Rum review: Ron Zacapa Centenario 23

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Count Silvio
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Mon Sep 22, 2008 8:44 pm

"The quetzal's feathers are so beautiful that from this day forth this place shall be called Quetzaltenango" - Famous phrase from 1524.

The story of Ron Zacapa begins in the Spanish province of Burgos with the union of the Botrán and Requejo families, in the early 20th century when they married their children. This marriage yielded 5 sons who later moved to a Guatemalan town called Quetzaltenango which is situated on the mountainside about 2,333 meters (7,655 feet) above sea level where the days are warm and the nights cool. This town was previously called Xelajú by the Mayan people who lived there before the Spanish Conquistadors arrived and conquered the city in the 1520s.

In 1939 Industria Licorera Quetzalteca, S.A. was founded and it began producing rum but it was not until 1976 when Ron Zacapa 23 first emerged from its cocoon at a festival commemorating the foundation of the town of Zacapa in Guatemala. The Zacapa rum range comprises of Zacapa Centenario 15, Zacapa Centenario 23, Zacapa Centenario 23 Cask Strength, Zacapa 23 Etiqueta Negra, Zacapa Centenario XO and the new Zacapa Centenario 30 Aniversario.
Read the entire Ron Zacapa Centenario 23 (Años) rum review and comparison on the frontpage.
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forrest
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Mon Sep 22, 2008 11:47 pm

Great review-- i love the back story!!

Excellent work Count!!

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Tue Sep 23, 2008 11:39 am

Thanks Forrest, took me a while to write it! Not surprised by the bronze award?
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Tue Sep 23, 2008 1:01 pm

Count Silvio wrote:Thanks Forrest, took me a while to write it! Not surprised by the bronze award?
Honestly, i didn't notice that those were awards so i went back and re-read the article thinking i must have missed something.. When i didn't read anything about any medals i was scrolling over the article and noticed the icons shaped like awards. . . well i figured it out. . . :? :oops:

But to the question... No, i am not surprised by a 'bronze' award, Zacapa is an interesting rum, that is very simple to drink, with just enough complexity to keep you engaged, but there are many rums that i find to be more intriguing;
and besides all that-- A Bronze is nothing to scoff at!

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Tue Sep 23, 2008 5:24 pm

No, bronze is definitely nothing to scoff at. On my rating system I consider bronze still a pretty good achievement. For the oxidised Zacapa I gave silver since it was better. I will keep an eye on the Zacapas with grey neck label on my travels if they still sell the old stuff anywhere... What I would really like to get my hands on though is the full weave bottle though, maybe one of those bottles contain the magical nectar everybody has been singing praises to.
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Tue Sep 23, 2008 6:11 pm

i am looking for a 'Full weave' Zacapa for you-- so far no luck, but i did get a free bottle of Ron Botran 18 from my searching, so thank you!

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Tue Sep 23, 2008 6:23 pm

Free?! I would say that was a pretty productive search :D.
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JaRiMi
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Thu Sep 25, 2008 7:11 pm

A very good review indeed, I enjoyed thoroughly reading this one.

Zacapa is a pleasant rum, and for those enjoying the sweetness it may be "Nectar of the God's" but I personally would never call it best rum in the world.

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Fri Sep 26, 2008 3:51 pm

Thanks JaRiMi, I am very glad you enjoyed reading it. I had to make some changes to the review but nothing major, mainly some corrections to the palm leaf wrapping chapter:

1)In 1939 Industria Licorera Quetzalteca, S.A. was founded and it began producing rum but it was not until 1976 at the town of Zacapa in Guatemala when Ron Zacapa first emerged from its cocoon at a festival commemorating the 100th anniversary of the founding of the town of Zacapa in 1876, which gave the rum its name as a celebration.

2)The packaging of Ron Zacapa Centenario has changed a few times since its introduction in 1976 - The bottle was originally wrapped entirely in royal palm leaf hand woven by Guatemalan artisans - the bottle has taken a somewhat different shape and the wrapping is gone, though there is still a hand woven palm leaf band around it's waist. The bands are producuced by the women of the Chorti community, located in the northeastern Guatemalan township of Jocotán.

3)The use of the palm leaf weave is a reference to the preclassical Mayan era in 1,400 B.C., during which only kings were entitled to use it. This woven palm leaf is known as a petate that were first made as floor-mats for Mayan kings. It was believed that sitting on a "petate" changes your whole view of the world and forces you to look at life with humility and to see things for what they are.


In addition I was contacted by the brand representative of Zacapa who told me that there have been no changes at all in Zacapa's formulation. This concludes my "investigative journalism", for now... Next step would be to visit the distillery.
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Fri Sep 26, 2008 10:07 pm

I have to wonder how correct the information from this brand representative is. I've met brand ambassadors who knew virtually nothing of the product they promote: One such person from Irish Distillers claimed that throughout history, Irish whiskey has been triple-distilled always. when I showed evidence (in the form of well known books) that stated otherwise, this person got extremely agitated and defensive, saying how he "has only been doing the job for a few months" and how "pestering old whiskey geezers like me were giving him a hard time". Hmm, well - don't tell me lies, and I might not pester you..

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Sat Sep 27, 2008 7:05 am

I don't want want to call anyone a liar but you have a very good point there which is why I am skeptic about the statement made by the representative - They might only know as much as they've been told about the product, which would not make them liars, just I'll informed. I will trust the palates of the people who I know who have been drinking Zacapa for years, comment from the master distiller would be as official as it would get but I'm guessing this one would be very hard to get.
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Fri Oct 03, 2008 11:08 pm

Count, the rumours of my death are highly exaggerated. I've merely been on a bit of a sabbatical, working on what I hope will be a new and useful rum wheel. It is an amazing amount of work, hundreds of hours so far.

