The Road to El Dorado: Guyana Preview

On Monday night, David OG and I will be boarding red-eye flights to Miami where we'll catch a morning connection to Trinidad. After a seven hour layover on the island, we'll finally catch our last flight into Georgetown that evening. Almost twenty-four hours later we'll finally arrive in Guyana -- the home of Demerara Distillers and El Dorado rum. We'll only be in South America for three days before we turn right around and fly back Saturday morning. Yet, we're willing to do what it takes to get there because both David and I have a strong feeling that rum is due for a big resurgence and that the lynch pin of that movement is going to be the Demerara Distilling Company Ltd. No other producer of rum has a legacy like DDL and no other distiller is in a position to make as serious of an impact on the booze industry.

We'll get into the history of rum distillation in Guyana later; about how production dates back to the 1670s and how all the estates have now been consolidated into one company. We'll also break down how each of their four stills works and how long they've been in operation. I'm sure we'll learn more in-depth and fascinating details once we're physically there and those details will definitely be more interesting when supported by photography. What makes Demerara Distillers an exciting company to work with goes far beyond tradition, heritage, and history, however. We're partnering with a producer that is self-owned and is not part of a larger corporate group. They make the ultimate decisions about any future developments without having to worry about how those actions are going to affect other parts of their whisky, brandy, or wine portfolios. They're not looking to expand their empire or join up with another beverage group. They're looking to do one thing and one thing only at Demerara Distilling Company: make really good rum.

And they make a lot of rum. About 20 million liters worth a year, of which 75% goes to bulk rum sales abroad. They make their money up front on the white goods, which allows them the freedom and the ability to concentrate their full attention on making sure the other 25% is as brilliant as can be; the rum that eventually goes into the El Dorado expressions. DDL has so much rum laying down in its warehouses that it's actually reminiscent of where single malt whisky was fifteen to twenty years ago -- when producers would carelessly dump older barrels into their standard twelve or fifteen year expressions to add richness and texture. When you buy a bottle of El Dorado 12, 15, or 21 year, you're not just getting the bare minimum of maturity. They're definitely blending in older rums to these expressions because they have plenty of rum to do so with. This also means you're not going to pay all that much, either (we currently have the 12 year for $25.99, which is just crazy considering how good that rum is).

What makes rum such an intriguing spirit is that it offers drinkers the best of both worlds: light, fragrant, and flavorful white rums for mixing cocktails, as well as dark, barrel-aged rums of various maturity levels that allow for contemplative sipping. Despite our trip to Barbados last year and our continued work to source interesting casks (like the very expressive Faultline St. Lucia), I feel like we don't really understand rum's true potential. More importantly, I feel like because of our lack of understanding, we haven't been able to clearly communicate to customers how amazing rum can be and why we find it so compelling. That's why I'm going to get on that plane Monday night and brave the long trip south to a small country tucked between Venezuela and Brazil, just north of the equator. It's the most historic rum producing region on the planet and the Mecca of molasses for serious rum distillation.

Demerara sugar is some of the most-coveted due to its crystallized form and caramel-like flavor. The molasses from the refinement process of Demerara sugar, however, is only sold to one customer: Demerara Distillers. The only company allowed to distill rum from Demerara molasses is DDL and the quality of that molasses plays a large part in making their rum so delicious and flavorful. I want to better understand sugar and molasses and how they can affect flavor. I want a better breakdown of column still distillation vs. pot still distillation and how maturation in severely humid conditions creates a different flavor. I want to experience the blending process first hand and decipher between different types of rum distillates. I want to process that information, write it down, document it with my camera, and share it with all of you. That means I've got to go to Guyana.

In my personal opinion, DDL is going to be the epicenter of a serious tremor that will soon shock the booze business. With pricing and availability continuing to frustrate whiskey drinkers, I think rum is poised to play spoiler to what has so far been a very small party.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll