How to make traditional dark rum


 A couple of decades ago, my friend Moose and I made a batch of dark rum in the traditional manner. After performing a little research into the rum making techniques of the 18th and 19th centuries, we assembled the necessary apparatus and began. Here is a description of that project.

 History of Rum Making
Rum is a beverage that seems to have had its origins on the 17th century Caribbean sugarcane plantations and by the 18th century its popularity had spread throughout world. Encyclopædia Britannica of 1771 provides a description of the traditional rum making process:

“When a sufficient stock of the materials is got together, they add water to them, and ferment them in the common method, though the fermentation is always carried on very slowly at first; because at the beginning of the season for making rum in the islands, they want yeast, or some other ferment to make it work; but by degrees, after this they procure a sufficient quantity of the ferment, which rises up as a head to the liquor in the operation; and thus they are able afterwards to ferment and make their rum with a great deal of expedition, and in large quantities.”

“When the wash is fully fermented, or to a due degree of acidity, the distillation is carried on in the common way, and the spirit is made up proof: though sometimes it is reduced to a much greater strength, nearly approaching to that of alcohol or spirit of wine, and it is then called double distilled rum. It might be easy to rectify the spirit and bring it to a much greater purity than we usually find it to be of: for it brings over in the distillation a very large quantity of the oil; and this is often so disagreeable, that the rum must be suffered to be by a long time to mellow before it can be used; whereas; if well rectified, it would grow mellow much sooner, and would have a much less potent flavour.”

The article from Encyclopædia Britannica finishes with a useful tip for determining the quality of rum:

“The best method of judging of it is, by setting fire to a little of it; and when it has burnt away all the inflammable part, examining the phlegm both by the taste and smell.”

In another era, Lloyd’s Encyclopædic Dictionary of 1895 described rum as:

“A spirit distilled chiefly in the West Indies from the fermented skimmings of the sugar-boilers and molasses, together with sufficient cane juice to impart the necessary flavour.”

Lloyd also laments that “Much of the rum sold in this country is merely plain spirit, coloured with burnt sugar, and flavoured with rum flavouring.”

A Compromise
As we considered the nature of our project, it became clear that the scrapings of a sugar boiler were going to be difficult to come by. A somewhat modified traditional rum recipe was needed. Despite Lloyds’ misgivings about the rum sold in England in 1895, we felt sure that a beverage made from the scrapings of an 18th century sugar-boiler would not necessarily result in a superior product. We decided that following process would be an acceptable compromise between the traditional approach and expedience:

Step 1. Set up a couple of 20 litre beer fermenting tanks with temperature control and air-locks

Step 2. Mix up a brew of raw sugar, molasses, water and yeast; add some yeast nutrient to ensure good fermentation (get the nutrient from a supplier of wine making equipment)

Step 3. Allow the brew to ferment

Step 4. Construct the distillation apparatus

Step 5. Distil the brew

Step 6. Filter the distillate

Step 7. Mix some activated charcoal to the distillate to improve the taste and smell

Step 8. Filter the distillate to remove the charcoal

Step 9. Add water to the product achieve the correct alcohol content (40% say)

Step 10. Make rum flavour by caramelizing some raw sugar in a saucepan over the kitchen stove

Step 11. Add the caramelized sugar to the spirit to impart taste and colour

Step 12. Prepare and fill the bottles and affix a suitable label

Step 13. Splice the mainbrace

The Brew
Our brew consisted of a couple of kilograms of sugar and some molasses added to 15 litres of water, beer brewing yeast and yeast nutrient. The nutrient is required as sugar lacks some essential elements to enable the yeast to do its job. A standard beer making tank was used to ferment the brew in the same manner that a batch of home-brew beer would be made.