Percival in Trinidad or And the World Watched Jamaica…

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[graphic]SERIES of articles have lately been published in the Bulletin of the Botanical Department, Jamaica, under the above title.

It will be remembered that in the July number of the Agricultural Record for 1892, in -’Notes of Fermentation,” I showed that the Trinidad method of distillation gave “spirit almost devoid of flavour,” and pointed out that an examination of the processes followed in Jamaica for the production of the so-called “German Rum” would give interesting results.

Work in this direction has since been taken up by Mr. Percival H. Greg, with a large amount of success, and his results are in course of publication in the above-mentioned periodical under the head of ”Rum Aroma.”

Mr. Greg’s investigation has not yet been concluded but the articles published in August and September, 1895, and January, 1896, appear to demonstrate that the experiments are being conducted with the greatest care, and that it is highly probable, that definite conclusions of the greatest importance to planters will ultimately be arrived at.

Without attempting a review of these articles, it appears from the papers referred to that the Aroma of Rum depends largely upon the boiling house treatment of the cane juice, and the development of a certain and peculiar kind of yeast or fermenting organism which Mr. Greg calls “No. 18.”

Mr. Greg concludes his third article as follows :—”It is obvious “however that even the practical side of the question is far from being exhausted and an ever widening field of investigation is opened up. If one may be allowed to theorize a little, there seems sufficient grounds for concluding from the results which I have up to now attained, that though the Aroma of Rum is in the first instance derived from the soil, that this influence is chiefly potential not actual; that it is latent, dormant, and only brought into existence during the process of manufacture. If this should prove to be the case, it would seem to hold out a hope that much may be done to improve our Rum both for the home trade in England and for export to Germany.”

Some may say, but if we do make a fine flavored Rum in Trinidad we shall never sell it! That remains to be seen; and is not such a proposition hard upon the common-sense of the English buyers, who would thus be openly accused of not knowing a good article? It is fairly clear that up to the present Trinidad has not put a highly flavoured article on the market, but if ever she does, it is more than probable she will get prices in accordance with quality, not at first perhaps—but a good article always meets its market sooner or later, and there appears to be no good reason why Trinidad Rum should form the exception.

It remains to be seen however whether the pure culture of No. 18 yeast will act in the same way in Trinidad upon a “wort” or “wash” made up on the lines of the Jamaica process, or whether there are ferments present here which will not allow of the growths of the special Jamaica ferments. For instance, unless the spontaneous 48 hours ferment grows and alcholizes the Trinidad wash, there is the greatest danger of viscous ferments monopolizing the charge of the vats, and in a few hours the sugar solution may be nothing more than a pasty mass. The ferment spoken of is one of very fast growth, forming in 48 hours the maximum amount of alcohol which it is possible to obtain. It is also one which by cultivation in cane juice can be brought to do its work even more quickly than 48 hours for it has been found that by using a setting of it on new material that a rapid fermentation at once begin, and in 3 hours wash is in a state of rapid fermentation. It is a bottom yeast, almost white, with a resemblance to some of the figured forms of Saccharomyces cerevisiae but with cells apparently much more circular than in any of the recognised forms, and will probably on being examined by an expert turn out to be a new species of that genus.

Pervical H. Greg, Victorian Rum Genius No. 2

This will eventually contain about four papers from Percival H. Greg. It takes a lot of work to extract these from a PDF and I’m quite busy lately so I’ll let someone else take turn at annotating them.


By Percival H. Greg.

This account of some experiments which I have been making in this direction, and which I venture to submit to readers of the Bulletin in general, and to Planters and Distillers in particular, pretends to be simply what it is entitled—a contribution—the question indeed is a wide one and may be approached from many sides.

The aroma of rum may be said to bs mainly due to five causes, 1st the nature of the plant from which rum is made, the sugar cane; 2nd the soil on which it is grown ; 3rd the fermentation; 4th thedistillation ; and 5th the storage in cask, at the high temperature prevalent in the tropics. My researches as will be seen, deal exclusively with the aroma developed during fermentation, with special regard to the influence exercised in this direction by a particular variety of a peculiar type ofyeast. They were suggested to me by the brilliant results attained by Prof. Hansen in his employmentof pure yeast in the manufacture of beer. Following out Prof. Hansen’s ideas as to the great influence exercised by the type of yeast on the nature and resulting products of the fermentation, my work at first consisted in isolating and cultivating pure, according to Prof. Hansen’s method, as many different varieties and species of yeast, as I could obtain from the materials, molasses and dunder, sent to me from Jamaica, and instituting with such cultures trial fermentations on a small scale. I gave a preliminary account of these researches in the ” Sugar Cane” of Nov. 1893, in which I stated that I had isolated a considerable number of varieties of Jamaica yeast, possessed of very different properties.

One yeast in particular seems to me to have a special bearing on the production of the aroma in rum. It belongs to the type known as “ topfermentation” yeast, i. e., it throws up a ” head” on the surface of the fermenting liquid, which, in molasses and dunder, is of a beautiful golden colour and very tenacious in character. The progress of the fermentation is a slow one, varying, according to the composition, concentration and temperature at which the wash is fermented, from 10 to 14 days The fermentation of the liquor is a very quiet one, the gas beinggiven off slowly in small bubbles, and at some stages fermentation is hardly noticeable. During fermentation, although there is a somewhat “fruity” smell, a definite aroma cannot be said to be produced, but after the fermentation is concluded, if the liquor be allowed to remain quiet, say from 24 to 36 hrs. a delicious aroma can be distinguished. In order to prove without a doubt, that the aroma produced was due to this germ, the following experiment was performed. A certain quantity of molasses and dunder and water, mixed together in suitable proportions, was taken and sterilised by boiling. It was then allowed to cool in contact with air previously freed from all germs, and when a sufficient amount of air had been absorbed the liquid was equally divided between two fermenting cylinders which had also been previously sterilised. One cylinder was set in fermentation by meansof this particular yeast, which I call No. 18, and the other cylinder was fermented by another Jamaica yeast which I will call No. 4. The two cylinders were tht-n placed under exactly the same external conditions, and fermentation allowed to proceed. The appearance of the two cylinders during fermentation was characteristic. No. 18 was covered with a thick golden buttery head. and fermentation was slow, while in No. 4 cylinderthe yeast remained entirely at the bottom, and the fermentation was rapid, and was what is technically called a “champagne” fermentation. At theend of 5 days fermentation was entirely at an end in No. 4 cylinder, while in No. 18 it was still in progress. No 4 cylinder was allowed to stand 36 hrs. Ifo aroma was developed. Eventually fermentation was finished in No. 18 in 12days, and the wash allowed to stand 36 hrs.,—a heavy fruityaroma was developed. This experiment clearly shews that the aroma in question was due to the influence of No. 18 yeast, since the two washes fermented were identical in composition, and were fermented under exactly the same external conditions. It raises too a point of some practical importance to which I would call the attention of estate owners and distillers. There seems to be a general unanimity of opinion among planters that in order to produce a fine rum, the ”wash”" must be allowed to <! die down” thoroughly. To accomplish this however necessitates in many cases building larger still houses, which many estates in these hard times are unable to do. But does it not seem evident from my experiment thatthe amount of benefit to be derived from the enlarging of the still house and thus giving the liquor room and time to attenuate thoroughly willvary very much according to whether an aroma or non-aroma producing yeast has the mastery in the vats? So far we see the problem must be approached from two sides. The case however presents other points of interest. How far in the experiment under discussion was the aroma due to No. 18 yeast? Did the yeast excrete the aroma, so to speak, or did it form it from, or by transforming, certain substances in the liquid? In order to settle this question, I fermented separately, by mean s of No. 18 yeast, refined cane sugar, dextrose, cane juice, and molasses, leaving the liquor to stand 36 hours after the completion of fermentation : in no case was the aroma developed. I repeated these experiments, but the results were thesame. I need hardly add, that where necessary, yeast nutriment was added in order to produce a normal fermentation. This puzzled me for some time. Dunder and molasses and No. 18 yeast gave the aroma, but molasses and nutrient salts and No. 18

yeast did not: therefore the aroma must have heen produced from No. 18 yeast acting on some substances in the dunder. But dunder is simply theresidue of wash which has been previously fermented and distilled, and is in fact the residue of cane juice, and skimmings and molasses. But neither cane juice, which contains those substances which eventually go to form skimmings, nor molasses, gave the aroma. Perhaps then it was due to the process of boiling in the still? Accordingly pure cane juice and molasses were allowed to undergo fermentation and were then distilled, and fresh wash set up with the resulting dunder, but no aroma was developed: it was evident then that dunder, as dunder, had nothing to do withthe formation of the aroma in question. I must here make a short digression. While I was engaged in Europe in isolating different yeasts from themateri .Is (molasses and dunder) sent to me from Jamaica, I searched for a long time in vain for a yeast capable of producing a definite aroma. With this object 1 must have made certainly not less than two hundred pure cultivations. One yeast only attracted my attention as seeming to be able to produce a faint aroma, certainly more than the rest. This yeast therefore I examined more closely. On testing the mixture of dunder and molasses which I was fermenting with this yeast, it was found to be exceedingly acid. It was thought therefore that such a great acidity was injurious and might probably interfere with and prevent the yeast from exercising its physiological functions to the full. I accordingly partly neutralised theacidity of the dunder with a few drops of caustic soda, and put the liquid which No. 18 yeast had nearly finished fermenting, away to stand. Afterstanding for about three days and when fermentation was at an end the characteristic aroma was developed. This yeast I afterwards named No. 18 and is the one used in these experiments. I had not time then to proceed any further with the question, and remained satisfied with theexplanation I have adduced. When however my experiments in Jamaica led me to see that the aroma could not be produced from fresh cane juice or molasses, or even from cane juice and untreated skimmings, or from molasses and untreated skimmings, but yet could be produced by the helpof the dunder acted upon by No. 18 yeast and bearing in mind my former experiment in Europe, of partially neutralizing the dunder, which had resulted in the production of the aroma, I bethought me of the treatment which the cane juice undergoes in the boiling house.

This as a general rule in Jamaica consists in treating the cane juice with caustic lime. I determined therefore to try the experiment of fermenting cane juice which had undergone this treatment. But as an alkaline medium is unfavourable to alcoholic fermentation, and as the alkaline skimmings from the boiling house are brought down, whenever possible, on acid dunder, I determined in order to test the efficacy of the treatment and at the same time to provide a favourable fermenting medium for the yeast, to neutralise the alkalinity of the treated cane juice with sulphuric acid, using a sufficient excess to produce a slight acidity : dunder of course could not be used in this experiment. A portion of fresh cane juice was therefore taken and divided into three parts I, II and III. No. I was made alkaline with caustic lime, No. II was not treated and served merely as control experiment, while No. Ill was not treated with temper lime, but was faintly acidulated with sulphuric acid. This last also served as a control experiment, as it might be argued, that should any aroma be produced in No. I sample, it might have been caused, not by the treatment with an alkali, but to the subsequent liberation of aromatic vegetable acids, or volatile vegetable acids, capable of forming fruit ethers perhaps bythe stronger acid sulphuric. I must add that in order to preclude the possibility of action of germs other than No. 18 yeast, which would of course be naturally present in the cane juice, that the three portions of liquid were sterilised before being fermented. No. I. was sterilised (boiled) after thetreatment with lime, in order to imitate the treatment to which the skimmings are subjected in the boiling house, and the sulphuric acid added just before the fermentation. No. III. was boiled before the treatment with sulphuric acid in order that if volatile acid should be liberated that they should not be driven off by the heating, that is that the maximum effect if any, due to their presence, should be obtained. No. II. sample was ofcourse simply boiled without any addition. After these three samples had been boiled and allowed to stand in contact with sterilised air for a sufficient length of time, an equal quantity of No. 18 yeast, in a state of absolute purity was added to each portion and the liquid allowed to ferment, the outside temperature being the same in each case. In No. I. sample, which had undergone the treatment with lime, the characteristicaroma was developed. In samples II. and III. the aroma was not developed. It is but fair to state that the aroma produced was not very strong, butthere was no denying its presence. Here then we have the four factors necessary for the production of the aroma in question. First the germ, No. 18 yeast; secondly, the medium skimmings or cane juice; thirdly, the treatment of the liquid —heating with caustic lime, or caustic alkali; fourthly,the question of time—the wash must stand 24 to 36 hours after fermentation has been completed. Be it borne in mind that the absence of any oneof these 4 factors, will result in the non-production of the aroma in question. I expressly state here of the ”aroma in question” because it is not contended that no other aroma can be produced by any other germ or germs which may be active in the fermentations. Indeed the treatment with lime for reasons which I shall show at another time, has an effect upon the flavour of the resulting spirit, independent of the action of any particular germ In order however to make quite sure that the activity of 18 yeast is necessary in treated cane juice to ensure the production of thearoma, treated cane juice was fermented by several other Jamaica yeasts, but no aroma was produced. My researches hitherto have been directed to show that a certain aroma can be produced by a particular type or variety of yeast, which cannot be produced by other germs in my possession, but that though the activity of this yeast is essential, certain other conditions are equally essential. In other words the aroma produced during fermentation is the resultant of more than one force, but that the type of yeast employed plays a very important part in the matter and theprobability is that this remark applies to any other aroma produced during fermentation. I have in this case been able to isolate and identify these forces, which is advantageous as shewing how No. 18 yeast may be employed to produce the aroma, with its maximum effect. But it will be seen that so far I have touched on the matter somewhat superficially. I have yet to shew what is the substance

or substances which are acted upon by the caustic lime in the cane juice and the way in which No. 18 yeast acts upon them to produce an aroma, and I have yet to shew why the effect of the lime is not rendered nugatory by the after addition of sulphuric acid. This however would make my paper too long. and as I am still engaged in investigations on these points, I must defer any explanation for the present. One thing however further experiments have taught me with absolute certainty, that in order that the treatment with lime be efficacious in its influence on the flavour of therum—and this applies equally, whether 18 yeast is used or not—the skimmings must be thoroughly heated in the syphons after the treatment, with lime.


THE JAMAICA YEASTS. By Pekcival H. Greg. In a collection of papers from the Pemerara Argosy entitled if I remember rightly the ”Planters Manual” 1889, there is a very interesting article on “How to make German Rum, by a Jamaica Distiller.” Among other things the author mentions that the liquor throws up a thick golden head, that fermentation is very slow, and that no particular characteristic aroma is produced until after fermentation has been concluded. This corresponds so exactly with the behaviour of my No. 18 yeast during fermentation that I am inclined to think that the yeast forming the golden head or “Rum fat” as he describes it, is the one which I call No. 18. The author after stating minutely themethods to be employed in the manufacture of this German Ram, confesses that this recipe is not always attended with successful results, inasmuch as that some estates, trying all they can, never produce German Rum, while other estates produce it without any apparent effort. Very interesting it would have been if the author had stated, which as far as my recollection serves me he did not, how much importance he attached tothe presence of this “ram fat” in producing the aroma, and as to whether this characteristic fermentation was absent or »t least not permanent in those estates which tried to produce German rum, and failed. There would be nothing very startling if this were so. All the most recent researches go to show that the influence exercised by the particular organism active in the fermentations on the flavour of the resulting aroma of the Beer, Wine or Spirit has up to within recent years been in many cases under-estimated or indeed not taken into account at all. I have seen an organism which out of pure sugar was able to produce liquor which smelt like pure pineapple essence, and I have in my possession, two varieties of the type Saccharomyces anomalus which produce a distinct pineapple flavour in molasses. Thus in Hansen’s Untersuchungen us der Praxis derGdhrungsindustrie, which translated freely signifies “experiments in practical fermentation,” mention is made of the results attained by a Dr. Nathan in Rottweil in the use of selected types or variet es of yeasts in the preparation of fruit wines. The experiments were carried out on a large scale, and are therefore the more important. The conclusion to be drawn from them was that the quality and whole character of the fruit wines. is much more dependant on the character of the yeast which pla\ s the leading part in the fermentation than is the case with grape juice. If (writes.

Nathan) T examine the 40 fermenting vats which I had filled with one and the same Must (fruit-juice) whether it was from berries or apples or pears, and then afterwards infected each with a different kind or type of yeast, the products of the fermentation differed from each other in such an extraordinary manner that no one would have believed that he had to do with one and the same material. While some types of wine yeast gave for example the apple-must a very pronounced winey taste and smell, others shewed themselves able to alter the material but little. Some yeasts gave a very disagreeable after-taste to the must. Other examples could be given shewing that the flavour of cream, butter, the ripening of cheese, thearoma of tobacco, etc., are due to the activity of special types or varieties of micro-organisms. Returning again to the subject of the Jamaica yeasts, there is another point to be discussed. In my last article I mentioned another fermentation which I obtained with a Jamaica yeast which I called No. 4. I showed that there were two apparent differences between the two yeasts, one the difference in the resulting products of fermentation, i.e.,the aroma, and the other the time required by the two yeasts to ferment the same quantity of the same mixture of molasses and dunder, i.e., No. 4 requiring 4-5 days, and No. 18. 10-14 days. Here we see then that the kind of yeast employed is one of the deciding influences in what is a mostimportant point in the Still House, viz., the question of time. It may not be out of place here to give a list of some of the Jamaica yeasts which I have isolated and proved in fermentations in my Laboratory.

