. Due to a stroke of good fortune, I have a small sample of each to review today. So without further ado, let’s dig in.

Admiral Rodney HMS Princessa – 40% abv- Traditional Rum

HMS Princessa was originally a Spanish vessel but was captured by the British in 1780 at the Battle of Cape St. Vincent. Captained by Charles Knatchbull with Rear Admiral Francis Samuel Drake aboard, this 70 gun ship of the line was one of the first ships to engage the French in the Battle of the Saints.

The rum itself is as alluded to earlier, the product of the Coffey Column at St Lucia Distillers. The still which was commissioned in 1984 has 45 plates. The Rums set down to mature for the Admiral Rodney Range are taken from the lower plates of the still. The distillates are matured in ex bourbon oak and are aged between 5 and 9 years prior to blending.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Light oak. Vanilla. A fair dose of astringency and pepper. Light creme patissiere on a buttery vanilla slice. Vague hints of banana chips and honey. Quite soft. Maybe the lightest drop of almond. Really well-balanced.

Mouth: Initial sweetness. A touch of tannic oak. Quite a pleasant bite of alcohol. White pepper teases the tongue as the oak encourages you to chew the rum. A beautiful dryness with a hint of tobacco. Banana yoghurt. Light custard with caramelised brown sugar. A well-balanced finish that shows great integration of all components but it is all butterscotch, green apple and pepper underpinned with a drying oak

4 / 5

Admiral Rodney HMS Royal Oak – 40% abv- Traditional Rum

HMS Royal Oak was in the vanguard of ships to engage the French in the Battle of the Saints. Captained by Thomas Burnett, the Royal Oak manoeuvred skilfully and brought to bear all of her 74 guns on the enemy for the duration of the battle. With 8 men lost and 20 wounded, Royal Oak played an integral role in the first skirmishes of the battle.

Again taken from the lower plates of the Coffey Column, the distillates are matured in ex bourbon oak and are aged between 7 and 12 years prior to blending.

Tasting Notes

Nose: That delightful Admiral Rodney toasted coconut and oak leads things. Savoury vanilla leads into Cherry. Christmas mince pies. A hint of Nutmeg. Powdery cocoa. Roasted peanuts and Bourbon oak. A touch leathery. Chocolate coated peanuts

Mouth: Again there is an initial sweetness before the drying oak forces itself in. Better mouthfeel than I remember. Feels a lot fuller. Some Stewed stone fruit sweetness but this is definitely spice and spicy oak driven. Nutmeg. Pepper. Chocolate coated peanuts. Saliva inducing dryness rolling across the tongue. Mild vanilla and banana. The finish is of a medium length with a touch of sweetness courtesy of caramel and raisins before the spicy, peppery oak barges through and takes over

4 / 5

Admiral Rodney HMS Formidable – 40% abv- Traditional Rum

Launched in August 1777, HMS Formidable was Admiral Rodney’s flagship in the Battle of the Saints. Formidable was in the centre of the British fleet and took advantage of a sudden change of wind to break the line and sail into the French fleet unleashing her 98 guns on Admiral de Grasse’s ships.

This time the distillates are aged for between 9 and 12 years prior to blending.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Really really intense. More of everything. Properly cutting and nose tingling acetone takes you by surprise. Based on the first sniff I’d question whether this had a touch of pot still but I know it’s 100% Coffey Column. Crazy good. A beautifully intense oak and spice driven nose. Honey. Raisins and dried tropical fruit. Such a big oaky nose. Toasted coconut. Tobacco. Chocolate. Heavy bourbon cherry. Mixed roasted peanuts and hazelnuts. Pear drops….really. Furniture polish. Creosote. This is properly impressive

Mouth: Quite a gentle well-balanced entry. Pear drops. Astringent oak. An underlying sweetness being kept at bay by the crushing power of the oak influence. This has plenty going on. Puff pastry mince tarts. Mixed candied fruit peel. A little citrus oil. Milky, sweet coffee. Hot chocolate with marshmallows. Candied warm peanuts. A light smoke. There’s so much depth and complexity to this Rum…..you have to remind yourself that it’s a Coffey Column spirit. Beautifully long and chewy finish full of cutting, drying oak. That furniture polish and nail varnish lingers in the vapours. Warm peanuts, raisins and more of that coffee carries through but the oaken influence is the star. Very very good rum

4.5 / 5

The new additions really do step things up a notch. The youthfulness of the HMS Princessa makes it a really intriguing addition to the range and one that I really do rather like. HMS Royal Oak is the solid performer and it feels as though the blend has been tweaked slightly for the better. But the real star of the show is HMS Formidable. It just in possession of so much complexity it really shows how good a tool the Coffey Column still is. So fully of complexity and enjoyment.

