The Royal Commission on Whiskey and Other Potable Spirits (1908) Part Two


This is the second article that we have dedicated to the work of the Commission. As you will see, it focuses entirely on the testimony of a single person, Mr. James Coneys Nolan, the voice of Jamaican Rum. I apologize for its length, but I think it’s worth it. Enjoy the reading!

TWENTY-THIRD DAY, Monday, 6th July, 1908. At the Westmister Palace Hotel.

Mr. James Coneys Nolan, called

12496 You are, I believe, the representative of the Jamaica Government as Special Commissioner in the United Kingdom?  – I am, my lord.

  1. Will you tell the Commission what were the duties allotted to you? — I was appointed under a special law passed by the Legislative Council of Jamaica in 1904. It is called “The Jamaica Rum Protecting Law 26 of 1904.” That law authorized the Government of Jamaica to appoint a properly qualified person to come to the United Kingdom to try and put down the frauds which had been committed on Jamaica rum in this country and abroad.
  2. … — There were large quantities of rum which came from Martinique and other Colonies, and those rums are bottled and vatted often in bond here, and taken out of bond and sold as Jamaica rum.
  3. You would not allow other West Indian Colonies to sell rum and call it “Jamaica Rum”? No, my lord.
  4. Had those frauds had any practical effect which was felt in Jamaica on your sugar industry? — Yes, very much so.
  5. Just explain that? — For five years ending 1902 42 estates went out of existence. The price of Jamaica rum fell in 25 years from 5s. down to about 1s. 10d. I had myself 165 puncheon of rum here a few years ago, and I had to sell them for less than they had cost me to produce.
  6. …Where was it these frauds were committed, and in the first place what is the nature of them? It is adulteration? — These frauds have been committed largely under the authority of the Custom House – not the Custom House so much as the Inland Revenue Department. They allowed traders to mix in bond if they wished and would not prevent them using the term “Jamaica rum” if they so desired.
  7. That is not my question. Where is it, and, in the first place, what is it that is done that has made the matter that you complain of as being inferior or false? Where is that done? Is it in the manufacture in other Colonies in the West Indies? — They blend patent still spirit with Jamaica rum in the United Kingdom. Patent still spirit can be bought for about 1s. a gallon. It is much cheaper than Jamaica rum, and it is blended and sold and put on the market in this country as Jamaica rum.
  8. In Jamaica you use the pot still? – Yes, the pot still alone.
  9. Is it your opinion that all patent still rum ought to be objected to and refused as Jamaica rum? — Yes, my lord. It could not be sold as Jamaica rum.
  10. Your view is that patent still rum should not be allowed to be rum at all? — Certainly, I think so.
  11. Even in the blending? — No.
  12. You are a staunch supporter of pot still manufacture only? — I am.
  13. You cannot have Jamaica rum made in any other way? No, my lord.
  14. Have you ever tried the patent still in Jamaica? – No, my lord, we do not want to. It would ruin our industry.
  15. I have heard of condemnation without a hearing? — I would not try it myself for a good deal, and if I found a man selling Jamaica rum in this country made in a patent still in Jamaica I would prosecute him for it. It would not be Jamaica rum.
  16. You would prosecute him, but I cannot tell you at present whether you would convict him? — I have convicted a lot.
  17. That is your view? — Yes, I believe in Jamaica rum being made in the pot still.
  18. What do you say is the product of the patent still? – Silent spirit, I believe. It destroys all the esters and the valuable properties in the rum.
  19. Is the difference perfectly recognizable by the ordinary consumer? — I think so.
  20. The difference between the patent still and the pot still? — Easily.
  21. And of course consumers can order what they like? – Certainly, whatever the consumer whishes to have, What I fight for in the matter is a plain statement of what the liquor is in the bottle; merely a statement as to it being patent still or rum. Let them drink it if they whish, but let it be a fair and straightforward statement on the bottle.
  22. Then it follows from your statement that you would object to the selling as rum of the rum made in Barbados, Trinidad, and the British Guyana? – You could not call some of the spirits made in Barbados rum at all. It is used to mix with whiskey and brandy and rum.
  23. Would you rule out Trinidad, too? – They only make rum there when they can get a very high price for it. They often throw the molasses away.
  24. Grenada? – Yes, that is a little better. There are pot stills in some of the islands.
  25. Anything that is produced otherwise than from the pot still in those islands you would rule out? — Personally, I would. I only give you my opinion personally.
  26. … — I certainly think myself that any rums not made in a pot still are not entitled to the designation of “rum”. If the rum is made in a patent still it is a rectified spirit, not rum.
  27. [The Commission states that the import of (declared) imitation rum into the UK is declining] — Yes, but under your existing regulations imitation rum will come in as rum easily enough.
  28. How could that be done? – Rum, your regulations say, should be the product of the sugar-cane and shipped from a port in a cane-growing country. If spirit was shipped from New Orleans to this country you would have to admit it as a rum whether it was made in the Northern States from potato spirit or from sawdust, or anything else.
  29. That does not follow under our regulations? — I am going to the question of the Customs regulations. Rum cannot come from Germany, except under certain conditions, but you allow rum to come from France without a Consul’s certificate as to the country of origin, and the French are the biggest offenders to-day.
  30. With regard to mixed spirits bottled in bond, you make this recommendation: “In the case of mixed spirits bottled in bond it should be stated on the label the proportion of rum and of patent still spirits present.” What spirits have you actually in your mind when you say “Mixed spirits bottled in bond” ? — Any spirits made in the patent still which would be mixed with rum.
  31. For what purpose? — For drinking.
  32. And selling in this country? — Yes.
  33. What are the patent still spirits? — You call rum any spirit that is made in a country produced from sugar-cane. I do not; I call it patent still spirit in many cases.
  34. In bond, for home consumption, you may not mix a foreign spirit with a home-made spirit? — No, you cannot mix imitation rum and rum.
  35. Nor can you mix rum brought from abroad with patent still spirit made at home? — No, because the duty is different.
  36. That has been the case a long time; but what are the mixed spirits to which you refer? — Take the spirit made in Barbados. That spirit, rectified, is allowed here in the Customs to be called rum.
  37. That is rum from Barbados? – You call it rum, but I call it patent still spirit. That is the difference.
  38. There is one statement at page 8 of your précis that puzzled all the experts that I have consulted still more. I am sure you must have something behind in your mind about it, but it has bothered all of us very much. You say, “There is little doubt that the Inland Revenue will always favour the patent still as it is a well known fact in the Service that it requires much less supervision than the pot still distillery: That has puzzled a good deal all my advisers that I have consulted. Would you tell me what you have behind that? — I have spoken to hundreds of Inland Revenue officers, and they all say the same thing, but they will not come before you and say so, or before the Board. What is more, everyone knows that patent stills can be easily worked; there is no re-charging and no re-filling. It is a continuous still, and the officers have much less trouble to look after it, and the Board has much less trouble in collect their revenue.”

