An obsessive story of flavour
Throughout the following description of how we make our spirits you’ll read repeatedly about an obsession with flavour. It’s no exaggeration.
When we say ‘hand-crafted’ we are not using some marketing jargon. Our Master Distiller, Codie Palmer nurtures the rum production like a master craftsman should. With minute detail, precision and love: An obsession to the flavour.
It may seem mean spirited to state that many other craft ‘distilleries’ imply they distil their spirit, but are faking it. But when you read on you’ll realise the effort and care that needs to go into a premium, award-winning spirit you’ll see why it hurts that consumers are being tricked. These cheat ‘brands’ produce spirits from bulk alcohol supplied by mass manufacturers from around the world and then ‘flavour’ them before bottling and labelling. Ask yourself how can a ‘micro distillery’ with a 600 litre pot still (and no fermentation vats) produce 100,000 litres in bottles per month. It doesn’t add up. It makes us a little angry too.
We have a 1200 litre still and 3 fermentation vats, and we can only produce 3000 bottles per month, in a good month.
Codie’s obsession (not said lightly) for the last 14 years has been to produce high quality spirits. It’s an obsession with perfection and authenticity.
The story starts and ends with water.
The distillery is based on a farm in the mid-west of Western Australia. There is no ‘scheme’ water here. The water used for humans, animals, agriculture and making rum, comes from the sky. The collection of soft rainwater is crucial to making our rums. Rain water contains lots of nutrients but is free of salts and other harmful elements.
Obviously, the water is treated, but it still carries that low mineral content that differentiates it from ground or spring water. The other important thing to realise is that production is tempered by the availability of this rain water. So sometimes we must manage our production to the seasonal availability or borrow rain water from our neighbours.
Weather is also important because temperature is crucial to production. In summer things happen a lot more quickly than in winter because average day time temperatures vary from highs of 45 degrees to lows of 8 degrees. So production from start to finish can vary from 5 weeks to 11 weeks during the year (problems bulk buyers in more temperate environments don’t have to calculate to!)
After water comes sugar
The majority, by volume, of the world's rums are made from molasses. But this doesn’t mean it is the best method of making rum. Molasses is the by-product of refining sugar from the extracted juice of the sugarcane. Molasses has very little sugar in it and at best it would be 40-50% sugar content. Which means that there is a lot of organic material within molasses that creates the 'harsh' spirit.
When you distil from molasses you are scalding the ingredients within the still to extract the desired alcohol.
Molasses contains ash, wastes and a high concentration of sulphur and potassium. Plus, wastes leftover after 'processing' of white sugar including soil, residues and chemical contaminants. We believe molasses is worse than refined sugar as it carries all the bad qualities of refined sugar plus the added toxins.
In the sugar making process, as the crystalline sucrose is removed from the sugar cane juice sulphur, potassium, ash and other minerals are concentrated in the black viscous molasses.
When making rum from molasses, in order to remove the sulphur compounds formed during fermentation, the fermented wash or beer, as it is sometimes called, must be distilled to a high proof or the spirit is essentially unpalatable.
After many years of experimenting and taste trials we chose to use Dark Brown Cane Sugar.
Instead of using the molasses by-product we chose to use one of the most expensive and sought after sugars to produce our rum: Dark Brown Cane Sugar. Using it is by far one of the most expensive ways to produce rum, and as such is almost completely unheard of in the commercial distilling world. Are we crazy? Probably - Crazy about producing the best possible spirits we can, and we are the only Distillery in Australia using this technique.
Our Dark Brown Cane Sugar is sourced from Queensland. Its moist, rich and distinctive full flavour makes it perfect to create a smooth, flavourful and quality spirit.
An all-natural Dark Brown Cane Sugar ferment is big on flavour but lighter on higher volatile alcohols. This means it yields a much more subtle flavours and a more palatable final product.
Now we know that Dark Brown Cane Sugar has a little molasses still in it, and we put that to good use. The point we are making here is that a little goes a long way with high quality rum production: High quality in, equals high quality out.
We add this king of sugar to the rain water and dissolve it before the next stage.
Cultivating sea monkeys
Yeasts are eukaryotic, single-celled microorganisms classified as members of the fungus kingdom. The first yeast originated hundreds of millions of years ago, and 1,500 species are currently identified.
Most rum producers use an ‘off-the shelf’ brewer’s yeast that gets them a 7% - 8% alcohol yield. That’s not good enough for us. With our limited floor space we require a maximised yield.
At Illegal Tender we have a proprietary blend of yeast and secret methods in order to get more alcohol from one vat, to get consistency and optimise the flavour we can get into the brew.
In brewing our ‘beer’ we cultivate these organisms with all the care and attention a zookeeper would: The temperature of the liquid, the nutrients, the amount of oxygen – all play a massive role in getting the best base ferment we can.