Yes I’d love to experience all of the range at between 43 and 46% and I really do believe that this is something that should be investigated for the range in the future….even as special releases. The market that is interested in Admiral Rodney as a product really does demand it.

St Lucia Distillers have really stepped up their game and given the array of Rums that they have in their warehouses, maturation in differing casks and the complex array of available Rums from their wonderful stills at their fingertips, St Lucia is definitely my third favourite Rum producing Island!

© Steven James and Rum Diaries Blog 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, both written and photographic without the express and written permission from this blog/sites author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Steven James and Rum Diaries Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

An Interview with Nikos Arvanitis – Rum Traveller

Copyright Nikos Arvanitis

Nikos Arvanitis will be familiar to most of my Facebook Rum forum frequenting audience. He’ll also be more than familiar to Rum Festival attendees throughout Europe. In fact his biography reads very well:

Nikos Arvanitis has been working as a bartender since 2006. Rum is his passion and his desire to understand it led him to the Caribbean. Living in Barbados and using this island as his base, he has visited 30 islands of the tropical zone of the “West Indies” and over 45 distilleries and sugarcane fields, both active and inactive. His journey is still on, it will soon be reflected on paper and he has named it “From the West Indies to the World”.

Nikos Arvanitis through his travels and speeches is trying to spread the traditional production process of Rum and the culture of the Caribbean people.

He is a member in the jury panel and an instructor in rum presentation, in several European Rum Festivals (Berlin, Paris, Poland, Greece, Spain etc.) and bar shows.

Instructor of Rum in Bar Academy Hellas

Copyright Rum Diaries Blog

On a personal level, I have known Nikos for around three years and during that time we have conversed a lot about life, Rum and everything in between. During our period of friendship I have seen Nikos grow into a very well-respected spokesman for Rum and an evangelist for the history and tradition that exists within the Caribbean. More recently he has become a very active independent spokesperson for the Gargano / Seale Classification and a campaigner and activist for Pure Rum and raising the category in general.

I was fortunate enough to meet Nikos earlier this year in his natural habitat….a Rum distillery. The distillery in question was Foursquare Rum Distillery in Barbados and it was also my first Rum Distillery visit. We chatted for a while, walked through the distillery with Richard and sampled untold delights in the Foursquare Tasting Room. We also shared a pretty eventful taxi ride with him.

Open and honest is all that I have known from Nikos and I’m giving his full, unedited responses to my questions. No cutting, snipping or leaving out of any detail. Hopefully you’ll see that his responses relay the passion that he has and the high regard in which he holds Rum as the true essence of the Caribbean and its people.

1 – For those that may not already be familiar with you and your work, explain to them what your project “From the West Indies to the World” is about.

From the West Indies to the World

It’s a personal project including photos, thoughts and notes for the real side of Caribbean islands and the connection between the locals and the Rum, through the eyes of the unknown reality.

Sugar cane fields, unknown dead estates, Rum Distilleries and traditional Rums.

In short, it’s my lonely trip-wandering in the tropic zone of the West Indies. Personal experiences, emotionally charged stories, culture, people. I don’t travel the easy way. I’m visiting places that they are really inaccessible to many white people and also I organized the 95% from all these trips myself, without sponsors, companies etc. The final collection of these experiences is the reason that this project is born, and due to that, I don’t focus only the to rum and the production process..

I’m not an author / writer and I do not even want to be. I just have the feeling and the belief that the experiences created to share. This project is an extension of me and the opposite.

The ultimate goal of my project is to make as many people as possible respect and fall in love with the Caribbean, the local culture, the people and finally the distilleries that are keeping alive and  unchanged the traditional production process of the spirit we love the most.

2 – Your travels are followed by and envied by many people….including me. One thing that often gets said to people like me is that to truly understand Rum and all that it is, you have to visit distilleries. Just how many countries and distilleries have you visited?

