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Camikara 12yo Rum Review - Piccadily Distilleries

Before I review Camikara 12yo Rum from Piccadily Distilleries, let's take a brief look at the origin of sugarcane and subsequently rum, from ancient India to its eventual evolution in the Caribbean. In addition, we will look at rum's marred history, its roots in slavery, its impact on the Western world, as well as how India was directly linked with the rum trade.



Origins & Evolution

Saccharum Officinarum Linn, commonly known as sugarcane, is a perennial grass species belonging to the Poaceae family. It is native to Southeast Asia and has a long and rich history that dates back thousands of years. The cultivation of sugarcane can be traced back to ancient times in regions such as New Guinea, where it was first domesticated around 8,000 BCE. From there it spread to other parts of Southeast Asia, including India, China, and Indonesia.


India's association with sugar can be traced back centuries. By 500 BCE, the Sanskrit word "sakara" had already acquired the meaning of "granular sugar".[1] Ancient Indian folk tales known as the Jatakas, written between 600 and 400 BCE, provide vivid descriptions of sugarcane cultivation practices, including the use of presses and the process of boiling the juice to concentrate it.[2]


North India, specifically the region from Punjab to Bengal, was a major area for sugarcane and cotton production. This region is the most likely origin of the sugarcane roller mill, where the technology of the cotton gin was adapted for sugarcane processing. The Kolhu, an animal-driven mortar and pestle was efficient for crushing sugarcane and was widely used until more advanced mills were developed.[3] 



The Kolhu, an animal-driven mortar and pestle from India with a field of sugarcane indicated on the right. Sugarcane pieces are dropped into the mortar, the rock weights on the beam pull the pestle against grinds juice from the sugarcane. This is a detail from the unpublished Jain manuscript, the Maha-Purana, copied at Palam, near Delhi in 1504. It is the first known illustration of a kolhu as well as the earliest representation of a sugarcane mill in the world.

The Kolhu, an animal-driven mortar and pestle from India with a field of sugarcane indicated on the right. Sugarcane pieces are dropped into the mortar, the rock weights on the beam pull the pestle against grinds juice from the sugarcane. This is a detail from the unpublished Jain manuscript, the Maha-Purana, copied at Palam, near Delhi in 1504. It is the first known illustration of a kolhu as well as the earliest representation of a sugarcane mill in the world. (Image and description courtesy - Daniels, J., & Daniels, C. (1988). The Origin of the Sugarcane Roller Mill)

In fact even today, sugarcane and oilseed presses are referred to as kolhu presses. One of the earliest explicit references to the manufacturing of granular sugar can be found in the Arthashastra, dating back to 324-300 BCE.[4] It also mentions five distinct varieties of sugar, showcasing the remarkable diversity and sophistication of the sugar industry in ancient India. India's impact on the sugar industry extended beyond its borders. During Alexander's campaign in India, Nearchus, his naval officer and admiral, reported in Arrian's Indica that "a reed in India brings forth honey without the help of bees"[5], referring to the natural sweetness of sugarcane. It was during the Tang Dynasty, between 626 and 649 CE, that sugarcane technology reached China. Indian envoys in Tang China shared their expertise in sugarcane cultivation methods after Emperor Taizong expressed his interest in sugar.[6] This cultural exchange marked the transmission of Indian sugarcane innovations to East Asia.


The 'Vedas', mention two cane-based spirits, 'sidhu' and 'gaudi', the former derived from cane juice and the latter from molasses which are the earliest known references to spirits obtained from sugarcane.[7] The cultivation of sugarcane in the West Indies did not begin until the end of the Middle Ages. Christopher Columbus is largely credited with introducing this crop to the Caribbean region towards the end of the fifteenth century.[8] Although the production of rum as we know it only started in the 17th century after colonisation, the practice of making a cane spirit predates that. In the 1650 there existed a crude un-aged spirit distilled from sugarcane called 'Tafia'.[9] Possibly made by the local communities for personal consumption.

The Rise of the Slavers

Rum's origins are steeped in the dehumanising and unconscionable practice of exploiting and enslaving people for profit, making it a spirit that carries with it a weight of historical wrongdoing unlike any other - Blood rum if I may call it. In the 17th and 18th centuries, European powers, notably the British Empire, established extensive slave plantations in the Caribbean to produce sugar, molasses, and other raw materials for rum production. These plantations relied on the forced labour of millions of enslaved Africans, who were brutally exploited, tortured and treated as property. The profits from the sugar and rum trades fuelled the growth of colonial empires and helped to shape the modern world as we know it. Scotland being a prime example which benefitted significantly from the money that was generated from their sugar estates in Jamaica. The Atlantic slave trade built the British financial and commercial institutions and along with it a staggering amount of personal wealth (country houses, art collections etc) for the slave owners.


Triangular trade Camikara rum review

Image courtesy @ historicipswich.org


Colonial America has been equally complicit. In his book The Notorious Triangle, Jay Coughtry states that "Rhode Island rum-men traded rum for slaves in Africa, and then slaves for molasses in the West Indies. Molasses served as a partial payment for the slaves, thereby making the circle of Caribbean involvement complete". The Notorious Triangle refers to a historical trade route that developed during the colonial period, particularly in the 17th and 18th centuries which involved three legs.


