Welcome friends of Demerara Rum! Did you ever wonder what exactly is going on behind the doors of Demerara Distillers Limited (DDL), what kinds of stills are being used and what all those different marks mean? Then you have come to the right place!
In the beginning I only wanted to do a short introduction for upcoming rum reviews, but after a while I noticed, that a lot of the information I found in books or articles on the web were incomplete, drawing wrong conclusions or were full out wrong. The more research I did on Guyana and its rum, the more contradicting information came to light, especially about the different stills that are used by DDL at the Diamond Distillery and what the different marks meant.
After a few days I contacted Stefanie Holt, Brand Ambassador for El Dorado in UK and discussed my open questions with her. Unfortunately, a few of them couldn’t be answered, but Stefanie was very helpful and got in touch with people at DDL to get some reliable answers. I also contacted Carl Kanto, Distillery Manager of DDL, directly via Facebook (oh the wonders of modern times) and also got a few answers from him. So thanks to everybody who helped writing this article, I couldn’t have done it without you!
A short introduction to Guyana and its Demerara rum
The country known as Guyana today is located in the north-east area of South America and was first discovered by Christopher Columbus on his third journey in 1498. The first colonies were founded in the name of Netherlands in 1616 (Essequibo), 1627 (Berbice) and 1741 (Demerara, gained colony status in 1771, but was founded in 1741). The governance changed in the following years a few times between Netherland, France and Great Britain until the three territories were united to British-Guyana in 1831 and stayed under British rule until the country’s independence in 1966.
In Guyana, as well as the rest of the Caribbean sugar was booming and making a lot of people rich exporting the sweet crystals to Europe. Especially famous was the so called Demerara Sugar, a not completely refined sugar with a rest of two to three percent molasses. Today this sugar is mostly produced by adding a small amount of molasses to common refined sugar and the bulk of demerara sugar is not exported by Guyana anymore but Mauritius.
In the 17th century almost every sugar estate had an own distillery attached to it or had a partnership with a distillery to make rum out of molasses, a byproduct of the sugar production, which was regarded as waste before the distilling of rum became common in the Caribbean. Depending on which source you trust, there were at least 200 (Rum by Dave Broom) to over 380 (Class Magazine by Simon Difford) different distilleries in Guyana at the height of the sugar boom.
After the cultivation of sugar beets got the common method to produce sugar in Europe the export of sugar based on sugar cane declined steadily and with it the number of distilleries in Guyana and other Caribbean countries/colonies. As time went by, the more successful estates were taking over the less fortunate ones and in 1849 only 180 sugar estates were still in production. This number shrank to mere 64 at the turn of the century.
In the seventies only three distilleries continued to distill rum: Enmore, Diamond and Uitvlugt (pronounced “eye-flat”). But not all stills of the closed down distilleries were scrapped. In some of the cases the stills were transported to the buying distillery instead, which then continued to produce the rum of the closed down distillery. This was mostly done because a big amount of rum was sold in bulk to foreign bottlers and some of the individual rum styles were and sometimes still are important components of specific blends. However not all stills were moved. If possible, the existing stills were used to exactly reproduce the rums from old distilleries, which made the old stills obsolete.
After British-Guyana gained its independence from Great Britain in 1966, the politics of prime minister and future president Forbes Burnham concentrated heavily on gaining control over foreign companies, which controlled most of the Guyana’s economy. Since 1970 every company in Guyana had to be 51% in state ownership, to fulfill the statues of Burnham’s “cooperative republic”. In the following years the government took more and more control and nationalized every important part of the economy eventually. It started with the big mining companies between 1971 and 1974 and continued from 1974 to 1976 with the sugar estates and distilleries.