I would like to speak on a personal level without meaning that it’s either wrong or right. Yes, I clearly believe that if you don’t visit the Caribbean by yourself and the distilleries as well, it’s really difficult to understand rum. There’s a huge difference between the word ‘knowledge‘ and the word ‘understanding‘. Countless sites on the Internet with completely different opinions and misleading information, distributors, companies and ambassadors talk about rum and they’ve never touched sugarcane in their life. So there is misinformation and false information about rum. When I visited the distilleries I acquired a complete image, totally different to the one I had before. And yes, I was reading and attending seminars. But I figured that it wasn’t enough. It was like I was going inside the glass and becoming one with rum. Of course, it is important that the people of the distilleries are also honest with you. I was lucky (and a pain in the ass for them)

I have visited in total 30 islands of the Caribbean tropic zone. The number of distilleries is 45 out of 50. My last trip was in Haiti and trust me, Haiti is a unique situation. It’s a category by itself.

Copyright Nikos Arvanitis

3 – I personally see you as a direct link to Rum producers that are not active on social media and have little to no online presence. Do you think that your relationship with these Rum producers is vital in bringing the plight of forgotten and overlooked distilleries such as the Callwood Distillery in the BVI and River Antoine in Grenada into the spotlight?

The first time I saw distilleries like the ones you mentioned, I said to myself, “I will spread all over the world about these distilleries-Caribbean’s heritage”.
I saw this subject in a very romantic tone. It is truly a shame that 90% of the whole world does not even know the existence of wonderful rums like these. But the most important thing is that they do not know the passion, the love and respect that the people who surround distilleries have for their rums. Their existence is the link between the past and the present. And if you do forget the past, the heritage and the history, the future is cloudy and uncertain…

Copyright Nikos Arvanitis

4 – Apart from your project and the Rum, what continues to drive you to travel to these places?

People. Certainly people. The human relationships that I created there are by far the most important school of my life. They changed my worldview. I’m not the same person as I used to be before. At least I do not act and think the same way.

I adore the warm climate. I don’ really like the cold and I am freezing really quick and easy. I am not really sure if I will survive this winter in Paris. Hahahaha. Yeah, Paris is going to be my base for the following year(s)…

Finally, the word “vibe“. I can’t explain this feeling in a few words. It’s something much deeper. The vibe in the tropic zone makes me happy and above all, I’m 100% myself. Something I have never experienced before in the big European countries even in my own country, where the friendship and human relationships are in the second or even third fate. Unfortunately…

Copyright Nikos Arvanitis

5 – You’re a firm advocate of the proposed Gargano / Seale Classification. Explain the classification for those that may not be aware of it. Why you feel that it is so important?

Usually, my presentations for this matter last like 4 hours…..So I believe it’s a little bit difficult to explain in a few words.

Yes, I am a 100% supporter of this wonderful classification. It was the middle of 2014 I think when Richard (Seale) firstly introduced me to this classification in one of my weekly visits to Foursquare distillery. When I saw the classification I told to myself: “Yes, this is the only way to have a better and promised future for the category of Rum, to put things in a row and first of all to give Rum the respect it deserves”. Two years later I found Luca (Gargano) in one of his trips in Barbados. He also helped me understand the classification. So, my communication with the two most influential persons of the Rum world plus my personal research was the common link for the final result…..to spread this classification all over the world.

This Classification focuses to the type of the producer, the type of the still and of course at the distillery statement. I believe that this last thing is the biggest problem in Rum. The 70% of rums of the global market haven’t got a distillery statement. This is really bad.

This classification it’s not about what’s good and what’s bad. Tasty or not. Originally, it’s a chronological order of the history of distillation and is based on facts. There is a separation between the traditional production process and the modern.  This doesn’t mean that tradition overtakes modern methods, but we surely have to have a different approach to an original artisanal Rum from an industrial one.

Finally, some people say that this classification is a copy of the Whisky’s classification. This is not true, not at all and please if you don’t understand the role of the classification, don’t judge. Open your mind and be more Caribbean…I am always open for conversations about this subject, contact me and it would be my pleasure to help you have better understanding about the classification.

Copyright Nikos Arvanitis

6 – Your time spent with Rum producers has seen you spearheading the important job of communicating the classification through your interactions on social media and your presentations to industry and consumers. Do you see knowledge of the classification spreading throughout the community to the point that there is a basic understanding already when you talk to the industry and consumers?

First of all I really need to share with you that NONE of the producers ever told me what to say in my presentations or to promote specific Rums (I am not a f****n promoter or brand ambassador and I will never be). I was In Berlin some weeks ago and someone came to me and said that: “You promote the rums of your friends distilleries”. This is not true. I love to promote the Rums I love and the distilleries who still respect the Caribbean’s heritage and tradition. It’s true that I have a personal connection with many distilleries like Worthy Park, Foursquare and others but this connection is more a friendship and match to our beliefs than a business. The people out there who know me personally, know this much better than anyone. The situation with the association is something new but all of us used to fight about the traditional production process of the Rum many years ago, but our voice is heard by a lot of people only in the last 2-3 years. The customers really want to know more about the Rum and this is wonderful. The promise I am giving is that I will always act 100% as Nick and I will do the best to raise the category of the Rum.

