Our Distilling Process

The art of making award-winning rum is one that we’ve perfected with passion over many years.

An Obsessive Story on Flavour

Throughout the following description of how we make our rum and 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 (and no fermentation vats) still 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 Australian rum and spirits. It’s an obsession with perfection and authenticity.

Image of man at Illegal Tender Rum Co's distillery.

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 rum making 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 solely. 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 during rum making.

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 sugar including soil, residues and chemical contaminants. We believe molasses can make a good rum, however we have a better way.

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. Our Recipes on premise use a mixture of Australian Dark Brown Sugar Rums, some mixes of D/Brown Sugar and Molasses and all molasses brews to mix it up!

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/wash/patch/mash’ 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.

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 1000 litres of liquid and is used twice in the process of making our rums and 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: Heads, Hearts and Tails. We do the ‘strip’ to quickly get rid of the harmful, nasty tasting ‘Heads’ of the distillate. The potential 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 and some Lee's’ 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 3-5 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 vs 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 best 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.

Want to see the magic happen?

Come visit our distillery located in quaint and picturesque Dongara, Western Australia to taste our range of rums and spirits next to the equipment and people that made them.

Distillery Tours

Plan ahead to bring your mates to a behind the scenes tour of our craft distillery in Dongara, and experience the magical world of making rum! See the passion that goes into every bottle we sell, including a personal guide through the distilling process.