Reading: The History Of El Dorado Rum

The History Of El Dorado Rum

There’s a bit of a dog-and-pony aspect to most distillery tours. Folksy guides, much ado about the water source and then, the show-stopper—a shiny, state-of-the-art copper still.

Which is why, after the first dozen or so distilleries, bartenders, who make a point of getting to as many as possible, start to crave a little gritty authenticity. That is exactly what’s on offer at Guyana’s El Dorado facility, a ramshackle rum factory with working ancient, antique, wooden stills that are at the top of almost every bartender’s ice-bucket list.

If you’ve never heard of wooden alcohol stills, you’re forgiven. El Dorado’s are the oldest working wooden stills in a distillery and, as far as anyone knows, the only ones used to produce alcohol for large-scale commercial use. As such, just like the copper stills on the bourbon trail, the three monsters churning out rum—one of which dates back to 1732—are the headliners on the humid and sticky hard-hat tour at El Dorado. Except that, instead of shiny metal showpieces, these Big Berthas are clunky, scruffy cauldrons of steamy living history.

“It was great to get behind the scenes and learn all about what the company’s doing to save the region’s heritage,” says Robin James Wynne, manager at Toronto’s Miss Things, who visited El Dorado in November. “It’s great to see those old stills in action and to understand how it effects the product on the back end.”

Every bottle tells a different story, something that’s led to something of a cult following for special releases among rum fans. 

Indeed, this would all just be gimmickry if this old technology didn’t have some effect on the taste. I believe it does. When you’re at the facility, located on the Demerara River that meanders out of the northeastern corridor of the South American rainforest, you can smell the ripe tropical fruits and slightly funky molasses that dominates the flavour profile. The wood, like a good salad bowl, is said to contain a little residue from all the previous batches that have been run through over nearly three centuries, which helps enhance the flavour. With copper or stainless steel, each batch is brand new, with no traces of what passed through before.

Unfortunately, not every bottle contains the rum made in the 1732 wooden pot still.

Every bottle tells a different story, something that’s led to something of a cult following for special releases among rum fans.

Wynne keeps an eye out for Single Barrel “EHP”, which all come from the tall wooden Coffey still that dates back to 1880. The “Port Mourant,” which  refers to the rum from the old, bubbly, pot still cauldrons, flies off the shelves pretty fast but both make it to Canada quite regularly.

And if you missed the special bottlings, many of the El Dorado rums (at least the ones aged eight years and over) contain juice from the Port Mourant stills.

No dogs or ponies involved. It’s the genuine article.