Yeast Time of Attenuation Alcohol.

No. Fermentation. of Wash. voL per cent.


must be regarded in the light of a comparative rather than an absolute test of the capabilities of the various yeasts. In this experiment the yeasts were compared together under exactly the same conditions and therefore the differences shewn can only be due to specific differences existing among the yeasts themselves. It is quite possible that the differences might become still more marked under different conditions such as for instance an increase in the initial density of the liquor. Thus with No. 17 I have under favourable conditions obtained an attenuation of 36.4-8=28.4 degrees attenuation (Jamaica Saccharometer) in from 5-6 days, but it does not necessarily follow that all the other yeast in my list would under those conditions give corresponding results. As it is, however, the differences shown in time of fermentation, amount of attenuation, and thequantity of alcohol produced, are worthy of attention. As regards the attenuation it must be noted that the Brix saccharometer was used instead of the one in use in Jamaica, and that if judged by the latter standard the number of degrees representing the attenuation would be greater. Theamount of alcohol obtained is expressed in percentage, i.e., in the number of volumes of absolute alcohol present in 100 volumes of the wash.”"The greatest difference in the amount of alcohol produced is between either of yeasts, Nos. 1, 5, and 7, and No. 4. Thus on 100 gallons of washthe difference is 1 gallon of absolute alcohol—10 gallons per 1,000 gallons of wash. Other differences which are not indicated in the table were also observed among the yeasts. Thus some started fermentation quicker than others, some reproduced themselves more than others; and some formed a deposit which adhered tightly in a hard pasty mass to the bottom of the fermenting vessel, while others formed a deposit which was easily disturbed. With the exception of No. 18, and No. 19, which I have not included in the list, the yeasts were all of the ”low” fermentation kind, i.e., remained at the bottom of the liquid Nos. 18 and 19 are of the ”top” fermentation kind i.e., throw up a “head” on the surface of the liquor during fermentation. With the exception of No. 18 the difference in ihe flavour of the resulting distillates was not very marked but the quantities operated upon were too small to enable a correct judgment to be formed, and of course the influence of storage in cask had to be left out ofaccount. These results be it observed are results obtained in the Laboratory. If it be asked what results would be obtained by working with such and such a yeast in the Still House? The answer is that that this can be best determined by direct experiment in the Still House. There is however very little doubt that the comparative differences shewn here would also obtain in the Still House. No. 18 yeast for instance will always be by comparison a much slower fermenting yeast than No. 1, and will produce a more aromatic spirit. While No. 4 will be sure to produce more alcohol from a given weight of sugar than Nos, 1, 5 and 7. The object of this paper has been to shew that characteristic differences exist among JamaicaYeasts which are active in the rum fermentation, that these differences are worthy of study, and may if. placed under control be used with great advantage in the Still House. The principle which is advocated here is the selection by systematic experiment of that particular type or variety ofyeast which is best suited for the kind of work it has to do and the cultivation and propagation of it in sufficient quantity for use on a commercial scale i.e., for fermentation in the Still House. If this were not possible our interest in the question would be confined to its scientific aspect, but pure selected types of yeast are now in use in large numbers of Breweries and Distilleries. There seems no reason then to doubt that theintroduction of selected types of yeast into Distilleries here would also be attended with advantage and in my opinion this forms the basis of a solid improvement. A t any rate this reform seems worthy of a thorough trial on a practical scale, and I append here a description of the apparatus by which the yeast desired may be grown absolutely pure in sufficient quantity for this purpose. I would however strongly advise all those who may take an interest in this subject to purchase “Micro-organisms and Fermentation” by Alfred Jorgensen published by F. W. Lyon, EastcheapBuildings, London, a short review of which by me appeared in the ”Bulletin” for May. Illustrations and descriptions of the two

“Propagating” apparatus are given in it. The prices of the apparatus are approximately as follows:—

Apparatus Model Hansen and Kflhle, 1 sterilizing and one fermenting cylinder ». … 1,600 Krones.

Air pump and air chamber for propagating apparatus with stop valve’ safety valve and Manometer … 800 Krones.

Apparatus Model Jorgensen and Berg. … 1,350 Krones.

The prices are given in Danish Currency, the value in English pounds sterling will be found approximately by dividing the number of Krones by 18. (18 Krones —20 shillings).


Every Distiller knows that rum made from pure fresh cane juice is devoid of any pronounced flavour, as compared with rum made from skimmings, molasses and dunder. It is also generally asserted that rum can only be made from juice, or the residue of juice, which has gone through the process of sugar boiling; though what particular part of that process it is which constitutes the deciding influence is not known.

My experiments lead me to conclude that it is the heating of the juice with lime which is the essential part of that process.

I have already shown in the Bulletin for September, the part which I believe the treatment of the juice with lime to play in the production of the fruity acid in rum ; though it is probable that the nature of the influence is different to that which I suggested in article No. 2 of this series. Experiments which are not yet completed, seem to indicate that the fruity acid is an oxidation product of the essential oil ; at any rate observations extended over a considerable period, show that the fruity acid in samples of cane juice which have been treated with alkali and then sterilised increases considerably on standing exposed to sterilised air. This change whatever may be the nature of it, takes place in alkaline as well as in acid solutions, though in the former case the change is of course not discernible, until the liquid has been acidified. The influence of the lime in that case is antecedent, partial, and indirect, but lime also exercises a direct and complete influence on the aroma, in setting free the essential oil of Rum.

The way to prove this, when once this has been discovered, is very simple; since if we take and extract by a suitable solvent for this oil, and chloroform answers this purpose the best, a sample of cane juice which has been divided into three parts, of which No. I, is extracted without any previous treatment, No. II, after it has been boiled without lime, and No. III after it has been boiled with lime; and if we find on the evaporation of the chloroform solutions from these portions, that fractions I and II, leave no aromatic residue, but that fraction III does, we have proof positive that the action of lime, or caustic alkali, is necessary for the production of these aromatic residues. This has been the method employed in these investigations.

The considerations which led to this discovery were :—
1. The use of alkali in enabling No. 18 yeast to produce its characteristic aroma.

2. The failure to extract any aromatic oils from untreated cane juice, or from rum made entirely from such cane juice.

3. The discovery of this essential oil in Rum made in the ordinary manner.

4. That the treatment of the juice with lime, is the only strictly chemical treatment, to which the juice on the majority of estates in this country is subjected.

The odour of this essential oil may be best described by calling it the essential oil of Rum, since it has a peculiar and indescribable smell of rum, and, without doubt, it is to the presence in it of this oil, that rum owes its characteristic aroma; an aroma which is so utterly different to that of any other spirit. It is of an oily nature, and a small quantity will remain for a considerable time in a glass exposed to the air without entirely losing its strength; and I should say therefore that it is to this property that rum owes its oiliness, “body” and permanency of aroma which distinguishes genuine rum from any artificial imitation. After having been set free by caustic alkali from its combination in a natural state, it does not appear to be further acted upon by alkalis or dilute H2SO4 ; but strong H2SO4 seems to dissolve it with formation of a faint pink colour, which may be due to carbonization. It is readily soluble in chloroform, alcohol, and water. If a portion of cane juice, containing this oil, be filtered absolutely brilliant, the quantity of oil which can be extracted does not appear to have been lessened by filtration. Of course, this does not dispose of the objection that it might be found floating at the top, or forming a layer at the bottom of the liquid, in the form of an oil insoluble and lighter or heavier than the liquid with which it was associated; but, on carefully scrutinizing the filtrate, I have not been able to observe any such phenomenon. It is true that if we take a sample of cane juice, heat it with lime, and then let it settle and absorb air in some deep and narrow vessel, a Nessler’s reagent glass or test-tube for instance, that a band of darker colour may be observed at the top on cooling, but this is due to oxidation, probably of glucose compounds, and, on shaking the tube, the dark brown band at the top mixes easily with the lower portion of the liquid. It is also true that a waxy film may be observed floating on the top of such liquor, but it possesses merely a wax-like aroma, and is probably palmitic acid. That there is a large amount of wax in cane juice has been known for a long lime, and palmitic acid has been found in rum. (Mulder. Jahresbericht für Chemie, 1858, p. 302.) It would appear, therefore, that in the process of manufacture a considerable portion of this aromatic oil will be lost, since being soluble in water it cannot be separated by the preliminary clarification process in the cyphons, but must pass from thence into the coppers, where a good deal of it will be dissipated in the form of vapour. To a certain extent no doubt as the liquor gets concentrated by ebullition, and the essential oil has less water for its solution, and as the density of the liquor increases, it may rise to the top in an insoluble form, in which it can be skimmed off. But on these points further investigation is necessary.

Its boiling point appears to be comparatively high. It comes over from the still in the later runnings and can be extracted from dunder in considerable quantity, and I have succeeded in extracting in small quantity from molasses. The fact of its boiling point being high and that it can be extracted from dunder, shows us at once that we do not obtain by our distillation process, so much of this oil in our rum as we might do. It seems also to indicate that the use of patent continuous stills with high rectifying columns, would certainly be attended with a minimisation of the aroma of the rum in so far as this was due to the essential oil; and it suggests to us as to whether or not this may not be the reason as to why a low still head produces a better rum than a very high one——this seeming to be a pretty general opinion among Planters. If this should prove to be the case, it would seem as if the addition of an extra retort filled with cane juice, which had been properly treated for the production of the essential oil, through which the alcoholic vapours would have to pass, would be a distinct advantage : though certainly care would have to be taken that the lime was not present in excess, as this would lead to a decomposing of the “fruit ethers” which might come over with the alcoholic vapours. It is interesting to note that something of this sort appears to be done in some parts of the colony though instead of lime, common salt appears to be used.

What was said in a previous paper concerning the possibility of the existence of different “fruity acids” in different canes and in different soils, applies equally to this oil of rum. But here again a chemical examination of juice from different sources alone can decide. I am inclined to think however, after having examined rums from different estates and from different parishes, that, with the exception perhaps of the “new leather” smell, which may be caused by the presence in the rum of some single substance possessing that aroma, and which is not found in other rums, that variation is more to be sought for in the quantity in which this oil is present than that different soils each possess a characteristically different essential oil. Turning to the results obtained in the examination of samples of juice taken at different times from the mill from the same estate, I have been surprised by the marked differences exhibited in the quantity of this oil present. In very many cases it does not appear to be present at all. So far the samples have been taken at random from the mill without any attention having been paid as to the soil – on which the canes yielding such juice were grown, or as to the nature of the cane whether plant or rattoon. But having once established these two important facts, viz., the necessity of heating with temper lime or fixed caustic alkali to set this essential oil free, and that the amount in which it is present varies so widely, we are now in a position to carry on a systematic examination of cane juice from different soils with a view to ascertain what is the determining cause of such variations ; while it is evident that until such variations had been proved to occur, that any investigation in this direction could not be undertaken. It may be a matter of surprise to some, that if such variations do occur, that a greater variation in the quality of the rum from the same estate is not noticed. But the truth is that from the nature of our manufacturing process such changes in the character of the juice and the rum manufactured from it, must to a great extent remain hidden from us. In the parish of Westmoreland at any rate, it is the custom to mix and grind the canes from different fields simultaneously, so that the liquor, which finds its way to the still-house, is in no sense a representative sample of any particular cane piece, and the same may be said of the molasses. Coming to the still house, we not only use the liquor of a previous setting, i.e., the dunder, but many estates preserve their dunder from crop to crop; and in so far as concerns the distillation, not only is a double still frequently used, but also a retort containing a charge from the previous distillation, while, finally, the liquor is stored in butts of large capacity before racking into the puncheons. Yet, in spite of all this, anyone who watches the rum carefully, cannot fail to notice variations, and it is notorious that a difference in the quality of the shipments, from the same estate, is often commented on in England.


But the treatment of the juice with lime also finds expresssion in the aroma and taste of the rum, in a distinctly unfavourable manner. It is owing to this that the organic bases or bodies of an alkaloidal nature are set free and are found in that state in the rum. A sample of rum shaken up with chloroform left behind, in addition to the essential oil, a vile smelling residue, the smell of which completely hid that of the essential oil, and resembled almost exactly the smell and taste of the dark brown liquid which may be found in the stem of a foul tobacco pipe. There seems very little doubt that this must be due to the presence in the rum of some organic base of the pyridene group, and last crop I succeeded in producing the same smell in cane juice by heating it with excess of caustic lime. During this crop, curious to relate, I have not been able to detect it in the samples of cane juice which I have up to now examined, but it must be understood that no systematic search for it has been carried out. But I have never yet failed to detect the presence in large quantity of some kind of bases or alkaloidal bodies in cane juice which I have heated with excess of lime, and I have so far never yet failed to detect them in greater or less quantity in Jamaica rum. The influence of these bases on the rum is to make it dry and harsh, and I should say, judging from personal experience, that the action of rum on the human system containing these bases in any appreciable quantity is not beneficial There seems very little reason to doubt, that it is the presence of these bodies which renders new rum almost undrinkable. Anyone who has had an opportunity of smelling  these vile compounds, when isolated from the more agreeable smelling constituents of rum, could hardly be in doubt as to the desirability of doing away with them if possible. But can this be done? There seems to me no doubt that it can.

If cane juice be tempered with gradually increasing quantities of alkali, starting say from an amount sufficient to produce neutrality, it will be found that these vile smelling substances can only be extracted when a considerable excess of alkali has been used, and that by using moderate quantities of alkali it is quite possible to set free the essential oil of rum, without setting free these vile smelling bases. It will thus be seen that the tempering of the liquor is of great importance, not only to the process of sugar boiling but also to the manufacture of rum. As a result of my experiments in this direction I am able to say, that whenever the liquor is tempered until it becomes of a deep fiery orange to a ruby red colour, that there is danger of these organic buses having been set free.

It would appear then that a moderation in tempering is an essential point in the preparation of a good drinking rum, inasmuch as it would tend to furnish a rum of a mild, soft character, devoid of that dryness and harshness due to the presence of these organic bases, and thus fitter for immediate consumption : though whether this would equally hold good in the case of German Rum, in which I believe as much “flavour” as possible is desired, may remain a disputed point. On the other hand, on estates with heavy badly drained clay soils, rather heavy liming is, I believe, found to be necessary, which probably stands in intimate connection with the destruction of the glucose, which would be found in larger quantity in canes grown on lands where all the conditions necessary to the thorough ripening of the cane were not present. Besides the effect on the flavour, these organic bases have a very disastrous effect on the fermentation. As the result of a large number of fermentation experiments, performed with No. 18 yeast, I have found this to be invariably the case, and this enables us to make a shrewd guess as to what would be the effect of such bases on the human system.

The yeast is in fact poisoned. The amount of lime then used in the tempering of the liquor may not only have an effect on the flavour of the rum, but also on the progress of the fermentation, and it does not seem at all improbable that some of the disasters of the Still House may be due to the treatment of the juice in the Boiling House. I hope, however, at some future time to be able to furnish some more definite and interesting information on this point.

Lime therefore exercises a potent influence both for good and evil. Thus indirectly, it sets free the fruity acid. While directly it sets free—
(1). The essential oil of rum.
(2). Various kinds of organic bases or alkaloidal bodies.