This is a terrific comparison, and I couldn't agree more about Z-23 in any incarnation. Sue Sea and I reviewed 23 many moons ago; indeed we even did a couple tastings to be sure of our findings, which were about 7 on a scale of 10. Now this is not a bad rating but it is matched by quite a few other rums. Accordingly, it's hard for me to call Z-23 the "king of rums". Just not so.

From what I can see, Zacapa was one of the rums that led the thankfully brief trend of "rum as liqueur". I believe that trend has pretty much run its course - one which their marketing department saw ending. They pulled Z-23 out of competition just in time I'd say. And it was Z-23 that was the inspiration for the Rum Project forum section named "Twiggie's Tie-dye Rum"

For those who are interested here's the section and the review:

Link to "Twiggie's Tie Dye Rum"

Link to Z-23 Review

Again, a truly great comparison, long in coming but worth the wait.
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Wed Dec 17, 2008 11:17 pm

Here's a couple of different interesting articles I found from Spirit Me Away while "doin' the rounds."

Behind the Scenes of Ron Zacapa’s Aging Process

Zacapa Tasting with Lorena Vasquez
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JaRiMi
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Fri Dec 19, 2008 11:47 pm

I may be lost in the terminology here, but what on earth do they mean by the following: "Ron Zacapa Centenario 23 is produced from the sweetest crushed virgin sugar cane honey"?

I as a basic simpleton do somehow understand virgin sugar cane as a term, but that reference to honey? I understand honey as a product of the bees (Apis mellifera) - and when cane is crushed, you get cane juice, not honey. Does this reference mean they somehow thicken the juice prior to fermentation (to a concentrate they call honey), or what are they on about? I am baffled here. I somehow doubt they distill their rum from bee-produced honey.

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Sat Dec 20, 2008 9:57 am

Sugar cane honey is like sugar cane syrup but only thicker and darker than normal cane syrup. Edward Hamilton describes the process of making sugar cane honey as following:

"The sugar cane syrup is not a byproduct of the sugar making process but rather a concentrated syrup or sugar cane honey collected from the sugar making process after the juice has been heated and some of the solids have been precipitated but before crystalline sugar has been removed from the sweet slurry."
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Sat Dec 20, 2008 2:29 pm

From MoR:
Hank Koestner wrote:Well, my friends, according to the bottle, which was purchased in 1986, this is the Solera 23. And of course, it is the full weave covered bottle. Another interesting note: no cork. It was a plastic twist off cap. So, in order to be fair, I had to taste it next to a current bottle of Zacapa, opened about a month ago. I will post the exact comments on the bottle later.

Well, there certainly is a difference. The old bottle was the newer blend on steroids. The aroma was almost overwhelming when the bottle was first opened, with a strong smell of alcohol. We used medium sized snifters, and let the pour rest a few minutes after a first sip to settle down. In one word: Delicious! If this blend was available now, I can guarantee we would be drinking Zacapa 23 by the gallon. It was rich, complex, perfectly balanced and had one of the best mouth feels I have ever experienced. The newer Zacapa was sweeter, and, for lack of a better word, thinner.

There was quite a few similarities in taste , but the old blend was more robust and intense in its presentation. We drank a few good pours, and will finish it off for the Holidays. I can not thank my friend John enough for sharing this with me.
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Sat Dec 20, 2008 4:44 pm

Count Silvio wrote:Sugar cane honey is like sugar cane syrup but only thicker and darker than normal cane syrup. Edward Hamilton describes the process of making sugar cane honey as following:

"The sugar cane syrup is not a byproduct of the sugar making process but rather a concentrated syrup or sugar cane honey collected from the sugar making process after the juice has been heated and some of the solids have been precipitated but before crystalline sugar has been removed from the sweet slurry."
Hmm, to my unrefined ears this sounds an awful lot like the so-called sugar cane "honey" is a well-prettified word for - 1st boil molasses. Of course its much more marketable today to say we use "purest of sugar cane honey" instead of 1st boil molasses, but -- ?

I'm a bit of a stickler when people mix words and meanings for the sake of marketing, and I think this is exactly what has been done in the rather artificial term "sugar cane honey".

I would quote wikipedia: "To make molasses, which is pure sugar cane juice, the sugar cane plant is harvested and stripped of its leaves. Its juice is extracted from the canes, usually by crushing or mashing, it can also be removed by cutting. The juice is boiled to concentrate which promotes the crystallization of the sugar. The results of this first boiling and removal of sugar crystal is first molasses, which has the highest sugar content because comparatively little sugar has been extracted from the source. Second molasses is created from a second boiling and sugar extraction, and has a slight bitter tinge to its taste.

The third boiling of the sugar syrup gives blackstrap molasses. The majority of sucrose from the original juice has been crystallized but black strap molasses is still mostly sugar by calories[1]; however, unlike refined sugars, it contains significant amounts of vitamins and minerals. Blackstrap molasses is a source of calcium, magnesium, potassium and iron. One tablespoon provides up to 20 percent of the daily value of each of those nutrients.[2][3] Black strap is often sold as a health supplement, as well as being used in the manufacture of cattle feed, and for other industrial uses."

What I am still wondering a little about is that is the sugar cane Zacapa uses only cultivated for the rum production, or do they use it for sugar manufacturing also? Not many places cultivate sugar cane only for the rum production.

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Sat Dec 20, 2008 4:55 pm

Count Silvio wrote:From MoR:
Hank Koestner wrote:Well, my friends, according to the bottle, which was purchased in 1986, this is the Solera 23. And of course, it is the full weave covered bottle. Another interesting note: no cork. It was a plastic twist off cap. So, in order to be fair, I had to taste it next to a current bottle of Zacapa, opened about a month ago. I will post the exact comments on the bottle later.

Well, there certainly is a difference. The old bottle was the newer blend on steroids. The aroma was almost overwhelming when the bottle was first opened, with a strong smell of alcohol. We used medium sized snifters, and let the pour rest a few minutes after a first sip to settle down. In one word: Delicious! If this blend was available now, I can guarantee we would be drinking Zacapa 23 by the gallon. It was rich, complex, perfectly balanced and had one of the best mouth feels I have ever experienced. The newer Zacapa was sweeter, and, for lack of a better word, thinner.

