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

JAMAICA, DEMERARA,  AND … GERMAN RUM

We have reached the last article of the series dedicated to the works of the Royal Commission. As well as the questions of the Commissioners and the answers of the witnesses, the Minutes of Evidence contain also some interesting Appendices. One of these is the APPENDIX L.   I. Extract from “West Indian Bullettin” Vol 8, No 1, 1907. It contains  a long article written by H.H. Cousins, the chemist and expert on Jamaica Rum we have already met in the December issue, regarding the different classes of Jamaica Rum. Here are some extracts.

CLASSES OF JAMAICA RUM.

To understand the wide differences in the quality of Jamaica rum, we must first recognize that there are three distinct classes of rum produced in the island, each adapted for a particular market, and each judged by a different standard of excellence.

To answer the question—’ What is a good Jamaica rum?’ involves a second inquiry: ‘To what class of Jamaica rum do you refer?’ The three classes are as follows :—
(1) Rums for home consumption, or ‘local trade quality.’
(2) Rums for consumption – in the United Kingdom, or ‘home trade quality.’
(3) Rums for consumption on the continent, or ‘export trade quality.’

Each of these grades of rum meets the requirements of a special market, and is judged by a different standard of quality. I would particularly urge that these three markets, being self-contained, do not compete one with the other, and that the idea that the producers of export quality are thereby prejudicing the sales and commercial success of the ‘home trade’ qualities is entirely without foundation.

So far as I have been able to arrive at the facts, the commercial spheres of the three classes of rums are entirely distinct, and there is no reason to believe that the production of high-flavoured rums for blending on the continent is in any way prejudicial to the interests of the home trade Jamaica rums consumed in the United Kingdom.

CLASS I. LOCAL TRADE QUALITY.

While rum remains the wine of the country, so far as the lower orders in Jamaica are concerned, nothing is so striking to an observer of the habits of the upper classes, as the very large extent to which imported Scotch whisky (some of it very recent, very fiery and of very patent-still quality) has displaced rum. The high-class trade in old rums of delicate softened flavour, which were formerly so highly thought of by the planters and moneyed classes, has largely disappeared, and it would probably be most difficult to obtain a choice mark of an old rum, which has not been blended, from any spirit merchant in Jamaica today. Blends are the order of the day, and the public house trade is the chief field in which the local quality of rum is employed.

For this purpose a light rum that will age or mature very rapidly is a great desideratum. These rums are mainly produced in Vere and St. Catherine, and are the result of light settings and a quick fermentation. The stills are heated with steam coils, and double retorts are used.

The ether content of these rums varies from a minimum of 90 parts per 100,000 volumes of alcohol to about 300 parts. The bulk of this spirit would average from 180 to 220 parts of ethers. It will be noticed from the samples submitted for inspection that these rums have a delicate pleasant aroma, and when broken down with water yield a light type of residual flavour which is markedly inferior to that of the rums in Glass II.

The basis of flavour of these rums is principally due to acetic ether, while the characteristic flavour and aroma of each estate’s mark, appear to be due in every case to traces of the ethers of the higher acids, and, in a less degree, to traces of caprylic alcohol and other higher alcohols of an aromatic nature.

CLASS II. HOME TRADE QUALITIES.

These rums are generally produced by a slower type of fermentation than the local trade rums, and some of the best marks are produced in ground cisterns, and are slightly flavoured by the addition of some sour skimmings to the fermented materials. These rums are characterized by a high standard of heavy residual body. These are mainly ethers of acids of high molecular weight. These acids are not producible from sugars, and are almost absent in rums other than Jamaican, which are produced from diluted molasses without dunder or acid skimmings, and distilled in patent stills. Our investigations indicate that these higher acids result from the bacterial decomposition of the dead yeasts found in our distillery materials in Jamaica, and I am forced to the conclusion that the adherent yeasts in the old ground cisterns have a good deal to do with the fine flavour of many of these home trade rums.

When in London recently in the office of the leading broker who handles Jamaica rum, I was shown samples of the chief marks of home trade rums which were considered to set the standard of quality. ‘We do not want ethers, but a round rummy spirit,’ said this broker. I was pleased to find, however, that the marks selected as standards were all of high ether content (from 300 to 450 parts of ethers). They had, however, a very good standard of heavy residual body, and the blend of flavours was both mellow and full.

CLASS III. EXPORT TRADE QUALITY.

Jamaica has long been famed for its rum, and a certain proportion of the crop has for very many years found its way to the markets of Europe. Thirty or forty years ago, a trade in high-class drinking rums was carried on with the continent; and I recently interviewed in Hamburg a merchant who had in former days done a good trade in choice marks of Jamaica drinking rums. He bemoaned, however, that this trade had practically ceased since 1889, when the German Government raised the duty on Jamaica rums from a very low rate to the relatively high one that now obtains, which is equivalent to about 8¢. per liquid gallon. From that time the entry into Germany of Jamaica rums, suitable for direct consumption, has been made almost impossible. The low rates of excise on the domestic potato and grain spirits render the competition of home trade qualities of Jamaica rums with the German spirits out of the question under present conditions.

