When Columbus landed on the shores of today’s Guyana in 1498, Arawak and Carib Indians called the region their home. Since then, both races almost, if not totally disappeared, for a number of reasons, including disease the “white people” brought with them, albeit inadvertently.
In teh 15th century “settlers” started introducing sugar cane cultivation in the Caribbean and South America. Sugar cane originated in the Canary Islands according to some researchers, others claim India to be the birthplace.
Sugar, as we know it, was first produced in the 1700’s, but plantations in Guyana
(Guyana means The land of Many Waters in Arawak) started one century later. By then, more modern equipment was available and sugar estates bought those that were more efficient and easier to use.
Around 1640’s Dutch settlers brought sugar cane to Guyana, but the British were the first to introduce distillation. In a short time there were 300 sugar estates, and most distilled their own rum from molasses, a by-product of sugar production.
The first specialized distillery came on-stream in 1723 in Port Mourant, which is considered one of the oldest distilleries of the world. It produced extremely deeply flavoured rums and supplied the British navy.
At the time, each sailor received a daily ration of one pint (20 oz. = 600 ml.) of rum whether they liked it or not. Some gave their ration to their fellow sailors; others exchanged it for beer or other consumables. The daily rum ratio was abolished in 1950’s.
At the time there were three settlements, one of which was along the Demarara River. All were handed over to the British crown in 1831, and three years later slavery was officially outlawed. Sugar estates turned to indentured labourers from Portugal (mainly Madeira), India and China.
Their descendents still constitute a considerable part of the total population of Guyana.
In the second half of the 19th century many sugar estate distilleries closed. Only 180 remained, including the renowned Enmore Estate Distillery, which installed wooden Coffey still towers. The towers were made in Guyana greenheart wood reputed for humidity and water resistance.
There are still a few wooden Coffey still in Guyana, possibly the only ones in operation today worldwide. There is still a rum brand called EHP (Edward Henry Porter, the founder of Enmore Sugar Estates and Distillery) in honour of the founder.
Wooden Coffey still towers reputedly yield fruity, elegant rums with good acidity and balance.
Today, there are two major distilleries in the country DDL (Demarara Distillers Ltd.) and Banks. The former is by far the biggest, producing approximately 26 million litres of pure alcohol, equivalent to approximately two-and-a-half times that amount of rum.
The distillery produces a wide range of rums starting with a three year old, to 5, 8, 10, 12, 20, and 25 years old; and over proof products of 120, 140, 151, plus a special white, and single barrel rums.
Guyanese rums taste, especially those from Demarara, taste more profound because of the soil, weather, (terroir) and distillation techniques. (DDL still employs double wood Coffey stills which has been meticulously maintained over the years).
In teh tropics, alcohol ages three times faster than in cooler climes e.g Scotland, northern France, Japan, Germany, and Canada. Barrel aging losses are considerably higher in the tropics than in cooler climes as well.
Some of the rums are exported in bulk to Scotland to be barrel aged, blended, and bottled there.
There are a few very small brands, mostly foreign owned, that produce exquisite rums that are marketed in exclusive and small markets to connoisseurs.
Banks is an enterprise involved in producing soft drinks, beer, vodka, food and rums.
In general, Guyanese rums represent excellent value in comparison to others produced in the Caribbean, Australia, the Philippines, India, and European countries. European rums are distilled from molasses of sugar beets and lack depth and the elegance of tropical rums.
DDL`s main brand is El Dorado, available in many markets, including several provinces and in Canada and most states in the U S A.
Rum exports contribute to foreign currency earning of the country, and at least in my opinion represent good value for sipping, and cocktails.
The smoothest and most refined can compete favourably with fine cognacs, and should be served in brandy snifters for enjoyment after a long and exquisite meal.