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

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

BRITISH PLAIN SPIRIT

The fourth article devoted to the work of the Royal Commission starts with the testimony of Mr. Algernon Aspinall, a representative of the famous West India Committee.  Concerning the definition of rum, Mr. Aspinall too presents a very different position  from the one previously expressed by Mr. Nolan, Jamaica’s Special Commissioner and he makes a defence of the quality of rum produced with Column Still. Also the second witness, Mr Ernest Tinne, who defends the quality of Demerara Rum, agrees with Mr. Aspinall.

Perhaps, though, it is the last testimonies that are of greatest interest to us today. Three different witnesses make us understand the real quality level of the huge market of cheap rum, and of other cheap spirits, at the beginning of the XX Century.

TWENTY-FIFTH DAY, Wednesday, 8th July, 1808   Mr. Algernon E. Aspinall, called

  1. You are, I believe, Secretary of the West India Committee? – That is so.
  2. That, I believe, is an association of planters, merchants, and others interested generally in the British West Indies, British Guyana and British Honduras? – Yes.

13399.The West India Committee, I believe, has been established for a great many years? – Yes, it was established early in the eighteenth century, and was incorporated by Royal Charter on August 4th, 1904.

  1. What are the objects of the Association? – The objects of the Association as set out in the Royal Charter are by united action to promote the interests of the agricultural and manufacturing industries and trade, and thus increase the general welfare of the British West Indies, British Guyana and British Honduras.
  2. The question of rum has come before you? – Yes, constantly.
  3. Will you give us your idea of what constitutes rum? – The views of the West India Committee are enunciated in the following statement: “That only spirit distilled direct from sugar-cane product in sugar-cane growing countries is entitled to be called rum, and that such spirit has been called and recognized as rum for over half a century, whether made in a pot or a patent still.”
  4. You are aware that it has been stated in evidence that the term “rum” should be confined to the pot still product? – We are, and we do not agree with that view.
  5. Can you tell me which of the West Indies produces rum in any considerable amount? – Jamaica produces about 1,250,000 gallons per annum, and the rest of the islands among them produce about 200.000 gallons. British Guyana, which we consider part of the West Indies, produces about 2,500,000 gallons.
  6. The largest output is British Guyana? – Yes, by far.

TWENTY-SIXTH DAY. Monday, July 20th, 1908.

Mr. Ernest Tinne, called

  1. The business of your firm in Demerara and the West Indies is an old one? — Yes.
  2. Established in the year 1782? — Yes.
  3. I want your definition of rum? – I consider Mr. Aspinall’s definition is exactly corrected. It is spirit distilled directly from sugar-cane products in sugar-cane growing countries, and, I might add, whether it is produced in a pot still fired direct or a pot still heated by steam, or continuous still, or a Coffey patent still. There must have been a good deal of confusion, if I might say so, in the minds of Mr. Nolan and Mr. Heron as to what you call pot stills. More than 30 years ago I think the whole of the rum in Demerara was made in pot stills heated by direct fires. That, if I may say so without hurting the feelings of a Jamaica man, is, I consider, a dirty, wasteful and unscientific process. You are liable to get a residue in the bottom of the copper retort from distilling which exposes you to the burning of the copper. You have no proper means with direct heat of regulating the heath of your wash as you have in a steam still, and I think the return from that is not as good as we get at the present from the vat or pot steam stills and Coffey stills. I do not altogether agree with what Sir Daniel Morris and, I think Mr. Nolan said about the return from molasses in Demerara being worse, because we take more sugar out of the juice than they do in Jamaica. I do not think the rum need any worse. You naturally get less rum from molasses containing less sugar, but that is no reason why the rum should be any worse.

[At this point the Commission gets back briefly to the so-called Imitation Rum]

Mr. Frank Litherland Teed, recalled

  1. Have you any reason to think that this imitation rum is being sold in this country? – I have no means of knowing. Of course, you might get the import numbers from the Customs, but I do not see how you are to get the quantities that are actually manufactured in this country. If you take the patent still grain spirit which I believe is now called patent still Scotch Whiskey, and put some of these ethers to it, it becomes rum. We have heard this morning that it becomes gin under certain circumstances, but, of course, if you put in other essences it may become brandy.

[And here we get to two weighty statements given by big British producers and exporters of Spirits. It is clear that the only checks the product was subjected to were those of Excise and Custom officials  in order to establish the correct taxation. There was no quality control, no checks to verify the authenticity of the product  and all the various types of cheap Spirits were made with the same “British Plain Spirit”.]