[Now the Commission began to ask about  “highly-flavoured” rum.]

  1. Is any of that consumed in this country? – No, you could not drink it as a self rum.
  2. Does it all go to Germany? – I think nearly all of it. Some of it is used for hock to give a foundation.
  3. What is it sent to Germany for? – It is used there to blend with German spirits or inferior rums to give the other rums a higher flavor.
  4. It is used for spurious rums? – They do not call them spurious rums. It is a kind of top dressing.
  5. What do they call it? – Jamaica rum, I believe.
  6. They sell it as Jamaica rum? – Yes, I believe so.
  7. You send it to Germany for the express purpose of blending with the patent still spirit to be sold as Jamaica rum? – No, we do not that. We sell it for the best price we can get, and take no cognizance of what happens to it afterwards. They cannot help what happens to it afterwards, and unfortunately I can take no steps in Germany to prevent it.
  8. I suppose the Customs duties in Germany are almost prohibitive. Can you send to Germany that class of rum that you can send to this country? — That I do not know.
  9. What was the object of sending that very highly-flavoured spirit there? Was it not to enable you to get a market for your rums which you could not get into the country on account of the high duties? – I do not think so. Many of the blenders produced that rum for the simple reason that they got 7s. or 8s. a gallon for it, which is a very high price.
  10. That is not the class of rum you produce now? – It is a flavouring essence. It is not a self rum.
  11. You sell it for the express purpose of being used as a flavouring essence? – No; we do not know what it is used for.
  12. This paper clearly shows what it is sold for, and that it is recognized as a rum made for blending with neutral spirit? – We have a vague idea about it. A large proportion of the total output is bought by merchants on the Island, who ship to Germany.
  13. You enable the Germans to do something and, in fact, help them to do something, which you would condemn in this country? – I do not do it myself, but some do it in order to reap a better price for their rum. There is only a limited market for it.
  14. With regard to these imitation rums that come here, how are they manufactured? Do you know anything about them? – I believe those imitation rums are made from essences mixed with silent spirit. Such bottles of rum essence were sent out a few years back to the Jamaica planters from some German town. It was not enough to rob us of our trade, but added insult to injury by stating that we could make three or four gallons of Jamaica rum by adding a little essence to silent spirits.
  15. You think they are not made your highly-flavoured rum? – I do not think so.
  16. Are you quite sure of that? — I am not quite certain, but it would not pay them to. They could get the essence much cheaper. The highly-flavoured rum costs 8s. 6d. a gallon.
  17. I believe your endeavor as manufacturers in Jamaica is to produce this highly-flavoured rum in the largest quantities possible? — No. I know it was tried, and Mr. Cousins did his very best to induce the planters to do it, but they refused.