Codie monitors all the variables over the course of this period, ensuring that a high-quality mash is produced with an alcohol content 50 – 65% higher than average prior to distillation. And that means caring for the organisms that create the alcohol with the respect and love of a shepherd.
Pot calling the Column – The art of distillation
Using his engineering skills and more than a decade of experience in distilling, Codie put together the four-plate Column Still he calls the Beast, he sourced from the other side of the globe.
The kettle holds over a 1000 litres of liquid and is used twice in the process of making our spirits.
First, the ‘stripping run’ uses the still very much like a pot still to extract the most alcohol out of the ferment: the ‘caps’ in the columns are disengaged to produce a base spirit in a day or so.
Distillers describe the distillation in three parts: Head, Heart and Tail. We do the ‘strip’ to quickly get rid of the harmful, nasty tasting ‘Heads’ of the distillate. The methanol, acetones, and other horrible flavours.
The second distillation is done to draw out more of the ‘fruit’ flavours and other desired congeners. Codie adds more water – BUT not just any water, he uses a secret ingredient he has had in his arsenal since the very first spirit run. He uses a certain distillation technique that includes the re-use of ‘feints’ to evolve the flavour of each new batch ensuring that every run is indeed a single batch. This time speed is not paramount. Flavour is.
This second distillation engages the full potential of The Beast over a period of around 5 days. We remove the ‘top’ of the Heart, to give us a spirit more flavoursome and smooth than is economically sensible. But as we’ve said before. The mission is to produce the smoothest, most flavoursome rums, not just ‘the most’ rum.
The tails also contain flavours we don’t want in the spirit and so we stop distillation and leave them behind, long before they contaminate the rum.
White v Spiced
Although the process is generally similar, there is a difference between the end result if we are distilling to produce the 1808 Barely Legal or the Spiced spirits. The 1808 is produced so it can be diluted and bottled immediately, and yet still retain a fruity flavoured rum-like note in an unaged drink, whereas the Spirit we intend to spice has to be slightly different in profile to carry the mellowing and spicing.
Spicy doesn’t mean fast
Although we leave the 1808 Barely Legal story here, the Spiced story continues.
The high alcohol spirit is put into our re-toasted, re-coopered, ex-Shiraz French Oak 225 litre casks and stored in a sunny spot in the barrel store.
Over a period of some weeks, the warmth of the sun imbues the previously clear spirit with the colours drawn from the charred fruity wood to produce a caramel coloured spirit. Ask yourself how many other ‘Spiced Spirits’ use a barrel to colour their spirit instead of the addition of sugar to imitate the ‘look’ of a barrel age – No one else that we know of.
This mellow spirit is then diluted to 35% ABV and spiced with twenty ingredients over a period of around a week.
Why does it take so long to add rainwater and a bunch of flavours?
Codie personally hand spices and hand waters each batch: 5 spices per day and a small amount of water each day.
The reason is simple. Time allows each new addition to slowly blend into the mix. Rushing this could create a flavour profile dissimilar from before. And consistency of optimal flavour is all that matters.
The spirit is now ready to be coarsely re-filtered, bottled and most importantly, drunk.
Our Spiced is completely sugar free.
The spice recipe secret
Is obviously a secret. It’s no secret what those spices are because we’ve listed them below, but what is a secret is the amounts of each per litre: Some in quantities as small as 7.5ml per 1000 Litres.
It took Codie 328 different variations to arrive at the Spiced flavour profile he wanted to create. Spiced recipes traditionally have 5 common ‘spices’: Nutmeg, Cinnamon, Cloves, Cardamom and Orange. So we include those.
We wanted to create a truly Australian flavour to our Australian hero, so we added Kakadu Plum, Lemon Myrtle, Wattle seed, Quandong and Wild Rosella.
But you can’t just marry old world spice and new world spice and expect it to ‘work. We wanted them to blend beautifully in a complex, many layered taste profile and that’s why we selected the other ten spices: Ginger, Chili, Chai, Vanilla, Coffee, Caramel, Butterscotch, Cherry, Hazelnut, Macadamia.
But that list doesn’t include the dozens of ingredients Codie rejected to get to recipe 328.
Nutmeg, Cinnamon, Cloves, Cardamom and Orange
Kakadu Plum, Lemon Myrtle, Wattle seed, Quandong and Wild Rosella.
Ginger, Chili, Chai, Vanilla, Coffee, Caramel, Butterscotch, Cherry, Hazelnut, Macadamia
The story continues
1808 Barely Legal and Spiced are two siblings in the story of our rums. There is another sibling. We’ve not mentioned yet: Our oak aged golden rum.
When we started two years ago we distilled and put into our barrels a rum almost every month that is soon going to be ready for you.
It follows the same process (without the spicing) as above but the aging has mellowed this rum into one of the finest premium rums in the world. We are sure you’ll love it as much as you do those spirits that were available earlier but are actually younger.