TWENTY-SEVENTH DAY. Tuesday, July 21st, 1908

Mr. James Monro Nicol, called

  1. You are exporters of Scotch whiskey, West Indian rum, British rum and compounded spirits, and you are proprietors of Customs bonded warehouses? – Yes.
  2. You wish to make some remarks to the Commission about a certain practice of mixing rum and plain spirit for exportation? – Yes.
  3. It has been suggested by one witness that this practice should be prohibited? – That is so.
  4. I understand that you take a different view: Will you kindly explain to the Commission exactly what that view is? – As stated in my précis, my present company and its predecessors have carried on that business for almost 40 years in accordance with the regulations of the Excise and Customs.
  5. That is the business of mixing Demerara rum with plain spirit in bond? – Yes. We therefore feel that it would be very unfair to us now to have that permission taken away not only on account of our own loss but we feel that it would be to the loss of the trade of the country, and there is no doubt about it that other countries would step in and do the trade if we did not do it.
  6. Under what designation is this mixed rum exported by you; how is it described? – It is ordered first of all from us as a rum and we invoice it as a rum. We use the term “rum” in our correspondence ourselves, but in the Customs, of course, the name “rum” is not recognised. The casks do not bear on them the name “rum”. They have to be marked “mixed”: That is certain.
  7. Not “rum” but “mixed” by itself? – Yes, the word “mixed”, which I suppose is a sufficient indication, or at least it meets the requirements of the Excise and Customs, that is a mixed spirit.
  8. That is, mixed for foreign use? – Yes.
  9. But is there any further mark on the cask that is exported? – That depends entirely on the market that the article goes to.
  10. Take Australia, for instance? – For Australia it is now necessary to add the country of origin on the casks and therefore they are marked: “The product of Great Britain and the West Indies”: There is no objection to putting on the word “British rum”, and as a matter of fact in exporting to Australia these two words do appear over and above the statement as the country of origin.
  11. You have on that cask when sent to Australia, have you not “British Rum”, the produce of Great Britain and the West Indies, in addition to the word “mixed”? – Yes, that is so.
  12. How do you invoice those mixtures? – It is invoiced as “rum”.
  13. To Australia? – Yes.

14372.And the term “British Rum” does not appear on the invoice?  – No, it does not appear. Of course, the rum may have a brand as many rums have. As I understand, many rums in Australia are known by brands, such as our own. Our own brand is known as the “Red Star Brand”.

  1. Where does the bulk of that spirit go to? – It goes to Australia, New Zealand and the Australasian islands as well as to different parts of Eastern Europe.
  2. Does New Zealand accept it without any special designation? – They do; no certificate of age is required in New Zealand.
  3. And no special description? – No, no special description.
  4. It simply goes there marked “mixed”? – That is so.
  5. And invoiced as “rum”? – Yes, invoiced as “rum”. In our case the invoice has on it “Red Star Rum”.
  6. Do you know if any spirit of that kind is sold in this country as rum, that is, mixed Demerara or Jamaica rum with plain spirit? Of course, I am aware that that could not be done in bond for home trade, but do you know whether spirit of that nature is sold as rum in this country? – I am not aware of it. We are not in the Home Trade, and of course I do not know the ins and outs of it.
  7. Would you regard that as a legitimate trade in this country? – I would.
  8. To sell that as “rum”? – Yes. I consider that there is no monopoly in the word “rum”.
  9. … What is the smallest amount of rum you can get in the cheapest article you send out? You must have a cheap trade as well as anybody else. What is the smallest amount of rum you would put in? – That we use, or that might be used?
  10. That you can put in? – I should say if you use one gallon of Demerara rum with your British spirit it would have to go out as mixed spirit.
  11. One gallon of Demerara rum to how many gallons of plain spirit? – One gallon of Demerara rum to 100 of plain spirit.

Mr. F.W. Percy Preston, called

  1. What is the nature of the business of your firm? – We are distillers and also exporters.
  2. Distillers of what? –What do you distill? – British plain spirit.
  3. Is that grain spirit? – Molasses spirit mostly. There is a little grain, but the bulk of our trade is molasses spirit.
  4. You are proprietors of Excise bonded warehouses? – Yes, and also of a vatting establishment over the top.
  5. You wish to give evidence before the Commission as the desirability or otherwise that the mixing of rum and plain spirit for exportation should be prohibited? – Yes.
  6. What do you wish to say in reference to that? – I simply say that if that is taken away from this country, the Germans take the trade and we lose it. They would send it direct from Hamburg to the West Coast of Africa, where I should otherwise send it, and they would simply take the trade off us, and our trade is ruined.
  7. What you export is a mixture of West Indian rum and British plain spirit? – Yes, made from molasses, which I call plain spirit.
  8. How do you invoice it? – It is really a trade term. A merchant writes to me and he says, “What is your price for African rum”, and I tell him what the price is. Another man from Manchester, from where most of the Mediterranean trade is done, writes and says, “What is the price for your Mediterranean rum”, and an Australian writes and says, “ What is your price for Australian rum”, and I tell them. The Excise know the proper thing to put on the cask. We do not work under the Customs, but we work under the Excise.