As regards the nature of the chemical reactions which take place, it seems to me that we can pretty well infer it from the nature of the reagent used, and of the substances set free. The only reactions which can take place as far as I am aware are those of hydration and interchange of lime for the volatile organic bases or alkaloids combined with acids. In tempering cane juice, which for this experiment may be most conveniently performed by an easily soluble fixed alkali, such as caustic soda, it will be found, if the alkali, be used with caution, that a gradual disappearance of the fixed alkali takes place as the heating progresses. In this respect it is instructive to compare the behaviour of the two indicators phenol-phthalein and litmus; the former showing us the gradual disappearance of the fixed alkali, while from the behaviour of the latter, we should imagine that the fixed alkali was still present in excess. That this is not so can also be proved by distilling the liquor, when the distillate will be found to behave exactly the same towards the two indicators, blueing litmus and having no effect on phenolphthalein-—due of course to the setting free of volatile organic bases, which have no effect on phenol-phthalein: it need hardly be said that this is not due to the liberation of ammonia. But whatever conclusions may be ultimately arrived at as to the exact nature of the chemical changes, and as to the nature of the products of such decompositions, it will not I think be denied by anyone who carefully goes into the matter that the tempering of the liquor in the Boiling House has a very decided influence on the aroma of the Rum. No one who examines the residues which result from the chloroform and ether extractions of cane juice, before and after the treatment with lime, can have a doubt of this while an examination of almost any rum, which has been manufactured in this country, using the aforementioned solvents, will enable him to discover the same smelling substances which can be extracted from treated cane juice. It is not of course contended that the whole of the aroma of Rum is due to this cause, but I do not hesitate to say that directly and indirectly a very considerable part of it is. And moreover in breaking fresh ground, as I believe I am in these researches, it was considered more important to attempt to localise the chief points of interest and to ascertain the actual facts of the case, rather than to dwell on the theoretical side of the question, which becomes of importance only in relation to facts. These researches too were commenced in the first instance with one object in view, viz to elucidate the nature of the action of N o. 18 yeast in producing its characteristic aroma. I very soon found that I was working in the dark on this very interesting question, and it is only now on having learnt the nature and the result of the action of temper lime on cane juice, that I am encouraged to believe that I have found the solution of this previously difficult problem. But of this more anon. It is obvious however that even the practical side of the question is far from being exhausted, and an ever broadening field of investigation is opened up. If one may be allowed to theorize a little, there seems sufficient grounds for concluding, from the results which I have up to now attained, that though the aroma of rum is in the first instance derived from the soil, that this influence is chiefly potential not actual; that it is latent, dormant, and only brought into existence during the process of manufacture. If this should prove to be the case, it would seem to hold out a hope that much may be done to improve our rums both for the home trade in England and for export to Germany ; and to imply a rebuke against murmuring with folded hands—“it’s the soil that does it.”


Supplementary 19th century Rum History

Long ago I looked at what I was doing in the context of information art which I got turned on to from Leonard Koren. The post was on barrel aging and quite a lot of people read it. Aging here was told through a tax case in Maryland in 1954 and quite a lot of money rode on this case so the explanation was just so sublimely organized.

I’ve wanted to become an information artist but have pretty much failed so far. I have come up with silly pieces like a blog quality survey of academic gin literature which is just a bunch of links to rare content and my half assed commentary and then I just came up with colonial pissing contests with the great Agricola, W.F. Whitehouse where I simply cropped a PDF into a little narrative with small amounts of commentary.

Well here I am again. The last project turned up a staggering amount of additional books that somehow need organized sort of like an annotated bibliography. There’s no great story but I am hoping to fill in some pieces of the creation of heavy rum styles between W.F. Whitehouse’s meditations of 1843 and the Jamaican Experiment station in 1905. I guess I’m just hoping to pollinate better writers than myself and give them new ideas for tracking down primary documents.

Many people have thought of 19th century rums as primitive, and some where, but so many were made at the hands of great Victorian scientists who were rapidly applying the latest discoveries of the day to the task. But something sort of happened with heavy rums when you read the reports of the Jamaican Experiment station in 1905. The rigor seemed like it fell apart and the generation of pioneers like Whitehouse and Leonard Wray either died or got fat & rich and were no longer steering the ship. Whatever was set into motion, high ester rums, fetching high prices that made Jamaican rum relevant in the competitive era of continuous distillation, needed to be rediscovered and reverse engineered. Some estates could still make them and some couldn’t. New estates couldn’t just start making them. Some wondered whether it was terroir or process. Those on the experiment station in 1905 referenced no Victorian geniuses that came before them and gave the impression that the most highly regarded rums were the works of lucky primitives.

“If common clean rum is being made, stick to common clean and never allow things to drift in the directions of making flavoured rum in the pious hopes that you may wake up some day to find that you have become famous by making flavoured rum where it was never made before. You are much more likely to find an enfuriated Busha awaiting to tell you that your services are no longer required on that estate.”

This wasn’t written in any linear fashion and now, which is actually at the end, I’d say do not read on unless you’ve been referred here by a search term. I spent considerable time reading everything and putting this together. I actually gave up on inputting quite a few sources, but they weren’t really that important. The reason I gave up is because I found the next Victorian genius to spend hours on, and in the most unlikely place. Hint: It’s Percival Greg!

The great starting point for 19th century rum research is:

(1890) H. Ling Roth, A guide to the Literature of Sugar

[This is a pretty epic Victorian annotated bibliography. It is easy to search through on google for "rum" or "distill". Most of the titles referenced here were found within but unfortunately a few of the most interesting are still undigitized and I'm sure there is still tons of sources inside which I've missed.]

(1847) John McCulloch, Observations on the manufacture of Rum

[This is a short work and not too much happens here.]

(1848) Leonard Wray, The Practical Sugar Planter: A complete account of the cultivation and Manufacture of the Sugar Cane.

The rum store is shown to be sixteen feet by thirty-six feet; which, small as it appears, is quite large enough in these days, when rum is sold as quickly as possible after it is made.

Rum butts have, of late years, become rather scarce in colonial rum stores, owing to the necessity there exists for bringing to market, as soon as possible, the rum made on estates: hence it very frequently happens that the spirit is carried from the can-pit direct to the puncheon, or hogshead; there coloured, and at once sent off, either to market or to the port, for shipment, without going into the rum butt at all.

[this is the first major Jamaican text after the works of Whitehouse and even mentions him in the dedication. apparently aged stocks of high ester rum wasn't a thing yet or was it?]

(1852) G. Arnabaldi, The tourists guide to the chief towns and villages of the Island of Jamaica

The following remarks were obtained from the late Mr. Robert McLeod, better known under the signature of “Old Rum.” His plan to raise the fermentation was by forming a liquid paste of flour, cream of tartar, and salt, and putting a pint into the mixing vat, which was repeated if necessary. It may be observed, that six pounds of the common chew-stick, boiled in one gallon of water, to every 500 gallons of mixture, and thrown into the mixing vat, will nearly answer the same purpose. After the liquor is in full fermentation, it is recommended that its temperature be tested with a thermometer, and when it is found not to vary more than two deg. in 24 hours, it should then be run, instead of as at present allowing the liquor to become dead, whereby the alcohol rises to the surface and escapes in vapour, and frequently the liquor becomes sour. It will be found of great benefit to test the temperature very often, because the fermentation working so well, it will deceive many parties by the apparent fermentation, but by testing it very often with the thermometer, and finding it not varying more than two degrees in 24 hours, and still continuing in fermentation, it should be run immediately.

[This text contains a chapter on Arnabaldi's improved saccharometer which doubles as a spirit hydrometer and is calibrated for use in tropical climates. Arnabaldi also dispenses with some of the advice he got from a friend, Old Rum. Nothing is exactly unprecedented here but it does show the use of a starter for the fermentation. Even though Arnabaldi is a famous distiller, he prefers to write about edible birds and fishing.]

(1856) The Agricultural Distiller’s Handbook: The Method of distilling from Beet-root

[White house often mentioned what he had learned from reading a French text on distilling from beet root. Sugar beets were big competition to Caribbean sugar-cane and towards the late 19th century challenged sugar-cane viability. This text details the Leplay system of distilling beet root which is staggeringly brilliant. The beets are sliced and fermented whole in bags, then distilled the same way while getting an economical yield. This keeps all the nutritional value left in the beet in a solid form that is pretty much sterilized. The beet solids drain their liquid and form a block compared to cheese. Farmers would then use the slices through the winter as animal feed. All the byproduct would therefore get the highest value and be in the easiest format to use. That is a hard idea to compete with if you are just making neutral spirits. The pressure was on. Ideas like this were a big catalyst for the rise of high ester rum.]

(1862) International exhibition, 1862, reports of the Juries

[On PDF page 343 all from Jamaica though so many places participated
countless rums
prune dram
chili vinegar
orange liqueur
pine wine
ginger wine
pimento dram
wray & co exhibited an orange liqueur
this is one of those international spirits awards that you see on some labels. The wine & spirits sections starts on PDF page 320 and its particularly interesting. The judges comment on how they made many discoveries of great new stuff and there is a sort of optimism. countless things I've never heard of before.]

(1864) Charles Tovey British & Foreign Spirits: Their History, Manufacture, Properties, Etc.

[This book has an awesome chapter on rum and is often cited by many contemporary writers. I'll pick out some choice ideas]

The word is derived from the Spanish redunder

Dr. Higgins’s plan of suspending a basket-full of lime stone in the Wash tuns to counteract acidity, has not been found successful.

Bolingbroke speaks highly of the quality of the Rum manufactured in the colony of Demerara, where distillation has since been carried to a high state of perfection by the perseverance and skill of several scientific men, who have caused the Rum of this district, and that of Essequibo, to be as much prized in the American market as Jamaica is preferred in the English market. But, we may say, that occasionally fine Demerara Rums reach a better price than Jamaica of average quality, not only in London, but in Liverpool and other provincial markets.

Pine Apple Rum is supposed by the uninitiated to be the produce of the pine apple after undergoing fermentation and distillation. This is a mistake. The impression originated in the practice of some of the planters in olden time, who mixed the juice of the pine apple with Rum to impart to it the characteristics which are conferred by age. The effect of the slight acid and well flavoured saccharine in the fruit would give an agreeable flavour and fragrance to the Spirit, but it would be too costly for the low prices realised by Rum in the present day. [I think the Blackwell rum is pretty much a pineapple rum]

“They talk of a common experiment here (Jamaica), that any animal’s liver put into Rum grows soft, but not so in Brandy, whence they auger the last is less wholesome than the first, but their experiment, if true, proves no such thing. Rum I think, may be said to have all the good and bad qualities of Brandy or any fermented or vinous Spirit.”

Those exposed to the elements, to cold winds and rain, seem to have a natural partiality for Rum;

* Sloane’a Jamaica, Vol. I., p. 30. London, 1707.

The report says, in the department of Jamaica there were 178 Exhibitors, to whom were awarded fifty-two Medals, and Honourably Mentioned fortythree others. The numerous specimens of fine Rum exhibited by Jamaica afford ample proof of the skill and intelligence of the producers of Rum in that island, and render it unnecessary to dwell upon the subject, beyond noticing the specimens exhibited by the Hon. W. Hosack, Mr. G. Arnaboldi, Mr. C. Gadpaille, and the Hon. B. Vickers.

[I'll pick out some names I know from the mentions:]

G. Arnaboldi. Rum. Very fine and good.
P. Espeut.—Rum. Very good, full of character
Gibraltar Estate (Metcalfe).—Rum. Very fine, clear, and full of character.
John Wray and Co.—Rum of ten, fifteen, and twenty-five years old. Very good, soft, and fragrant.

[Arnaboldi is an interesting person to follow and he did invent the Jamaican Saccharometer which is calibrated for tropical room temp. Espeut is mentioned by whitehouse as someone that influenced his processes. Gibraltar I have seen mentioned as a place of employment but I thought it was meant the European place, apparently its an estate. John Wray really crushed it with the only unique mention for an older product, but the math doesn't add up. In his text of 16 years prior he mentions not having stores because they sold it as quick as they made it. But maybe the 1860's mark the beginning of the aged rum era.]

(1882) C.G.W. Lock, G.W. Wigner, & R.H. Harland, Sugar growing and refining

[There is a great chapter on the distillation of rum. They make it seem like all rum is colored, even old rum. They even mention how its a shame when old rum is not colored correctly. Charcoal filtration is described in the beginning of the chapter. A process of neutralizing the fatty acids in new make rum is also described.]

The consumption of rum is steadily declining in England, its place being taken by gin.

[Later in the chapter where it gets more technical there is mention of adding sulphuric acid to beet sugar fermentations which is an idea that eventually trickles into sugar-cane molasses fermentations, but maybe not yet].

“Dunder” is the fermented wash after it has undergone distillation, by which it has been deprived of the alcohol it contained. To be good, it should be light, clear, and slightly bitter ; it should be quite free from acidity, and is always best when fresh.
[Free of acidity here, I'm sure means acetic acid.]


(1894) Bulletin of the Botanical Department, Jamaica Volumes 1-2

“Rum Analysis By Percival H. Greg.

I do not think I am wrong in saying, that the smell of rum, really good rum that is, is one of the most delicious scents that can be imagined. There is in addition something so peculiar and undefinable about it ; it is so different from the smell of any other spirit that the more we smell it, the more we are puzzled to say to what its aroma is really due.”

[This work is particularly interesting and I should probably highlight it someday by itself. He references German books I haven't heard of before like : Ueber Cognak, Rum and Arak by Dr. Eugene Sell. A lot of curiosity is shown and even explanations of what all the figures means in a really accessible way. There is even analysis of early Cuban rums and rums with a price compared to the ester content and more unique data than I've ever seen before. Search through the document for "Percival" because he contributes numerous papers. The last paper, A contribution to the study of the production of the aroma in rum is particularly unique and is probably the first look at fermenting sugarcane with a pure yeast culture for the sake of aroma. Another thing to note is that this is Percival H. Greg, but he doesn't appear in any part of the works of the experiment station while a Percival W. Murray does. All the names add up to a very significant amount of scientist working to advance Jamaican Rum.]

(1902) James Henry Stark, Stark’s Jamaica Guide

[An awesome section begins at chapter XVII Agriculture & Climate and explains what happened in the period where slavery ended up to 1902. Parts of the text make various types of agriculture seem very precarious and explains the repurposing of buildings away from sugar product in the face of beet sugar competition. All the competition discussed in near every reference makes it seem like high ester rum production was critically important to stay relevant.] 

(1908) Jamaica. Dept. of Agriculture Bulletin, Volumes, 5-6

“The Jamaican Rum Company of 442 Keizersgracht, Amsterdam, which was advertising a so-called Jamaica Concentrated Rum and offering to give a Jamaica Government Laboratory Certificate.

A memorandum submitted from the Chemist on the subject stated that the certificate was perfectly authentic and was given to the owner of Hampden Estate to enable him to overcome the baseless and uninformed prejudice of brokers and merchants in London.”

“High Ether Rum—The secretary read letter from the Secretary of the Northside Sugar Planters’ Association asking when the report on the High Ether experiment at Hampden could be expected, and stating that the members of the Association would be glad to accept the offer of the Island Chemist to attend at their next meeting on the 5th January, next at 2 p.m. in the Court house, Falmouth, so as to receive the suggestions he proposed to put forward.”

[there are only a few mentions of rum in this document but it shows the government was invested in high ester rum production.]


Colonial Pissing Contests with the great Agricola, W.F. Whitehouse

Where to begin? I came across the strange collected writings of a ranting, maniacal, 19th century sugar cane plantation owner and I kept reading because he was particularly funny. He kept quoting latin, corresponding around the world, following new ideas in organic chemistry, and penning fanatical letters to the editor. Then he started talking distillation, in 1843, like no one had ever talked it. Nothing to my knowledge exists like this until 60 years later when you see Ordinneau, Nettleton, and works of the Jamaican agricultural experiment station in 1905. The Coffey still didn’t really come out until 1830.

I don’t really know the exact time line of Jamaican rum styles. Did high ester rums exist already in 1843 or did Whitehouse and his culture invent them? I say culture because Whitehouse died in 1846 at the age of 75, but his spirit of inquiry certainly endured. Were high ester rums pressured into existence by the competition of Europoean continuous stills? Agricola mentions everything from plowing technologies to labor organization to biochar®, but makes no mention of full flavored rum, but then he does mention all the things necessary to lead to high ester rum’s development.

I’ve taken the original document and edited out everything but what was relevant to distillation and explaining what I guess could be called the incident. Its 26 pages but don’t worry there isn’t much science until the very end. Much of the text is about the interloping huckster, O’Keefe, coming to town. Then the pissing contest where they basically have a distill off that ends up being pretty humorous. The meditation on technique the contest inspires, leaves us with a very short easy to understand treatise on rum making that allows us to get into the mind of a probably precocious 19th century savant. If you read my other post, Muck Hole Not Dunder Pit, where I look at a text from 1905 (almost 70 years later!), you will see all the pieces coming together to create the legendary high ester style of Jamaican rum.

Maybe we should start not with Agricola but with a short dedication by Leonard Wray Esq. from his Practical Sugar Planter (1848).

The perfect realization of your Lordship’s anticipations is satisfactorily evidenced in the excellent treatise written by (the late) Mr. Whitehouse on that occasion ; for that lamented planter was so sensitive to the injustice that was done him, in the subsequent award of the prize, for which he had competed, that, in an able review of the successful treatise, as well as the others, he exposed their various faults, and demonstrated the correctness of his own views. A discussion of this nature naturally excited the attention of the planters to the points in dispute, and induced an inquiry into several improvements suggested. Thus a spirit was implanted—a curiosity engendered, which cannot fail to develop itself to the benefit of “the planting interest”.


PART 2nd.
October 20th, 1841.

