Demerara. That word alone is infectious. It’s derived from the Arawak language, meaning “river of the letter wood.” It sounds exotic. It is exotic. Demerara is a place, as well as the name of things related to that place. It’s a region of Guyana founded by the Dutch. There’s a river, also called Demerara. There are fields of sugarcane lined with canals where herons and egrets wade. The air is sweet smelling. It smells of forests. And the Caribbean, which is not far away.
Demerara is also a name that is tied to sugar, an extension of which is rum. Specifically, the rum of Guyana, of which many hail as the world’s best.
Demerara rum is made on the banks of the Demerara River, just outside of Guyana’s capital of Georgetown. All Demerara rum is distilled in Guyana, regardless of where it may be aged and bottled. The rum is derived from sugarcane grown along the riverbank and is distilled by the last remaining Guyanese distiller, Demerara Distillers Limited, or the DDL.
The distillery is an important landmark near Georgetown and facilities are open to the public by reservation. The plant is in the process of expansion, which will increase capacity of the brand considerably in the next few years, as well as limit some of the environmental affects of their waste product. Seeing the vats and aged wooden stills surviving in the tropical heat in one of the wildest landscapes on earth is quite impressive, even if the facilities are quite humbling. Tours end with a tasting of several rums in a modern tasting room dotted with the black and white photos that tell the history of rum in Guyana, which closely follows the history of the country.
The History of Demera Rum
Guyana was a pristine land inhabited by Arawaks and Caribs when Columbus came ashore in 1498, though it was not produced on a large scale until the late 1700s, roughly a century later than in the rest of the Caribbean. Because Guyana’s plantation owners entered the sugar industry late, they were able to import advanced equipment for milling sugarcane and the industry exploded.
Distilling was introduced in Guyana the 1850’s by the British and soon more than 300 sugar estates produced their own rums. By the 2nd half of the 1800th century the sugar estates were closing – only 180 remained and the wooden coffey still was installed at the Enmore Estate distillery in the year 1880. There were 230 operating sugar plantations in the 1930s and, in 1958, only 18. Each estate produced its own distinctive rum and they were given their own marks to identify the origin, for example, PM is Port Morant. These rums were shipped to England and the trading name Demerara Rum was established.
During the early 20th century all the stills were merged and they ended up finally by the DDL – Demerara Distillers Limited. The wooden coffey still – EHP – is the last one left since 1880 and the only wooden column still used in the world and what gives El Dorado rum its distinctive flavor. Made of a Guyanese wood called Greenheart, it produces a mild and fruity medium bodied rum. The EHP single barrel rum from El Dorado comes from this still. It’s used in the El Dorado 5yo, 8yo, 12yo, 15yo, 21yo and 25yo.
Flavor Characteristics of Demerara Rum
- A unique environmental of the Guyanese coast lends to flavors and aromas.
- The flavors and aromas are in turn heavily affected by fermentation, distillation, aging, and blending.
- The old wooden stills add to the flavor bouquet.
The 15 Year Old El Dorado: The Best Rum in the World
Rums designed for sipping are a new phenomenon for me. I’ve long loved rum, though after exploring the world of fine rums, the mass-market Puerto Rican brands from have lost my attention. El Dorado’s 15 year old, along with Flor de Caña’s 18 year old, are the two aged rums that have converted me. This El Dorado rum has been named the best rum in the world again and again and after tasting it is easy to see why. It’s undeniably smooth, dark and rich, and redolent of molasses and burnt sugar. It’s a perfect rum after a meal or with a cigar.
Writer and photographer Nicholas Gill is the editor/publisher of New World Review. He lives in Lima, Peru and Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CondeNast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Afar, and Penthouse. Visit his personal website (nicholas-gill.com) for more information.