ELEMENT: Spirit.

We’ve grown our cane, harvested our individual terroirs, milled our cane juice (with purity guaranteed via the rotary filter) then given it the ‘slow cook’ controlled fermentation in our ‘wine rack’ of horizontal fermenters.

The wash is ready; the artist’s palette of unravelled cane flavour is prepared. It’s time to select and set those flavours via distillation, then augment them through Caribbean maturation in a radical, super-premium profile of carefully chosen oak.

Distil it. Cask it. Sounds like simple stuff. But of course there’s a myriad of Renegade-method intricacies that Distillery Manager Devon and the team observe as our cane goes through the final stages of its journey.

Here we discuss the nuances of distillation — in pot and double retort, as well as in batch column — the differing tunes that each method plays with our terroir flavours, the importance of ultra-narrow cuts, the rhythms of Caribbean maturation and the unique flavours we have begun to find in the terroirs of our farms.

Over to Devon…

Talk us through the stills.

Pot Still at Rengade Distillery

So starting with the Adam Still we have our main kettle and then retorts one and two, then our condenser. We fill wash into the kettle and heat it up with steam from the boiler. In the retorts, when you’re just starting up, you need some form of alcohol inside them, called the low wines and the high wines. We heat the kettle, it boils, and the vapour enters the first retort. Because there’s some liquid in there already, latent heat from the vapour will be enough to boil that liquid, vaporise it and send it into the second retort. Then the same thing happens, and vapour leaves the second retort and goes into the condenser as spirit.

That’s where you, the distiller, have to decide where to cut it. At first you have the volatile acids, the volatile compounds, and we remove those. Then we read the abv, the density and the flow. When we think that enough of the initial volatile compounds have come out, we start collecting the spirit. We cut from 82 to 77 per cent abv.

Why those cut points?

It depends on the profile you want. Some distilleries will go lower. Some go right down to 70. We just want to avoid the butanol, the pentanol and so on – the heavier, less pure compounds. Cane inherently has a lot of higher, green, grassy tones than, for example, barley and whisky, which is why the cut points are a bit higher than for a single malt.

When we’re satisfied with our heart we cut to the high wines, which goes from about 77 to 30, and that’s what we load into the 2nd retort. And from 30 and below are the low wines, which go into the 1st retort for our next strike. For the very first strike the liquid already in the retorts comes from an initial run on our column still to make sure we’re only using cane from one single terroir at a time.

The column still is divided into two parts – the stripper and the rectifier. It’s continuous, so we feed the wash continuously. When it comes to collecting the liquid, we have a series of plates – the higher the plate, the higher the strength. We collect at 88-92%. Because of the design of the column – we have 36 plates in total; the more plates you have, the higher strength you can collect at. Normally in rum you’d collect at 95 or so, but we want to collect at a slightly lower strength.

What you don’t want is for the condenser to be too cold. Because if it’s too cold then everything will condense, and you’ll end up collecting the heads and so on. So what I normally do is operate at 68, so there’s still a lot of activity inside, so vapour can still escape, and that’s what I collect as the heads – the most volatile stuff. And then in the next tank you get the spirit with the nicer, fruitier, grassier notes. That’s an absolutely critical part of the process as a distiller. Because if I dropped the set points then too much water will come in, the condenser will be too cold and I won’t be able to separate what I want from the volatiles. So I prefer to work it high, to get a lot of vapour escaping.

So you’re taking quite a narrow cut?

A very narrow cut. One school of thought is that the efficiency will then drop – which is true. But the quality improves.

What strength are we filling our casks at?

In the Caribbean rum used to be matured at 80-82% – the strength it comes from the still. But they changed the law because they realised that at high strength you lose more to evaporation. And secondly we noticed that between 65 and 70% you get more of the desirables from the cask. At high strength you get the desirables and the undesirables because the rum strength is so high that it pulls everything. But at 65-70 we’re getting the right balance.

Caribbean maturation: what are we finding from our different cask types? How are they interacting with the spirit and what is the maturation pattern we’re seeing in Grenada?

In terms of micro-oxidation, the French Oak gives a higher colour. The American Virgin gives colour as well. We get very balanced flavours from the First Fill American oak, but the French and the Virgin give more colour to the rum. I think the Pot Still ages better in the French casks – it’s a heavier rum, it pulls out the flavours better. It also goes well in the Virgin casks. The French casks are very bold – they’re great as seasoning but you don’t want them taking over the flavours of the rum. You want to find that balance between French, Virgin and First Fill American to find the right balance for the most complex rum.

In terms of evaporation, I don’t think there’s much difference between them. We see around 7-8% a year. Sometimes it can get higher, but our cask houses are pretty cool.

Besides the fact that the type of wood is influential and what was in the cask before is influential, the ability for micro-oxidation in a cask is key. You see in the American casks for example there can be more vanilla, coconut, softness; French oak casks give more spiciness. The ageing of the spirit in the casks is something that changes over time. In American oak you might find in the first year it’s a bit grassy, in the second year it smells like when you cut your lawn, the third year is phenomenal for some reason – a nice bouquet of banana, florals, a sweet spot. Then interestingly in the fourth year you get a lot of ‘undigested’ oak – the cellulose and the hemicellulose in the cask being pulled out and adding a tannic bitterness to the rum. Then in the fifth year those compounds are breaking up and resolving, and when you get to six years it’s all come together again. So that’s why if you look on the shelves you’ll hardly see a four year old rum – because of that imbalance.

Casks at Renegade Distillery

What can you share about some of the characters of the farms in spirit form?

Increasingly I think that Dunfermline will be really nice in French oak. When I blend, if I select 40 casks I’ll nose each individual cask to choose from those 40, and I’ve noticed that with the French in the Dunfermline, the spice works really well. It’s a big spirit, the Dunfermline, very flavoursome. It has more body. Old Bacolet also — it’s a bold rum.

We just distilled Moya, it’s not aged yet, but it’s a lovely, lovely rum. It’s the most floral pot still spirit yet. Lake Antoine we get some nice notes, really interesting notes, sometimes medicinal and perfumey and so on. But with the Moya it’s a real fresh floral aroma.

If I compare New Bacolet to Old Bacolet – Old Bacolet has that boldness. When you taste Old Bacolet it puts you on the edge of your chair, you’re still waiting, thinking ‘what’s going to come next’. New Bacolet, when you taste it, you’re sitting on the edge of your chair and then you just relax back into it. It’s really elegant, refined. I call it ‘a couch drink’!


Renegade Rum Distillery

Meadows Lane, Conference,

St. Andrews, Grenada, West Indies