The estates of Booker Sugar Estates Limited, Tate and Lyle and Jessels Holdings were merged to the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo). The three still existing distilleries Diamond (Diamond Liquors, Sandbach-Parker), Enmore (Demerara Distilleries, Booker McConnell) and Uitvlugt (Guyana Distilleries Limited, Booker McConnell) were put under control of the state owned holding company Guyana Liquor Corporation, but operated mainly independently from each other. In 1883 Diamond Liquors (Diamond Distillery) and Guyana Distillers (Uitvlugt Distillery) were merged into Demerara Distillers Limited, which was privatized during the following years. The Uitvlugt Distillery was not closed until 2000, whereupon the Diamond Distillery remained the only distillery in Guyana. It’s located on the east bank of the river Diamond, south of the capital Georgetown.
Unfortunately all of the articles I found didn’t mention Enmore Distillery in connection with the founding of DDL. It is certain, that Enmore was part of Guyana Liquor Corporation and also DDL. But the distillery was closed only as recently as 1993, so why was it not mentioned? It wouldn’t make sense to only merge Diamond and Uitvlugt, but leave Enmore independent. Especially since almost all El Dorado blends, the premium range of rums by DDL, contains rum from the Enmore Wooden Coffey Still. One possibility is that Enmore was merged with one of the other two distilleries before DDL was founded and therefore not mentioned. Another, it was simply forgotten by the writers of history.
The fate of the Versailles Distillery is a little bit uncertain as well. Dave Broom writes in Rum that in 1971 only three distilleries were still in business, but the Versailles estate closed in 1977. It’s most likely that the distillery was shut down sometime before 1971, but the estate itself continued to operate a few years longer though. Nonetheless it is certain that the still of Versailles was moved to Enmore Distillery, from where it was brought to Uitvlugt Distillery in 1993 and finally at the turn of the century from Uitvlugt to Diamond Distillery, where the still is still located today.
Marks, Stills & Distilleries?
If you are a demerara rum fan, you most certainly have seen a bottle with some abbreviation like PM, VSG or EHP. These are called marks or marquees and were introduced in Guyana a long time ago, when a couple of hundred distilleries and sugar estates still existed. The marks identified the origin of a rum and referred to the sugar estate, which did produce the rum or which the rum was produced for. In the early stages of rum distillation it should have been most common that an estate operated only one still, because in these times it was only important to produce rum itself, not to diversify and offer a wide range of styles.
Therefore, most marks should have referred originally not only to a sugar estate but to the one still of an estate. However because the history of the distilleries and their stills is very badly documented, there is now way to tell if distilleries only owned one still or more.
As you can see in the pictures of this article (Thanks a lot Stefanie!) DDL is referring to the wooden stills with the marks of their original sugar estates: EHP (Enmore), PM (Port Mourant) and VSG (Versailles). Therefore I assume, at least those three were the original stills of their estate and that the mark not only referred to the estate but to the stills themselves (if only indirectly).
Let’s talk about the stills of Diamond Distillery, the only distillery which still produces rum in Guyana and is owned by DDL.
On the company website the following stills are mentioned:
- Wooden Coffey Still, originally from Enmore Distillery
- Single Wooden Pot Still, originally from Versailles Distillery
- Double Wooden Pot Still, originally from Port Mourant Distillery
- Original French Savalle Four-Column Still, originally from Uitvlugt Distillery
- Modern French Savalle Four-Column Still, no mentioning of the origin of this still
The Modern French Savalle Four-Column Still is especially favored, because according to the website, it is possible to produce nine different marks on this still. Furthermore it is written that with nine different stills over twenty marks can be produced by DDL. This also confirms that not all of the old stills of the closed distilleries are now found at Diamond, which a few articles suggested.
