Port Mourant – A Lost Distillery With a Lasting Legacy
Established in 1732, the Port Mourant Estate was once one of over 300 sugar plantations that lined the banks of the Demerara and Berbice Rivers in Guyana, South America. Over the next two centuries the estate would evolve from its roots as a cotton plantation, to a sugar plantation that went on to distil rum which in turn has become highly sought-after by modern enthusiasts. Once one of the world's oldest plantations, the Port Mourant Estate and distillery was consigned to the history books in the mid-1950s, however, Port Mourant's character lives on today through the distillery's double wooden pot still that was preserved and now operates at Guyana's last remaining distillery - Diamond Distillery.
Plantations on the Banks of the Demerara River, Guyana
A History of Rum in Guyana & The Port Mourant Distillery
Rum has a rich history in Guyana that traces back to the 1650s with the introduction of sugar cane by early Dutch settlers. The country was once home to over 300 sugar plantations that sat along the banks of the Demerara and Berbice Rivers, each producing a unique and distinctive rum from a demerara sugar molasses base. However, a process of amalgamation over the coming centuries saw various plantations combine - by the 1930s there were 230 operating sugar plantations and in 1958, only 18. Today just one distillery remains to tell the story of Guyana's rum-making history.
The Port Mourant Estate and distillery is deeply rooted into this history, with it's operations beginning in the early 18th century and coming to a close in the mid-1950s. The estate was founded in 1732 by Stephen Mourant, and although this date is well documented, there is still much uncertainty as to when the estate began to grow sugar cane, and of course thereafter distil rum. Likely beginning as a cotton plantation, the change to a sugar plantation at Port Mourant dates to between 1813 and 1836, likely as a result of the downturn in demand for cotton at the time. The plantation and distillery operated for the following two centuries before a similar downturn in demand for sugar cane resulted in its demise.
There is no verified date on the exact closure of the Port Mourant Distillery, however, based on production reports the distillery was operational until at least 1954, likely closing the following year. The story of Port Mourant does not however end here, the original double wooden pot still used at the distillery was preserved and remains operational at the Diamond Estate, home to the only remaining rum distillery in Guyana. Located on the east bank of the Demerara river, Diamond distillery is operated by Demerara Distillers Ltd (DDL), founded by the government of Guyana and home to the four famed 'Heritage Stills'.
Rare 1990 vintage Port Mourant bottled by James MacArthur's
Port Mourant's Legacy - The Double Wooden Pot Still
Despite Port Mourant's closure in the mid-1950s, the legacy of the distillery lives on through the double wooden pot still that was operational at the original distillery, known simply as the Port Mourant or PM still. It currently resides at Diamond Distillery in operation alongside Guyana's other Heritage Stills.
You may be asking yourself, what is a double wooden pot still?
The Port Mourant still is one of only two wooden pot stills remaining anywhere in the world (alongside the Versailles single pot still). Constructed from a native Guyanese hardwood known as 'Greenheart' (selected for its impressive ability to withstand being continuously wet), the still is said to have been constructed some time in the early 18th or 19th century. This relic from a bygone age of rum distilling incorporates two historic cylindrical wooden bodies, with two copper swan-necks, and a large copper rectifier allowing for a robust spirit to be produced in relatively large volumes. The copper swan-neck from the first of the two pots runs directly into the second, followed by a cylindrical retort and condenser, before finally passing to the product tank. The combination of the native woods interaction with the alcoholic sugars and immense reflux creates a spirit that is described as heavy bodied, robust, oily, and with “green plant” notes that are immediately identifiable (even when acting as a component of blended rums).
Following the closure of Port Mourant estate and distillery, the still was dismantled, transported, and reassembled at the nearby Albion Distillery where it remained operational until the eventual closure of Albion, sometime between 1967-1969. The still was again preserved and moved to Uitvlugt Distillery, producing spirit until 1999 when it was re-located for the final time to Diamond Distillery, where the still remains today. This sequence of closures and re-locations explains the (somewhat complicated) labelling often seen on Port Mourant bottlings.
Wooden Pot Still [Source: Nicolas Gill, New Worlder]
The Port Mourant Spirit - Iconic Bottlings
Port Mourant is highly sought-after by rum collector's and connoisseurs across the globe, it's unique flavour profile and storied history has made the spirit an icon in the world of rum. Rum Auctioneer have had the privilege of bringing legendary bottlings of Port Mourant to auction in recent years, discover some curated highlights below.
Highlight bottlings of Port Mourant (featured left to right)
Port Mourant 1964 Cadenhead's 30 Year Old
Bottled by the legendary Scottish independent bottling company, WM. Cadenhead, this single-cask demerara rum was distilled in 1964 before being aged for 30 years and bottled in Scotland in August 1995. The spirit has been bottled at a natural cask strength of 73.3% ABV, with no added colour or chill-filtration. A truly special bottling.
Port Mourant 1976 Moon Import 75cl / Le Fanciulle dell'800
This is an exceptionally rare 1976 vintage Port Mourant bottled as part of the Le Fanciulle dell'800 series, translating to "The Girls of the 1800's," each bottle from the series depicts an individual female portrait on the label, this bottle was released exclusively for the Japanese market.
Port Mourant PM 1972 Velier 36 Year Old
One of a series of legendary bottlings from the brief period (2004-2015) when Velier owned a small stake in Demerara Distillers Ltd (DDL). In March 2008, two barrels of 1972 vintage Port Mourant spirit were selected for bottling by Luca Gargano of Velier after 36 years of continental ageing. Just 175 bottles were ever produced.