Not seeing any notice of the letter of Etonian in your paper, I beg to call your attention to it; if you can find room, I would advise you to publish it for the benefit of your planting friends. I assure you it has made quite a sensation among us, generally, not easily excited planters. I was asked by so many what I thought of the letter, that I was obliged, a couple of days ago, to borrow a paper to see it. [Etonian, an Eton college alumni, here is the nick name Agricola is giving to the English interloper]

At first I was inclined to think that the gentleman had either deceived himself, or had been so by somebody else ; in fact, I did not think it was possible to get the return he stated. I have since carefully studied the subject, and find it quite practicable, so cannot doubt his having done so.

Etonian deserves the greatest credit for having shown us what we can do by good management and skill in the still house ; he, however, recommends us to carry the matter too far, which it would be, if we were to convert the cane juice into rum. I should strongly recommend planters not by any means to do so, but to confine their exertions to the legitimate object of making the largest returns possible from the means they at present possess. If estates generally were to convert a part of their sugar crop into rum, the price would fall so low as not to remunerate. In Demerara, where distillation is carried on much more successfully than here, the price of rum is so low, owing to the large crops, that it often pays them better to sell the molasses in the raw state. One estate, there, last year, made 500 puns, from 560 hhds., but a part of the cane juice was turned into rum. Let planters therefore confine themselves to making the largest returns they can from the molasses and skimmings they are at present in the habit of using. Any increase then must be clear profit.

[a Teache is a boiler used for evaporating cane juice]
Etonian is not altogether right in his description of boiling sugar,—the work is not left to the negroes, but the overseer directs the quantity of temper to be given in the clarifier, generally two-thirds of what he supposes requisite ; when the liquor comes to the second or first teache, the remainder of the temper is given; the quantity is known both by the colour of the froth in the second teache, and also from the way the liquor cuts, (as the negroes call it) in the teache, when it boils down the first time.— The head boiler is then directed to boil high or boil low, according to the overseer’s judgment. After the skip cools, if the overseer is satisfied with the appearance and grain of the sugar, he directs the head boiler to continue the same quantity of temper, and to boil the same way. In practice there cannot be much improvement made here, that is, supposing the people strain and clean the liquor as they ought, the overseer and boilers making the most of the means they possess; but there is great room for improvement in the furnace and hanging of the coppers, which ought to do the work in less than half the time they do at present. The sugar would be improved accordingly. I only want to show that overseers are not, in the boiling department, to blame for not getting as large a proportion, and as good a quality of sugar, as a chemist would expect from the richness of the liquor.

According to Dutrone’s Table, the liquor operated upon by Etonian, of 1.077 specific gravity, contains 19 per cent of sugar, and therefore 2000 gallons, which he estimates, (and which is commonly calculated,) equal to 13 cwt. of sugar, should yield, at the rate of 19 lbs. in the 100 lbs., (or 10 gallons), 3.800 lbs. of sugar. Suppose in the common process you obtain 2000 lbs., the remainder would be sweets equivalent to 1800 lbs.sugar. By the rule that a pound of sugar is resolved during fermentation into half a pound of carbonic acid gas, and half a pound of pure alcohol, which half pound of pure alcohol is equal to a pound of proof spirit, 1800,lbs. sweets should, if the process of fermentation and distillation be perfect, yield.1800 lbs. of proof spirit, or, at 10 lbs. to a gallon, 180 gallons; instead of which, if we get 80 or 90 gallons’, we are satisfied. It will thus be seen we have not approached more than half way to perfection.
[At this point in time different hydrometers were just coming out but they also knew of specific gravity using scales. I did re-invent this wheel myself when I learned to measure specific gravity with a kitchen scale and started authoring highly static recipes that specified densities. They apparently also knew of molar masses and stuff like that so they knew of theoretical yields for stuff even if they weren't close to achieving them.]

I conceive there would be no saving in labour or fuel by converting cane-juice into rum. The value of the fuel and labour for boiling 400 gallons into sugar is just the labour and fuel necessary for our skip, (400 gallons usually making that quantity,) which takes about 1½ or two hours to boil, according to the working of the coppers. The: labour, fermenting, and distilling would be at least half-a-day, and the fuel sufficient for three or four hour’s fire, in which time as much would be consumed in the slow fire of the still as in the quick fire of the boiling house. [I think this very last comment eludes to them knowing to distill with a slow fire]

If it takes 3,000 instead of 2,000 gallons to make a hogshead of sugar, it is because the juice is not so sweet; it would therefore prove less by the saccharometer, and if converted into rum would not make more than the 2,000 gallons of sweeter liquor.
[Allan's saccharometer was patented in 1840]


Note.—Where rum-canes are ground for the purpose of accumulating trash, the still must be run with wood; but, if the process were carried on on a large scale, the trash would have to be used for fuel under the still.

Nov. 15th, 1842.

I was much pleased, on the perusal of the proceedings of the St. Andrew’s Agricultural Society, at the project of forming a Central Board of Agriculture. A similar idea had occurred to myself, that we should have a Central Agricultural and Scientific Society at Kingston, which should be in communication with all the branch societies, and which should publish annually a volume of transactions of every matter connected with and inducing to the improvement of agriculture, mechanics, &c. ; also statistical accounts of the agriculture and geology of the island: in fact everything that can conduce to the welfare and prosperity of the Island.
[This means that we could probably see complete records of the development of high ester Jamaican rums somewhere though the Experiment Station in 1905 doesn't seem to reference anything, but I guess I need to check again.]

The Highland Society, and the Royal Agricultural Society of Great Britain, are conducted on some such plan ; the branch societies all communicating matters of interest to the parent society to be published annually. Then being elected a member, should be an honorary distinction, the same as members of the Royal Society. I do not know the constitution or objects of the present Jamaica Society, but as I believe that most of the leading people in Kingston are members of it, it might at once be converted into such an institution with great advantage to the country. The transactions would become a volume of great interest to the community. A model farm at the expense of the country, where the nature of manures, systems of cultivation—implements of husbandry, and improved methods of manufacture might be tried, would be very advantageous, if conducted under the auspices of the Society, but I fear the state of the finances will not allow it; much good may however be effected without it. The Society might recommend those deserving of remuneration to the attention of the Legislature, and bestow honorary medals and distinctions.

I have also viewed with much satisfaction, the attempts in various parishes made by the overseers for the benefit of absent proprietors, and for their own honor, by proposing handsome prizes for increasing the crops, etc, Absent proprietors, if they know their own interests, will support them cheerfully in such endeavors, the welfare of their properties depending much more upon the exertions of the overseers, than of the attorneys ; for, however good the arrangements of the attorney may be, unless the overseer back his efforts with hearty good will, those, efforts, will not be crowned with success. Overseers are the mainstay of the island, and let them thus refute by their acts the calumnies that have been heaped upon them. They are the majority in all the societies, let them support their own interests, which they cannot do more effectually than by supporting the interest of the proprietors.

I see many prizes proposed for the benefit of the proprietor, but from the thing being quite new to us all, many of these proposals will not effect the object aimed at as well as could be wished. Let me suggest the following prizes, which I think will meet their views.

To the Overseer of the Best Managed Estate, a gold medal, or a silver cup, with a suitable inscription. To the second competitor, a silver medal, suitably inscribed.

That every estate, whether level or hilly, rich or poor, large or small, may be able to compete for it on equal terms, it is necessary to draw up rules that will suit all.

These are what I propose—

The criterion in awarding the prize to be the combination of excellence in the greatest number of the following points of good management.

1. Large amount of Sugar made in proportion to the extent of this cane-field, and the usual yielding of the estate.

2. Large amount of Rum made in proportion to the quantity of sweets employed and the strength of the spirit.

3. Small amount of wages expended for carrying on all the work of the estate, in proportion to the extent of the crop of sugar and rum.

4. General good management of the cane-field; a simple and easy method of manuring a small extent of plants in proportion to rattoons, and the least expensive’system of cleaning the canes. [Here contests emerge for advancing the state of agriculture. Its a really beautiful open idea of a high tide lifts all boats that you'll also see on this blog. The ratoons are the new shoots of sugar cane after the crop is harvested. The root system is left intact and everything is cut with an attempt to produce a new crop as fast as possible. This letter goes on a little more but I lost it and there is a prize for improving the quality of rum which I think implies sensory quality]


For other prizes I should propose, are

To the Overseer who made the largest sugar crop from the smallest cane-field.

To the Overseer who made the cheapest sugar crop.

To the bookkeeper who made the largest rum crop, in proportion to the sweets used and the strength of spirit.

To the Overseer who introduced the best method of cultivating canes by agricultural implements, or who introduced new implements saving the greatest amount of manual labour in the field.

To the Overseer who introduced machinery at the mill or manufactory, saving, the greatest amount of manual labour.

For improving the quality of sugar.

For improving the quality of rum.

In each of the above cases, a silver medal with a suitable inscription. Regulations must be formed for the judges to decide by.

Let Overseers propose such prizes and though some attorneys may throw cold water upon their undertaking, let them carry them into effect, and they will meet with the ready support of the proprietors and of those attorneys who have the real interests of the estates at heart. [I suspect if Agricola's advice was ever taken there would be records of it somewhere.]

December 26, 1842.

Sir,—Allow me to answer “Perfer et Obdura’s” mild and temperate letter in defence of the system of distillation introduced into practice by Mr. O’Keefe- I trust my answer may be characterised by the same good qualities which are the spirit in which, these, matters ought to be discussed. [Perfer et Obdura, from Ovid: be patient and tough and here it is used as a nickname]

My opponent is surprised that the alterations, he calls them improvements, proposed by Mr. O’Keefe, have not been sufficiently and fairly appreciated. I reply, that the plan has been tried by myself and many others in this district, with every wish and intention of carrying his objects fully into effect, more particularly by a friend of mine, an Irishman, who for the honor of his countryman was peculiarly anxious that success should attend the attempt. The plan was as fairly tried as it could possibly be, and has been given up by every body among my acquaintance, as a total failure. I had no great opinion of it at the outset : but I notwithstanding, gave it a fair trial, following his printed instructions, which must be supposed to contain the exact plan he wished pursued ; by those instructions the plan was fully and fairly tried, and failed as I before mentioned, in every instance within my knowledge. I think, therefore, that we cannot be blamed for not having duly appreciated his plan; but on the contrary, I think we are to be praised for having so long withstood publicly expressing our dissent from the practice, and for affording Mr. O’Keefe an opportunity of trying the experiment for a length of time under his immediate superintendence, without any prejudice being shown against him. His plan has been generally abandoned for months in this quarter.

Am I then averse to giving him every encouragement in his undertaking? Quite the contrary, I think he should meet with every facility. Every intelligent man who devotes his attention to, tho improvement of our staple products should meet with due encouragement. I am of opinion that Mr, O’Keefe will in time find out correct methods for increasing the return of rum; he may even now have done so, for I do not pretend to know what system he may at present adopt ; the probability is, that during the time he has been conducting the process under his own superintendence, he may have materially altered his plan of proceeding and improved accordingly, I can only speak of the plan he published about a year ago. [where can we find the plan!?] I understand he has published in last week’s Journal, testimonials as to the advantages of his system, but I have not seen them. If these testimonials prove that he is a successful distiller, they merely prove, that he is able to conduct the process himself, but unable to instruct others how to do so.
[So we need to look through the November/December 1842 issues of the Jamaican Standard]

My opponent states, that Mr. O’Keefe merely adopts the best systems practised in Great Britain and on the Continent, and that condemning those practices, we condemn the best practical distillers in the World. Now, the practices adopted in Great Britain are not by any means good; unfortunately the law steps in, and says to Mr. Distiller, “for the convenience of collecting the revenue, you must do as I order you, and not follow the dictates of your own knowledge and skill, however beneficial they might prove;” to look to Great Britain, therefore, for the best examples, is like asking a man with his hands tied behind him, to help you out of difficulty. To France you must turn for the best examples of theory and practice combined, for there the parties are unrestricted. These results you may find in Dunbrunfaut,—a work which contains all the best methods practised, and which are far superior to the English. [S. H. Hastie (1,2,3) complained of excise restrictions and it really hampered his work and that was more than sixty years later. I have not read Dunbrunfaut (1830) yet but it details the column still so Whitehouse was certainly aware of a lot]

O’Keefe it seems identifies himself with the best systems practised in Great Britain and on the Continent, and therefore condemning O’Keefe is condemning the whole host of practical distillers in the old World. It may be considered presumptuous in me to enter the lists against such antagonists; but yet I venture to affirm that the best of them would find their plans not suited to our circumstances, and would be obliged materially to modify them. I have carefully studied Dubrunfaut, and have tried the plans recommended according to the best of my abilities. At the very time that O’Keefe brought forward his first letter in the papers, I was trying them, and apparently with great success. I have, however, since found out my errors, and, as I believe, the causes of the failure.— Upon the same rock that I split, I contend that O’Keefe (according to his printed instructions) has also split, and will continue to do so until he changes the system. This failure has not discouraged me from prosecuting the enquiry, and I presume it will not deter him. I have for years pursued the study, with the determination to bring it to a successful termination: not by the rule of thumb, but by studying the theory and practice in all their branches.

I have latterly conducted a series of experiments for a considerable time, founded on the plan I considered best suited to us, with great attention to all the circumstances, and accurately registered by instruments, and I must say with very great success I shall refrain at present from saying more on the subject, until I have confirmed my opinions by further trials. Those who have endeavoured to establish the system on scientific principles will be able to appreciate, my motive; for taking longer to prove the truth of my theory; there are such a number of circumstances to be taken into consideration that it takes a long series of trials to place the theory on a sure foundation: and I consider that until the theory is known, the publication of a system, successful in one place might only mislead other parties for want of the knowledge necessary to alter the plan according to circumstances. [scientific rigor in 1843!]

I perceive from what “Perfer et Obdura” states about dunder that he does not understand the reason why the use of it is beneficial; I have never yet met with any work or any person who has been able to give me a rational explanation of the nature and use of it; I do not know that I have as yet been able myself to get over this “pons asinorum”; I have, however, formed an opinion on it, and which opinion seems borne out by facts, but I must give it a longer trial before publishing it. [pons asinorum : literally, asses' bridge. a critical test of ability or understanding, synonum stumbling block]

In conclusion, I beg to state, that I may not be misunderstood, that no part of what I have written relates to the fermentation of Raw Liquor or cane juice, which is seldom practised, but to the every day management of the still house. I have never had occasion to try fermenting cane juice by O’Keefe’s plan. [Where is this O'Keefe plan!?]

As my opponent states that others are prepared with unquestionable proofs as to the advantages derived from O’Keefe’s plan, in opposition to any parties who may disapprove of his system, I hope that, for the satisfaction of all parties, he will produce them. “Audi alteram partem” ; they will meet with due attention from all planters, and amongst others, -AGRICOLA. [Audi alteram partem : hear the other side too]

P. S.—I see there is another candidate in the field; “in the multitude of counsellors there is wisdom” ; amongst so many Doctors distillation ought soon to become perfect.

February 28, 1843.
[The letter starts to clarify the argument with O'Keefe but we don't need it all so I'm truncating it]

Sir,—I have read with great pleasure Vallance’s proposal for Sugar Boiling, with your Editorials thereon, as also Churchill’s Essay on the same subject ; the latter is very good, indeed I consider it by far the best article that has yet appeared.

I am not a chemist, and therefore in treating of the subject, I labour under a great disadvantage; yet, notwithstanding, I hope to be able to add something to the general fund of information that may prove useful in bringing our labours to a successful result.