But what are the
other stills at Diamond? Only five out of nine are listed on the website. A quick search led me to the Ministry of Rum Forum in which Carl Kanto wrote a post about the current stills and named the following stills, which are in use at DDL:
- Wooden Coffey Still of Enmore Distillery
- Single Wooden Pot Still of Versailles Distillery
- Double Wooden Pot Still of Port Mourant Distillery
- Four-Column Savalle Still
- Two-Column Metal Coffey Still
This list is almost the same as the one on the DDL Website, but doesn’t include the second French Savalle Four Column Still and brings a Two Column Metal Coffey Still to the game. This is no big step forward, but I think this is the source of a big misunderstanding which many articles suffer from. In his post at Ministry of Rum Forum Carl writes the following: “Some of the other marks are made on the 4 columns Savalle still and the 2 column metal coffey still”. Many obviously misread this part and counted four “Column Savalle Stills” and two “Column Coffey Stills” which results in the nine stills, which are mentioned on the DDL website.
In the book Rum by Dave Broom and in an article by the Class Magazine the following combinations of stills are mentioned:
Rum by Dave Broom, November 2003: “Here are single and double wooden pots, Savalle Columns, Coffey stills, a high-ester still, a tiny pair of copper pots, and, on the back wall, looking like a giant filing cabinet, the Enmore still…”.
This is rather vague in the exact number of stills, but adds a high-ester still and copper pot stills to the mix, which are not mentioned anywhere else.
Class Magazine Issue 5/2010 by Simon Difford: “Demerara Distillers boast nine different stills, acquired as Guyana’s other distilleries closed. [...] These stills include: three English two-column Coffey stills and two French Savalle four-column stills, but the Diamond Distillery is best known for its three wooden stills: a Port Mourant double wooden pot still, a Versailles single wooden pot still and an Enmore wooden Coffey still.”
This would fit to the information provided on the Demerara Distillers Limited website and Carl Kanto in his post on the Ministry of Rum Forum – at least, if both sources excluded a few of the stills and only listed a few of them. No mentioning of the high-ester and copper pot stills though.
To make things even more complicated, I found two articles from Kaieteur News and Starbrock News which both mention a new Five-Column and Two-Column Still, which were being built in June/July 2010. Furthermore I stumpled upon an example for a mark, which is being distilled on one of the wooden stills, but is in fact not the original mark of this still, on the website of the Italian bottler Velier. According to them, ELCR is distilled on the Enmore EHP Wooden Coffey Still and is a little bit lighter than the more common EHP mark.
The stills of Demerara Distillers Limited today
This was the point I contacted Stefanie Holt and later Carl Kanto. With their help I could identify the following stills, which are currently in use at the Diamond Distillery:
- 1x Wooden Coffey Still of Enmore Sugar Estate
- 1x Single Wooden Pot Still of Versailles Sugar Estate
- 1x Double Wooden Pot Still of Port Mourant Sugar Estate
- 2x French Savalle Four-Columns Stills of Uitvlugt Sugar Estate
- 3x Two-Columns Metal Coffey Stills
- 1x Two-Columns Metal Coffey-like Still
- 1x Five-Columns Metal Continuous Still
- 1x Re-Rectification Still
- 2x Metal Pot Stills
Those stills are almost the same as listed in Rum by Dave Broom and the Class Magazine article, with addition of the two new stills, which were build last year. But not all of these stills are used for the distillation of rum. DDL also produces neutral alcohol, Brandy, Vodka and Liquors for DeKuyper, for which the Re-Rectification Still and the metal pot stills are used. All the other ones however are used for the rum production and most of them are also included in at least one of the El Dorado blends, the premium range of rums by DDL:
The three wooden stills have been discussed at length in other articles on the web, so I will concentrate on the less famous stills.
French Savalle Four-Column Stills
Savalle is a French manufacturer of stills, which build this variant of a column still for the Uitvlugt Distillery. According to Carl Kanto both of the stills are as good as identical and have been in fact used at Uitvlugt before being shipped to Diamond. This is contradicting the information found at the English website of DDL. But in this case I tend to believe first hand information instead of a text, which probably was translated and altered here and there by marketing people. The Savalle Stills are used for a multiple number of marks. To the exception of the El Dorado 12 and 15 blend, all are using one or more mark of the Savalle Stills.