There was quite a few similarities in taste , but the old blend was more robust and intense in its presentation. We drank a few good pours, and will finish it off for the Holidays. I can not thank my friend John enough for sharing this with me.
From this message, it would seem that Zacapa has been on a downwards-trend for a very long time when it comes to the quality and taste of their product! Shocking.

I really have to wonder about this, because I did also in my days taste the "good old Zacapa 23" in around 1999 - 2000 in USA, and from my notes I recognize the licorice-flavours (still there but slightly thinner in latest version), and the sweet sweet character. As I found my old notes I can see & remember that maybe, maybe it was not as "thin" as the very latest release, but the flavour profile is much the same. Not my particular cup of tea.

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Tue Dec 23, 2008 4:53 pm

I found the bottle you guys were looking for its on Ebay never opened but no buy it now so you will have to bid.

http://cgi.ebay.com/Extremely-Old-Rare- ... 240%3A1318

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Tue Dec 23, 2008 9:19 pm

Welcome to the forums Elmo. Seems like a rather high price for it, I know some random shops in the US still sell this stuff but it is difficult to find.

Here is RumDog's opinion of the old one:
RumDog007 wrote:OK, I'm in heaven. That last statement refers to the oldest of my Zacapa 23's (around 1990 or 1993). Please refer to Hank's notes for a more intelligent discourse on this rum. I am in total agreement with his assessment. It's more viscous on the tongue. More initial burn than any of the other 3 versions. After that, the spiciness of light/faint cinnamon and nutmeg rises up and then gives way to a much lighter sweetness (by 1/2, I'd say) that hints of apple. The finish has the spice and a kiss of vanilla. Man, this is why people were crazy for this rum. It would still not be a favorite of the drier rum lovers, but would definitely be more welcome on their shelves.

(Hank, there was something of the new Atlantico which reminds me of THIS Zacapa 23.)

The gray plastic seal bottle was from around 2002, or so. Pretty much the same as what they offer today with a tad less sweetness than today's offering and more flavor than the newest. It is related to the old, full palm, bottle but is not the same rum. Thinner, the finish is more about sweetness than taste. Then, the finish quickly dies.

The black plastic seal bottle was from 2006. Almost the same as the 2002 (grey) but it lacks some of it's complexity and, once again, more sweet.

The newest version is from 2008, purchased today. Pretty much the same as the last blend. Count Silvio hits the nail on the head with his review:

http://www.refinedvices.com/Ron-Zacapa-Centenario-23

When compared to the grey seal blend, there is a noticable difference. But, when compared to the old full palm blend....no contest. Is it worth looking for old dusty bottles hidden around in little shops? If you like a sweeter profile, but think that blenders may have gone too far in this direction, YES!
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Thu Dec 25, 2008 12:58 am

Hmm, to my unrefined ears this sounds an awful lot like the so-called sugar cane "honey" is a well-prettified word for - 1st boil molasses. Of course its much more marketable today to say we use "purest of sugar cane honey" instead of 1st boil molasses, but -- ?
I too wondered about this. As it turns out, quite some time ago I had reason to do some extensive research on the production of molasses and learned quite a bit. Here goes:

To produce sugar, cane is cut, washed, crushed. Water is normally added during crushing. This can result in a cane juice of up to 90% sugar (but usually less). It is slightly acid, usually about 5 to 5.5 pH and is brought to neutral with lime and heated. Unwanted materials precipitate out and are skimmed off. It is then evaporated and concentrated to a syrup of about 60% sugar. It is seeded with sugar crystals, further concentrated to the point of supersaturation and cooled to produce sugar crystals. It is then centrifuged to remove molasses and most of the liquid. The raw sugar remains and is ready for refining. Phosphoric acid and calcium hydroxide are used to clarify the crystal

Sugarcane syrup production is very different. As before the cane is cut, washed and crushed. The resulting juice is heated and evaporated to concentrate the juice, which is skimmed to remove proteins and non-sugar waste. It is filtered and cooled.

As should be obvious, processing to produce sugar and making sugarcane syrup are very different. The byproduct of sugar manufacture (other than waste) is molasses. The byproduct of sugarcane syrup (other than waste) is nothing. It is simply fresh cane juice from which some water has been evaporated. It should be added that reducing fresh cane juice for purposes of short storage is far different than syrups derived from cane sugar crystals. One is simply reduced from fresh cane juice - the latter uses the end product of refined cane sugar crystals (that have been limed, and chemically processed).

Put another way: "fresh cane juice" contains all components (cane juice, sucrose, molasses); reduced "fresh cane juice" (or semi-syrup) contains all these components and has lost only a bit of pure water; molasses is the residue after chemical liming and extraction of sugar crystals - it has lost most of the other components but retains enough complex and simple sugars for fermentation.

Hamilton's explanation is a bit messy and misleading, especially when he state "The sugar cane syrup is not a byproduct of the sugar making process but rather a concentrated syrup or sugar cane honey collected from the sugar making process after the juice has been heated...". In the same sentence he implies the syrup is or is not part of the sugar making process.

It is not.

Sugarcane honey and/or semi-syrup is merely fresh cane juice that has been concentrated. By concentrating the juice, it's shelf life until distillation is greatly increased. Fresh juice must be fermented very soon, usually within a day or so or it goes bad. Depending on the extent of concentration, concentrated juice (syrup or honey) can be stored for a month or two at the least. This greatly facilitates efficient production.

As for Zacapa, they do not state the extent or purpose of using honey/syrup, but you can be sure of one thing. It is not a molasses based product in any sense.
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JaRiMi
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Fri Dec 26, 2008 5:36 pm

Thank you for this explanation - I must admit, I am still a little unclear on the difference of the matter when we speak of the very 1st stage of making molasses, and the making of sugar cane syrup - because both start with boiling / evaporating the sugar cane juice. As far as I know (and I might be totally wrong), at this stage no chemicals are yet added (in making molasses at home at least..?).

