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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.]


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

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