Two-Column Metal Stills
DDL uses three Two-Columns English Coffey Stills: one is small in size and volume, the other two are larger. The small one is similar in structure as the Wooden Coffey Still except it is made of metal and circular in dimension instead of wood and rectangular like the Wooden Coffey Still is. The small metal Coffey also has cooling and preheating coils in the rectifying column. Of the two large metal Coffey stills, one has cooling coils. The SVW mark is produced on these stills and is used in the 8, 12 and 15 year old blend of El Dorado.
The new Two-Columns Still is similar build to a Coffey still and will be able to produce flavored and light rum.
Five-Columns Continuous Still
The new Five-Columns Metal Continuous Still will be able to produce a range of rums from heavy to very light, as well as extra clean neutral alcohol.
The marks deciphered?
Besides the information on the different stills, I was able to gather the following information about the particular marks, which are or were being produced in the past by DDL. Please don’t take this list as the absolute truth but rather as the current state of uncompleted research!
Unfortunately this overview has a lot of holes in it and is cause for a few questions. Where and how were the marks AWM, KFM, REV, MPM, DW and PDW originally produced? I found these on a few bottles of Cadenhead’s Rum, which were distilled many years ago though. Maybe those marks are no longer produced and therefore have been, over time, forgotten. In addition I always had the impression that the ICBU mark was produced on one of the Savalle Stills at Uitvlugt, but according to Karl Canto the original still was a continuous still which was built by a manufacturer named Blair.
The most important fact I learned during the research is, that a still can’t be associated directly with one distinct mark and that one mark doesn’t identify one distinct still or distillery anymore, but a certain style of rum with defined characteristics. As mentioned before, during the consolidation of distilleries in Guyana not all stills survived the closing of its sugar estate and/or distillery and the associated style of rum was imitated and replicated by an already existing still at the new owner’s distillery. Today many of the marks are produced with the two French Savalle Four-Columns Stills. Those are highly adjustable due to plates in the columns which can be set to produce light to medium-heavy rums.
Nonetheless, Demerara Distillers Limited often emphasizes that all the marks retained their original taste and smell. This can’t be verified by someone else than DDL, but as they did undergo much effort to further use some of the very old stills, I tend to think this is realistic. The famous Wooden Coffey Still for example should have been replaced by an identical still made of metal once, because it was in very bad shape. However the rum from the metal still was not identical to the rum of the wooden still, so the old still was repaired, which was expensive and also time consuming. As a result we can still enjoy the rum of this still today and hopefully will do so for many years to come!
Demerara Rum! It is truly fascinating, what a broad range of rum is produced in Guyana. Hardly any other country in the rum world makes such palate pleasing rums like El Dorado 12 on the one hand and very intense rums like single still bottlings of the Port Mourant or Versailles stills on the other hand. For sure, the rich and long history of the wooden stills also helps a lot to produce a certain mystery around Guyana and demerara rum.
Unfortunately it is very difficult to get detailed and reliable information about the distilleries, stills and marks. There are lots of facts accumulated in this article, but still many questions remain open, which would deserve to be answered. Various marks have been found, which nobody outside of DDL has reliable information about and it would be also nice to get a more in depth overview about the many distilleries which existed in the past. If someone has information, which are not mentioned in this article, please drop a comment and share them with us!
Many thanks to Stefanie Holt and Carl Kanto, who both helped a lot during the research of this article and to all readers who hung on until the end. Over the next few weeks and months I will publish reviews about many demerara rums which were bottled by Silver Seal, Samaroli, Velier, El Dorado (single still rums) and Bristol Classic. In contrary to the widely known El Dorado blends these contain only one specific mark and are much more distinct in taste. The reviews are planned to be published in German, but if interest is high enough, I will think about a way to provide English versions as well.
- SideBlog: Guyana and Its Stills | The Pegu Blog
- DDL and its many stills | Liquorature: Whisky, Words, Wit
- Guyana & Its Rum | RumConnection.com
- Demerara rum « Champagne Commie
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