Anyways, I am no sugar- or molasses-expert, main thing is I guess to understand what sugar cane honey /syrup is, and that part is pretty clear - honey it is not. :-)
Last edited by JaRiMi on Sun Dec 28, 2008 1:52 am, edited 1 time in total.

JaRiMi
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Sun Dec 28, 2008 1:51 am

I was interested enough in this topic of any potential differences between "cane honey" and my own understanding of what so-called light, 1st boil molasses is to do some further digging on the matter.

One thing to mention here is that as I understand, those rum manufacturers who make rum outa molasses do so from the final, 3rd boil "blackstrap" molasses. They do not make it from the 1st boil molasses to my best knowledge. Lets put it in different terms; The rum producers who state they use molasses are not specifying what stage molasses they use - they just say that they use molasses from which they make rum from.

The terminology of "Cane honey" or "Cane Syrup" is however a bit vague still, as it seems to me this term is used for "cane juice which is squeezed out, then collected, then heated up (to boiling) to reduce the liquids in it and concentrate it, and then - it is "cane honey". 1st boil molasses, as I understand it (and from what I have seen in references), is done - precisely the same way: Perhaps the level of how thick it is allowed to boil varies, but the idea and methodology is the same. Lets remember again that the final by-product molasses is actually the three-times boiled and treated product, but the term molasses does apply similarly to the 1st boil.

What I found very interesting is the following: There is a very nice link here http://www.faqs.org/rulings/rulings2004HQ965905.html which highlights a dispute of someone wanting to sell Colombian "Cane Honey" basically as a pure fruit juice (??? apparently different laws etc apply to such a product; I can only imagine that this move would give "Cane Honey" an advantage either in taxation or marketing).

What makes the article very interesting is the description given by the Colombian manufacturer about the process of making the "Cane Honey", as copied here:

"Your letter of June 21, 2002, indicated that the subject merchandise, “Cane Honey”, is described as pure, concentrated juice of sugar cane. The subject merchandise is produced by a patented process, which begins with the sugar cane harvested by hand to minimize extraneous material. The harvested sugar cane is cut into smaller pieces, which are fed into a mill and passed through two roller presses that extract the cane juice. The juice is filtered through a primary steel screen filter and a secondary vibrating screen filter. Calcium Hydroxide (milk of lime) is added to adjust the pH level of the juice to 8 or 8.5. After the pH is adjusted, the juice is heated to approximately 99 degrees Celsius. After heating, the juice is clarified by adding natural flocculates (guasimo, mataraton, and cadillo) that attach to the impurities. The flocculates and impurities float to the bottom of the juice and are removed. The juice is clarified a second time and kept at a constant 60 degrees Celsius. The product is now 99.9 percent impurity free and has a Brix of 60 degrees. After clarification, the juice is concentrated through a vacuum procedure. After concentration the juice is pumped into a tank where it will cool to a temperature below 54.4 degrees Celsius. The final product is a concentrated sugar cane juice free from impurities and sterilized to prevent fermentation. The processing also inverts the sugar to 47 percent to 48 percent glucose and fructose and 3 percent or less of sucrose. The low sucrose content prevents the product from crystallizing. The merchandise is not subjected to further processing into refined sugar.

.........

The Customs laboratory has determined that the Cane Honey contains a total sugar content of 72.1 percent, with 37.7 percent fructose, 34.4 percent glucose and no sucrose. The soluble non- sugar solids are equal to 5.2 percent of the total soluble solids."


Please compare this process with the one described above by Captain Jimbo as that of making sugar/molasses. I see little or no difference. On the other hand, I have seen first boil molasses (or so it was called by the maker) being made in home conditions, and it followed precisely the methodology that I see described as that for making of "Cane Honey".

Well, I think a spud is a spud - all the rum we know that can legally be called rum today in most places gets its original from Sugar Cane juice, either fermented "as is", or as 1st boil molasses/cane syrup, or whatever. What is done with the juice collected from the cane seems to have little or no actual effect on quality if you ask me.

I still have a slight gut feeling that some people are simply trying to distance themselves and their produce from that of others and imply it is of higher quality, or more *natural* due to their different process, and in this action avoid the word "Molasses" like plague, even though the concept of molasses itself covers three different types of produce.

I do think that Terms like "Cane Honey" should be banned from being used in english language at least, since obviously it is somewhat misleading (has nothing to do with honey) and is used in what I'd personally call dubious ways in marketing of rum for example. Cane syrup I find an acceptable term, but again, it is also used to describe the very liquid, well-flowing first boil light molasses (in fact in many places molasses and syrup are constantly mixed up as one thing in happy confusion!).

http://www.todaysmodernwoman.com/Vegeta ... 247383.htm Quote: "Molasses is boiled three times. You want the result of the third boiling"...."First boil molasses is basic sugar syrup. Second boil molasses is bitter. It becomes "black strap" when it's been boiled the third time."

As a footnote, I think this whole terminology mess has its start in the Spanish (and Portugese) language, where in Central and South America people describe the concentrated sugary substance gained from sugar cane processing as Miel de Cana = Cane Honey. An example below:

http://www.boliviamall.com/catalog/prod ... ts_id=4656

(Doesn't look like a juice container btw...more like a molasses container!)

Anyways - Lets enjoy the real end-product, be it rum or sugar. :-)

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Mon Dec 29, 2008 2:04 am

Interesting post, but there is a huge difference between even "first boil" molasses and any cane juice syrup. I will try to keep this short:

Consider the following and it should become abundantly obvious to all that there is a huge difference in "fresh juice" (whether concentrated or not) and molasses. "Fresh juice" and/or what is called "semi-syrup" (a modestly concentrated) juice includes all the components unique to cane juice AND those that make up molasses - and has suffered little processing. And molasses?