Mr. Vallance proposes to “halve the cost and double the amount of produce,” in the manufacture; that looks well upon paper certainly, especially when you combine with it, that Mr.O’Keefe proposes to double the rum crops, of course also at half the expense; whilst I, as my more peculiar province, promise to halve the cost of cultivating the land, and double the produce per acre.— At this rate we shall soon make sugar estates a profitable speculation. I shall not confine my exertions, however, to the Agricultural department, but shall continue to keep the two other branches; as I have long done, under view with the hopes of improving them. I am now ready to back the old process of fermentation and distillation by the rule of thumb, against the fashionable patent (as it is called) process, and expensive instruments. O’Keefe has not yet equaled, with all the facilities offered him, and with all his exertions and experience, what I accomplished 8 or 10 years ago, as a book-keeper without any assistance or advice. Many other book keepers have also much excelled by the old method his new process. The misfortune was, that they did not know the reason why they succeeded, and therefore could not, under other circumstances, succeed as well. I have, however, I hope, now found out the reasons of the success and failure by the whole process ; and I hereby challenge Mr. O’Keefe to a fair trial of the two methods. If I succeed, shall publish my plan for the benefit of the Island, and show how success may be insured under the different arrangements of the still houses. The arriving at the truth, has been a tedious and troublesome investigation, but I feel quite confident of success. I before time stated that O’Keel’e’s first process (the patent) was wrong in principles; I believe he does not now act at all on that plan; we shall see, if he accepts the challenge, how far he has improved himself by his upwards of twelve months study of the subject with constant and extensive practice. It may be very pleasant to know the use of the instruments, but they are of no real benefit without a perfect knowledge of the art of distillation; they show you that you are not getting the returns you ought to get, and which you know without them; but they do not show where you are wrong or how to rectify the matter. There is only one point in which I believe Mr. O’Keefe and I agree, that is, that every estate should make two puncheons for three hogsheads, without manufacturing any cane-juice into rum; if by furnishing the estates with instruments, and the overseers with the requisite instructions, he has enabled them to make two-thirds of rum, then I shall be satisfied to allow my plan to remain in obscurity. I have made two-thirds in practice, but I have not yet heard that he has succeeded; but, perhaps, some of my St. Thomas in the East friends may inform me on this point of the greatest success that has crowned his efforts in their district. How is it that O’Keefe‘s champion, “Perfer et Obdura,” never took the trouble to answer my former challenge, and to prove the success of what I termed a failure? He put himself forward as the champion, and said if people contradicted O’Keefe’s success, he would prove to the contrary. I flatly contradicted his assertions, and he has never yet produced his proof. This is rather singular in a case of such easy proof! In St. Thos. in the East, on one occasion, I made 83½ puncheons to 134 hogs heads; on another, 31 puncheons to 44 hogsheads; and latterly here, 18 puncheons to 26 hogsheads ; and each time without any cane juice.
[Cane juice in the ferment instead of only molasses I think is the main point of argument. I think eventually it was widely used because it was mentioned by Peter Valaer's survey of rums in 1937]

March 15, 1843,

I am happy to inform you, that Mr. O’Keefe, has taken up my challenge. The trial is to be, who can make the largest proportion of rum to the sugar made in three months on two large estates; He having the superintendance of, or managing personally, one still house, and I having the superintendance of the other; he is to use some kind of ferment and the instruments, and I am to follow the old plan without yeast or instruments.
[Okay now that we see that O'Keefe has some special instruments and now pitched yeast instead of wild yeast fermentations?]

Mr. Churchill is partly right about the skimmings, although I think he underrates the extraneous matters. When the skimmings are clarified before being used in the still-house, fully two thirds of the quantity is clear cane-juice, and might be boiled into sugar.


April 18, 1843.

What are you gentlemen about, conductors of the press, that mighty engine of weal or woe! guardians of the public interests! Are you slumbering at your posts, so that you know not what is going on in the country? Are you so apathetic that you care not for the interests of the public? Are you under the influence of the mesmeric power, that you cannot act? Or, are you silent from baser motives, that you protect us not, and maintain an imperturbable silence on matters affecting our interests? Ignorance you cannot plead—situated at the centre of attraction, at the very market place of the island, where every body and everything are known—and yet you communicate not the information you obtain.

Eighteen months ago, or thereabouts, a gentleman appeared before the public, proposing to effect improvements on one of the three staple productions of the island, and yet who, from reading your columns, would know whether the scheme had been attended with benefit or injury? Will you allow one-third of the produce of the island to be doubled, or be halved, to be made a foot ball of, and never raise your voices either in commendation or disapprobation of the scheme, and never inform others of the result, to be a warning or an inducement? Shame gentlemen! Planters’ Despatch, send despatches to the Planters, and chronicle the information you possess for their benefit! Journal, Watchman now no longer, watch our interests, and sleep not at your post! Standard does rumour with her thousand tongues never reach thy ears? unfurl the flag of protection, weigh, deliberate, and measure out interests with Standard measure, then fearlessly Gazette the results! let it not be said thou art deficient in moral courage, in energy, or in ability.

The gentleman I have alluded to, (that nothing I say may be considered as alluding to him in his private capacity, but only in his official capacity,) I will call Doctor O.; he will readily be recognised as the party who was to increase enormously the Rum crop. Eighteen months have now elapsed, and it cannot, therefore, be said, that the consideration of his process is prejudging it.

It is a singular parallel in history, that the two great countries of Great Britain and Jamaica should each about the same time stand in need of a physician, and that fortunately in each the Doctor should arise during the crisis to raise the two countries out of their difficulties. Doctor Sir Robert cries out in Great Britain, John Bull is sick and needs a State physician, and I am the man to cure him; call me in and I will prescribe, only my fee first, if you please. Doctor O., a worthy imitator of Doctor R.; re-echoes the cry,—I am the Estate’s physician, call me in and I will fill the proprietors’ pockets with money, only a fee first, if you please. Doctor Peel recommended bleeding, copious bleeding, even to the extent of an Income tax, some say wisely, others not so; Doctor O. also, thinks there is nothing like bleeding, and his first prescription is in every case bleeding. Now, it seems that the patients in both cases, in their distress, and in their joy at the prospect of escape, forgot to make the bargain of “no cure no pay,”and therefore after paying their fee and bleeding freely, find themselves worse than before. It is to prevent such thoughtlessness for the future, that induced the writer to pen these remarks.

Doctor O. having been now so long in practice, having according to his own account had about three hundred Sugar estates under his charge, with fees varying from £20 to .£60, and therefore made a comfortable purse of £10,000; we may surely be allowed, without having improper motives attributed, to see if the country has benefited to a similar amount. As far as I can learn, I say no, decidedly not; it is for you, gentlemen of the press, to ascertain how the truth lies. Some six months ago, the Standard hinted that the success of the plan was doubtful; can you say, gentlemen, that since then you have never received positive information of the result? I have not met with one individual, who, after any length of trial, did not consider it a failure.

In Clarendon, the process of distillation introduced by Doctor O, is, rumour says, totally given up; is this a proof of success?— In Saint Andrew’s, I have not heard the result, but you ought to know. In Saint Thomas in the East, I am.assured by several parties of the highest respectability, that there is not one estate following the plan, but that the’whole of the estates that tried it fell off largely in the returns. It must be remembered that Doctor O. made St. Thomas in the East his residence for months, that he had the finest estates under his charge with unlimited means, and yet the result is as I have stated. To enter more into particulars, one estate, Winchester, I have it from the best authority, paid the Doctor to give up his bargain. Another, Holland, after losing a large quantity of rum, refused to pay him the balance due for his services. At Amity Hall and Hordley, one or both, he did nothing for his money, as he found he was looked after more than was agreeable. To these I may add, Plantain Garden River, Harbour Head, & Retreat Estates, as estates where I knew the process to have been unsuccessful. One gentleman informed me that the returns from the liquor set by the Doctor, after continuing the process for some time, fell off to nothing, as he said (and very properly) that he used sour leaven to excite fermentation, and that the sourness produced sourness until every thing became so sour that maggots were generated in the liquor, and that the people actually would not drink the rum. A party also wrote out from home that the rum was nearly unsaleable. The consequence of all these results was that, one and all, they scrubbed and scoured, and washed, till they got every thing sweet again, and then resumed their old system.
[Don't forget, all this is pretty much pre-Pasteur so any change to any process comes with great risk of bringing along unfavorable bacteria. O'Keefe apparently tries to pitch yeast that aren't sound and instead contaminates the ferment with acetobacter]

Such being the case, I remarked that they were very negligent in their duty to their neighbours, by allowing us to be placed in a similar predicament; they said they were so ashamed that nobody liked to come forward; and some even seemed to enjoy the thoughts that they were likely to have partners in their afflictions,—thus verifying the old fable of the fox that lost his tail in a way not very honorable or gratifying to his vanity, and who endeavoured to induce others to adopt his new fashion, which he ventured to suggest was a great improvement. [was everybody in the 19th century this amusing or did this guy stick out like a sore thumb?]

But the Doctor does not confine his assistance to the use of his patent process of fermentation; he also undertakes to instruct in the use of the Instruments—now it will readily suggest itself to the mind of an intelligent reader that the Doctor having failed to instruct himself in the use of the instruments so as to apply them beneficially, is really not a competent person to instruct others in the use of them. For my part, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, I consider them perfectly useless, and as soon as the novelty wears off, they will all be laid aside. They have been of use to me in elucidating the science of distillation, but for practical purposes, I shall never use them.

Such being the state of affairs, how is it that the Press maintains an obstinate silence? We, planters, can only attribute it to your not caring for our interests.

I know I shall be found fault with for this publication. Several mutual friends of the Doctor and of me, have already argued with me, if argument it can be called, that I was likely to injure him without benefiting myself; my answer is, if the improvement is no improvement, much more so if it is an, injury, why should all this money change hands; if it is benefiting one party, it is injuring another party to an equivalent amount. It is very disagreeable for any individual to have to find fault publicly with another, but it is a duty due to the public to do so, in a matter of much importance as this; but in a country like this, where the constitution of society is such that all parties are known to each other, these matters ought to be discussed by a disinterested party, the Press.

It is more necessary to notice this matter, as whilst the first scene is enacting, a second scene is in course of preparation, namely the improving the process of sugar boiling. Everybody knows that blood is largely used in refining sugar at home, what, then, such a likely remedy as bleeding, copious bleeding again! Planters, whilst giving every facility in your power, take advice, and let your motto be, “no cure no pay,” and give no certificates of success until after having given the matter a fair and a long trial, bind yourselves to no payment till the benefit is really ascertained.


July 13, 1843.

Sir,—Excuse my addressing you under the above title, as I did not know what other to give you at present. Misfortunes we are all liable to ; you have now got your share; I trust, however, they will not be of long duration,

On behalf of a large portion of the Agricultural interests, I beg to assure you of the admiration in which you are held, for the zeal and talent you have displayed in supporting our interests on all occasions. This feeling will, I am persuaded, induce many besides myself to give you their willing support, whenever the new paper may appear, which I hope will be shortly.

As you have taken a warm interest in the O’Keefe affair, I need scarcely remind you that about four months ago, upon. O’Keefe coming into my district, I challenged him to a trial of skill, at the, same time warning the planters that his improvements had turned out to be a failure, and that at any rate, if determined to try his skill, to take the prudent precaution of not paying him any money in advance. This as might be expected, put him in a thundering rage, he and his satellites abused me in terms not very polite; however, there was no way of escaping the challenge, without palpably convicting himself of imposition.

With a very bad grace indeed he accepted my terms, which were, that I should pursue the old system of distillation for three months on one estate, and that he should put in force his patent system for three months on another estate, the attorney informing us that the average proportion of rum to sugar on the two estates was usually similar, and kindly promising that we should each have fair play.

I have now the gratification of informing you that the result is in favour of the old system.—Mr. O’Keefe, although with constant and most extensive practice for two years, cannot make even a tolerable rum crop, much less instruct other people how to increase theirs.

The public would be surprised at his sly departure from the Island ; the above information will furnish them with a satisfactory reason for the proceeding.

He acknowledged, when accepting the challenge, that if he lost, his hopes would be ruined and it was the consciousness that he would lose, that made him so bitter against me, although I think nothing could be more reasonable than to ask him to give a public demonstration, as he was pocketing such large sums of money, that he really could increase the returns. Accordingly as soon as he finds that the game is up, and that he has no further chance, off he goes without either giving me a parting salute, or bidding those kind friends good-bye, whose cash he has so coolly transferred to his own pocket. Very unkind treatment, very.

I must congratulate those gentlemen living in the leeward parishes who have not yet been honoured with the Doctor’s presence, upon being £50 a piece richer than if he had visited them I assure them Dr. 0. is the most brazen-faced man possible, and possessed of such a mesmeric power that he, in nine cases out of ten, forces the attorney or proprietor to handout £50, and the; Overseer to give him a certificate of success, before he does a thing.

What a last long melancholy look he must have cast to the Westward, when leaving the harbour; perhaps he consoled himself with the idea that the grapes were sour! With very different eyes would he view the estates along the windward coast, as he steamed along.

I would scarcely indulge in these remarks, although I have some right to exult in my success after the shameful way in which he abused me; I say, I would scarcely indulge in these remarks, as I really do not bear him the smallest ill-will, if it were not for the chance that he may be wending his way to some of our fellow colonists to give them a benefit, and if so, the sooner this letter wends its way to the same quarter, the better.

In giving the challenge, it was my intention, if successful, to publish my ideas on distillation; for, mark me, I did not say that I had found out any new system; all that I said was, that everybody knew that very large returns were got by the old plan, but that for some cause or other people could not make sure of obtaining them, and that I thought I had found out the cause why. I propose now to give the result of my experience for the benefit of the public, and let them judge for themselves; if beneficial, they have nothing to pay, and if it should be the means of enabling parties, whose crops have been O’Keefized to make up the losses sustained, then will my victory be complete, and I shall be satisfied.

I shall give my instructions without the use of the instruments; these, before 12 months, will all be laid aside ; people may amuse themselves for a time with them, but they will find that they do not get one wine glass full of rum more than they would have done if they had not used them. [what are these fucking instruments?]

I beg to return my sincere thanks to those parties who voluntarily came forward to support my humble efforts in the public cause, and to encourage me with their approbation, at a time when my opponent was straining every nerve to crush me under his powerful influence.

The still-house under my superintendance, made one and-a-half puncheons over the half during the three months’ trial, although I had to alter several of the arrangements of the still-house at first and which it took, from unavoidable causes, nearly a month to complete; although the alterations themselves did not come to the value of £5. There were also some other causes that operated against me, but which it is unnecessary to specify. All the canes cut during the period too, were rattoons, which reduces the quantity of molasses.
[I think Agricola is claiming he won even though he handicapped himself by cutting rattoons instead of gaining cane but sacrificing future growth.]

The still-house, under the charge of Mr. O’Keeffe has made • • – • •
[The • • - • • is spaced out across the page and taking up a few lines to be the first ever recorded ascii joke. I thought it was funny...]

Having waited until the departure of the Post in the hopes of being able to forward an official return, I must apologise for leaving the last paragraph blank, but hope to be able next post to supply the deficiency.


Postscript, July 19, 1843.

In my last, I was obliged to leave you in suspense, as to the result of O’Keeffe’s process of distillation.

In answer to my repeated applications for information, I have now the pleasure of informing you that the gentleman in charge of the property has determined that “it would be unfair to give me any information concerning Mr. O’Keeffe’s success (qy. failure) in the still-house in his absence, but, that as soon as he returns, every information will be given.” This is tantamount to saying that it is so exceedingly bad, that they are ashamed to confess it; and therefore it is needless for me to say anything further on the subject. When Mr. O’Keeffe comes back, he will, no doubt, of his own accord, publicly acknowledge his failure.



Sir—Strange as it may appear, the great thing in Distillation is the arrangement of the vessels. Under certain arrangements a good crop is almost sure, and under others a bad crop is almost as certain, even after all the exertion that can be used on the part of the bookkeeper ; and this arises from the difficulty of tracing the effect to the cause, as in Distillation there are so many things to be considered, that ten to one, the effect is attributed to the wrong cause.

It is well known that a bookkeeper may make a capital crop on one estate and yet upon removal to another, do what he can, and follow out the same system as much as he is able, he cannot insure the same result. How is this? Some difference occurs in the arrangement, and he thinking, with most people, that every thing depends on the setting of the liquor, is deceived in his expectations. [here when he says liquor he refers to the ferment]

The first essential is to have a mixing cistern capable of holding a vat-and-half of liquor. The mixing cistern is the substitute we employ for yeast ; it acts in the same way.—When a vat of liquor is pumped up, half a vat remaining in a state of strong fermentation impregnates immediately the fresh mixture placed in it, thus insuring a rapid fermentation : this is essential to a good return ; as by a slow process the acetous fermentation goes on simultaneously with the vinous one. [this is about the best they could have done for a starter pre-Pasteur. with this method, most of the time, alcoholic fermentation could out compete acetobacter. At this time the relationship of pH to microbial growth wasn't completely known, that came later in the early 20th century]

The arrangement of the skimming cistern should be such that the skimmings can be drawn down perfectly clarified every morning, and the cistern be washed out before work recommences in the boiling house; there should be no pump employed for the skimmings as it will always be sour. There should be a dunder cooler, as the dunder employed should always be cold and clarified. [a pump would be too risky on this unfermented material because it could eventually harbor bacteria and fowl the ferment]

The distilling apparatus cannot be altered, but sometimes the method of employing it may be beneficially varied. I consider the still and two retorts the best adapted to our use, and the arrangement generally insures a good return. When only one retort is employed, a very wide difference in the returns may be effected by a very trifling difference in the practice of using it: it is one which would not occur to most people, and was, I must confess, a most complete difficulty to myself for years; and as it will exemplify my argument, I will briefly relate what occurred to myself. [What is being described here is this and it was developed for industrial use in 1801 by Edward Adams, then improved by both Solimani and Berard.]

