RUM: A HISTORY
Rum is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from sugar cane by-products such as molasses and sugar cane juice by a process of fermentation and distillation. The distillate, a clear liquid, is then usually aged in oak and other barrels.
Sugar cane was taken to the West Indies by Christopher Columbus as early as his second voyage in 1493. The word “rum” is first mentioned in the 1600s. In 1687 it replaced the beer ration in the Royal Navy, as it kept better, and by the 1750s it was avaluable commodity on the triangular trade route between the West Indies, America or Europe, and West Africa. In 1740 Admiral Vernon (known as “Old Grog” due to his coat, made from the material grogram) ordered that the half pint daily rum ration be diluted, to minimise drunkenness. Lime juice was also added, to avoid scurvy, creating a mix that is the basis of so many classic cocktails to this day.
THE CREATION OF RUM
Rum can be made either directly from sugar cane juice (known in the French-speaking west Indies as “Rhum Agricole”), or from molasses, a byproduct of the production of sugar from cane. When cane is crushed, it produces a sugar-rich juice which must be boiled to concentrate it. Sugar crystallises out and is extracted, leaving behind an increasingly dark, treacle-like substance known as “blackstrap molasses”. Although molasses is composed mostly of sugar, it also contains vitamins and minerals, which contribute to the flavours of the resulting rum. Molasses are diluted to make it more liquid, and yeast is added to start the fermentation, which can continue for hours or days. Distillation can be in either pot or column stills, and produces a clear liquid which is then aged (although this is not legally required except in the US). Aging in the Caribbean is three to four times as rapid as in Scotland, due to the temperature difference. The “angels’ share” is similarly larger, as much as 6 to 8% per year.
SAINT LUCIA DISTILLERS
Saint Lucia is one of the Windward Islands, in the southeast of the Caribbean, just south of the French island of Martinique. Even by the exalted standards of this part of the Caribbean, Saint Lucia is stunningly beautiful, and has become one of the most popular upmarket tourist destinations in the region, particularly for British and US travellers.
Saint Lucia Distiller is situated in the scenically beautiful and agriculturally rich valley of Roseau on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia.
Molasses are used for fermentation, high graded molasses, made from juice extracted from sugarcane, is imported from Guyana. This is brought by tanker and pumped through the molasses pipeline and ends up in the distillery supply tank. The molasses is diluted with 75% water called the 'Raw Wash' in the molasses mixer.
First 24 hours: To start the fermentation yeast is added to the raw wash and the liquid is passed through the propagator tank and into the mother vessels #1 and #2:. Two cultured yeast strains are used:
- One creates the purest spirit possible used for Coffey still rums generally not for aging.
- The other is a Caribbean yeast cultured from natural yeasts found near the base of the sugar cane. This creates a higher level of congeners*, making rums full of flavour for ageing.
*Congeners are substances produced during fermentation. These substances include small amounts of chemicals such as other alcohols (known as fusel alcohols), acetone, acetaldehyde, esters, and aldehydes (e.g. propanol, glycols, ethyl acetate). Congeners are responsible for most of the taste and aroma of distilled alcoholic beverages. Last 24 hours: The liquid is then rested in open tanks for the last 24 hours of fermentation. Once fermentation has finished the now middle alcoholic wash (about 7%) is ready for distillation. The wash enters tanks from the starter tanks and circulated through a heat exchanger to maintain a temperature of 32ªC.
Distillation is the alcohol extraction and can be done through a Column still (also known as a Continuous or Coffey still) and a single distillation takes the strength to over 90%. The Two - Column Continuous still also known as the Coffey Still, so called after Aeneas Coffey who perfected it in 1832. It was initially invented by Robert Stein in 1826 and can be found operating today in several distilleries, including St. Lucia Distillers. Three spirits are produced in the Coffey Still as Saint Lucia Distillers, all over 93% Alc/v. From 40 plates; distillate taken off at plates 40, 35 and 30. The Coffey Still in use was commissioned in 1985. The three spirit types produced are: Roseau Spirit 201 (cleanest spirit), Roseau Spirit 203 (increased congeners) and Roseau Spirit 205 (most congeners). Spirits RS 203 and 205 are used for ageing but RS 201 will not.
The second method for distillation is done using a Pot still, the first distillation takes the alcohol to around 70% and the second distillation taking it to around 80%. Saint Lucia Distillers use three Pot stills: The John Dore 1500L (Molasses + Cane Juice), The Vendome 2000L (Molasses + Cane Juice) and The John Dore 2 6000L (Molasses). Traditional small batch distillations differentiate Saint Lucia Distillers from larger distilleries and allow them to produce rums with different and distinctive characteristics. They also have a development project: a sugar cane plantation which hosts a varieties of cane across 5 acres.
From the four stills described (1 main Coffey Still and 3 Pot Stills), Saint Lucia Distillers produce 6 spirit types. From the Coffey Still (3 spirit types produced, all over 93% Alc/v:
- - RS 201: Spirit Not Aged
- - RS 203: Spirit For Ageing
- - RS 204: Spirit For Ageing
From the Pot still (3 Pot stills produce spirit types at 80%):
- JOHN DORE 1: Two Spirits For Ageing
- JOHN DORE 2: One Spirit For Ageing
- VENDOME: Two Spirits For Ageing
Rum...ageing matters! Compounds within the wood mix with the rum, contributing further to aromas and flavours and gradually turning the rum from clear to golden and eventually dark brown. Saint Lucia Distillers normally use first fill Bourbon barrels, their policy is that perfect rum is dependent on the skill of the master blender: a marriage of age and choice of distillate. Age statements are meaningless and misleading. The master blender at Saint Lucia Distillers believes there is no improvement beyond 10 years - in face generally the reverse. They also often use Port barrels, Hermitage and Chilean wine barrels, Sherry and other barrel types in a number of their other products such as the 1931 range.
BLENDING (THE FINAL STEP)
Finally different rums are blended to improve quality and flavour...
Having disclosed every step of the process, the final blend remain Saint Lucia Distillers closely guarded secret. Every product is the work of their distillery, under the control of their master blender, supported by high tech analysis of every blend including gas chromatography.
AVAILABLE IN THE UK:
- Chairman's Reserve Finest Rum
- Chairman's Reserve Spiced Rum
- Chairman's Reserve White Rum
- Chairman's Reserve 'The Forgotten Casks'
- Chairman's 1931 Edition
- 1931 Limited Editions
- Bounty Rum Range
- Admiral Rodney Rum Range