It contains none of the many components that make up fresh juice other than the molasses itself. Molasses contains very little sucrose, about 16% (compared to juice at about 88%), and lots of fructose, about 52% (compared to juice at about 6%). Molasses is about 80% dry matter (!), and contains nitrogen, organic acids, gums and ash. Let us not forget that molasses is derived after significant and repeated heating, cooling, physical and chemical processing (whose residues are present in molasses but not juice). Let us also note that the molasses requires much additional processing before distillation into rum.

A far cry from "fresh juice" in any form! Not even close.

Couple more notes: there are indeed some rums made from what is being called "first boil" or food grade molasses. Correct me if I'm wrong but I'm pretty sure Pritchards and possibly the New Orleans people use it. As far as cane juice "semi-syrups" go, it is interesting to note that St. James concentrates some of their cane juice into a cane juice syrup for delayed distillation into agricole, and somehow manages to do so under the oppressive Martinique AOC regs - quite a trick!

And rather revealing.

I believe the exerpt above re "sugar cane honey" is describing a post-sugar making, post-molasses product. Unfortunately some of what is called "sugar cane honey" is made from post production sugar and is no more related to concentrated cane juice syrups than molasses. Zacapa's "honey" is a pre-production cane juice semi-syrup. From their website:

After describing the typical process of sugar manufacture and its byproduct of fermentable molasses for molasses based rums, Zacapa then differentiates their products "...(our) Guatemalan rums are produced from raw juices extracted from sugar cane. These have a sugar concentration of around 70-78% after evaporating the water present in the cane juice".

Not molasses in any form or stage. Last, I wouldn't put too much credence in an obscure vegetarian definition of molasses.
Hope this all helps. I think it essential to distinguish cane juice and its semi-syrups from molasses or post production sugar syrups.

Whew!!!
Regards,
Capn Jimbo
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Mon Dec 29, 2008 6:55 pm

Hello capn, after reading your response I am a little puzzled: I think you did not read all of the post above, or missed out on some of the details there.
Capn Jimbo wrote:Interesting post, but there is a huge difference between even "first boil" molasses and any cane juice syrup. I will try to keep this short:

Consider the following and it should become abundantly obvious to all that there is a huge difference in "fresh juice" (whether concentrated or not) and molasses. "Fresh juice" and/or what is called "semi-syrup" (a modestly concentrated) juice includes all the components unique to cane juice AND those that make up molasses - and has suffered little processing.
I was not speaking of "fresh juice" - somehow I find you changed the terminology here, why? We were talking of "Cane Honey"/Cane Syrup, *not* the fresh cane juice.
And molasses?

It contains none of the many components that make up fresh juice other than the molasses itself. Molasses contains very little sucrose, about 16% (compared to juice at about 88%), and lots of fructose, about 52% (compared to juice at about 6%). Molasses is about 80% dry matter (!), and contains nitrogen, organic acids, gums and ash. Let us not forget that molasses is derived after significant and repeated heating, cooling, physical and chemical processing (whose residues are present in molasses but not juice). Let us also note that the molasses requires much additional processing before distillation into rum.

A far cry from "fresh juice" in any form! Not even close.
What you are persistently describing as Molasses (period) - is 3rd boil, or blackstrap molasses. If we were talking of this, I would absolutely, wholeheartedly agree with you capn Jimbo. Please do take into account that 1st boil molasses IS VERY DIFFERENT. It is a far cry from dry matter, with no sucrose!!! Honestly, lets try and understand that there are typically THREE different molasses types: 1st boil, commonly known also as SYRUP - containing around 60% sucrose: 2nd boil, and finally, what you describe - 3rd boil, or blackstrap molasses. After first boil you are dealing simply with concentrated syrup liquid, at least so I have read and what I have seen (and yes, I admit, the persons who discussed this with me were West Indian, and they do not always use exact terms, but what I saw was liquid, and called first boil molasses). Also many websites refer CLEARLY to 1st boil as (from Wikipedia):

"To make molasses, which is pure sugar cane juice, the sugar cane plant is harvested and stripped of its leaves. Its juice is extracted from the canes, usually by crushing or mashing, it can also be removed by cutting. The juice is boiled to concentrate which promotes the crystallization of the sugar. The results of this first boiling and removal of sugar crystal is first molasses, which has the highest sugar content because comparatively little sugar has been extracted from the source.".


And from another source (Everything2.com):

"There are three types of molasses, light, dark, and blackstrap, which are categorized depending on how they are processed. After the first boil that removes most of the white sugar the molasses may be boiled several more times to remove additional sugar. This concentrates the molasses and its nutrients, making it darker and thicker. Light molasses has only been boiled once, making it light, thin, and very sweet."

Interestingly in your earlier post, you were describing the making of molasses, saying that they add lime to it etc. - and how very differently, the sugar cane honey/syrup is made with no additional chemicals. Then again in the detailed information coming from a Sugar Cane Honey/Syrup maker in Colombia to New York State official, the producer specifically admits to:
"Calcium Hydroxide (milk of lime) is added to adjust the pH level of the juice to 8 or 8.5. After the pH is adjusted, the juice is heated to approximately 99 degrees Celsius. After heating, the juice is clarified by adding natural flocculates (guasimo, mataraton, and cadillo) that attach to the impurities." Again - sounds quite like the starting steps of making - molasses. I agree, many may make their sugar cane honey/syrup differently, in a more natural way - because I have also seen people make first boil molasses without any such added chemicals. Indeed, reading here also (from Homecooking.com):

"All varieties can contain sulphur depending on the specific refining process used, but unsulphured products (lighter in color and smoother in flavor) are available. The lighter the molasses, the sweeter it is...Light molasses: Syrup remaining after the first processing of the sugar. It is generally unsulphured and is the lightest as well as sweetest variety. It is often used as a syrup for pancakes and waffles or stirred into hot cereals such as oatmeal. 65% sucrose. "
Couple more notes: there are indeed some rums made from what is being called "first boil" or food grade molasses. Correct me if I'm wrong but I'm pretty sure Pritchards and possibly the New Orleans people use it. As far as cane juice "semi-syrups" go, it is interesting to note that St. James concentrates some of their cane juice into a cane juice syrup for delayed distillation into agricole, and somehow manages to do so under the oppressive Martinique AOC regs - quite a trick!