The Estates I lived on as a Bookkeeper, and where I made good crops, had two retorts, consequently the liquor was put in the still, the weak low-wines into the first retort, and the strong wines into the second retort, and the returns were good. When an Overseer at a different Estate, the rum crop not being good, I took special charge of the still house, and of course expected by following the same plans as when a bookkeeper to obtain the same returns ; I thought at that time, that all depended on the setting of the liquor, and that if the liquor was good, it was no matter by what apparatus distilled, the returns ought to be good also. But no such thing—I could not get good returns: the only difference in the circumstances was that instead of having two, I had only one retort. I argued, however, that that could make no difference; that the liquor to be distilled, whether as liquor or weak low wines or strong wines, was essentially rum and water, and therefore it was no matter how it was distilled. This seems a rational enough argument, and I dare say has occurred to many besides me; it is, however, wrong. Well, I could not get good returns; in fact the more I tried the worse they seemed to get. I argued the point with many of my acquaintances to ascertain the cause of it: two experienced old planters told me, that instead of putting the weak low-wines every day into the still along with the liquor, (for want of having a weak low wine retort,) I ought to keep them till the end of the week, and run a low-wine still. It appeared a very absurd remedy, but it turned out to be correct. I argued with them that whether the spirit and water were distilled in five days, or whether part was kept back and distilled by itself on the sixth day, could make no real difference in the product. They still insisted that it did make such a difference ; they said they could not explain the reason why; but that they had found from experience that such was the case, and in support of their opinions they said that every estate that mixed the low-wines day by day with the liquor did not make a rum crop equal to the half of the sugar crop, and that, on the other hand, every estate that kept the weak low-wines till the end of the week and distilled them separately, made more than the half of rum ; in fact, that all the rum obtained from the low-wine still was a clear increase. I said I could not conceive how such could be the case; but that the facts they stated were very strong and required investigation. [Wow that is a lot. first its pretty amazing that they did so much experimenting and we can see how it all went down in some of the earliest documented days of distillation. What is important to know here is that the low-wines is the product of the first distillation and they are talking about recycling it. Agricola might also be eluding to the size of the hearts fraction. If he distills the low-wines all together where there averaged alcohol content is higher than the averaged alcohol content of the liquor and one portion of low-wines he will get a larger heads fraction. When distilling at a higher proof the congeners are compressed further to the edges of the heads and tales allow you to take a bigger heart fraction. This is explained in one of the Roseworth papers but in a different context. Here the motive is alcohol yield but in other more aroma-centric contexts things change around a little bit.]

I argued the point with many planters, and I considered the subject maturely, but without arriving at the truth; at last I fell in with an intelligent planter (Mr. Espeut) who suggested to me, and for which I think he deserves great credit, the manner in which it occurred, and which immediately carried conviction to my mind. He said he conceived it was because the weak low wines always became slightly acid, and that by putting them into the still with, the liquor, although it could not prejudice the present return, it acted injuriously on the future fermentation by the addition of acid matter to dunder. [Acid here refers to vinegar. here he is talking about mixing low-wines back into the undistilled liquor and because they don't average above 15.5% alc. which is the acetification point, they risk losing ethanol to acetification]

Now with two retorts the possibility of this injury arising is prevented simply by the different arrangement, and it fully explains how necessary it is to ensure success, that where only one retort is employed the bookkeeper should keep the weak low wines separate from the liquor.

While on this subject it will be well to mention, that the practice adopted by many bookkeepers, of throwing the last two or three cans of low wines, got from the still into the vat of liquor to be run: the next day, instead of into the low wine cask, is equally injurious ; there is always more or less acid in the weak low wines, and the addition of it to the liquor will increase the acidity of the dunder, and re-act on future rounds. [here is where I'm struggling to follow. I suspect he is finding acetic acid in the last fraction he takes, but this acetic acid carries no bacteria (but he doesn't know that) so he is concerned about recycling it into the ferment. This all makes me suspect they were more concerned with quality than one would think.]


The use of Dunder or Lees has always been a puzzler to parties studying the process of fermentation – in this country, on — comparing it with the system adopted at home. It has always been considered as a useless, if not an injurious ingredient, in the fermenting mixture; the planters have, however, in spite of all opposition adhered steadily to the use of it, and experience, I think, fully proves the correctness of the practice.

Porter, in his work on the Sugar Cane, when treating of Distillation, mentions the general use of Dunder, but thinks it unnecessary, and that the only plea for its use, is, that a part of the sweets of the previous fermentation may sometimes remain in it from the previous process not being properly performed, and that thus, by using the Dunder, the sweets may be returned for re-fermentation and waste be prevented. This is no doubt sometimes the case, but it will not explain the use of it under other circumstances. [Incomplete fermentations might have been common back then. Porter might be George Richardson Porter who wrote The Nature and Properties of the Sugar Cane in 1830]

Dubrunfaut, in his work on Distillation, recommends the use of the Lees on much the same grounds, and on account of economy, by using them warm to prevent the necessity of boiling water for the purpose of heating the fermenting mixture, a very poor reason certainly, and showing that the real nature is not understood.

I have not been able to find a satisfactory explanation of the use of Dunder in any of the works on the subject of tropical Distillation. [what other works were there before 1843 on tropical distillation?]

O’Keeffe started like many others on the English plan, throwing the Dunder overboard as useless; finding, however, his plan a signal failure, he was obliged to return to the use of it, and then endeavoured to account for it, as the addition of an acid, (see the specification of his patent process,) to neutralise the excess of lime, used in Sugar boiling. Taking a leaf out of Dubrunfaut’s French process of fermenting the Molasses from Beet-root Sugar, where the addition of a small quantity of acid is found beneficial, he immediately jumped to the conclusion that such was the use of Dunder, and gave instructions that a certain quantity of cold acid Dunder should be added. Unfortunately for his theory, Dunder happens not to be an acid where the process is properly performed, as l have frequently tested it with limestone and found no effervescence occur. [I had thought plain dunder to be acidic but it might not be as evidenced here. I think in the future when distillers learned about acid catalyzed esterification, sulphuric acid started to be added to the still and that would stay with the dunder because it wasn't volatile. These writing might be before the era of heavy, high ester rums and this is the beginning of the inquiries that built them.]

Then, what is the use of Dunder? In answering this question I must acknowledge that I do it with some diffidence, knowing that it will be severely criticised by parties conversant with chemistry. I am unfortunately not much versed in chemistry, and must therefore state its use in the light in which it appears to me, and shall be glad if anybody will give a better elucidation of the subject. I think it has a three-fold use.

Its chief use I consider to be in increasing the gravity of the liquor without adding sweet, thereby making the process of fermentation more slow and cool. Liquor set without Dunder works so rapidly that the heat rises to such a point as to cause the spirit as fast as formed to evaporate with the carbonic acid. Liquor set with a sufficient quantity of Dunder works much slower, and ten or fifteen degrees of temperature cooler, and therefore the evaporation of alcohol is avoided. [fermentations they did very slow because of paranoia of losing alcohol might have been beneficial for favorable aroma creation.]

The second use, which was suggested to me by an intelligent friend of mine, the same gentleman I mentioned before, and which I think very probable, is that its use is similar to that of hops in beer; preventing by the bitter principle contained in it the acidification of the sweets employed, and which I think it may be a powerful agent in doing, as the high temperature of the climate and the still higher temperature caused by the natural heating of the fermenting liquor, have a great tendency to cause acidification. Dubrunfaut states that a temperature of from 95 to 100 will cause the fermentation of acid. Liebig states that the less sweet the vegetable juice is, the more liable it is to acidify, and that the juice of Beet-roots fermented at 86 to 95 yields no Alcohol, but a substance called mannite and lactic acid. It seems highly probable therefore that Dunder is useful from the bitter principle contained in it in preventing acidity. [here acidification refers specifically to acetic acid formation]

The third use of Dunder I conceive to be from its accumulating the superfluous yeasty matter or gluten from previous fermentations where there may have been an excess of it employed; and being there ready to be called into play at any time, when from want of skimmings or other causes, there may be a deficiency. Boiling destroys for a time the active power of yeast, but it resumes its power on cooling. Dunder certainly possesses the power of causing fermentation; for on some estates it constantly, and on others occasionally enters into fermentation spontaneously on cooling. This is owing to the liquor having been set too sweet, and a part of the sweet remaining undecomposed, which is always the case where liquor is set too sweet. The gluten accumulated in the Dunder on the cooling of that liquid causes the previously undecomposed sweet to go through the natural process of fermentation. Some book-keepers have a most extraordinary dread of this fermenting dunder, which they call live Dunder, and say that if used, the liquor will never cease working : it is a complete bugbear to them, and they insist on its-being immediately thrown away. It will be seen from the above explanation that it is a perfectly harmless substance, and all that the book-keeper has to do to prevent it, is to set the liquor less sweet for the future. As a book-keeper, my Dunder used constantly to ferment ; at that time I did not know the cause of it, but I never found any injurious results from the use of it as my acquaintances predicted. To show the advantage of knowing even a trifle like this, I may mention for the use of the youngsters now learning the art, that at the end of crop, I filled my vats all half full of Dunder, as usual to keep them water tight, and upon inspecting them, I found they all worked away as if filled with fresh liquor. Oh! said I, “that’s all live dunder, I must throw it away, and I shall have no good Dunder to begin next crop with.” If i had had the knowledge that it was simply a quantity of sweets undecomposed in the previous fermentation, I should have immediately determined to distill it as soon as it ceased working, and I should have accordingly increased the crop two or three puncheons of rum ; on the contrary, for the want of that knowledge, I allowed it to remain unnoticed and uncared for. [this is where is gets interesting and I think the seed for investigating muck and secondary fermentations is planted. they had yeast rich dunder sitting around in vats waiting for the next season and they started to play around with it. they also had tons of alkaline lime laying around because they used it to sanitize vats. eventually they figure out how to produce a little ester generating bio reactor.]

On repeating this circumstance to a friend of mine, he told me of a case in point that occurred to himself. When a bookkeeper, he was ordered to complete a shipment of rum, and not having liquor ready for running, he distilled several vats before the process of fermentation was complete: he found the Dunder from them worked spontaneously ; he pumped it back into the vats ; allowed it to work again, distilled it; and got a good return from it. [these are the mistakes and experiments that start to get repeated systematically]

In distilling all the spirit should be extracted that is possible. Many bookkeepers think it a good plan to leave some spirit in the Dunder to make it strong : if they had said to make it sour, they would have been quite right, the heat of the Dunder after coming out of the still, will cause the spirit left to become almost immediately sour.



Dubrunfaut recommends the clearest spring or well water, as being free from all vegetable and animal matters, and if possible, impregnated with carbonate of lime. There is not much choice for us in this respect; we must use the nearest water ; but sometimes bookkeepers use the tank water, which is generally in a state of partial putrefaction, when they might get cleaner water conveniently from the river. The use of such water injures the return, by causing part of the sweets to undergo the putrefactive fermentation.


The temperature of the fermenting liquid cannot be kept too low. At home, during the height of the operation, they do not allow the temperature to rise above 75, we start at 80 and go up to 95 or upwards. 4

Dubrunfaut recommends one thousand gallon vats to be set at a temperature of 65, and states that they rise about 10 degrees in heat during the fermentation. He states that at 100 the acetous fermentation acts at the expense of the alcohol ; and that besides there is the loss of another quantity of alcohol from evaporation. Liquor set without dunder will frequently work up to 100, besides even at a lower temperature the motion of the liquor is so rapid that the gas in its evolution carries off a considerable portion of alcohol. The addition of a considerable portion of dunder makes, by its gravity, the intestine motion of the liquor slower, and consequently keeps it cooler.


Molasses should not be used in a greater proportion than 10 per cent. The largest proportionate returns I have obtained were from vats set at 8 per cent of molasses, with the usual allowance of skimmings. The proportion of molasses should certainly not exceed 10 per cent, else a part will remain in the dunder undecomposed.

The skimmings are the first cause of fermentation ; if allowed to remain twenty-four hours in the skimming receiver, they will always be found in a state of fermentation. If from any cause there are no skimmings, there is generally a considerable difficulty in exciting fermentation in molasses wash. The skimmings from plant canes ferment much more freely than from rattoons, from containing more natural ferment or gluten in their composition. The skimmings should be drawn down perfectly clarified, as the extraneous vegetable matters favour the destructive or putrefactive fermentation.

When the stillhouse is regularly at Work, the liquor always left in the mixing cistern acts as yeast, and sets the fresh mixture working with rapidity, and without delay. About one half of the mixture maybe of cold clarified dunder. Under these circumstances, the liquor will take about a week to fall, which I consider to be the most favorable period, as that time will allow the fermentation to be sufficiently slow to prevent evaporation, and yet sufficiently rapid to insure the decomposition of all the sweets, and to prevent the acetous fermentation.


The weaker and warmer the liquor is set, the quicker the fermentation will be, and the fermentation may always be made more rapid by the addition of water or warmth.

All the vats should be washed every time they are used, and a quantity of broken limestone, (not quick lime) be kept in each of them, according to a plan long ago recommended by Dr. Higgins in this country, to neutralize acidity as fast as formed; as in the best process some acid will always be formed. [so they were well acquainted by lime and neutralizing acidity which is at the center of managing a muck hole. Dr. Higgins was Bryan Higgins (1741-1818) according to wikipedia "In 1797, Higgins was hired by a public committee in Jamaica for the improvement of the manufacture of Muscovado sugar and rum. He resides in Jamaica from 1797 to 1799. He was some sort of lime master and even held a patent on concrete making.]

Liquor, when nearly finished fermenting, enters very quickly into the acetous fermentation when exposed to the atmosphere, that is to say, the spirits formed follows the natural course of nature, and begins to change into vinegar. To prevent this change, in filling the vat, a space of six or eight inches should be left, and a thin wooden move-able cover should be kept on the vat, not to keep it warm, or to keep in the spirit, as commonly supposed, but to prevent the stratum of gas on the surface of the liquor from being displaced by the breeze; and consequently preventing the partial acidification of the liquor by the atmosphere ; for the carbonic acid gas-evolved during the fermentation being heavier than the atmosphere, lies on the surface of the liquor, and prevents the air having access.

In loading the still, the liquor in the vat should not be turned up, as the sediment will then run into the still, settle at the bottom, become burnt, and injure the flavour of the spirit. When as much liquor has run out from the vat, as will run from the cock, the bottoms should be taken out in pails, or through a plug hole, and thrown into a small vessel to settle, and the clear liquor be afterwards thrown in the next still. If the bottoms are left in the vat, they will become sour, and will taint the new liquor pumped up.

In setting liquor, l have found that by running in all the materials at the same time, such a check was given to the fermentation, that after being well mixed up, the liquor became as it were dead ; upon the recommencement of the fermentation, a thick scum was thrown up in the same manner as liquor yaws in the clarifier ; it should then be skimmed as quickly as possible, by which means a large quantity of dirt is got out of it, and which I could not get by any other process. I have also found that a similar scum was again thrown up on the top of the vat as it was finished pumping, caused in the same way by checking the fermentation ; this must be taken off in the course of a minute, as it seldom lasts longer, the rapid fermentation commencing and carrying the particles up and down. By attending to these two periods, I used to get my liquor beautifully clear.

Regularity is a great thing in distilling. Set a vat of liquor every day, if possible, and always in the same manner, and then, day by day, there will always be a vat ready for distillation ; the regularity will cause an ,economical application of labour, and will save the bookkeeper a great deal of unnecessary annoyance.


And there you have it, the wiley Victorian mind who did a lot for rum making and Jamaican agriculture. I suspect if the interloper, O’Keefe, never came to town, and there was no contest of skill, W.F. Whitehouse would have never meditated on his techniques enough to advance rum distillation. Maybe we can find enough references and clues in the text to fill in the missing pieces to the story and fill in a timeline after this work and before the 1905 works of the Jamaican Agricultural Experiment Station.

Under the nom-de-guerre of “ Agricola,” W. F. Whitehouse published in 1845 various Letters and Essays on Sugar Farming in Jamaica, which he had contributed from time to time to the public press—i. e. “The Royal Gazette and Jamaica Standard,” and “ The Jamaica Times ;”—and 11 few essays written in competition for prizes. In one case, a prize was offered for the best essay on the economic cultivation of the sugar cane for which Agricola competed unsuccessfully. He then proceeded to review the Essays of his competitors including the prize winner, and proved to his own satisfaction that the prize essay was by no means the best. He says, “I am not bold enough to believe but that some of the other essays may be better than my own &c.” ; but he evidently inwardly thought that which he hesitated to state publicly. -Journal of the Institute of Jamaica vol. I (1892)


At Jamaica, in August, W.F. Whitehouse Esq., long and favourably known throughout the island for his devotion to the cause of agricultural science and improvement -Colonial Magazine and East India Review, Volume 9 (1846)

2014 Retrospective

Years ago I did a Bostonapothecary retrospective that a lot of people enjoyed because the blog is so large and poorly organized. This year I thought I’d attempt something similar. As I started to look back I didn’t feel that productive, especially as I watched my peers release new books, but then I looked through the posts and wow did I accomplish a lot.

