For rum enthusiasts, there are few things as thrilling as the mention of Guyana and their wonderfully rich Demerara blends and Navy style rums.
The rum trade in Guyana traces back to the 1650s and was a fast-growing and promising craft with over 300 sugar plantations lining the banks of the Demerara river at one point. Once a thriving industry, from 1974 the government in Guyana attempted to nationalise and consolidate the country’s rum production. Today only one distillery remains as a living museum and guardian to the story of Guyana's rum-making history.
Established around 1670, the Diamond Estate is home to the only remaining rum distillery in Guyana. Located on the east bank of the Demerara river, the distillery is operated by Demerara Distillers Ltd (DDL), the company created by the government in Guyana. Most famously, the Diamond distillery his home to the “Heritage Stills” acquired from Uitvlugt, which are Uitvlugt’s own historic four-column French Savalle stills, the Versailles and Port Mourant wooden pot stills, and the Enmore wooden coffey still, the oldest and last of its kind in the world.
Versailles Single Wooden Pot Still
Versailles was one of Guyana's smallest distilleries producing both white and golden rums. The rum of Versailles Distillery was among the first of Guyana to be matured, and by the end of the 1800's was showcased to various expos in Europe. The Versailles single wooden pot still was moved from its original home in Versailles to Enmore in 1977, then to Uitvlugt in 1993 and as of Uitvlugt's closure in 2000 now operates at the last remaining estate in Guyana, Diamond Distillery.
The Versailles Still is one of only two of its kind left (along with the Port Mourant Double Wooden Pot Still, referenced below). This VAT still, now commonly referred to as a pot still, is over 250 years old and at its current home still produces a very unique style of rum.
The VAT still is very similar to a pot still, however incorporates a historic cylindrical wooden(!) body (made from native Guyanese Green Heartwood), a copper swan neck and VSG rectifier column. The combination of the native woods interaction with the alcoholic sugars and the immense reflux from the copper alembic result in a very heavy bodied distillate, ideal for creating their distinctive characteristic of robust, highly flavourful and aromatic Demerara rums.
Port Mourant Double Wooden Pot Still
The Port Mourant still is so-called as it started life at the distillery of the same name, established in 1732. There is no verified date on the exact closure of the Port Mourant Distillery, however, based on production reports it is reported by various sources as the year 1955.
In likeness to the Versailles Still, its configuration produces a typically heavy bodied and oily distillate, generally credited with being one of the key components in the old Royal Navy blend.
It is believed that the Port Mourant double wooden pot still was firstly moved from its original home to the Albion distillery before being transferred to Uitvlugt around Albion's closure between 1967-1969. As of Uitvlugt's closure in 2000, it now operates as one of the ‘heritage stills’ alongside the Versailles still at Diamond Distillery.
Enmore Two Column Wooden Coffey Still
The Enmore sugar estate was established by Edward Henry Porter in the early 19th century after he inherited and converted his father’s cotton plantation on the east bank of the Demerara river.
Once one of many in the area, by the time the government in Guyana had begun to nationalise and consolidate the country’s rum production in 1974, it was one of only four remaining. The traditional still at Enmore was the historic two-column wooden coffey still, constructed back in 1880. Modelled almost exactly after the first continuous still patented by Aeneas Coffey in 1832, it is constructed from Greenheart wood.
When Enmore was shuttered in 1994, both the wooden coffey and the Vesailles still (which they received after the distillery’s closure in 1978) were moved to Uitvlugt, and are now in operation as “Heritage Stills” at Diamond, the last remaining rum producer in the country.
Four Column French Savalle Still
Uitvlugt was located on the west bank of the Demerara river near the Dutch-established town of the same name. The distillery was established at the end of the 18th century and remained Dutch-owned until the government in Guyana began to nationalise and consolidate the country’s rum production in 1974 when it became part of the portfolio of Demerara Distillers Ltd (DDL), who closed it down at the end of 1999.
Uitvlugt originally operated double wooden pot stills, however these were replaced by a four column French Savalle still in the early 1920s. The French Savalle still, alongside the aforementioned three stills which previously moved to the distillery were all moved to Diamond distillery in 2000.
The four-column Savalle still is incredibly versatile, today producing nine different marques, of which the Skeldon "SWR" continues to be one.