And rather revealing.
This is interesting news about rum being made of food grade molasses, thank you!!

Please do note: Food grade molasses is actually NOT a complete and direct synonym to first boil molasses, because the food grade molasses may be further thickened or processed, in order to obtain desired qualities (thickness, sweetness etc).
I believe the exerpt above re "sugar cane honey" is describing a post-sugar making, post-molasses product. Unfortunately some of what is called "sugar cane honey" is made from post production sugar and is no more related to concentrated cane juice syrups than molasses.
Well, the Colombians wanted specifically to sell their product as pure cane juice - "Your letter of June 21, 2002, indicated that the subject merchandise, “Cane Honey”, is described as pure, concentrated juice of sugar cane." The process they make it with, however, revealed interesting facts - no wonder New York State did not budge in their ruling..
Zacapa's "honey" is a pre-production cane juice semi-syrup. From their website:

After describing the typical process of sugar manufacture and its byproduct of fermentable molasses for molasses based rums, Zacapa then differentiates their products "...(our) Guatemalan rums are produced from raw juices extracted from sugar cane. These have a sugar concentration of around 70-78% after evaporating the water present in the cane juice".

Not molasses in any form or stage.
I do not think that is actually a true statement - To my best knowledge (and please, have a look at the information sources I also quote from the internet), first boil molasses has a sugar concentrate very close to this (and it can vary, according to boil time, cane variety, etc etc.), and hmm, the process of making FIRST BOIL is PRECISELY THE SAME. Again, please - I am *NOT* talking about the solids left over after finalized cane processing (known as blackstarp molasses) - I am talking about the first boil molasses - which is undoubtedly known as molasses also.

What you quote from Zacapa is proving my point precisely - they are trying to differentiate (positively, of course) their product from the molasses rums - and in doing so, they are also stubbornly sticking to describing as "molasses" only the finalized, thoroughly processed blackstrap molasses.
Last, I wouldn't put too much credence in an obscure vegetarian definition of molasses.
I have nothing against vegetarians, but I agree that this source alone is not credible - however I have now quoted half the internet or so it feels. I hope you also start to accept that there is a product called first boil molasses, and it is boiled typically ONCE, to lightly concentrate the liquids.
Hope this all helps. I think it essential to distinguish cane juice and its semi-syrups from molasses or post production sugar syrups.

Whew!!!
Well, the comment where you suspect the Colombian manufacturers of making post-production sugar syrup is only a presumption, and it is contradictory to the other details the letter offers.

I think what this discussion has proven to those that have bothered to actually read through and pay attention to information and links provided, is that there are several loose english language terms used in rum business for marketing and differentiation purposes, and some of them are purposedly obscure, meaning they are used to deceive the consumer to a degree where it cannot be stated the manufacturers are outrightly dishonest, but under scrutiny their intent becomes quite clear.

My simple suggestions:

1. Ban use of the term "cane honey" as misleading marketing-jargon-only
2. Define clearly each stage of sugar production and terminology, and to make a ruling on where we draw the line on the difference between "cane syrup" and "first boil molasses".

Sucrose content and other details could be used as the foundation that such a ruling is based on. Until this is done the matter remains a happy meaningless jumble. Thats all folks..

FOOTNOTE: This link http://www.tradertiki.com/tag/tales/tells an interesting story where the writer has separated the terms "first boil" and "molasses" totally - only to then combine them again..!!! A nice mess of terms, as I said.

In any case it also seems to reveal the very nature of what I refer to as "first boil molasses" and the good capn Jimbo refers to "cane syrup"..

Quoting: The origin of this drink comes from something Joy Spence, master blender at Appleton told me when I was touring the estate in Jamiaca with her. We were trying some of what they call “wet sugar” at the refinery- it’s the first boil of the cane juice before the initial seperation of sugar and molasses. So it’s like molasses with all the sugar still in it- thick, and chunky with big sugar crystals. She told me that in Jamaica they like to take the wet sugar and use it to make lemonade, with of course a big splash of rum in there. So I took that idea, lengthed it with soda instead of water, and added a little St. Elizabeth’s for some Jamaican allspice flavor, mon. Combining molasses and simple comes pretty close to the taste of wet sugar.

....

Here is the recipe, corrected from the Tales recipe card… when creativity and branding clash, there are no clear winners.
Pampanito

1 1/2 oz Pampero Aniversario
1/2 oz Mild (aka first boil) Unsulfured Molasses
1/2 oz Simple Syrup (2:1)
1/4 oz St. Elizabeth’s Allspice Dram
Dash Angostura Bitters
1 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
2 1/2 Charged Water

Shake and strain into ice-filled Collins Glass

I wasn’t quite sure about the shaking and straining, as Rum and Allspice tend to need quite a bit more watering down, and with the molasses there to bind things up (plus, I saw Martin doing this at the event), I slapped that pappy in the ol’ DRINKMASTER and gave it a whirl. It is a fine drink, with the rich molasses providing one hell of a backnote to the rum, lemon and allspice. This one goes down smooth with almost no resistance whatsoever. With the use of molasses in early rum drinks (Bombo, Black Stripe) to make them more palatable, I can see that this stuff will be getting much better use in my home bar.