[ Herbert Henry Cousins was a famed chemist of the time; he carried out extensive research on Jamaican rum and was commissioned to write a Memorandum against Pairault. See “Defending Jamaica Rum” in the December issue of GOT RUM?]

  1. They are not doing it? – No.
  2. Mr. Cousins states they are? – I state they are not. He brought forward a certain theory to do certain things which we objected to entirely.
  3. With regard to the molasses, you told us that you must not remove more than one purging of sugar before you make the rum? – To make the first molasses we boil the sugar once, and then we purge it through centrifugals, and as the result of that purging we get the first molasses. In Demerara they boil it over again and make second and third sugars, they remove all the sweet from the molasses, and make rum from that.

[ Demerara was a Dutch and then a British colony in South America; roughly, present-day Guyana ]

  1. What control is there in Jamaica which prevents a maker of Jamaica rum from doing exactly what they do in Demerara with regard to the sugar? – None, except that if that was done the price of rum would fall down to a very low figure. It is judged here by its worth. A man’s common sense would not let him do it. … it is against his interest.
  2. But it is in the interest of the Demerara man? He has a very larger plant than we have, in most cases, and he find that he gets a better market for his sugar, because Demerara sugars are famous. In that way they make the first and third sugars. We should get an accumulation of molasses, and could not store them. Therefore, we have no similar plant to make a similar quantity.
  3. In Jamaica you make the rum and in Demerara it is a bye-product? – In Jamaica rum is our first product, and sugar is a bye-product.
  4. Do you think that really can be said of all the distillers in Jamaica? Yes; some make much higher class rum, and others cater for the home trade here.
  5. Your third point is the manner in which the wash is set up for fermentation. You say there are three ingredients which with water are used for the setting of the wash for fermentation, all of which are the produce of sugar-cane: – scum or skimmings, molasses, and dunder. They are used in proportion according to the judgement and practical experience of the distiller, who is guided by all the circumstances connected with the estate and distillery. I suppose that varies at each of the distilleries, does is not? We find that some distillers, like myself, for instance, use what is called a sour cistern. I let a lot of my cane juice sour. I would not get a large quantity of alcohol, but I would get a higher amount of ethers and secondary products. Acidity is created.
  6. That is a peculiarity of your own process, and one or two of others? No, in Jamaica it is the general rule.
  7. It is not specially necessary to all Jamaica rum? No, they may not use it to such a large extent, but a certain amount of sour cane juice is used on all estates.
  8. Do you recognize that the rum from all parts of the West Indies has the same good quality as your Jamaica rum? No.
  9. Even when they use a pot still, and use only one purging of sugar, or when theu use rich molasses? No; you can only get one Cognac brandy in the world; it is the same with us, you can only get one Jamaica rum.
  10. With regard to age, can you tell me whether the price of rum varies greatly in respect of age? – So far as the planters were concerned, the prices which they obtained here were much the same for old and new. The new stretch better than the old for blending with patent still spirit, but of course old rum sold retail was much more expensive.
  11. Is rum matured before it leaves the colonies? – No; it is shipped as we make it. It is bought now by a company, who take a lot of it and it will improve by age very mush. In the colonies they do mature some rum, and charge as high as 6s. 6d. a bottle for it, and they get it too.
  12. Is the bulk of rum that reaches this country over or under two years old? – It is under two years old.
  13. Including Jamaica rum? Yes. There is not more than a year’s supply in stock now, I suppose.
  14. Any maturing which is done is done like the whiskey is matured , namely, in oak casks? In oak casks. It is shipped in puncheons from 112 to 118 gallons at 36 overproof.
  15. Can you give us some information on one or two points on distillation? Yes.
  16. First of all, how do you induce fermentation? Do you add yeast to the wash , or how does it ferment? – It is spontaneous. We add nothing. We add no chemicals of any description. Ours in the only Colony that adds no chemicals of any kind.
  17. How long do you allow it to ferment? – We allow it to ferment from eight to twelve days for ordinary clean drinking rum: German rums take about thirty days, or longer. It is a very slow fermentation.

Here we are finished with Mr. Nolan, but not at all with the work of the Royal Commission.  This long testimony is replete with information and opinions. Nolan is undoubtedly an impassioned witness and his explicit task was to defend and promote Jamaican Rum; nevertheless, he is unquestionably an authority and is point of view is no less important for us than it was for the Commission. I believe it helps us to understand the true reality of rum at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Marco Pierini

PS: I published this article on February 2020 in the “Got Rum?” magazine. If you want to read my articles and to be constantly updated about the rum world, visit

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