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Trip to the Caribbean

By Greg Erchoff

I knew when I got that email from WIRSPA(West Indies Rum & Spirit Producers’ Association) asking me if I could be available for a week in the Caribbean that it would be already the best news from 2013! 

When a few weeks later we all arrived in Barbados (the Authentic Caribbean Rum International Panel & I) at Bridgetown airport, the outside temperature was already a kind of an experience to live, I mean nothing you can complain about.

What’s the big difference when you arrive around 3pm in a country like Barbados compare to Belgium for example? Don’t get me wrong, I like Belgium, but in Barbados instead of being welcome with a cup of coffee …you get a nice Rum Punch or two!!!

We all arrived at the hotel got that delicious rum Punch and went for a quick swim…

We met Neil Morris, the Head of Marketing from Wirspa and got our schedule for the next few days.

I  found out that I will visit Guyana while the others will go to different countries like St. Lucia, Jamaica, Trinidad or Antigua. The idea was that each of us will go to different distilleries and get back with experiences and knowledge to share with the others.

We went to visit The West Indies Rum Distillery who produce Cockspur Rum, tasted all of their remarkable rums and visited the whole distillery!

After a great evening eating Bajan food by the beach and drinking more rum we went back to the hotel and had a nice swim (yes, the water is still around 28 degrees even at night).

The day after we had a rum tasting including all the brands of Authentic Caribbean Rum and got the chance to meet many of the producers and people behind the brands!

To tell the absolute truth, that day I tasted around 50 rums, with some amazing flavours, I was feeling totally great and, when I woke up, I had no headache! That is a great sign about how good the distillation was on those rums, for sure!

The Guyana experience at Demerara Distillers Limited (El Dorado Rum)

I took a small plane from Barbados to Georgetown, Guyana – you know the sort of tiny plane that makes people applaud when it lands right!

Mr Parbu, the driver, was waiting for me to take me directly to the distillery. I was really pleased when he turned the radio on happy Indian music started playing. I love indian music since I lived in India for a while. Looking through the window I discovered the land of Guyana – wooden houses on stilts next to the Demerara river.

We drove along, past many Hindu temples and mosques, as well as an Anglican Church. Guyana is an exotic cocktail  of cultures (East Indian, African, Amerindian, Chinese, British, Dutch and Caribbean). Approximately 80% of the country is covered with virgin rainforest. Guyana means the land of many waters and the rich and fertile banks of the Demerara River still produce the sugar that has made Demerara rums so distinctive. The Diamond distillery is also located in this area. It used to be a sugar factory then it became a distillery almost 300 years ago. There used to be a lot of micro distilleries in Guyana then DDL had the chance to bring all the different column and  pot stills together at Diamond Distillery – that decision was taken by the grandfather of El Dorado rums – Dr Yesu Persaud. 

The most amazing thing you can find in that distillery is a wooden 2 column still that remains in operation – the oldest & only one in operation in the world they say. It really blew my mind! They also have wooden pot stills and this makes El Dorado rum very distinct from other rums. From the 12 year old to the 25 year old, in El Dorado rum you can find notes like strong toffee, coffee, rich full bodied fruit, sweet Demerara sugar and dark chocolate flavours.

The singles barrel rums are more delicate – fruity with a really long finish. They are smooth and complex with a little similarity to Cognac.

In the process of fermentation they collect around 50% of the carbon dioxide produced for other uses. They also treat their waste to produce methane to use for the generators of their distillery, to heat the stills and for other electricity needs of the distillery.

El Dorado rums are made from molasses produced in the country. Guyana is one of the biggest molasses producers in the Caribbean and the molasses they use at DDL is 100% from the Demerara region. The molasses contains around 50% sugars and DDL use their own  strain of cultured yeast for fermentations.

There are 13 fermenting tanks, some are covered some not, with the covered ones helping to collect the CO2 to be used by companies like Pepsi for the local market. The fermentation process is around 28 hours, they get a wash of around 7%ABV.

DDL has many different stills that include 3 different wooden stills – each one of them produce a really flavourful rum. One is a two column wooden Coffey still built in 1880 call EHP (Edward Henry Porter). The Port Moran is a wooden double pot still and came from a distillery established in 1732 produces a very heavy bodied rum. The Versaille came from a distillery on the west bank of Demerara, VSG single wooden pot makes lighter rum. The wooden stills are heated by steam pipe at the bottom and have water on top of the still like a pool  to help prevent the wood drying out with the heat!

Also, they have a 4 column French Savalle still that produces dry  medium body flavour qualities and makes the single barrel ICBU that was the mark for Dutch owned Uitvlugt distillery.

After the visit to the distillery I went to my hotel then after a while, Jerenzee the sales manager of DDL took me to different bars – from pubs to outdoor bars where Shaun,  a director  of the distillery, joined us for a drink .

We had El Dorado 12 year old with different soft drinks such as coconut water and ginger ale then the EL Dorado 15 years old straight up and on ice as well, then switched back from 12 to 15 several times. The interesting trick of drinking rum with coconut water is that it gives you constant and really good hydration (coconut water has a really strong hydration effect on your system).

Apparently the big debate between locals and also the people working at the Distillery is which one is the best – 12 or 15 year old El Dorado. I think they spoke and debated about it all night long.

The day after I went to the bottling line where they deal with 12 different kinds of bottle after which I went to the tasting room where I had the chance to try every single rum they produce under the El Dorado brand.

El Dorado have several rums: El Dorado 3 year old  charcoal filtered white rum/ El Dorado spiced / El Dorado 5 year old/ El Dorado 8 year old/ El Dorado 12 year old/ El Dorado 15 year old/ El Dorado 21 year old/ El Dorado 25 year old/ El Dorado ICBU single barrel/ El Dorado EHP single barrel/ El Dorado PM single barrel.

Later on I took a plane back to Barbados to continue my educational experience on rum and the visit to some other distilleries like Mount Gay, St Nicolas Abbey and Foursquare.

‘The views expressed above are the opinions of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of WIRSPA Inc.’ 

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