7 – A large proportion of the Rum producers appear to fear the classification. Why do you think that is?

From my point of view, the main reason is that they initially believe that if they accept this sort of classification, it is like neglecting what they say so many years about their products on the market. I think that they are only interested in the rise of their own label and not rum as a spirit. We all have to understand that sales cannot go up in a particular bottle if the category is not developed in general. You cannot deny that tradition, not least the complicated production process of rum, should not go into the same sink as modern industrial products. They cannot have the same prices and above all the word “artisanal” on their bottle. So yes, I think they initially think of their sales which is not true because if the rum is classified and developed in general, this will be a good thing for everyone. Speaking so much time for the world market, I will give a personal example from my own country that reflects what I have said. See it as a miniature of the market.

Ambassadors who have never touched a still, have not bitten sugar cane, have never walked in the Caribbean, have not spoken to locals and have not understood the rum, continue to promote products that are in the company’s portfolio, for which you do not know the existence of the distillery (which of course does not exist), so-called spiced easy rums and pure alcohol full of flavors and sweeteners, industrial products that have nothing to do with the history of the island are being produced. How do you orient yourself in the market by telling lies and having the main goal of selling your own only products and at the same time looking for the good for the future of rum? It can not be done. Quite simply because there is no love for rum and the Caribbean but love for your dominance in the market and the word “monopoly“.

The shawls have no pockets. What is the essence if you are not faithful to your values ​​and your beliefs as a person and you adapt to what the system imposes on you…?

8 – Do you think that the Classification will ever become industry standard?

I am very optimistic and positive as a human and yeah man, I believe that it will. Already you can see a great rise of the artisanal Rum in the global market and this is wonderful and makes me very happy. But I don’t like to use the world “industry” next to the word “Rum“. Let’s use another term: “The World of Rum” is much better I think.

From me and my team, there is a promise that we will do all we can to build strong foundations in this classification and we will fight for it through presentations, seminars, articles etc. What is the essence of human being as if you haven’t got something to fight for??

Copyright Nikos Arvanitis

9 – Do you think that having a Geographical Indication for Rum production will become the natural progression?

Yes, I believe that this is the path. Jamaica for example, is fighting about this. But I would like to make a general statement on this really important subject.

In Jamaica we have distilleries that make completely different rum in a totally different way. In particular, it’s not possible to consider a pure single rum from Worthy Park or Hampden with that of Clarendon. Yes, these three distilleries take place in the same island, they are all Jamaican, but the Rums are completely different. The production process as well. In Clarendon they use a small amount of Rum from Batch distillation. The majority of the final blend is coming from distillation in Multi column ethyl alcohol plant. This does not happen in the first two distilleries I mentioned earlier. So, I say that simply saying Jamaican Rum is not enough because there is diversity within Jamaican Rum.

They all rely on some common elements in the production process, but at the end of the day the final products are completely different. So, just the world Jamaican Rum I don’t feel that it’s enough.

There must be also control to the independent bottlers with no distillery statement. I’m tasting very often rums like these, let’s say a Barbadian Rum, and this rum has nothing to do with the traditional rums of the island. The same happens also with other bottlings. Personally, I find it unacceptable to add sweeteners, aromas and other extras that literally do not respect the distillery, the history and the heritage of the island, and also the tradition, except some special situations. Of course, the majority of these independent bottles haven’t got distillery statement on the labels and at the same time they say that they choose personally the best barrels from the distilleries. They didn’t .They just bought these rums from other companies. Be careful with the false marketing terms. I really would like to see better control and balance between the distilleries and the independent bottlers in future. If the rum is not even close to the character of the distillery and the distillery bottlings, don’t give the permission to the independent companies to make the bottling. The master distiller has to taste the rum and if he agrees, enter the name of the distillery and his signature. So everyone cannot bottle whatever they want. Quite honestly, I believe this.

Copyright Nikos Arvanitis

So there we have it…..an amazing amount of passion and a completely open forum for Nikos to give his true, unedited opinions.

I’d like to personally take this opportunity to thank Nikos again for his agreement to undertake this interview and I hope that I have given him the platform which he deserves.

© Steven James and Rum Diaries Blog 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, both written and photographic without the express and written permission from this blog/sites author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Steven James and Rum Diaries Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content