We Are Rum Country. We Are Rum People!
Bar NoneThursday, July 30, 2020
with Debbian Spence-Minott
As we get ready to celebrate the Emancipendence holidays, undoubtedly Jamaicans both at home and across the diaspora will be celebrating with our own spirit — the Jamaican spirit known as rum. Rum has such a rich heritage and as Jamaicans we take pride in this aspect of our history, as Jamaica is known to have some of the best rums in the world! In fact, many of our rums leave our shores as bulk rum and are used as main ingredients to some of the best-selling rum products globally. But how much do you know about some of the distilleries located across the island?
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 7 million litres of rum per annum. Today, six distilleries remain: Monymusk (Clarendon Distillers), Hampden Estate, Long Pond Estate, Appleton Estate, New Yarmouth, and Worthy Park Estate with a record production of over 21 million litres of rum per year! But what do all these distilleries have in common? Well, all are located within limestone-rich areas. The water that percolates through the hills that surround the distilleries are filtered by the limestone and softens the water. Typically, a Jamaican rum is made using Jamaican limestone-filtered water and uses molasses in fermentation.Rum is considered quite versatile, given its infinite variation of colour, body, style and age.
How is rum made?
After harvesting the sugar cane, the product is transported direct 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 are 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 (sugar and molasses) 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. The molasses is then diluted with the limestone-filtered water and then yeast is added to the liquid. The yeast works on the sugary solution and converts the liquid 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, the vapours are 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 (unaged rum) or placed in American Oak barrels for ageing until it finally gets to the consumers!
The major distilleries
Appleton Estate: Since its first recorded year of production in 1749, the estate has been in continuous production and is home to the world-famous Appleton Estate range of rums. The Appleton Estate is located in the Nassau Valley, Siloah, St Elizabeth.
Worthy Park Estate: Worthy Park Estate is home of Rum Bar Rum and the Worthy Park Single Estate Rum. A visit to the estate will have you reminiscing as you traverse across Flat Bridge and along the Bog Walk Road — no need to take the highway! On arriving in Ewarton, make a left at the sports complex to begin your ascent to Worthy Park Estate, located 1,200 feet above sea level in the cool hills of Lluidas Vale, St Catherine.
Monymusk Estate (Clarendon Distillers): Located in Lionel Town, Clarendon, the Monymusk Estate's origin is traced to the late-18th century where the Grant family of Monymusk Castle in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, came into possession of the plantation through marriage. Today, the distillery is owned and operated by National Rums of Jamaica (NRJ) with one-third part-owned by the Government, Demerara Distillers Ltd (owners of El Dorado Rum) and West Indies Rum Distillers, based in Barbados, and which has since been acquired by Maison Ferrand Ltd, owners of Plantation Rums.
Hampden Estate: The Hampden Estate is one of the oldest sugar estates in Jamaica. Renowned throughout Jamaica's rum history for its full, intensely flavourful pot still rums, it continues today to be the quintessential heavy pot rum of choice throughout Europe and other parts of the world. Surveyed in 1743, Hampden operated as a large sugar plantation circa 1753 under the ownership of Archibald Sterling of Scotland. In 1779 Sterling built the Hampden Great House of which the ground floor served as a rum store until the early 1900s. Hampden Estate is firmly set in Jamaican history as it established the Hampden Presbyterian Church, circa 1824, the first of that denomination to be established in Jamaica. Hampden Estate produces Rum Fire white overproof rum.
Certainly, the rum industry is a multifaceted one, with not just a deep heritage connected to sugar production but also a connection to the hearts of the people of Jamaica. Our people are at the industry's core and the processes executed by these skilled artisans provide a unique expression which can only be experienced between sips of this most versatile product called rum. Next week, we continue the rum stories as we hit the bar! Get ready … Cheers!
Readers' Grapevine Club: If you are new to wines and want to join us on our wine discovery, then this is for you. On the third Thursday of each month, I will highlight your feedback on our grape variety/vine of the month. For August, we will focus on the amazing zinfandel varietal. Looking forward to your feedback and comments!
Extraordinary wonder and joy are interwoven through ordinary life; seek them relentlessly. Please share with me your wines, spirits and cocktail experiences or comments on the above article at email@example.com, or follow me on IG @debbiansm #barnoneja.
An Alumna of the US Sommelier Association
CEO of the Academy of Bartending, Spirits & Wines
President, Jamaica Union of Bartenders and Mixologists (JUBAM) Limited
Marketing Studies Lecturer – The University of Technology, Jamaica
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