The story of rum in Guyana started in the 1640’s with the introduction of sugar cane by the early European settlers. But it was not until distilling was introduced into the new territories by the British in the 1650s that the foundation of Demerara Rum production was laid down.
The Columbus Connection
When Columbus first sighted Guyana in 1498, a land inhabited by the Arawak and Carib tribes of Amerindians, he had recently introduced sugar cane to the Caribbean from the Canary Isles.
150 years later the Dutch came to Guyana and established the first settlements of Essequibo and Berbice, introducing the cultivation of sugar cane in the 1640’s along the coastal plain and the banks of the great rivers.
By 1658 sugar was being produced in Guyana and within three years the first shipments sailed for Holland.
Over 300 sugar estates - over 300 stills!
The breakthrough came in the 1650’s when the British planters introduced the pivotal process of distilling. This proved so popular that by 1670, every sugar estate had a small still attached to it. In the same year, the local sugar cane producers formed an exporting co-operative, and by the 1700s there were well over 300 independent estates involved in producing their own unique rums from the molasses - a byproduct of sugar production.
In 1752 the third Guyana settlement, Demerara, was established on the banks of the great Demerara River.
The choice of the Royal Navy
Rum’s association with the Royal Navy first began in 1677 when the Admirality decided to issue an official daily rum ration for all ratings. When the Port Mourant Estate distillery - one of the oldest in the world - was established in 1732, the extra character and depth of the rum from its Double Wooden Pot Still made it the choice of the Royal Navy.
British Guiana and The Estate Rums
By the 1814 the three Guyanese colonies were handed over to the British and merged into British Guiana in 1831.
In 1834 slavery was abolished and a plantation labour force was imported from Europe, China and India. Colonial rums, utilising British blending, were becoming more popular and the first Old Vatted Demerara (OVD) was made with Guyanese Port Mourant as the major component.
By the second half of the 18th century, sugar estates were closing and consolidating with only 180 remaining and in 1880 the Wooden Framed Coffey Still was installed at the Enmore Estate distillery. Each estate produced its own distinctive rum which was given its own mark or Marque identifying its origin. (eg. SWR, ICBU, PM, EHP, LBI, AN) These rums were shipped to England, establishing the worldwide trading name of Demerara Rum.
Rum was now established as a polite middle class drink - replacing gin.
The True Taste of Demerara
More and more of the sugar estates and distilleries merged during the early twentieth century culminating in the amalgamation of all the various stills, equipment and expertise in 1998 by Demerara Distillers Limited at the last remaining Estate, Diamond, on the East Bank of the Demerara River.
From the launch of the El Dorado range of Demerara Rums in 1992 on the local and international market, the brand has gone from strength to strength, epitomising the unique quality of the true taste of Demerara.
It was in that year that DDL became the first rum producer in the world to market a premium quality aged rum: El Dorado 15 Year Old Special Reserve. Since then this superb spirit has become the internationally recognised benchmark for aged rums and the company has gone on to develop an unrivalled portfolio of Age Statement Rums.
The significance of this is that each age statement specifically indicates the youngest rum in the blend, even though the oldest may be many years older.