The year started with the release of the Distiller’s Workbook which is the summation of massive amounts of reading and the start of a new school of cocktail-centric distillation that is gaining traction in England particularly with the amazing bar, Peg + Patriot. The book captured the interest of one publisher but was ultimately rejected for containing too much science. I’m currently re-working an introduction to the exercises.

Distiller’s Workbook exercise 1 of 15 Tabasco Aromatized Gin
Distiller’s Workbook exercise 2 of 15 De-constructing and Re-constructing Chartreuse
Distiller’s Workbook exercise 3 of 15 Mass Market Maraschino Mayhem
Distiller’s Workbook exercise 4 of 15 Joseph König’s 19th Century Curaçao
Distiller’s Workbook exercise 5 of 15 Hershey’s Chocolate Bourbon
Distiller’s Workbook exercise 6 of 15 Truly Stimulating Absinthe
Distiller’s Workbook exercise 7 of 15 Non-potable Pure Pot Still Purell; Wormwood Aromatized Hand Sanitizer
Distiller’s Workbook exercise 8 of 15 Chipotle Tequila
Distiller’s Workbook exercise 9 of 15 Double grain bill white dog
Distiller’s Workbook exercise 10 of 15 Rooibos & Rye a.k.a. African Rye Whiskey
Distiller’s Workbook exercise 11 of 15 Pisco Faux Mosto Verde #Fail
Distiller’s Workbook exercise 12 of 15 Marmite Aromatized Rye
Distiller’s Workbook exercise 13 of 15 Malta Goya Aromatized Gin (faux Genever)
Distiller’s Workbook exercise 14 of 15 Fernet Aromatized Maraschino Cherries
Distiller’s Workbook exercise 15 of 15 Hopped Gin

Then I covered Nature v.s Nurture vs. Cocktail: Holistic vs. Salient Creative Linkage and possibly came up with a solution to a conundrum posed by an article in the journal Nature. After spending time with a theory of acquired tastes this might be the coolest concept I’ve ever come up with.

Then I read a few massive contemporary texts on distillation and found a clear explanation of a phenonemon erroneously explained by Germain-Robin in his latest text on brandy making. This was one of the last major what-ifs of distillation I was trying to hunt down.

Through the same texts I covered the demisting concept which is very important to new distillers particularly those distilling multiple different products on the same still. The inquiries here are helping me to tighten up my comparative explanations of various cut making techniques.

Early in the year I was contacted by the executor of the estate of the most famous American vermouth company and he sent me some company documents that I shared up. Despite so many seminars and articles, many spirits professionals are still telling a pretty shoddy history of vermouth.

Later on I read countless historical interviews from figures in the California wine & distilling industry and even found an important lost paper in an appendix. These accounts are of staggering value and I’ve barely scratched the surface of what they can tell us.

The Tribuno Papers inspired me to take another look at the most current vermouth literature and I found a ton of stuff everyone else in the popular culinary scene had been missing. The torch was clearly passed from the University of California to researchers in India of all places.

My newest counter pressure bottler debuted in June and it has been a quantum leap in what is possible for applying carbonation to bar programs (and to bottling beer!). I had to develop some new molding & casting techniques to fabricate it that have been turning heads in the maker community.

For those interested in history I stumbled upon the collected writings of the agricultural experiment station in Jamaica in the early 20th century and found the best explanations of the Jamaican rum making process that contradict some of the finer points of popular explanations. I thought these ideas might really excite certain people but they haven’t really trickled down yet. The same did happen when I found chemical analysis from the IRS of pre-Castro Cuban rums with brand names that contradicted some explanations floating around.

My library skills keep getting more formidable and I finally found the lost IRS internal document detailing the aging of whiskey in plywood barrels. It was in the Forest Products Research Laboratory library! I thought this would turn some heads with whiskey fanaticism at its peak and a shortage of oak barrels but no one seemed to notice.

In the late summer I started exploring the standardization of gin botanicals for a product I’m trying to help a local distillery develop. I thought I’d promote my typical open culture of sharing ideas (a high tide lifts all boats!) and wrote some posts to hopefully save others both time and money. Right now I’m at the stage of tracking down rare pieces of glassware some times called a Clevenger Apparatus which differ from other steam distillation rigs.

Three newly found papers on whiskey confirm aspects of my fake aging technique that was developed way back when and gives hints on how to optimize it.

The year has pretty much ended with me sharing more rare material from texts on distillation. The shared orange liqueur recipe features complicated fraction recycling that needs more commentary and possibly an info graphic. I have just acquired a book scanner and am learning to use it and am using library connections to acquire a few remaining rare texts that I plan to digitize and share. Some of this material is out of copyright and some could be considered abandoned copyright. Hopefully the effort will launch some ships and if you have any ideas for texts please submit them in an email.

One very big thing I’ve been withholding this year is my latest bottling device which can handle all forms of small bottles from 100 mL to 375 mL and at very high pressure levels. The design works staggeringly well but I haven’t figured out how to monetize it yet. It will become the counter pressure bottler design for the next thirty years.

I’m also withholding a really fantastic hydrometry technique that I’ve been teaching to select small distilleries as well as some very choice research papers that I’m trying to do some special stuff with.

For next year in the earliest spring I’m planning a cross country motorcycle trip to visit as many distilleries and library special collections as I can from Boston to UC Davis via the southern route. If you’re a distillery and want to hang out for an afternoon talking shop or a bar and can handle a night of guest bartending, drop me an email! Have shaker will travel!

Important Snippets from Joseph Merory’s Food Flavorings

Merory’s out of print texts have escalated in value and become increasingly hard to find so I thought I would type up a few important recipes to help someone out.

A few things about Merory to note. Firstly, I only have the first edition of the book and there were a few more editions years after so who knows if any liqueurs recipes were added or changed. Secondly, Merory sometimes engages in what I think is armchair speculation and sometimes wrote about ideas he pondered but never actually tried. So who knows if he actually tried these recipes. I’ve seen this behavior in other major texts about spirits especially in the context of chemical analysis procedures.

I typed up this first orange essence recipe because it was all in oil measures. I thought it would be useful as a starting point to give people an idea of the ratios of aromatic adjuncts like nutmeg and coriander as well as an idea of how much terpene is removed.

Orange-Curacao (Triple Sec) Essence MF 229

(a) Mix the following oils:
91.5000 gm. bitter orange
17.5000 gm. orange, cold pressed
04.2500 gm. lemon, cold pressed
00.1250 gm. nutmeg
00.0625 gm. neroli
00.0625 gm. coriander
113.5000 gm. or 4 fl. ozs.

Mixture of:
04.0 fl oz. mixture of (a)
12.0 fl oz. alcohol, 95 per cent
18.0 fl oz. water
34.0 fl. oz.
mix well, and let stand in a terpene separator (Fig. 14) for 24 hours for separation of terpenes;
-3.5 fl. oz. separated terpenes
30.5 fl. oz. taken from below; then add:
+1.5 fl. oz. alcohol, 95 per cent
32.0 fl. oz. finished curacao (triple sec) essence, filter if necessary.

Besides the very significant amount of aromatic adjuncts, notice how this Grand Marnier knockoff uses a combination of infusion and distillation to create the final product. This is a very different idea than the clear Grand M’s on the market now.

Grand “M” Type Flavor MF 257 (Continental Formula)

(a) Extract the following comminuted botanical ingredients:
4750 gm. orange peels, bitter
2500 gm. peppermint herb
2250 gm. orange peels, sweet
1750 gm. lemon peels
1500 gm. coriander seed
1500 gm. ginger
1500 gm. orange blossoms
0875 gm. cinnamon
1075 gm. cloves
0875 gm. angelica seed
0250 gm. cardamom
0100 gm. tonka beans
0110 gm. saffron
20525 gm.
with menstruum consisting of:
72 li. alcohol 95 per cent.
50 li. water
Extract for four days.
Then take off:
5 kg. extract
(b) Add to remaining botanical ingredients and menstruum:
50 li. water,
and distill slowly at atmospheric pressure to obtain:
90 li. flavor distillate
(c) Finished flavor mixture:
90 li. distillate (b)
5 kg. extract (a)
5 li. wine distillate
100 li. Grand “M” type flavor

Full Aromatic Liqueurs.–Full aromatic liqueurs are made entirely from flavor distillates. The procedure of the full aromatic flavor distillation yields a product with sufficient alcoholic content to make the addition of alcohol to the required proof strength for liqueur unnecessary. The alcoholic content of the finished liqueur is thus made up entirely from the alcohol contained in the flavor distillate. The full aromatic flavor distillation requires that the quantities of botanical ingredients, alcohol, and water be exactly determined to yield the quantity of alcoholic flavor distillate which is necessary both for flavor and alcohol content in the manufacture of the intended volume of liqueur.

The distillation procedure is performed at atmospheric pressure under the same conditions as described in the flavor distillation of botanical ingredients. Comprehensive knowledge of aromatic yield assists in determining the quantity of botanical ingredients from which to obtain the required flavor by distillation [emphasis mine!]. Experience in distillation and fractionation make it easy to calculate the necessary quantities of alcohol and water which are needed in the menstruum to yield a flavor distillate.

A liqueur made from the flavor distillate alone, containing sufficient alcohol content for its required strength, is a full aromatic product of unsurpassed quality. Formula MF 262 is the best example of full aromatic cordial production.

Full Aromatic Triple Sec Cordial Flavor MF 262 (Original French Recipe)
(Made from the peels of Curacao Oranges and sweet oranges)
First production:
(a) Put the following ingredients into a 200 gal. still with a perforated stainless steel plate above the edge of the steam jacket:
125.0 lbs coarsely ground peels of ripe sweet oranges
425.0 gm. orris root pulverized
170.0 gm. orange blossoms; add the menstruum of about 60 per cent alcohol content, consisting of:
249.0 lbs. or 30 gal. water
353.6 lbs. or 52 gal. alcohol 95 per cent.
(b) Procedure: After 24 hours extraction, distill at atmospheric pressure, slowly, without dephlegmation up to 78 per cent alcohol content of the condensate, then turn on dephlegmation to retain a high proof alcohol content of the distillate. The yield of the first fraction is:
40.0 gal. flavor distillate, of about 82 per cent alcohol content. It is used in (d)
(c) Procedure: The distillation of procedure (b) continues until all the alcohol is recovered. It yields a second fraction of approximately:
30.00 gal. distillate of about 45 per cent alcohol content. It is used in (f).
(d) Procedure: The 40 gal. flavor distillate first fraction of (b) is mixed with 40 gal. water. It is allowed to stand a few hours for separation of terpenes which are removed by decantation and the aqueous solution is then filtered. The terpene-free flavor is redistilled at atmospheric pressure, slowly, and in the same manner as in procedure (b), to obtain a first fraction:
20.00 gal. flavor distillate of about 80-84 per cetn alcohol content. It is then used in (m).
(e) The distillation of the terpene-free flavor of (d) continues unchanged, slowly, with dephlegmation, to recover all the alcohol and to yield a second fraction of approximately:
30.0 gal. distillate of about 50 per cent alcohol content. It is used in (f).
(f) Procedure: mixture and distillation of:
30. gal. second fraction distillate, 45 per cent alcohol content, of (c) and:
30. gal. second fraction distillate, 50 per cent alcohol content, of (e) and:
40. gal. water, to yield total of:
100.0 gal. mixture of about 28.5 per cent alcohol content. The mixture is left to stand a few hours for separation of terpenes. After the separation of terpenes it is filtered and then redistilled at atmospheric pressure, slowly, with dephlegmation applied to retain a high proof alcohol content in the distillate and yields approximately:
40.0 gal. distillate of about 64 per cent alcohol content. It is used in the second production batch and distillation of curacao peels of procedure (g) of second production.

Second Production:
(g) Put into 200 gal. still with perforated stainless steel plate above heat line, the following ingredients:
125.0 lbs. curacao peels, expulpated or coarsely ground
425.0 gm. mace, pulverized. Add to it a menstruum of 64 per cent alcohol content, consisting of:
141.1 lbs. or 17.0 gal. water, and
238.0 lbs. or 35.0 gal. alcohol, 95 per cent, and
40.0 gal. distillate, 64 per cent alcohol content, of (f).
(h) Procedure: After 24 hours extraction, distill at atmospheric pressure, slowly, without dephlegmation, up to 78 per cent alcohol content of the condensate, then turn on dephlegmation to retain a high proof alcohol content in the distillate. The yield of the first fraction is approximately:
60.0 gal. flavor distillate, of about 80 per cent alcohol content. It is used in (j)
(i) Procedure: The distillation of (h) continues until all the alcohol is recovered and yields a second fraction of approximately:
30.0 gal. distillate of about 30 percent alcohol content; it is used in (l).
(j) 60.0 gal. Flavor distillate of the first fraction of (h), of 80 per cent alcohol content, is mixed with:
60.0 gal. water, and left to stand a few hours for separation of terpenes. The terpene-free flavor is then filtered and redistilled at atmospheric pressure, slowly, and with dephlegmation turn on, to obtain a yield of approximately:
30 gal. flavor distillate (first fraction) of about 80-84 per cent alcohol content; it is then used in (m).
(k) The distillation of the flavor distillate of (j) procedure continues to recover all the alcohol and to yield a second fraction:
40.0 gal. distillate of about 50 per cent alcohol content. It is used in (l).
(l) Mix and distill
40.0 gal. distillate (second fraction), of 50 per cent alcohol content, of (k) procedure, and
30.0 gal. distillate (second fraction), of 30 per cent alcohol content, of (i) procedure, and
30.0 gal. water, to yield a total of:
100.0 gal. mixture of about 29 per cent alcohol content; the mixture is allowed to stand a few hours to separate terpenes. It is then filtered and redistilled at atmospheric pressure, slowly, and dephlegmation is applied to yield approximately:
40.0 gal. distillate of 64 per cent alcohol content. It is used in the next production batch of orange peels.
(m) finished flavor mixture consisting of:
20.0 gal. flavor distillate of 80-84 per cent of (d) procedure, first fraction, and
30.0 gal. flavor distillate of 80-84 per cent of (j) procedure, first fraction. Total:
50.0 gal. full aromatic flavor distillate, of about 80-84 per cent alcohol content.
Remarks:–If the entire quantity of the flavor mixture of (m) is used in the manufacture of 100 gal. Triple Sec cordial it yields a beverage of finest quality.

I boldened Merory’s remarks relating to oil yield analysis but nowhere in the text does he explain any methods for determining yield. It would also probably be really helpful to rewrite this recipe in the style of an infographic so the movements of the fraction recycling are much clearer.

The Flavour Components of Whiskey in Three Acts

Flavour Components of Whiskey. I. Distribution and Recovery of Compounds by Fractional Vacuum Distillation

Flavour Components of Whiskey. II. Aging Changes in the High-Volatility Fraction

Flavour Components of Whiskey. III. Aging Changes in the Low-Volatility Fraction

This novel experiment explores how different components of a whiskey change over time in a barrel. The novel part is how they track the components which relates to experiments I have done with the past and my own fake aging technique.

The first part of the paper details how a whiskey can be separated into different segments via fractional vacuum distillation. What they perform is quite complex to execute and certainly beyond me, but actually possible with off the shelf components as they prove. They cut a whiskey into five distinct fractions while in my own greatly simplified experiments, I cut whiskeys only in half.

What is cool about this set of papers is that it validates my intuition that the bottom half, the least volatile fraction, represents a significant portion of what barrel aging contributes. I had taken this aqueous fraction in the past and added it to other high proof spirits to synthesize aging which can be just plain fun to explore or possibly a predictive tool for a distiller. I had also cut spirits in half down the lines of volatility, manipulated the fractions independently then rejoined the two fractions which this paper somewhat validates as representative with their own organoleptic experimentation though they did control for far more variables than I did.

The second paper, which looks at the most volatile fraction is a good read which I don’t have the time to completely detail. The most notable part of it for me, which I need to learn significantly more about, is this tidbit:

In the case of wine, acetates are considered more important than ethyl esters of fatty acids for intensity and quality of aroma (van der Merwe & van Wyk, 1981). The same is likely for whiskey because of the low sensory odour threshold values of these compounds (Salo, 1970).

I can’t speak in any real depth about acetates, but I think they form through more complicated aging reactions rather than relatively easier to understand processes like acid catalyzed esterification of ethyl esters in the still.

Part three is particularly cool because to some degree you can play along easily since they are concerned with aroma compounds in the aqueous solution. They isolate their aqueous solution with a complicated fractional vacuum distillation procedure but ball park approximations can be gotten by simply putting a whiskey in a food dehydrator until the alcohol is removed.

The paper starts to get really complex and starts offering new ideas for authenticating spirits based on ratios of congeners. Page 5 of part III has some major errors in the scanning that removes part of the page but its in a section that is very technical. Eventually they isolate a few congeners (phenolic esters) they believe are crucial to mature character and then syntheticaly add them to younger spirits to organoleptically test with a tasting panel whether they increase the perception of maturity. The relationship of their contribution is not straight forward but eventually, at high concentrations, they do increase the perception of maturity.