I would like to conclude this article with a personal reflection. Many today in the rum world seem to feel nostalgia for the good old times when, in their opinion, the quality of rum ( indeed, the quality of quite everything)  was better than is now: more natural, authentic, artisan, and  healthier, too.  These accounts show us that, at least as regards rum, in truth there is nothing to be nostalgic for, and that the good old times were not so good after all.

Ok, I think it is enough for this month, see you in May.

Marco Pierini

PS: I published this article on April 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

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

PATENT STILL versus POT STILL: Mr. MAN’S TESTIMONY

We are now into the third article of this series. It focuses on the various kinds of rum produced in the British Colonies, not just in Jamaica, and on the way consumers’ taste had been veering towards more neutral, rectified spirits. We’ll discover that the major producer was not Jamaica, but Demerara, and that even the iconic Navy Rum was made from Demerara Rum. About the definition of rum, the opinion of the first witness, Mr. Man, is radically different from that of Mr. Nolan, which we read in the last article. Then, we’ll get back to highly flavoured rums. Using these, in Germany they produced the so-called Rum Verschnitt (more or less, blended rum). It was a cheap, very popular spirit, made mostly from potato spirit and with a little highly-flavoured rum. As far as I know, in Germany a little production of  Rum Verschnitt continues to this day  (see: https://mixology.eu/en/the-roots-of-german-rum/).

TWENTY- FOURTH DAY, Tuesday,  July 7th, 1908. Mr. Frederik Henry Dumas Man, called

  1. What is your firm? – E.D. and F. Man, Colonial Broker.
  2. That is a firm of old standing, is it not? – It dates back to 1793.
  3. How long have you yourself been in business? Twenty-nine years.
  4. What is the nature of your business? We deal in Colonial produce – sugar, rum, cocas, etc. We have got from three-quarter to seven-eighths of the rum trade, and a small fraction of the sugar trade.
  5. Is your trade exclusively in Jamaica rum? Not at all – any rum.
  6. But a large quantity of it is Jamaica rum? A large quantity of it is Jamaica rum.
  7. How is that rum that you sell produced? – In various ways. The Jamaica rum is, I think, entirely made in a pot still. The rum from the other countries is chiefly patent still, but there is more than one patent still. There is the Coffey still and some other still.
  8. Are you speaking of rum produced from the other West Indian islands? Yes.
  9. In which islands, so far as your knowledge goes, is the patent still employed? – It is employed both in Demerara and Trinidad. Those are the two chief producing countries, besides Jamaica.
  10. Have you any knowledge of a patent still being employed in some of the West Indian Islands? — Oh, yes. Trinidad uses nothing but a patent still.
  11. But other than Trinidad? — I think St. Kitts uses one, but I am not quite sure. We do not hear much about how it is made; we only have to test the quality.
  12. Is there much variation in the quality of Jamaica rum? – Tremendous.
  13. Could you give us some indications? – From 2s. 6d. a gallon; just now it is very high and ranges from 3s. up to 8s.
  14. That is for Jamaica rum itself? – Yes.
  15. From the island of Jamaica? – Yes.
  16. How do you form an opinion of the value of the rum? – Simply by smell. We mix two parts of water to one of rum and compare it very carefully with other rums. The water brings out the flavours.
  17. You do not use any chemical analysis? – No.
  18. You are employed by the Admiralty, are you not? – Yes, we buy their rum.
  19. Do you buy all the rum for the Navy? – Yes, all.
  20. Has the consumption of rum varied very much of late years? – It has been steadily increasing lately.
  21. Can you give the Commission some information with the reference do that? – I think it is nearly half a million gallons more last year than the year before.
  22. Can you give us any information as to the cause of that increase? – We put it down to various causes, one is the suspicion that has lately been cast on whiskey, and people are beginning to find out that rum is a very wholesome spirit.
  23. I suppose that increase is mainly an increase in Jamaica rum? – No, I should not say so. I should think it was more in the other sorts. I do not think Jamaica rum has increased materially. It has slightly.

13015.Do you mean by “the other sorts” the varieties produced by the patent still?  – Yes, what we call proof rums. There are two sorts – Jamaica rum is one sort and then everything else is proof rum. Proof rum necessarily is sold by the proof gallon which varies according to strength.