A note on the use of molasses. I tend to be keep my jiggers away from anything over a 2:1 simple, and will usually use a barspoon to measure items like molasses, coconut cream, orgeat, or any of the other super-sticky stuff out there. I have only a makeshift wet bar (bottled water and a bucket), so cleaning such stuff out tends to be more difficult on a jigger, with its rough angles. Yes, I do clean my jiggers between drinks, quickly and quietly. Got a better method for removing goo from bartools? Let me know!


:D :D :D :shock: :? :lol:

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Mon Dec 29, 2008 8:32 pm

J...

This is a superb analysis and I'm learning something from you. You have made the point that what is being called "first boil" (or food grade molasses) may be closer to "sugar cane honey" than I first believed. I agree with you that the term "sugar cane honey" seems to lack a precise definition. I think you are right too that my notes may refer to blackstrap (the usual basis for rum - and which we'd all agree is a far cry from semi-syrup or cane juice.

OTOH, first grade - second grade - and blackstrap do mean something. However, it is also true that cane juice rums are made - including on Martinique - occasionally from "semi-syrup" - which is very modestly concentrated cane juice (for the aforesaid purpose of a delayed distillation schedule). What Zacapa is using seems more akin to juice semi-syrup than molasses but this remains to be seen.

After much thought, I think the key in understanding may be either sucrose content and/or brix. Other factors I'd consider important would be chemical processing and removal of sugars and fluids. Back to research...

Thanks again for a great post. We'll get to the bottom of this (pun excepted, lol)...
Last edited by Capn Jimbo on Tue Dec 30, 2008 2:28 am, edited 2 times in total.
Regards,
Capn Jimbo
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Mon Dec 29, 2008 8:55 pm

Capn Jimbo wrote:J...

This is a superb analysis and I'm learning something from you. You have made the point that what is being called "first boil" (or food grade molasses) may be closer to "sugar cane honey" than I first believed. I agree with you that the term "sugar cane honey" seems to lack a precise definition. I think you are right too that my notes may refer to blackstrap (the usual basis for rum - and which we'd all agree is a far cry from semi-syrup or cane juice.
Absolutely!! I also really agree with you on what is / should be the definition of "Cane syrup" - it should be a natural product, not as what the Colombian letter stated being the process of making it. Blackstrap, the usual reference of molasses, is indeed really not at all anything like cane syrup, neither is 2nd boil. To put it in different terms, maybe the first boil molasses should simply be called (1st boil) cane syrup for clarity's sake.
OTOH, first grade - second grade - and blackstrap do mean something. However, it is also true that cane juice rums are made - including on Martinique - occasionally from "semi-syrup" - which is very modestly concentrated cane juice (for the aforesaid purpose of a delayed distillation schedule). What Zacapa is using seems more akin to juice semi-syrup than molasses but this remains to be seen.
I am not doubting totally Zacapa's sincerity in this matter, because as I said, in spanish (and portugese) the term used often is referring to "cane honey". I do not think however that it can / should be directly translated as such into english (due to the fact that it is totally misleading), and I do think that it is used in marketing ploy to some ways claim superiority over honest-to-God molasses-originated rums. In this context, it is not very nice.
After much thought, I think the key in understanding may be either sucrose content and/or brix. Other factors I'd consider important would be chemical processing and removal of sugars and fluids. Back to research...

Thanks again for a great post. We'll get to the bottom of this (pun excepted, lol)...
Heheh!!! Thanks also for your fantastic inputs, the information about rums being made from cane syrup on Martinique especially was to say the least interesting...! But yes, I think clearer definitions and terminology should be used and defined. I am quite surprised the professionals of rum and rum writing seem generally a bit, hmm, gullible and eager to accept "truths" and other things, instead of challenging them even ever so slightly? No sea worth sailing is without waves - such water bodies I'd call it just a puddle or a pond. waves are not to be feared - I think we owe it to the world of rum to clarify things and challenge also some beliefs and semi-truths which seem not capable of holding their water, so to speak.

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Tue Dec 30, 2008 2:09 am

"The rain in Spain falls mainly on the... by George, I think I've got it!"

Way back when, I spent a tremendous amount of time on this subject, only to be once again confused, so as to spend yet another big chunk of time. J, I think I've finally come to understand what's happening here, and it is a matter of definitions. You are quite right that "cane honey and or cane syrup" are not well defined. Actually, the fact is that these terms mean different things at different times in the process. And there is more than one process.

One process is when a company like St. James in Martinique decides to remove a bit of water from their raw cane juice, thus turning it into a semi-syrup with a low brix of say 35%. Raw juice starts to go bad almost immediately. The semi-syrup (which you might call cane syrup) buys them maybe a month, if kept cool. Other than the water removed, there is no further processing of any kind. By the way, "semi-syrup" is a recognized term in this process.

Another, similar process is when Zacapa takes raw cane juice, and takes out perhaps a little more water to produce a cane juice syrup that, though a bit thicker than St. James' semi-syrup, is still an unprocessed but concentrated cane juice syrup, which some may call cane syrup or honey. Or not.

So far we appear to agree, as you say:
The terminology of "Cane honey" or "Cane Syrup" is however a bit vague still, as it seems to me this term is used for "cane juice which is squeezed out, then collected, then heated up (to boiling) to reduce the liquids in it and concentrate it, and then - it is "cane honey".
So far so good.

You go on to say that you believe that "...first boil molasses, as I understand it (and from what I have seen in references), is done - precisely the same way." You then distinguish the first boil as very different from the second, and third (blackstrap).

The process of obtained the semi-syrup/cane syrup/cane honey is pretty simple. Remove water. BTW, This is usually done by applying a vacumn (vacumn boiling), not heat. Now let's consider "first boil" molasses, aka "first strike" molasses, "A Molasses" or "food grade" molasses.

Much, much more involved.

Molasses (of any stage) is often derived from green cane which has been treated with sulfur dioxide for various reasons. In contrast cane juice for distilling is normally obtained from the ripest possible cane, which requires no treatment (but must be distilled quickly). Molasses cane is then cut and crushed, and rough filtered (same for juice cane). Molasses cane is being processed for sugar - not juice - and the process from here on out is extensive, physically and chemically demanding and completely different.