One of the big take aways here is how we might design educational tasting experiences for spirit tasting rooms and educational seminars. These papers validate my idea that spirits can be cut into pieces along the lines of volatility and then reconstituted in various ways. The fractions can also participate in mash-ups and when abstracted in different ways, teach us new things about perceptual thresholds which I’ve only explored in the past at the lowest level.

Also, check out the bibliographies. This team references older material I’ve never seen, possibly because they own unique collections. One of their books is a rare gem I’m now trying to acquire, bet you can’t spot it!

Standardizing Botanicals: Me and My Soxhlet Extractor

[This is just one post in hopefully a series about learning to standardize botanical charges for distillations most particularly gin, also aromatized wines, and bitters.]

Long ago I linked to a great paper called Controlling Gin Flavor from Herman Wilkie’s team at Hiram Walker in 1937. Wilkie is a very important distilling figure and it should be known is the true father of vacuum distilled alcoholic beverages. In the paper, back in 1937, Wilkie mentions a new era they had just entered where the botanical charge of a gin was scaled for oil yield. This acknowledges that the oil yield is inconsistent and if you just weigh your botanicals, you will end up with a less than consistent product. And sadly I suspect we have returned to the pre-Wilkie era which in my opinion is less than craft.

Gin production in the past has been characterized by lack of control over many of the important variables such as quality of spirits, quantity and quality of flavor in the various botanicals used, variable types and methods of operating the still, etc. Critical study of these variables disclosed valuable information which led to standardization of spirits and operations which, with proper selection of botanicals and regulation of the quantity of each ingredient used in the formula in accordance with its flavor value, now permits the production of gin under technical control which guarantees uniformity and quality of final product.

- Controlling Gin Flavor

Wilkie notes that some distillery labs use the Clevenger Method of finding the oil yield which simply employs steam distillation while Hiram Walker uses a method, likely a Soxhlet extractor, with an ether as the solvent. The oil extracted is simply weighed then converted to a percent oil yield. What the paper doesn’t mention is how large their sample size is which is very important for what I aim to do.

No small producers to my knowledge are performing any of this analysis and these days it should be easier than ever with teaching resources like youtube, equipment procurement resources like ebay, and already purified chemicals affordably available from the likes of Fisher Scientific (but you need a commercial account and clearance to ship).

photo 5

To explore this type of analysis I bought a 500 mL Soxhlet extractor from ebay and already made some miss steps. Many Soxhlet extractors use a thimble to hold the botanicals and I bought one for $40 that I probably didn’t need. According to some youtube soxhlet demos, the bottom of the extractor can be lined with a simple bleached cotton pad and the botanicals simply tucked into a coffee filter. Its a much cheaper solution and even increases the volume the extractor can hold.

photo 2photo 1
The soxhlet extractor works by condensed solvent filling a chamber holding the botanicals until it reaches the level of a siphon tube eventually drains the chamber similar to flushing a toil. the drained solvent eventually evaporates refilling the chamber with fresh warm solvent. This means that the duration for running the apparatus can be considered in terms of flushes. Great advice is taken from here.

The amount of powder depends on the weight of the drug. If the powder is from roots or stem parts, it will be comparatively heavier than leaf powder. So heavier powder will be needed more as it will settle well in the extractor. What I mean to say is that the weight of the material is not a problem. It depends upon the size of the extractor you are using. Only thing is that it should be filled in extractor at least 1 inch below the siphon tube to avoid its entry there and finally in the flask.


So do not over fill the cavity.

Solvent should be filled from the top and not directly in the flask. Once you start filling the solvent you can see the drug getting wet and finally you will add it till the first cycle runs. Now you should add solvent which is sufficient to run at least two to three more cycles (from the top only to get initial efficient extraction). This way you will find that the drug is entrapping solvent for one cycle and flask is having sufficient solvent to run two to three more cycles. This is the normal practice. Regarding time for extraction, it is normally 24 hours or 72 cycles. But you can check for the completion of extraction when you see that the solvent coming through the siphon into the flask has become free of extracted material. For that you can use a watchglass. Just when the cycle is about to run, you need to take little (1-2ml ) of the solvent from the cycle in a watchglass and allow it to evaporate at room temperature. If you find a deposition in the watchglass, then it needs further extraction and vice versa.
Hope it will help you.


72 cycles (or flushes) seem like a long time but you can also refine your process by observing when the solvent starts to run clear. I think the 1-2 mL sample can be thiefed out of the extractor by reaching a pippette down through the condensor which is open (though you can’t really see it in my picks) then evaporating it. A microscope might aid in observing the residue. Once the amount of cycles are standardized, the time per cycle can be calculated and the total time taken from that.

As far as I am concerned, we use 10gm of power of plant materials for each 100 ml of solvent. For example, the solvent container that you used has a 500ml capacity means, we can pour 300ml and process 30gm of plant power (10gm per 100ml of solvent). In our lab, we will continue the extraction process up to the point, where the solvent color in the thimble becomes colorless as water.


So here is a best bet.

If we come to the point of solvent type, there is a custom to use three types of solvent, i.e. high polar, mid-polar and non-polar solvents. Some researcher uses any one solvent for each of the categories, however most of others, can decide a particular solvent, especially either from non-polar (such as hexane) or high polar (methanol, ethanol).

This something I haven’t completely figured out. I used hexane because its what I had. It is also less toxic than dichloromethane and waste disposal does become a consideration. In the end I lost about 50 grams of hexane (33.2 mL) which were stuck to the botanicals when I removed them from the extraction chamber.

photo 10photo 6These measurements with the scale are about 20 minutes apart.

I then tried to recover the hexane from the flat bottomed boiling flask.

photo 1


This is actually an early photo after probably one flush. Most often the low boiling point solvent is recovered with a rotovap which is known for speed and efficiency but I only had a high school quality vacuum distilling rig.

photo 9


Yet it was able to collect the hexane.

photo 8


Some how I only recovered 150 mL of my initial 300 mL of hexane, but I do know 33.2 mL was stuck to the botanicals and was lost to the atmosphere. Better systems could likely dramatically decrease the loss and inefficiency. Glycol instead of water to condense both rigs might be a good place to start.

photo 7

But what did I get? Pretty much nothing. My first test was run with wormwood which was likely a bad idea because the typical oil yield is so low (0.35%) where if experimenting with cloves they might have yielded over 10% and given a better feel for the process.

And what exactly is all that stuff and can it be thought of as oil? Should the contents of the flask have been filtered before it was vacuum distilled? We think of oil as volatile, so when we examine botanicals with very low oil yields but very high amounts of soluble non-volatile stuff like bitter alkaloids (not sure if I picked those up actually), should a different method be used like steam distillation?

It looks like somethings precipitated but are they still figured in the oil weight?

I also suspect a big problem I’m having is that I’m using old and tired botanicals who’s oil yields are not anywhere they should be and thus have no place in a gin. So I think I’m experimenting with some failures but there should be some value in there somewhere.

The next step is to try out my new glass steam distillation rig with clevenger oil separator. More to come.


The stepping stones of analysis and a cry for help (· · · – – – · · ·)

I’ve slowly read every major book on distillation and probably 150 journal articles in the last few years. The punch line is that just like fine wine was made possible by the laboratory (just like the kings of Napa, Mike Grgich and Warren Winierski, would tell you), craft spirits will also be a product of the lab, and not many new distilleries are running labs. This unfortunately means that only the big guys are craft but that doesn’t have to be the case.

My idea has been to slowly explore spirits analysis in little steps and build a valuable skill set as well as share everything to elevate the new distillery movement. One thing I’m seeing is that for many small distilleries to stay open in saturated markets, they will have to rely on their tasting rooms for revenue. In a tasting room, it will soon be apparent that a portfolio of three products probably won’t cut it. Tasting rooms will need elaborate cocktail programs and legally will have to fabricate small batches of products like orange liqueurs to show off the core products. This orange liqueur among many others will never be sold out the back door (saturated market) but rather just be used in house and possibly be sold out the front door because many tasting rooms can operate like liquor stores.

So, for an orange liqueur to be made in small batches, some competitor analysis has to be performed on the likes of cointreau and grand marnier such as sugar content, alcohol content (before sugaring), and the weight of the aroma. The liqueur will then be assembled in a robust, paint by numbers process where a great product is made without tons of man hours or tying up people for tasting panels. Years ago I figured out elegant ways to measure alcohol and sugar content (via hydrometry without sacrificing a sample) but what about the weight of the aroma? and how the hell do you standardize your charge of peels when the oil content varies so much? That is the skill set we need to be returned to common knowledge!

So far, the answer to finding the weight of orange aroma in an orange liqueur is liquid-liquid extraction using intense, hazardous, organic solvents like iso-octane, hexane, and dichloromethane. The exotic solvents require a fisher scientific account and clearance to ship them so not everyone can play with this stuff. They also require lots of reading and safety training to handle properly (though it is nothing too extreme). The same solvents can be used again for measuring oil yield of botanicals using a piece of glassware called a soxhlet extractor which is a priceless skill for a distillery lab.

I’ve been exploring this and spending considerable money in the hopes that it will launch a lot of ships. What I don’t know and need help with is the full potential of liquid-liquid extraction. You see it in a lot of spirits research papers because it is used for sample preparation for GC-MS and it is described in a lot of the modern advanced texts but not in any specific detail or with vouched for Modernist Cuisine style best bets which is what we all need.

First a tiny overview of liquid-liquid extraction. Powerful orangic solvents with very low boiling points that are immiscible in ethanol* and water* are mixed with a spirit. The organic solvents will mix just like oil and water but their solvent power will pull congeners out of the ethanol and water. Eventually the organic solvents can be separated with a separatory funnel. Their boiling points are so drastically different from the congeners dissolved in them that vacuum distillation (solvent recovery) or sometimes just putting a fan on them (expensive sacrifice!) is enough to separate and isolate the congeners. The asterisk is for organic solvents that form an azeotrope and suck up tiny amounts of water or ethanol, but simple methods can be used to “dry” them.

What I just described is the batch process and its pretty easy but has some limitations. So far little globules of emulsion (which I need to identify but are probably aromatic oils) cling to the sides of the glass and need to be rinsed out with more solvent (expensive!). Smaller size glassware tailored for the batch might minimize this cling via reducing the surface area available to cling. Some descriptions of the batch process (not in a spirits context) use multiple iterations to extract as much as possible which is not a big deal if you can recover your solvents in a vacuum still.

Most spirits chemists isolate congeners to prepare samples for GC/MS analysis. Once the solvent is evaporated they don’t need to perfectly remove every bit from the glass and can work with batch sizes as small as 30 mL. My idea is that if the batch size is scaled up dramatically to a liter, what is extracted from say an orange liqueur can be weighed with a jewelers scale that does 1/100 of a gram. Just knowing the weight of the dissolved orange essence will get you squarely in the ball park. The problem is that no researchers use my scaled up 3rd world method because they have PhD’s, big budgets, and are in the GC/MS era. What I have going for my hunch is that I am the guy that figured out you can even measure carbonation with a kitchen scale!

Long ago I read a paper from the 1970′s where scientists were pioneering liquid-liquid extraction sample preparation for the study of gin. They were using Freon-11 (which is now banned for its effects on the ozone). These guys were concerned that their sample was representative of the gin so once they extracted all the gin congeners, they re-dissolved them in vodka and drank it! and then compared it to the original gin! If you have a reliable vacuum still, what you extract from the point of view of a chemist is drinkable! (but I’d use extreme caution, though most of the solvents smell like rubber cement which makes incomplete separations easier to spot).

A problem I’ve been having is I don’t think my samples are representative. I’m leaving way too much aroma behind in my gin test material. I took my organic solvent blend from a recent study on a gin (which might be a red herring to support a patent that should be bogus) and I think the process might call into question their results. Or I’m just new at this and am missing something. I’m using a 1:1 blend of Hexane and Dichloromethane and using the batch process with just one iteration like in the study, yet a significant amount of juniper aroma lingers in the ethanol-water of the gin.

Another options is to use a continuous liquid-liquid extractor and some are described in modern spirits texts but not with any real guidelines, best bets, or testimonials. I’d love to try one but the glassware starts to hit $500 to $1000 dollars very quickly (with no testimonial they work in this context!). Continuous extractors run small amounts of solvent through the spirit in a loop where at one point in the loop the extracted congeners are separated from the solvent by evaporation and the clean solvent is run back through the loop. These rigs take up not insignificant counter space and run sometimes for sixteen hours. I’m not afraid to pay for one but finding counter space and sixteen hours is a big challenge. But keep in mind this analysis only has to be performed once and then can be shared by the distilling community!

Once we know there is X mg of dissolved orange oil in each liter of quality, intuitive-to-use orange liqueur, we can elaborate the process we learned slightly. We can use the next extraction tool which is the soxhlet extractor. We place 100 grams or so of orange peel into our extractor and start to draw the essential oil out of it. This type of extractor also runs in a continuous loop for numerous hours unattended and there are lots of Youtube videos that show them in action. Once the solvent is separated by vacuum distillation we will know how much oil is in every 100 grams of peels which will change often dramatically with each batch of peels. If we just weigh the peels and throw them in the still, the oil yield will be wacky and the product will be inconsistent, but if we scale the botanical charge for oil yield, we will have a much better standard and it will open a lot of doors to taking on new botanical sources while hitting a higher standard of product consistency.

Two more important things. A steam distillation rig, designed to produce essential oils, can also ball park the oil yield but it is an inferior method (but we are concerned with affordable stepping stones! so do explore, especially if you have no access to exotic solvents!). The most important thing is that this procedure of measuring oil yield can scale up to all the botanicals that come through the distillery. The full botanical charge of everything from gin to absinthe to amaro to bitters can be standardized for increased product consistency and this is the skill set. What we need are best bets, testimonials, and what-ifs answers, and Youtube videos. Many distillers working with botanicals are not standardizing their charges because of a false sense of consistency. Yes, supply chain management for botanicals is staggeringly more advanced than it was decades ago, but if you want to get off the beaten path, and forage, or grow your own, or seek terroir, you need at least this very basic laboratory analysis.

The plywood whiskey barrels that inspired the Eames recliner

Not many people know this, but this chair (which I own a reproduction of) was directly inspired by plywood whiskey barrels. (I qualify this assertion because it looks like its made from cut cross sections of plywood whiskey barrels)

I finally tracked down the IRS internal communication on aging whiskey for four years in plywood barrels [PDF] from 1950. There is still an eight year update that I haven’t been able to locate but I’m working on that. The four year paper was very tricky to find. It had a WorldCat entry unlike many of the other IRS internal communications, but it generated an error that could not locate the library that held the record. The trick was to contact WorldCat via their tool for correcting database errors. (I might have pretended to be my local library) and I asked them: if no library is listed as the record holder then who created the record in the first place?

I assumed the creator of the record would be the record holder. This information is not publicly displayed and WorldCat revealed the library to be the Forest Products Research Laboratory library which is a U.S. government organization. The library claimed they could not help non-employees but they were able to be sweet talked (saying #whiskey gets you really far these days!). Besides digitizing the paper, these wonderful people even went through the card catalog and gave me some great related citations to pursue down the road. It turns out a nice amount of work has been done on barrels made from veneers.

I have mentioned the plywood whiskey paper before and included drawings from a 1944 patent application to help people visualize the process of making the barrels (I have been assembling a team to produce some of the barrels!)

The paper is interesting and its scope is far more extensive than I would have guessed. The barrels of three different manufacturers were distributed among 13 participating distilleries for a total of 40 different plywood aged whiskeys. Two manufacturers used only oak while one manufacturer used a combination of oak and maple.

The results of the study are fairly easy to follow, but are not necessarily encouraging for the use of plywood barrels to create products resembling Bourbon which traditionally relies on the highest quality first use barrels. The manufacturer using maple produced significantly inferior results to the other two which used only oak and the 100% oak plywood barrels still produced much lighter and thus inferior results compared to staves. The problem might be the sourcing within the tree for the oak. If the veneers have to be the same quality as a stave, then why not just stick to staves?

The results do not nullify the use of plywood barrels. They just can’t be intended for first use scenarios like Bourbon but rather might be suitable for rum or gins perhaps with interesting aromatic veneers such as cedar. One issue the paper mentions is the adhesives used to affix the veneers. Leaching into the spirit was not a problem, but rather the issue was creating too much of an impermeable layer for the barrel to breath through sort of like how some barrels are lined with paraffin wax first (often grappa). Adhesion could probably be reconsidered with modern inert options and the possibility of creating channels of permeability so barrel breathing can be maximized.

If you want to get in on our test run of plywood barrels, please shoot me an email with your intended use, your concerns, your ideas, or anything relevant that is on your mind.