Alexandre Gabriel, owner and Master Blender of Maison Ferrand and West Indies Rum Distillery, posted the below article on Facebook. At the 2018 Miami Rum Fest I had the privilege of tasting the first batch of rum to come off this still after refurbishment, and later that year on the Rum Renaissance Cruise I was able to tour the West Indies Rum Distillery and actually touch the still. It’s one of the more moving rum experiences I’ve had.
I thought the article was worth posting here so as to not be lost in the Facebook “noise”.
Beside the classical pot and column stills, there is the less-known and interesting 19th century chamber still (David Wondrich does a great job explaining the chamber still in this article: https://www.thedailybeast.com/the-rise-and-fall-of-americas-oldest-whiskey. Designed in the first part of the 1800s by and for the US East Coast rye distillers, these very unique and artisanal stills died out with prohibition. The chamber still is ingenious and shows the skills of the producers of this time.
To my knowledge, there are only 2 chamber stills in the world :
– One at my friend, Todd Leopold’s distillery, Leopold Bros., who had it made a few years ago by the coppersmith Vendome from ancient drawings (great still),
– And one at the West Indies Rum Distillery in Barbados that is actually an original one from the 19th / 20th century. It is called The Vulcan still. The only historical one that is left.
Named after its builder, the then renown US coppersmith Vulcan, it has distilled rum for decades before being silenced in 2000 because it is expensive and technical to run (no computer involved, no automation…). The West Indies Rum Distillery team couldn’t wait the use it again and we finally were able to revive it last year. History in motion. Digger, who has been with West Indies Rum Distillery for more than 40 years showed us the way. He remembered well – thank you, Digger – and it has been making great rum since then. We are taking extra care of it. It is a living legend. The beauty of rum is its rich and diverse cultures and heritage. The Vulcan is another testimony to this.
If you want to know how it works…
A chamber still works in batches. It is not continuous like a column still. The Vulcan still is made of three different chambers :
– The bottom chamber : first filled with water, heated by a steam coil
– The middle chamber : filled with wash, in which the vapors generated in the bottom chamber bubble through
– The top chamber : where the vapors of alcohol, water and aromas exit the still, while preheating the next batch of wash (energy-saving, similar to the wine-heaters in cognac pot stills)
When the wash in the middle chamber is spent, we stop the still and the water in the bottom is discarded. Then, the spent wash is transferred down there, while the preheated wash from the top replaces it in the middle chamber. The transfers are done with gravity via valves on the side of the still, only by gravity, which represent a softer treatment for the liquid. A new batch of fresh wash is then filled into the top chamber and the cycle continues.
With its ingenious operation, the Vulcan still produces a rich and delicious rum due to its inventive designs and notably to the middle chamber where the wash extraction by the rising vapors is powerful. It is a piece of history that we are so proud to be a part of.