Wednesday, August 5, 2015

:: shaun caleb of el dorado rums ::

On Thursday, July 23rd, Boston had the honor of hosting Shaun Caleb of El Dorado Rums. Dave Catania of Burke Distributing was able to persuade Shaun to stay in the country after Tales of the Country and speak to Boston bartenders at Felipe's in Cambridge. Shaun's talk that day seemed to be more of a general overview of the Guyana's history, the distillery, and their product line with perhaps some overlap with his talk at Tales entitled "Rare & Heritage Rums of Demerara." Shaun started his quest by leaving his home country of Guyana to study chemical engineering at Princeton University, and then returned as promised to work for the Demerara Distillers. There, he learned under then-master distiller George Leslie Robinson who trained him over a five year period to take over the position.
Guyana is a country about eight times the size of Massachusetts that was first discovered by the Dutch before being taken over by the English in 1700s. Being on the northeastern tip of South America, Guyana has close access to the sea and Caribbean islands and soon became a gateway to South America. By the late 1600s, Guyana had well established agricultural industries revolving around cotton, coffee, and sugar. Most of the sugar cane there is grown along the coast on about ten percent of the land. At one point, there were 300 sugar plantations and 380 small distillers. As time, taxes, and dropping sugar prices intervened in the 1800s, plantations closed and transferred their stills to other plantations. With this preservation and frugality, stills from the 1700s and 1800s have survived to this day. The Demerara Distillery has 12 of these surviving heritage stills that range from one to three centuries old and vary in material including wood, copper, and steel, as well as vary in style such as pot and column. This wide arsenal of stills of varying styles and histories is utilized to assemble the El Dorado product line such that the different age statements are not just time spent in barrels but different assemblages of distillations from assorted stills in their collection.

One of their oldest stills was from the Port Mourant Estate from 1732 and is a double wooden pot still made from local hardwoods sourced from Guyana's rainforests. It is these same hardwoods that are utilized for building boats and wharves to stand up to marine conditions. The wood is not neutral in the still and does interact with the alcohol to donate a heaviness in body with a low boiling heads aspect. Granted the wood today is not the original, for every few decades, some of the staves need to be replaced. The double wood still is heated by steam for the first pot, and the vapor from that first pot drives the second. Copper swan necks connect the stills and help to strip out impurities and sulfur.

Another gem in their collection is the wooden column still modeled after Aeneas Coffey's still from 1832. Originally build for the Enmore Sugar Estate around 1880, it utilizes the same woods as the double pot still described above. The still runs in a continuous process over 3-4 hours and produces a similarly volatile rum as the double pot still but not as heavy; the spirits coming off this still are rich, aromatic, but medium bodied.

The last of the twelve stills that Shaun highlighted was the French Savalle still from the Uitvlught Estate from the end of the 19th century. This four column still of French design was installed by the Dutch. The all metal still is versatile and can be utilized to make nine different styles of rum with a range from very low to high aromatic content. They can be tuned to emphasize singular or multiple characters such as bringing out guava, coconut, floral, fruity, or fresh sugarcane notes from the mash.

With different subsets of these stills, the Demerara Distillers make a wide range of blends for different niches:
El Dorado 3 Year Rum is crafted from two runs off of the French Savalle still, and after being aged, it is double charcoal filtered to remove tannins and color. Overall, it is filled with sweet aromatics and with fruity notes like coconut and hints of banana and orange peel. These fruit notes help it to be a great mixing rum.
El Dorado 5 Year Rum shows off some fruit and aromatic notes and medium bodiedness from the French Savalle still. The aroma of fresh sugar cane mingles with vanilla from the barrel along with caramel, butterscotch, and dried fruit/raisin notes. It is the second best seller in Guyana after their vodka.
El Dorado 8 Year Rum is a blend of four different stills and is on the cusp for usage for it is balanced enough to be a mixer while being complex enough to be sipped. A lot of the character is from the wooden stills, such as the wooden column still which donates fruitiness and a hint of wood, and the double wooden pot still which offers body and earthiness. Tasting notes here include tea, roasted nuts, vanilla, fruitiness, baking spice, and dried apricot.
El Dorado 12 Year Rum pairs products from the wooden and the metal Coffey stills. While older production batches are aged with caramel, the newer rums put into barrel (but not yet released) are not. However, that sugar content does aid in making this a delightful sipper. Overall, the 12 year opens up quickly to yield demerara sugar, salted caramel, pepper, cooked stone fruit, and tropical fruit all with a short finish.
El Dorado 15 Year Rum is the distillery's flagship product from 1993. It uses all the heritage stills both wood and metal as well as pot and column. Flavor notes are old sherry, peppercorn, long finish, dry.
El Dorado 21 Year Rum uses the wooden Coffey still with some of the metal column stills; moreover, there is a small amount of Versailles Estate single wood pot still to donate body. This rum is luscious, fruity, toffee, and madeira noted.
El Dorado 25 Year Rum was not one of the ones we tasted, but it is available at Drink in Fort Point. It utilizes wood Coffey still distillate and combines it with a pair of medium-bodied products from the French Savalle still.

Besides the variation in stills, the fermentation utilizes a main yeast that they add as well as whatever wild yeast and bacteria came with the molasses. They estimated that there are over 200 microbial components that effect fermentation. Overall, it is the same fermentation process that goes into each component and each blend with the variation first occurring with which still or stills are utilized. Typically, the molasses-based mash is fermented for 20-30 hours in stainless steel; however, there is the exception of a high ester ferment for aged rums that can last as long as six weeks.

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