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Old 11-21-2007, 03:25 PM   #4
Edward Hamilton
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Location: Sailboat in the Caribbean and hotels.
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Before World War II Puerto Rican rum wasn't much different from other Caribbean rums. The white, unaged rum was not very pleasant but when aged it was much better and found its way into many citrus and spice based drinks became to be known as tiki drinks. It should be noted that few of these rums were considered what we now call sipping rums.

After World War II the picture changed in part due to the United States involvement in Puerto Rico and the cold war. To reward the Puerto Rican people for their valuable contribution to the recent war effort, and to support the fledgling Puerto Rican economy, the US agreed to return the Federal Excise Tax charged on distilled spirits coming from Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands back to the governments of those islands. Today that tax is just over $25 a case for 12 750ml bottles. Until recently, the US navy's biggest base outside the north American continent was located on the southeastern coast of Puerto Rico.

During the war alcohol distillers on the US mainland were busy making alcohol for the war effort and whiskey was in short supply. Rum, on the other hand, was available but most of this spirit suffered from the poor reputation it had earned over the previous decades.

In the 1950s the quality of Puerto Rican rum was raised after Federal Excise Tax from distilled spirits exports began to be returned to the island and was used to scientifically approach the problems that face the islands distillers. This scientific approach to rum production yielded several changes which were later adopted by distillers throughout the Caribbean.

First the fermentation process was addressed. The cleanliness of the fermentation tanks was discovered to be one factor in making consistent batches of distilled spirits. Various yeast strains were found to affect the taste and flavor of the distilled product. Yeast was developed which would complete the fermentation process more quickly reducing the time required for fermentation which also reduced the amount of unwanted fermentation products from other bacteria present in the fermentation vats.

The scientific approach to distillation led to improvements in the distillation equipment and to more advanced multiple column stills. The Puerto Rican government also adapted legislation that required all rum exports to be aged at least one year in oak barrels, the first of several islands which now has such regulations. And as Puerto Rican rum improved it became more popular partly due to a very successful marketing campaign by Bacardi, Ron Rico and other Puerto Rican rum producers.

Last but not least, the sugar cane itself was investigated and new species were introduced which were better adapted to the diverse growing conditions found on the island.

So what about the great rum from the 1920s? I've had the opportunity to taste some very good rums from Bacardi and other rums makers, but it's worth noting that in almost every case only the best products survive the better part of a century. But it should also be noted that these rums were generally aged and then filtered before bottling. In the years that followed, the aging time was reduced or eliminated prompting the Puerto Rican government to legislate a minimum age on exports.

And as a student of old rum recipes I've noticed that most of these recipes call for aged rums, which are generally better than their unaged counterparts. Many of the great tiki drinks were developed with aged Jamaican, Martinique, Barbados and Cuban rums, rarely have I seen a recipe that calls for a white spirit that is not been aged.
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Edward Hamilton
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When I dream up a better job, I'm going to take it. In the meantime, the research continues.
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