Story by Jono Carr, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Cocktail images by Christopher Pearce
Guyana has managed to adjust and grow with the world around it and continue to make rum that is both interesting and delicious. It also is home to some of the world’s only remaining working wooden stills, both pot and continuous, The Port Morant and Enmore stills. Over 200 hundred years old and still going.
Guyana (meaning “Land of Many Waters”) has evidence of rum production under Dutch rule as early as 1703. Soon after the Dutch occupied in the 1600s they began growing sugar cane on the vast coastal plains and built waterways similar to Amsterdam that provided an ability to transport goods from place to the ports. Dutch influence remains in Guyana to this day, such as the town (and distillery of the same name Uitvlugt (pronounced “eye flot”).
The British took control in 1803 and abolished slavery in 1833 however indentured workers, mostly from the West Indies, took over as the main workforce. Over 340,000 indentured labourers were shipped there. Many stayed on after and the influence of their culture is still a huge part of the country today.
As such British Guiana was sending vast quantities of raw materials including sugar and of course rum to the UK between 1800 to the 1960s. A British company Booker & Bro’s held a large part of the cane fields, rum production and transportation during that period meaning that all the profit went to them.
Another important part of its history is that until its independence in 1966, the country’s rum played a huge part in what is known as the Tott. The measure of booze given out to every English sailor at midday which only ended in 1970. A lot can be written about the Tott, but that is for another time or article.
“In the early days of Guiana, there may have been over 200 distilleries, but by its independence, they were down to just six. Over the many years, some grew large and strong, collecting stills and know-how from the closing with the others closing if they couldn’t pay the taxes. Of the six left by 1960, there is only one remaining.”
A lot has changed in the time since British Guiana became Guyana in the way its rum is recognised. Apart from being recognised as being intrinsic to the Tott, Guyuanian rum also played a part in the Tiki movement.
Lemon Hart Rum is a big player and both Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic used rums from the region. Other historical rums of note are Lamb’s, Pusser’s and Woods O.V.D. They are all known for their particularly hearty style.
In the early days of Guiana, there may have been over 200 distilleries, but by its independence, they were down to just six. Over the many years, some grew large and strong, collecting stills and know-how from the closing with the others closing if they couldn’t pay the taxes. Of the six left by 1960, there is only one remaining.
What was known as the ‘Great Final Eight’, Skeldon distillery, closed in 1960. Blairmont in 1962, Albion in 1968, La Bonne Intention in 1959, Versailles in 1978, Enmore in 1994 and Uitvlugt in 1999. It was looking pretty grim. However, in a strong move the last two remaining rum companies DLL and GDL combined in 1983 to become DDL or Demerara Distillers Limited.
The saving grace for all of the years of distilling experience and especially the machinery is that it was taken with them from the closing distilleries to the final destination, the Diamond Distillery which is still operating thankfully.
El Dorado as well as some other great rum brands have released some single still rums that showcase a snapshot of how rum was enjoyed before blending and showcase a style of rum being made all those years ago. These stills as mentioned above have some serious pedigree and historical claims that make them incredibly unique and interesting.
Nowadays you will probably know of El Dorado as the Guyanese rum of choice. A rum blended from several types of still that just don’t exist anymore.
“This isn’t a museum; these are all working machines and have been saved, thanks partly to DDL which recognised Guyana’s extraordinary wealth of distilling equipment but also by the blenders who needed a diverse range of marks,” Dave Broom writes in his book ‘Rum: The Manual’.
El Dorado boasts some Single Still releases including the Versailles and Enmore. The El Dorado Single Still Enmore Rum is produced from the original EHP Wooden Continuous Coffey Still, first constructed at the Enmore Estate in 1880. This still was named after the original owner of the Enmore Sugar Plantation Edward Henry Porter, and was based on the original design of its inventor, Irishman Aeneas Coffey.
With the closure of the estate in 2000, this still was moved to Diamond Estate. It is the last surviving wooden still operating in the world today. The El Dorado Single Still Enmore Rum was laid down in oak barrels for 12 years. The El Dorado Single Still Port Mourant Rum is produced from the Double Wooden Pot Still which is the only one of its kind in use today. Constructed in 1732 on the Port Mourant Estate, this still was later moved to the Uitvlugt Estate and then to Diamond Estate in 2000.
The ability to taste these individual styles of rum is something pretty special. We as bartenders study the past to understand more of the future of spirits. It’s good that we can bring some of that history of rum into the present for our guests.
Knickerbocker 60ml Bacardi 8 15ml curacao 30ml lime juice 15ml raspberry syrup Shaken and fine strained into a coupette. Lemon zest garnish Jerry Thomas’s How to Mix Drinks 1882 Adapted by Jonothan Carr
Rum Manhattan 60ml Appleton Estate 12 20ml sweet vermouth 2 dash aromatic bitters 2 dash orange bitters Stirred down, served up Orange zest garnish Ben Hickey / The Roosevelt
Skinsy Old Fashioned Diplomatico Reserva Familia Banana skin oleo* Chocolate bitters Stirred down, served over chipped ice wiht a banana chip garnish Sai Merchant
Cuban Payphone 45ml white rum 15ml dry sherry 30ml lemon juice 15ml sugar syrup 2 dash orange bitters Shake and strain into coupe. Garnish with a lemon twist Dre Walters / Old Mate's Place