To the firm of Finke & Co., of Kingston and Bremen, and the enterprising planters of the north side of the island, belong the credit for having met this obstructive tariff by the development of a considerable trade in high-flavoured rums, of such remarkable blending power that they could stand the high import duty, and yet be utilized by the German blenders for producing a blended rum capable of competing with local distilled spirits subject to a merely nominal excise.

It is no exaggeration to say that to this enterprise alone is due the survival of the small estates on the north side, despite their great disadvantages as sugar-producing estates under the stringent conditions of the sugar market during the past ten years. There is much unreasonable prejudice against this industry among planters who are interested in home trade rums; and it has often been suggested that these high-flavoured rums are merely adulterants, and gain a profit at the expense of the genuine common clean drinking rums.

If these rums were used for blending with silent spirit in the United Kingdom, to produce blends that were sold as Jamaica rum, there would be some ground for this view; but so far as evidence can be obtained, it would appear that these rums are all used on the continent, and are not in competition with home trade rums at all. …

These export rums are commonly known as German flavoured rums in Jamaica, and are produced by a process that could only be adopted on a small estate with a relatively enormous distillery capacity. Instead of thirty hours’ fermentation, as in the case of a Demerara or Trinidad rum, these German-flavoured rums demand a fermenting period of fifteen to twenty-one days. …

These flavoured rums contain, as might be expected, a relatively high proportion of ethers. Some makes are as low as 600 or 700 parts of ethers, but are, as a rule, relatively rich in heavy-bodied ethers, and are possessed of great stretching power.

The finer qualities contain some 1,000 to 1,200 parts of ethers, and occasional samples may even attain a standard of 1,500 or 1,600 ethers. We have found that about 97 per cent of these ethers are acetic ether, about 2 per cent consist of butyric ether, traces of formic ether may be present, and from ½ to ¾ per cent of the total consists of heavy ethers derived from acids of high molecular weight.

It is upon this small trace of heavy ethers that the chief character, and, indeed, the commercial value of a high-flavoured rum depend.

As a rule the presence of high ethers is also associated with that of higher alcohols of a peculiar spicy and attractive fragrance. …

It would appear that the bulk of the so-called rum consumed on the continent of Europe is prepared from artificial essences, and that the trade in ‘Kunot rum ‘ has been detrimental to the interest of the Jamaica high-flavoured rum. The experiment station has been experimenting—with some success —in the direction of increasing the blending value of these rums so that they can compete on more equal terms with the sophisticated article on the continent.

An experiment has been carried out at Hampden estate in St. James to test this matter, and although the commercial results are not yet complete, we have every reason to believe that in the direction of increasing the blending power of our flavoured rums must lie the future of this industry.

[One other interesting Appendix is the APPENDIX  M.  The Production, Distribution and consumption of rum in British Guyana. Here are some extract]

… The advantages claimed for rum of the slow fermentation type distilled in stills of the kind commonly used in Jamaica are frequently stated to be its flavours and its great restorative powers due to its high content of esters. As the esters contained in rum of every type consist mainly of ethyl acetate it is difficult to perceive how this not very pleasant substance can confer on rum the characteristic aroma of that spirit. …

The consumers of rum in the West Indian Colonies generally prefer a clean light spirit of medium fruity flavor, usually of low esters content, to a richer, heavier, and probably a somewhat oily spirit of high contents of esters and rich in flavouring matters. …

It is only of comparatively late years that the production of so-called “German rum” has been developed in Jamaica. This is a spirit containing an abnormal amount of esters – as much in some cases as 2,000 to 2,800 parts for 100,000 of absolute alcohol by volume – and the object of its production was to enable German silent spirits to be flavoured with it so as to pass as “Jamaica rum”. Doubtless this policy on the part of certain Jamaican distillers of assisting their competitors to produce fictitious rum is what has given rise to their recent campaign against all genuine rums which do not happen to have been produced in Jamaica. …

[Finally, here is an extract of the Final Report, written by the Commissioners at the end of the works, in 1909.]

CONCLUSIONS

It has been suggested that the principal cause for the difference in flavor between rums produced in various places lies in the methods of fermentation used, rather than the process of distillation. According to the evidence there are two distinct types of rum, Jamaica rum being representative of the first and Demerara rum of the second. The first type is the result of slow fermentation, lasting from 10 to 12 days, of wash set at a relatively high density; the second is the result of a rapid fermentation, lasting from 36 to 48 hours, of wash set a low density.

We see no reason, however, to deny the name of rum to either of these types. We consider that the definition of rum as “a spirit distilled direct from sugar-cane products in sugar-cane growing countries,” which was submitted to us by Mr. Aspinall on behalf of the West India Committee, fairly represents the nature of the spirit which a purchaser would expect to obtain when he asks for “rum”. The Customs already recognize the distinction between “rum,”  “rum from Jamaica,” and “imitation rum,” and we consider that this differentiation should be continued.

 

Well, it’s done. I have published only a very little part of the works of the Royal Commission, and I am convinced that it would be interesting to dig deeper. But for me it is enough, see you next month with a new strand of the history of rum.

Marco Pierini

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

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