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Issue 74 - At the still

Whisky Magazine Issue 74
September 2008


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At the still

Dave takes us through the production process.

Though it may seem a rather derogatory way to talk about a noble spirit rum, perhaps uniquely, is a by-product. It first appeared in the 17th century as a result of sugar planters finding a way in which to get rid of (and make more money from) molasses, the residue left over after sugar has been made. This thick, black, ironrich, bloodily-scented gunk may not have had any more sugar crystals to give,but it was still rich in the stuff and therefore if it could be made to ferment could produce alcohol which, when distilled, would give a spirit.This spirit in turn could be given to the slaves and indentured labourers or sold on for more profit. In simple terms this is still what happens today, although few of the distillers in their hightech plants would thank you for saying so.

Rum still starts life as molasses.

(Unless that is you are making rhum agricole, see below).

Originally each estate would have had a distillery attached to its sugar mill, but the consolidation and decline of sugar across the Caribbean means that many distillers now buy their molasses from the bulk producing countries such as Guyana and Brazil.

Because the sugar level of molasses is high it has to be diluted before fermentation can take place. In general the ferment is rapid and violent, mainly due to a combination of lots of sugar and a high ambient temperature.This means that distillers have to use (or develop) yeast strains which can work effectively under these conditions.Various strategies such ...

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