A Spirited Celebration of Rum!

Bar None

with Debbian Spence-Minott

Thursday, March 21, 2019

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I know I promised to focus on the lighter side of adult beverages for the next weeks. However, this week, I had to make an exception! You did, too, as so many of you attended the inaugural Jamaica Rum Festival held on March 9 and 10 at Hope Gardens in St Andrew. There was so much magic in the air — or maybe the rummy aromas permeated the heavens overlooking Kingston & St Andrew which cast somewhat of a spell. The angels certainly had their fair share as day two of the festival saw a slight downpour, which in my view, was to cool the excitement of the cherubs. Alas, I am not sure what the essence was, but we were definitely caught up in the spirited celebration of one of Jamaica's biggest revenue earners and the spirit of the Caribbean — Rum!

What is Rum?

Rum is defined as a spirit distilled from the fermented products of sugar cane. Sugar cane has its origins in Papua New Guinea and was introduced to the Caribbean by Christopher Columbus, circa 1493. This grass-like plant buoyed Jamaica's economy for many years with the production of sugar, molasses and rum. In 1893, Jamaica had 148 distilleries which produced approximately seven million litres of rum per annum. Today, six distilleries remain: Hampden, Long Pond, Appleton, New Yarmouth, Worthy Park, and Monymusk estates with a record production of 20.5 million litres of rum per year! Rum is considered quite versatile, given its infinite variation of colour, body, style and age.

Characteristics of Jamaican rum:

• Made using Jamaican limestone filtered water.

• Uses molasses in fermentation.

• Must be fermented and distilled in Jamaica.

• If designated aged in Jamaica, tropical ageing and minimum age statements apply.

How is Rum Made?

After harvesting the sugar cane, the product is transported directly to the sugar factory (which is usually in close proximity to the distillery). The sugar cane is crushed to release the cane juice which is then sent to the boiler. The result of the process is sugar crystals and molasses, which is further processed through a centrifugal system used to separate sugar crystals from molasses. After this stage, the by-products go their separate ways. Molasses at this stage contains approximately 60% sugars — too much sugar for fermentation, since yeast growth is inhibited in solutions greater than 30% sugars. To the molasses, limestone filtered water is added and yeast. The yeast works on the sugary solution, converting it to alcohol and carbon dioxide. At the end of the process, approximately 7%-8% alcohol is created. The alcohol content at this stage is a far cry from being designated a rum, and so a second stage — distillation is introduced. Distillation facilitates the extraction of alcohol (ethanol) from the fermented solution via a still (pot still or column still). To ensure water is not evaporated, the liquid is heated to approximately 78 degrees Celsius (water evaporates at 100 degrees Celsius). As the alcohol evaporates, it is caught in the stills, condensed and converted to liquid. At this stage, a rum spirit is created. Based on the style of rum master blenders or distillers wish to create, the rum is either bottled or placed in American Oak barrels for ageing until it finally gets to the consumers!

Over the two days of the festival Jamaicans, and visitors alike, experienced Jamaican rums and the variation in style and production methods. Distilleries like Hampden, Worthy Park and Monymusk use only the traditional Jamaican method of distillation — that is, pot still distillation. Whereas other distilleries, like Appleton Estate, use a blend of both pot still and column still rums. Several interesting revelations were had; for example, the Hampden Estate Single Jamaican rums (both underproof and overproof) are equal to the style of a single malt designation. Monymusk's Plantation Classic Gold Rum expanded the complexity of the category. Appleton Estate also featured some of its best and known rums like the Appleton Estate Rare Blend 12-Year-Old and Appleton Estate 21-Year-Old blends, which we were happy to sip. We were excited to see the participation of some of the other Jamaican/Caribbean brands which were not as well known, like Tortuga Caribbean Rum, Monymusk, and Rum Fire. All in all, patrons were in rum paradise, sipping and savouring from booth to booth and cocktail to cocktail!

Post-Lent, I will continue to highlight some of these distilleries and the work being done to elevate the presence of Jamaican rum at home and in the international arena. Maybe a few of you can accompany me, as we discover Jamaican rum worlds unknown!

The Jamaica Observer Table Talk Food Awards 2019 committee has announced an inaugural designation of Bartender of the Year at this years' Jamaica Observer Food Awards. Who will be nominated? Who will win? Bartenders/Mixologists are you ready? Continue to follow @jamaicaobserver and @bartendingacademyja for more information about this very prestigious and exciting nomination and award.

Readers' Feedback:

Imagine if we embraced life's moments big and small, without reservation. Together, we might fill the world with contagious joy. Please share with me your wines, spirits and cocktail experiences or comments on the above article at, or follow me on IG @debbiansm #barnoneja.

Debbian Spence-Minott

An Alumna of the US Sommelier Association

CEO of the Academy of Bartending, Spirits & Wines

President – Jamaica Union of Bartenders and Mixologists (JUBAM) Limited

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