  1. Where is it manufactured? – Chiefly in other parts of the West Indies – Demerara and Trinidad, but also Cuba, Mauritius, St. Kitts, Barbados. Most of the sugar-cane growing countries produce rum.

[So, the growth in rum consumption in those years regarded mainly rum made by Patent still. Consumers preferred it to Pot Still rum maybe because it was a more neutral spirit, low in congeners. And something similar, a Commissioner had said earlier, was happening to whiskey. It would appear that in that period the public’s taste was evolving towards rectified, lighter Spirits, easier to drink. It is indeed also the period of the great, lasting, worldwide success of  the Ron Lìgero  made in Cuba]

  1. Can you give us any information as to the rate of increase in the varieties of rum as compared with the increase in Jamaica rum? – No, it is very difficult. The Board of Trade returns do not distinguish.
  2. I gather from your précis that you regard rum as a very wholesome drink? – I have always believed so. I am told it is food as well as drink, and that if you take too much in the West Indies it does not have a bad effect, whereas if you take too much whiskey or brandy you are a dead man. That I hear from people who have lived out there all their lives.
  3. Then you make some remarks in your précis with regard to “low wines,” and you say they should not be allowed to be exported from Jamaica. Are they exported as a matter of fact? – Yes, they are.
  4. Would you tell the Commission what these low wines are? – I am not a practical distillery in any way, but I believe it is the first running and the last running of a wash, and the result is most unsatisfactory.
  5. For what purpose are these low wines exported? – For sale in this country as Jamaica rum. To compete with the proper article they are sold to a lower price, and the tied house people, and this sort of people, who want to put in the lowest priced articles, buy them.
  6. I understand that they come from Jamaica? – Yes.
  7. So your point is that a considerable quantity of inferior rum is exported? – It is a small quantity only – a few hundred puncheons a year are exported from Jamaica.
  8. You desire to see that stopped? – For the benefit of Jamaica I think it should be, because people who taste them and are told it is Jamaica rum would probably never touch Jamaica rum again.
  9. Than you state that a good deal of rum is fraudolently sold as Jamaica rum which is not Jamaica rum at all? – That is the supposition. The idea is to call everything Jamaica rum.
  10. What rum have you in your mind as regards that statement? – What they call vatted rum, that is, mixtures of rum; for instance Demerara and Mauritius are mixed together, one being an uncoulored rum and the other a heavily-coloured rum. They are brought down to a medium colour, and are sold as Jamaica rum in public-houses.
  11. The Demerara rum is distinctly inferior? – I would not like to say it is inferior, but it is a different style; it is more neutral and not so highly flavoured. It is generally considered inferior, and the price is inferior to Jamaica rum.
  12. How do you account for that difference? – I expect it is the soil and the different manufacture of the sugar. In Trinidad and Demerara they make a very superior sugar, and that means to say they take so much more stuff out that there is very little left for rum,whereas in Jamaica they think more of the rum than the sugar.
  13. Do you sell rum that comes from other islands than Jamaica? – Yes.
  14. Did you hear Mr. Nolan’s evidence yesterday? – No, I unfortunately was not here. I have read a little of it.
  15. Mr. Nolan recommended and pressed on the Commission that no rum coming from the West Indies should be allowed to be sold as rum unless it was made in the pot still? – That is Mr. Nolan’s idea, I know.
  16. You are interested in the question generally. What would your view be about that? – I think that is ridiculous. Some rum made in patent stills is quite equal to some made in pot stills. To brand only one sort as rum and the other as something else is, to my mind, ridiculous.
  17. Do you think that would generally be the view of the people who are engaged in the trade of rum generally and not confined to Jamaica rum? – I am sure that would be their view. We once supplied the Admiralty with Jamaica rum (they usually take Demerara and Trinidad) and the sailors did not like it so well.
  18. But you sell more Jamaica rum than anything else, do you not? – No, I do not think so. It varies according the crop. Sometimes there is a big crop of Jamaica rum, and sometimes a big crop of Demerara …
  19. You do not know which predominates? – What we call the proof rum, that is rum other than Jamaica.
  20. The bulk of the Navy rum, what is that? — That would be proof rum – not Jamaica.
  21. Proof rum, I take it, is an expression of your own over there? — A trade expression. It means to say that the rum is sold per proof gallon.
  22. But that rum is largely patent still rum? — Chiefly patent still rum.
  23. Could you tell me what pineapple rum is? – Pineapple rum is a rum having a pineapple flavor produced not artificially in any way, but by the soil. There are certain soils in Jamaica which produce a rum that is known as pineapple rum. It has the flavour of pineapple.

