Let’s start with a brief history of Jamaican Rum…
First of all, to make rum you need sugar. This raw material was introduced to Jamaica in 1494 when the island was discovered by Christopher Columbus. When the British took over Jamaica in 1655, they brought with them their works and knowledges regarding rum distillation. There were many distilleries in the island, mainly developed by slaves, who were not only forced to cultivate the sugar cane but also distil it to make rum. Since slaves were behind the crafting of rum, the industry blew up when slavery was abolished in 1893.
Nowadays, only 6 distilleries still remain operated by four companies.
- Campari operates Appleton Estate & New
- National Rums of Jamaica owns Long Pond & Clarendon
- Everglades Farms has Hampden Estate
- Worthy Park running by Worthy Park distillery
Made by either sugar cane juice, sugar cane syrup or molasses or a combination of any of those sugars.
But you may ask, what is the difference between them?
Well, sugar cane juice is simply the by product of crushing sugar cane and collecting the sugary liquid. Sugar cane syrup is formed after the first stage of sugar refining process: which consist to boil the sugar cane juice to evaporate some water to concentrate it. Molasses are the result of further boiling stage followed by centrifugation1 : which separate the solid part from the liquid. From this process, we got different grades of molasses. The first molasses collected called A-Molasses will be the purest form. Followed by the B- molasses obtained throughout a second stage of boiling plus centrifugation. At last, the blackstrap who will be collected at the end of the process. This molasses is very dark and viscous with a lot of impurities.
Whatever the sugar form used, it is diluted to start the fermentation as yeasts can struggle with a very high level of sugar.
1 centrifugation is a process which involves the use of the centrifugal force to separate particles from a solution according to their density.
Above all, you need the nitty-gritty about fermentation regarding Jamaican rum.
Esters: very fragrant molecules, they typically have fruity and floral aromas and play a significant role in the spirit’s aromatic
Dunder: similar of the Bourbon sour mash process, it’s a waste of distillation concentrated in carboxylic acid which have the propriety to bond with molecules of alcohol to form esters. In Europe it is called Vinasse.
Muck: made in pits filled with decaying by-products of rum production. From fermentation and distillation residues, dunder, lees or even crush cane leftovers. The result gives a highly acidic and unpleasantly pungent liquid created by bacteria activity.
Short vs long fermentation : a short fermentation is a very efficient way to convert sugar into ethanol pretty quickly (about 24 hours). Generally, it doesn’t generate strong aromas. Contrariwise, longer fermentation will allow yeasts to produce a higher level of esters and therefore more pronounced aromas. Often after fermentation, the liquid is let still to allow further microbial activity development, enhancing strong and funky aromas.
The Jamaican rum is characterized by unique pungent aromas from ripe bananas to ripe pineapples that make it quite obvious to point when you smell it. This strong attribute is created by a unique process of fermentation. All distillers prepare their fermentable liquid with different components like a cooking recipe and all have their own secret. They can use combination of sugar (cane juice, cane syrup, different grade of molasses), dunder, muck, different type of yeast, bacterias and water. The aim is to create a rich liquid in ester and very flavourful.
Regarding the distillation in Jamaica a very diverse range of stills and distilling technics are used. From column to retort (a kind of pot still), the rum maker’s objective is to make different type of rum, each with a specific flavour profile. They are called marques (or marks). Those marks are used to create their own rum by blending several types but they are also sold on the market for the blending industry.
The distilling strategy is often chosen by the type of fermentation. Short fermentation will generally be distilled in column style with high rectification making a light spirit called light mark. On the other hand, long fermentation is distilled in retort or column but with lower rectification to produce heavy mark. Furthermore, some mark in between are made.
The importance of Jamaican rum for rums blender throughout the world drove marks to be classified. An old classification system used four grades from the lightest ester count to the highest.
- Common Clean
Nowadays, every distillery has its own classification of marks that they produce and the old system has been abandoned.
Some rums are meant to be unaged and are sold shortly after the distillation.
Some are short aged for different reason. The first one is the hot Caribbean climate that increases the rate of evaporation. Lighter style would shortly be unbalanced if it aged extensively as Cognac or Scotch. The pressure from the volume of blending industry doesn’t allow the rum to be aged for long years neither. Some brands might move spirit in other cooler countries to undergo the maturation process (ex: Plantation aged their rums in Cognac)
Most Jamaican distilleries age their rum for their own brands mainly in American oak barrel recycled from Bourbon industry. Different size and age of barrel can be used, they are not much jurisdiction regarding maturation. Only heavier marks would be suitable for long aging process as the esterification will continue to develop in barrels. Best example is Appleton that have a core range of 8YO, 12YO, 15YO & 21YO.
JAMAICAN RUM & BLENDS INDUSTRY
Multi-distillery blend is probably taking its roots in the ship of the Royal Navy after the British took over rule of Jamaica. Later they switched the daily ration from brandy to blended rum made from West-Indies. Multi-distillery blend is today in the centre of Caribbean rum industry.
Today, this industry is segmented as:
- The distilling companies (producing theirs owns brand and the liquid for the blending industry)
- Non-producing companies (buy rum from distilleries to make their own blend and sell under their brands)
Jamaican rum from its unique aromas is an important source for non-producing companies. Some examples include:
- Smith & Cross is a brand made out of multi-Jamaican distilleries
- Clarendon produces rum for the brand Captain Morgan,
- In Germany, Rum Verschnitt uses concentrated Jamaican rum that they dilute and sweeten, then sell to a cheap price.
Others independent brand owners as Plantation (France), Fair (France), Duppy Share (UK) or Mezan (UK) rely on Jamaican rum to craft their own blends.
JAMAICAN RUM LAWS
Protected by a GI, or ‘Geographical Indication’, the production of Jamaican rum must follow certain strict rules to be labelled as such. Here are some examples:
- The distillery must be located near a water basin with limestone
- Rum must be made from either sugar cane juice, cane syrup, molasses, sugar or any combination of these.
- Distillation must be carried in still made out of
- Post-distillation rum can be unaged or aged in small oak barrels in
- Only water and caramel for colour purpose can be added to aged
- No sugar can be added post-distillation.