The cane juice is first clarified. This requires liming and heat to cause precipitation of albumins, ash and other unwanted elements. These form a mud which settles to the bottom, and a scum that rises to the top. The mud and scum are skimmed or removed, and the clarified juice continues to be processed. The clarified juice is now boiled (vacumn) four or five times to remove water and thicken it.

Now the thickened slurry is limed and phosphated, and treated artificially with polymer "flocculates". It is clarified again and manipulated vigorously in mechanical clarifiers. We're still not done and we still don't have "first boil molasses". What's next?

Now the sucrose is crystallized, by even more vacumn boiling to further concentrate the slurry, and to cause the sugar to start to crystallize. Seed crystals are added and finally we have what is akin to a thick mud or sludge called "massequite" or "fillmass". Do we have "first boil" yet?

No.

This first "strike" (contents of the vacumn pan) are transferred into centrifuges lined with fine steel mesh filters and are spun at up to 1800 rpm. The sugar crystals remain, are "cut off" and removed for processing and end up in your cup of coffee. The thick mother liquid is removed and will ultimately become "first strike" molasses. But still not yet.

Part of the "first strike" ejection will go to make "A Molasses", aka first stike/first boil/food grade molasses (the rest goes through the process again for second and third strike molasses). But it must be even further processed to achieve shelf life. This is done via another chemical process that hydrolyzes some of the sucrose into fructose and glucose to produce "invert sugar" as a necessary component and preservative of all molasses, including "first boil".

And finally, finally we have "first boil" molasses. The result of considerable chemical and physical processing, and which is very different in chemical composition from the semi-syrup/cane syrup/cane honey to which it is being compared. Indeed, "first boil" is much more similar to B and C molasses...
Industry definitions for Molasses:

Brix Sugar% Ash% Sulfite(pppm)
A 79.0 63.5 5.0 200
B 79.0 61.5 7.0 250
C 79.0 58.0 9.0 250
SS <79 <58 >9 >250

SS (substandard, not acceptable as "molasses")
These are the facts about true "first boil" molasses. I believe the basis of the misunderstanding is that what you call "first boil" is actually what author Olbricht calls "Pseudo Molasses" - which is not molasses at all but simply boiled and concentrated cane juice. It is much sweeter than molasses because the sugar and other cane juice components remain, and it remains relatively unmolested by further processing or chemicals. This "Pseudo Molasses" is also (improperly) called "cane juice molasses". Unlike real molasses of any grade, these concentrated cane juices are indeed very close in composition to cane juice semi-syrups, syrups and honey.

What you refer to as "first boil" molasses is not real molasses at all.
Regards,
Capn Jimbo
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Tue Dec 30, 2008 1:59 pm

Good stuff, this discussion is really interesting!
Last edited by JaRiMi on Tue Dec 30, 2008 2:13 pm, edited 2 times in total.

JaRiMi
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Tue Dec 30, 2008 2:11 pm

Capn Jimbo wrote:
The process of obtained the semi-syrup/cane syrup/cane honey is pretty simple. Remove water. BTW, This is usually done by applying a vacumn (vacumn boiling), not heat. Now let's consider "first boil" molasses, aka "first strike" molasses, "A Molasses" or "food grade" molasses.

Much, much more involved.
Well, I just feel that this issue is not quite so black & white matter as you put it, because we are talking about an industry and process with much, much variation inside it - from the size of production, to the modernity of equipment & methods.

I think from all the materials presented we've seen that the process of making cane honey, cane syrup, cane juice or first boil can vary quite a lot, and can involve either use of other chemicals or not. The vacuum boiling is another interesting detail, seen it done with direct heat but I gather the process also differs based on production volume (farm or factory) or production plant (how modern or traditional it is).

Also food grade molasses, is not IMHO a direct synonym for first boil, the former may contain added sugar or it can go through other further processing in order to get it looking and feeling suitable for mass domestic markets.
Molasses (of any stage) is often derived from green cane which has been treated with sulfur dioxide for various reasons. In contrast cane juice for distilling is normally obtained from the ripest possible cane, which requires no treatment (but must be distilled quickly).
That is an interesting point about the ripeness of cane when harvested - would be interesting to get further information from different countries / regions on when they harvest their cane, or when it is considered good for harvesting (ripeness).
Industry definitions for Molasses:

Brix Sugar% Ash% Sulfite(pppm)
A 79.0 63.5 5.0 200
B 79.0 61.5 7.0 250
C 79.0 58.0 9.0 250
SS <79 <58 >9 >250

SS (substandard, not acceptable as "molasses")
You do not link your source here (or mention a book if it is from a book) - where did you get this information please? Are these per facto industry standards, or do they vary from country to country - and do they also apply to smaller production plants?
These are the facts about true "first boil" molasses. I believe the basis of the misunderstanding is that what you call "first boil" is actually what author Olbricht calls "Pseudo Molasses" - which is not molasses at all but simply boiled and concentrated cane juice. It is much sweeter than molasses because the sugar and other cane juice components remain, and it remains relatively unmolested by further processing or chemicals. This "Pseudo Molasses" is also (improperly) called "cane juice molasses". Unlike real molasses of any grade, these concentrated cane juices are indeed very close in composition to cane juice semi-syrups, syrups and honey.

What you refer to as "first boil" molasses is not molasses at all.
Well, at least I am not alone in my mistake!!! :D All the multiple sources I quoted, including Wikipedia etc are saying pretty much the same (see the links I posted).

Would you agree that the terminology should be defined & improved for clarity's sake, and that certain terms such as cane honey should be dropped? I am also curious to know what you feel about my comment regarding how it seems at least to me that many "official" rum writers do not seem to really properly research their stuff, and accept things often at face value (simply printing the same stuff that is seen in different companies' marketing broschures in their own books also) without further consideration or investigation?

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