[We have now a testimony which does not concern rum directly, but the use of molasses to make gin. I find it extremely interesting though, as it sheds lights on how the spirits industry worked in the past.]

Mr. Richard F. Nicholson, recalled

  1. I should like to know whether you insist on gin being made from corn? – I do.
  2. You do not think it is possible to make it from molasses? – I think it is possible – in fact, from 1808 to 1810, when there was a scarcity of corn in the country corn was prohibited for distillation, and the London distillers, and even the Scotch distillers, had to go to molasses. I must tell you that I can see by our books that the molasses they used in those days were a very high grade of sugar. I see that from the very large produce they produced per cwt. , so it was a very high grade class of sugar and not what we understand as molasses to-day. During that period whiskey and gin and all home spirits had to be produced from materials other than corn, so no doubt it would be possible to make gin from molasses, but in the interest of the consumer I take it is advisable that gin should be produced from corn. It is generally recognized as a corn spirit, and I look upon it as unfair competition for certain traders to use inferior articles in their manufacture without declaration.

Well, I hope you have found this stuff interesting; more to come in the next articles.

Marco Pierini

PS: I published this article on March 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

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

In my article about the 1st Nordic Rum Fest, in the July issue of GOT RUM ?, I wrote that for years now the Rum Family had been discussing production techniques, quality, authenticity, sugar, additives, etc. Until a recent past this discussions seemed  “the voice of one crying in the wilderness”: things for Staff Only, Rum Geeks, or worse, incurable Rum Nerds, without any influence in the hard, real world of Rum Business. Then, things changed and now a considerable number of consumers and Rum Fests visitors (not experts or professionals, but ordinary visitors) ask questions about several technical points. They want to know what they drink and what exactly they pay the price of the bottle for.

But there is more. There is a real debate going on, among producers and experts, on the future of rum, on what it is or what it should be, on the Regulations about it etc. Great part of this debate is concentrating on the new Regulations concerning the Geographical Indication in Jamaica and Barbados. This cannot come as a surprise, since  Jamaica and Barbados have such a prominent role in the history of rum and are now at the cutting edge of premium rum production. This broad debate might be summed up under just one title, which might be: Tradition and Innovation in the rum industry.

As Rum Historian, this is an issue I am very interested in, but one on which I do not have clearly defined ideas yet. I am not a distiller, nor a producer or a lawyer, therefore I do not understand well some technicalities of the discussion and their concrete commercial implications.

And yet, when we speak about “Tradition”, History comes into play and here I think I can make a contribution. For a start, I believe it is useful to take a look at what the rum business was really like at the beginning of the XX century. It was a crucial moment, it might be said that the modern industry of spirits was born just in those years: the years when the sale of bottled rum started to grow, when brands, labels and marketing got off the ground. The legal frame within which both industry and consumers operated was still nebulous. If I understand correctly, the few attempts to define the product  had come mainly from the Excise and Customs, that is, from the need to tax the different products in an accurate way. But by then that was not enough.

Then, in  … along comes the Islington Prosecutions. It was a large and complicated judiciary case about the selling of Irish and Scotch whiskey that, according to the prosecution, were not “of the nature, substance, and quality” of Irish and Scotch whiskey. Due to the importance of the matter for both the British economy and the health of the public, the British Parliament appointed a Commission to study the question and recommend a solution. The Commission dealt bravely with the thorny issues of the legal definition of the products, the production methods, the raw materials and geographical origin.

I do not believe that such a mass of evidence from industry professionals had ever been collected before, and perhaps even afterwards: “Our first setting took place on the 2nd March, 1908, since which date we have held 37 sittings “for the purpose of taking evidence”. At such sittings we examined 116 witnesses and considered various document submitted to us. Since the commencement of the inquiry several of us have visited certain distilleries employed in the manufacture of whiskey in Scotland and Ireland, and also a number of distilleries and warehouses at which brandy is manufactured and dealt with in France.”

Eventually, the Commission published a voluminous text consisting of the minutes of evidence, reports and many appendices.  I think it is a very important document, full of thought-provoking information. The Commission deals mainly with whiskey, but a lot of information can be found on rum and other spirits too.

In the next articles I am going to present you with a small part of the text, focusing obviously on rum. In brackets you will find my comments, few and brief, written to make the text more comprehensible to today’s readers. The minutes of evidence always follow the same pattern: a question asked by a Commissioner is  followed by the Witness’s answer. It is clear from the context that sometimes the witnesses had sent a précis written before the hearing. The number before every question simply indicates the chronological order of the questions.

