Demerara County, Guyana, has been steeped in the history of sugar and rum production since the 17th century. A hundred years later over 300 sugar estates had their own distillery producing their own signature rums. Through the centuries these estates and distilleries have been amalgamated, but these important marques and the original stills were preserved.
Today, Demerara Distillers operates the last remaining distillery in Guyana at Plantation Diamond on the East bank of the Demerara River. Here they have consolidated all the old original stills, marques and traditional skills which make Demerara Rum so distinctive. With its 9 different stills, no other rum distillery in the world offers such a variety and range of over twenty different styles of rum.
The story of rum in Guyana started in the 1640’s with the introduction of sugar cane by the early European settlers. But it was not until distilling was introduced into the new territories by the British in the 1650s that the foundation of Demerara Rum production was laid down.
The Columbus Connection
When Columbus first sighted Guyana in 1498, a land inhabited by the Arawak and Carib tribes of Amerindians, he had recently introduced sugar cane to the Caribbean from the Canary Isles.
150 years later the Dutch came to Guyana and established the first settlements of Essequibo and Berbice, introducing the cultivation of sugar cane in the 1640’s along the coastal plain and the banks of the great rivers. By 1658 sugar was being produced in Guyana and within three years the first shipments sailed for Holland. The breakthrough came in the 1650’s when the British planters introduced the pivotal process of distilling. This proved so popular that by 1670, every sugar estate had a small still attached to it. In the same year, the local sugar cane producers formed an exporting co-operative, and by the 1700s there were well over 300 independent estates involved in producing their own unique rums from the molasses – a byproduct of sugar production.
In 1752 the third Guyana settlement, Demerara, was established on the banks of the great Demerara River.
The choice of the Royal Navy
Rum’s association with the Royal Navy first began in 1677 when the Admirality decided to issue an official daily rum ration for all ratings. When the Port Mourant Estate distillery – one of the oldest in the world – was established in 1732, the extra character and depth of the rum from its Double Wooden Pot Still made it the choice of the Royal Navy.
By 1814 the three Guyanese colonies were handed over to the British and merged into British Guiana in 1831. In 1834 slavery was abolished and a plantation labour force was imported from Europe, China and India. Colonial rums, utilising British blending, were becoming more popular and the first Old Vatted Demerara (OVD) was made with Guyanese Port Mourant as the major component.
By the second half of the 18th century, sugar estates were closing and consolidating with only 180 remaining and in 1880 the Wooden Framed Coffey Still was installed at the Enmore Estate distillery. Each estate produced its own distinctive rum which was given its own mark or Marque identifying its origin. (eg. SWR, ICBU, PM, EHP, LBI, AN) These rums were shipped to England, establishing the worldwide trading name of Demerara Rum. Rum was now established as a polite middle class drink – replacing gin.
The True Taste of Demerara
More and more of the sugar estates and distilleries merged during the early twentieth century culminating in the amalgamation of all the various stills, equipment and expertise in 1998 by Demerara Distillers Limited at the last remaining Estate, Diamond, on the East Bank of the Demerara River. From the launch of the El Dorado range of Demerara Rums in 1992 on the local and international market, the brand has gone from strength to strength, epitomising the unique quality of the true taste of Demerara. It was in that year that DDL became the first rum producer in the world to market a premium quality aged rum: El Dorado 15 Year Old Special Reserve. Since then this superb spirit has become the internationally recognised benchmark for aged rums and the company has gone on to develop an unrivalled portfolio of Age Statement Rums. The significance of this is that each age statement specifically indicates the youngest rum in the blend, even though the oldest may be many years older.
Demerara Distillers is the unique position in the world of rum in continuing to operate the original production Stills used on three of the great Sugar Estates of the 18th and 19th centuries.
The Wooden Coffey Still
The Wooden Continuous Coffey or EHP Wooden Still is the last fully working example of its kind in the world today. It is similar, if not identical, to the very first continuous still constructed and patented by an Irish excise officer, Aeneas Coffey in 1832, after whom the Still was named. This Still is the original and last surviving one from the Enmore Sugar Estate founded nearly 200 years ago by Edward Henry Porter. Since 1880 it has been producing a medium bodied rum with a mild, fruity aroma, and its unique flavour is attributed to the wooden structure of this tall still, described by the rum writer, Dave Broom, as ‘looking like a giant filing cabinet’. While rum from this Still is used in the blending of other El Dorado rums, the El Dorado EHP Marque Single Barrel Rum is a single distillate from this venerable but highly productive Still.
The Wooden Pot Stills
Demerara Distillers benefits from being able to operate the last two original Wooden Pot Stills (one Single and one Double) in the world. √Over 250 years old, and originally used to produce the Demerara Navy Rums in the past, they are nowadays often referred to by their old names of Demerara Vat Stills. The Double Wooden Pot Still originated from the Port Mourant Estate, founded in 1732, and was later moved first to Uitvlught and then, in 2000, to Diamond. In the same way the original Single Wooden Pot Still was moved from its original home at Versailles on the west bank of the Demerara River, via Enmore and Uitvlught to its present home at Diamond. These two unique copper-necked Stills are valued by blenders and other experts as a source of very heavy bodied, very flavourful and deeply aromatic rums – the ancient Green Heartwood of the Still playing a major role in the development of these distinctive characteristics. While rum from this Still is used in the blending of other El Dorado rums, the El Dorado PM Marque Single Barrel Rum is a single distillate from the Double Wooden Pot Still from the old Port Mourant Estate.
The French Savalle Still
Demerara Distillers continues to use the original four-column metal French Savalle Still inherited from the 18th century Uitvlught Estate on the west coast of Demerara county. The rum produced from this Still is characterised by a pronounced sweet, sugar cane nose combined with a dry medium-bodied flavour – qualities unmatchable by any other distiller. The modern version of this still is versatile enough to produce nine completely different types (marks) of rum ranging from the very light through to heavy bodied rums. While rum from the original French Savalle Still is used in the blending of other El Dorado rums, the El Dorado ICBU Marque Single Barrel Rum is a single distillate from this Still.