The Distiller’s Guide to Rum

unnamedToday I am getting into the technicalities of rum production by reviewing the book “The Distiller’s Guide to Rum” by Ian Smiley, Eric Watson & Michel Delevante. Michael Delevante has been in the spirits business for nearly 50 years, at some point he was even the senior distiller for Appleton Estate Jamaica Rum. More on his bio can be found hereLet’s jump into the details. The book was printed in 2013, has 143 pages and costs around 24€.

Part one: Historic and contemporary rum producers

The book starts with a rather short introduction to the history of rum and rum production, followed by a chapter focusing solely on New England’s rum distilleries.  On a side note, from 1600 till the 1800s, New England was world-famous for its rum production. The history that has been revived recently by many new craft rum distillers,  three of which are introduced in this chapter in more detail, namely the Shore Rum Distillery, Ryan & Wood Distilleries and the Newport Distilling Company. These distilleries are unfortunately completely unknown outside the US. Each distillery’s rum expressions as well as their stills and distillation process are presented with technical details.

Part two: How to make rum

Now the book becomes really technical, starting with a short chapter on fermenters, stills and barrels, followed by a particularly interesting one on raw ingredients such as sugar cane, water and yeast. This chapter teaches the details on, among others, the ideal mineral composition and pH-value of water for producing rum. If you want to learn more about how water quality affects rum production, read this really well-written article from Inu A Kena.
The next chapter describes the pre-treatment of molasses. It is written in such detail that you can use it as a manual for rum production. For example, in chapter six on fermentation the authors give us a day by day description on how to ferment molasses while an example recipe for amber rum is provided in in chapter ten. However, I believe that particularly chapter seven and eight are of great interested to the informed rum-geek. Here, the authors describe pot and column distillation with coloured figures. Chapter nine focuses on maturation, blending and vatting. If you don’t know, vatting is when a distillery mixes different batches of their own products, while blending is when spirits from different manufacturers are mixed together (as you may have noticed, on this blog I use the word blend and blending for all products where a blender (aha!) purposefully pours different rums together to achieve the desired result -SCR).

Part three:  Rum resources

The book concludes with a chapter on rum styles (white rum, Rhum Agricole, a.s.o.) and another one on “reinventing classic rum cocktails. Both chapters aren’t particularly interesting if you ask me. It’s followed by very short chapters on rum bars (incl. addresses), rum festivals (however, for better information check out the rum festival list of The Floating Rum Shack), a short bibliography of rums and some websites (the list is a bit outdated I must say).
Last but not least, don’t miss the Appendix “The fundamentals of distillation”. Its worth the read.


Although I wish they would have covered in great technical details some famous distilleries such as Hampden or the stills from DDL, you can really learn a lot from this book. It’s a very technical but fascinating book for any rum geek who wants to know a bit more than just the difference between pot and column still distillation.
So do you need this book? Well, does “batch distillation of rum utilizing a rectification column” sound too technical to you? Then you should give this book a pass but if you are intrigued to learn more about the technicalities of rum production, this book is a must read.

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