Let’s get started.

From the “ MINUTES OF EVIDENCES taken by the ROYAL COMMISSION on WHISKEY AND OTHER POTABLE SPIRITS”

FIRST DAY, Monday, 2nd March, 1908 At the Westminster Palace Hotel

Mr. Arthur John Tedder, called

  1. What is your position in the Excise Service? – Chief Inspector of Excise
  2. Could you give a definition of plain spirits? – Plain spirits means any British spirits which have not any flavours communicated thereto or ingredient or material mixed therewith.
  3. How would you define spirit at proof strength? – The strength of proof is that ascertained by Sykes hydrometer. It is defined in the Spirits (Strength Ascertainment) Act of 1818 as “spirit which at a temperature of 51° F. weighs exactly twelve-thirteenth parts of an equal bulk of distilled water. ”Practically it is a mixture of almost equal parts of absolute alcohol and water.
  4. And the object of blending, as a rule, is, is it not, to obtain a particular strength for a particular customer, or to obtain particular flavours to a certain customer’s desire? – That is what the blenders would tell you.
  5. What other explanation could you offer of it? – It makes all the difference as to the cost of the blend what a spirit you put into it. Of course, there is a very great deal in blending spirits to get a particular flavor.

[A  legal definition of whiskey did not exist yet. Many witnesses in the whiskey business asked for a strict, narrow definition for both bottled or bulk whiskey. They mostly stated that only the produce of the pot still could be rightly called Scotch or Irish Whisky, and not  the “neutral spirit” produced by the patent still. They also asked  that only local raw material should be used and that  ageing should be compulsory. The Commissioners were not convinced because the patent still and also foreign raw materials had been de facto largely used to produce both Scotch and Irish whiskey for many years. Moreover, according to some Commissioners, maybe Patent Still whiskey was successful not only because it was cheaper than pot still whiskey, but also because its flavor was more suited to the changes in taste of the public. This could be true of rum as well, since those were the years of the phenomenal success of Cuban “Ron lìgero”]

SIXT DAY, Wednesday, 18th March, 1908 Mr. Frank Litherland Teed, called

  1. You also, I believe, made a series of analyses of Jamaica rum and also analysed two samples of rum sold as Jamaica rum? – Yes, the allegation against the vendors was that it was not Jamaica rum.
  2. The defendants pleaded guilty? – Yes. In the first case they pleaded guilty, and in the second case they pleaded guilty, too.
  3. Those two cases were taken under a different Act? – Yes, the Merchandise Marks Act.
  4. You are prepared to give, if called upon, similar evidence as to brandy and rum? – Yes.
  5. You are confining yourself now to whiskey? – Practically entirely.
  6. You have a certain opinion about the importation of so-called “Imitation Rum”? – Yes
  7. What are those views? – I have never heard of imitation rum being on sale to the public anywhere. I believe that all imitation rum that is imported is fraudulently sold as rum.

TWENTY-THIRD DAY, Monday, 6th July, 1908. Mr. John Heron called

  1. Can you tell us anything with the regard to the secondary products of Jamaica rums as compared with those of Demerara rum? – The secondary products of Jamaica rum are very much larger in quantity than in Demerara rum. I have made very little analysis of Demerara rum, but the analyses I have made practically conform to a silent spirit.
  2. Is there something also connected with the acidity of Jamaica rum which rather differentiates it from other rum? – Yes, it has a very high acidity.
  3. You have given in your précis certain maximum and minimum values for the acids, aldehydes, furfurals, and esters of rum. Would you kindly tell us what they are? – I have made analyses of what I knew to be absolutely pure Jamaica rums. I have got those analyses here. They varied from something like 900 to a little over 200 of esters.
  4. That is from 900 to 200 of the esters and ethers? – Of esters and ethyl acetates. I find nothing less than 200. The limits are from 900 to 212.
  5. How do the acids run? – From 288, roughly 290, to 65.
  6. And the aldehydes? — From 109 to 19, and the furfurals from 14 to 15. What I laid particular stress upon was the amount of the esters. In fact, I went so far as to lay down a test for pure Jamaica rum, that a sample of pure Jamaica rum should contains 200 or more parts to the 100,000 of esters.
  7. I think it would be useful to the Commission if you would give them some indication of the number of samples of rum that you have had on which these maxima and minima you have given us are based? — I really could not give you that straight off, but I should say I have analysed some hundreds of samples, and I may say that among the samples I have analysed, which were bought generally from licensed premises, some 5 to 10 per cent. Were genuine samples, and the others were all adultered.

[The Commission was not convinced and asked many questions about the analyses]

  1. What was the result of this want of genuineness? Did it produce injury to health to the person consuming the rum? — It is not as good medicinally.
  2. Is it injurious to health? — I cannot say that it is injurious to health.
  3. When it is not quite so good in there any effect you can mention of the worse samples of rum compared with the better? — It has not the stimulating properties for one thing, or the reviving properties or the vivifying properties.  Would the bad quality of rum produce drunkenness sooner that the good or not?  — I really could not say.
  4. You say it has not the stimulating properties. What is the injury produced by not having the stimulating quality? Would the bad quality of rum produce drunkenness sooner than the good or not? — I really could not say.
  5. Is there an evil you want to have remedied? – The evil is that a lot of rum is on the market described as pure Jamaica rum which is not Jamaica rum at all.
  6. That is a very fair answer. Are these bad qualities of rum, do you think, manufactured in the United Kingdom or in Jamaica? — Good qualities have simply been diluted by the addition of silent spirit.
  7. Are these bad qualities manufactured in the United Kingdom or in Jamaica? – I should say they are manufactured in the United Kingdom.
  8. And represented as Jamaica rum? – Yes.

 

Well, I think it is enough for a first sample.

Marco Pierini

PS: I published this article on January 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

A Journey to Barbados: Drax Hall

Between the end of January and the beginning of February 2014 I spent two weeks in Barbados.

I was full of expectations. After reading and writing so much about Barbados, at last I would be able to see the cradle of rum directly. I can now say with pleasure that Barbados has lived up to (almost) all my expectations. The two weeks were full of meetings and experiences. It’s impossible to tell everything.

But there are some things which I’d really like to tell, things that I still remember with excitement even after 7 years. I’ll start from the most exciting: one morning I asked a taxi driver to take me to Drax Hall.

It wasn’t easy. The beautiful Jacobean house that James Drax built in the early 1650’s to celebrate his wealth and power is now a private residence and it is outside the tourist itineraries. The taxi driver had never been there. The map helped us, but we had to ask for directions several times to the few human beings we came across.

At the beginning of the colonisation of the island, most colonists obviously settled on the coast, but  James Drax pushed into the interior and even now the area is almost uninhabited. Eventually we got there. There wasn’t anybody. The house seemed empty, with a few low outbuildings around. All in all, it looked like a farm. A few trees around, and  gently sloping hills covered  with sugarcane swaying in the wind, as far as the eye can see.

It is right here, perhaps, that everything started in Barbados.

Here, on a distant day of the early 1640’s far from prying eyes, James Drax started to grow a new, strange plant imported from Brazil: sugarcane.

It wasn’t easy. At the beginning he made mistakes. The first crops were bad, the first sugar he produced was of very low quality. But, as well as capable and clever, James Drax was strong and determined and at last success crowned his endeavors. The crop went well, the refining process too and his sugar was sold at very good prices in Europe.

It was the beginning of that Sugar Revolution that would change forever the face of Barbados  and of all the West Indies. And the destiny of millions of human beings.

I was moved. I got out of the car and I enjoyed the solitude, the silence and the wind. Then I took some photos. I don’t know how much time passed, not much, anyway. Then a car arrived, some dogs barked and I saw someone moving.

The magic moment had passed. I got back into the taxi and we went away.

Marco Pierini

American Rum: a British spirit

In the second half of the XVII century, when rum started its triumphal march, leaving Portuguese Brazil in its relative isolation, three great colonial Empires divided up most of the Americas.

The Spanish Empire dominated most of mainland South and Central America – the so called Spanish Main – with the main Caribbean islands, Cuba, Portorico, part of Santo Domingo. To the North Spanish power was firmly established in Mexico and its influence reached up to modern day Georgia. In Mainland America, the French Empire kept New France, which roughly corresponds to modern day East Canada, and in the Caribbean Martinique, some smaller islands and part of Santo Domingo (now Haiti) under its tight control. The English Empire occupied Virginia, New England and other Mainland colonies and in the Caribbean Barbados, Jamaica and other smaller islands. Sugarcane was grown everywhere in tropical areas, therefore rum could be produced by all the three empires. But the choices of the three European countries were completely different.

 

Let us start from the oldest, the Spanish Empire. Spain was a major producer of wine and brandy. A significant part of this production was exported to the Spanish colonies in America and to Northern European countries, among which England. The Spanish producers of wine and brandy saw rum as a threat to their interests and got the government to discourage the production of alcoholic beverages in the colonies with all the means at its disposal. Bans on growing grapes, bans on the sale of alcoholic beverages to the natives, prohibition to sell local alcoholic beverages in the towns, and so on.

 

Over time, a long succession of laws were introduced, which forbade distillation, with the most brutal punishments. These laws were not always fully enforced (through and through), but surely they negatively affected the development of rum production. To this we must add the decline of sugar production, which has not yet been fully explained by historians, and a diminished fondness of Spanish people for strong distilled beverages. As a result, rum production in the Spanish colonies was, for a long time, limited and of low quality.

 

France too was a great producer and exporter of wine and brandy and French producers too feared the competition of rum. But things went slightly differently. In the second half of the XVII century there seems to have been extensive rum production right in France, by using the syrups which were the by-product of the refining of Antillan sugar, which took place largely in France. Then, brandy producers struck back and succeeded in obtaining various bans and restrictions on the production of rum and other distilled beverages. In 1713 they even obtained a Royal Decree which forbade the use of any raw material other than wine for the distillation of spirits. I have not pursued this matter and there is no general consensus among the sources, but anyway, after 1713 rum production and sale were really forbidden in France, but de facto tolerated in the colonies. In particular, great quantities of rum and molasses were later exported, indeed often smuggled, into the English colonies of North America.

Moreover, in the French colonies sugar production was thriving and the French were fonder of strong liquors than were the Spanish. Therefore, rum production in the French colonies of the Caribbean was always significant and of relatively good quality.

 

England did not produce wine or brandy. On the other hand, English people drank heavily, they had always done. They imported wine and brandy mainly from France and Spain. And they paid good money for them, it was a constant flow of wealth which left the English shores to boost the coffers of foreign countries. For centuries it had not been considered a problem and anyway there were no solutions. But then things changed. After the Act of Union of 1707, Great Britain was one of the great European and world powers. Its foreign policy had two fundamental objectives: to strengthen its global role, by defending and expanding its colonial, commercial empire, and to maintain the balance of powers in Europe, in order to prevent a single country from becoming so strong as to dominate the whole continent. (It may be thought that this general approach underlies British foreign policy even today). Both objectives brought Britain to fight numerous wars and especially to clash with France, its only real competitor in the fight for supremacy – many different wars that, according to some historians, were different phases of a new Hundred Years’ War, fought between 1689 and 1815.

 

It became therefore increasingly intolerable for the British Government to finance the enemy through massive imports of wine and brandy, bought especially from France and Spain. An alternative to wine was soon found. Trade agreements were signed with Portugal, and Portuguese wine largely replaced French wine, thanks to the fondness of English people for sweet wines. But brandy was a different kettle of fish, the English ruling classes loved it and did not want to do without it, while the lower classes consumed enormous quantities of a new drink, gin. And that was a big problem too, both because consumption was excessive and destructive (we will get back to this point) and because gin is made from grain, much needed to make bread, the staple diet of the lower classes.

 

Motivated by the need to curb the massive spread of gin and drunkenness of the lower classes, and the danger of famine due to shortage of grain, Parliament intervened with various laws and measures that greatly limited the production and consumption of gin. Then someone discovered rum. Rum was produced in the English colonies, consequently the wealth which went into buying it stayed at home. To make rum you do not need precious grain, but the by-products of sugar production, useless, cheap and available in huge quantities. It is therefore the perfect spirit to replace both brandy and gin.

 

But at the beginning of 1700 rum consumption was very low, and British people still did not know it. Moreover, the upper classes did not consider it suitable for themselves: it was rough, not refined enough, too cheap. In order for it to be able to replace brandy it necessary to make people acquainted with it, to get them used to drinking it, but at the same time also to enhance its image and its price. It was not an easy task, but West Indian planters, Parliament, Governments and civil servants in general joined forces to launch what today we would call a massive, aggressive campaign to promote rum. The readers who should be interested in this can read my articles in the magazine GOT RUM?.

 

Anyway, they made it. Here are some figures: in 1697 England and Wales imported (legally) only 22 gallons of rum. In 1710 22.000 gallons. In 1733 500.000 gallons! And, from 1741 on rum imports regularly exceeded those of brandy. It was not just a temporary increase, it was much more: rum penetrated deeply the daily life and the culture of British people, who learnt to perceive ita s though it was their own, a sign of identity. Until yesterday, maybe even until today. An unqualified success. A lesson in marketing compared with which modern promotional campaigns pale.

 

The British Empire became the most important producer and consumer of rum and in the eve of the American Revolution, rum was usually considered something typically British.

Marco Pierini

PS: if you are interested in reading a comprehensive history of rum in the United States I published a book on this topic, “AMERICAN RUM  A Short History of Rum in Early America”. You can find it on Amazon.