The first leg of the trade saw European traders transporting goods such as guns, cloth, and metal tools to the west coast of Africa, where they would trade these goods for enslaved Africans. The second leg involved transporting enslaved Africans across the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas, where they were sold to plantation owners who needed labour for their farms. The third leg of the trade saw rum, along with other goods such as sugar and tobacco, being transported from the Americas back to Europe, where they were sold for a profit. Rum played a significant role in the triangular trade, particularly in the third leg of the trade, where it was often exchanged for African slaves. In his book Rum - A Social and Sociable History of the Real Spirit of 1776 Ian Williams states, “rum soon became a double enslaver, both depending on the toil of slaves to make and being the main trade item to buy slaves in West Africa”


“Pity for Poor Africans” (1788) – by William Cowper


I own I am shock’d at the Purchase of Slaves,

And fear those who buy them and sell them are Knaves;

What I hear of their Hardships, their Tortures & Groans;

Is almost enough to draw pity from Stones.

I pity them greatly, but I must be mum,

For how could we do without Sugar & Rum?

Especially Sugar, so needful we see?

What? give up our Desserts, our Coffee, & Tea!


This poem summarises the general apathy towards slavery for the "sugar high" was worth much more than the inexplicable suffering inflicted on the African people.


The Days of the Raj - Indentured Indians

Newly arrived Indian indentured labourers in Trinidad, 1897

Newly arrived Indian indentured labourers in Trinidad, 1897. (Source - Wikimedia Commons)


We are no strangers to colonialism and its exploits having endured two hundred years of oppression and plunder by the British East India Company. The British abolished slavery in 1833, France and Denmark in 1848, United States in 1865, Portugal in 1869 and the Dutch colonies in 1873. Haiti stands as an exception which in 1804 won its independence from the French after a slave rebellion that lasted for twelve years, resulted in the establishment of Haiti, the first independent black state in the New World. After the abolition of slavery, the colonial powers turned to indentured (bonded) labour to meet the labour demands in their colonies. The first to be recruited were the Maderians by the Spanish in Suriname but they proved to be unfit for the harsh working environments. Indentured labourers were recruited from various other regions, particularly India and China. Starting April 1838, indentured labourers from India were brought to the Caribbean and Demerara sugar estates by the British. This practice continued for almost 80 years until it was officially ended in 1917.[10]


Indentured labourers primarily came from the agricultural and labouring classes of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. A few came from Bengal, and South India. The dominant influence of immigrants from the "Bhojpuri belt" (Western Bihar and Eastern Uttar Pradesh) resulted in significant Indian cultural, social, and religious impact in the Caribbean, rooted in Bhojpuri traditions.[11] It is estimated that Britain transported approximately two million indentured workers from India to nineteen colonies such as Fiji, Mauritius, Ceylon, Trinidad, Guyana, Malaysia, Uganda, Kenya, and South Africa. Deceitfully enslaved and shipped under agreements that they could not read or understand as most were illiterate - Indians replaced African slaves.


During the period of Indian indenture in the Caribbean, the living conditions on the plantations were abhorrent and often violated basic human dignity. Indian labourers were assigned overcrowded barracks that had previously housed enslaved Africans. These structures were incredibly cramped, with each room measuring just 10 feet in width and 8-10 feet in height. There was no privacy as the partitions between rooms did not extend to the ceiling. Ventilation was inadequate, and each room was either occupied by a married couple with their children or by two to four single adults. Cooking was typically done outdoors on the stairs. Shockingly, children as young as five years old were expected to work alongside their parents.


Access to clean drinking water and sanitation was a significant problem. Labourers had to use the fields, leading to rampant malaria, dysentery, cholera, hookworm, ground itch, anemia, and other parasite-related diseases on almost all of the estates. While each estate was required by law to have a hospital for the Indian indentured labourers, the condition of these hospitals were often appalling. In the worst cases, sick Indians remained in their barracks and were only taken to the hospital when the doctor visited. [12] These labourers were called 'Coolies' which is an Anglo-Indian word for manual labourers; a term despite being derogatory is still widely used in India to refer to porters at railway stations.


The Past is Prologue

In order to fully appreciate the significance of rum, it was important to understand that the history of rum was closely intertwined with the legacy of slavery and colonialism. The colonial powers have more blood on their hands than they would care to acknowledge and hence the impact of these historical injustices on global societies, economies and culture must be highlighted. Today, rum is produced in many parts of the world, with variations in taste, quality, and production methods. The social and cultural significance of rum varies across different regions and communities, with some viewing it as a symbol of rebellion and independence and others associating it with historical exploitation and oppression.


In India, rum consumption has largely been associated with the Indian Army who received it in the army canteen and Old Monk in particular would be the rum of choice. Old Monk is produced by the Mohan Meakin Group which was originally setup by Edward Dyer in 1855 and mostly made beer and whisky. It wasn't until 1954 that the production of Old Monk rum began. Despite the presence of several other rum brands, none evoke the kind of nostalgia and reverence as Old Monk does, especially amongst the slightly older lot.


Sadly, rum in India continues as a bottom of the shelf drink. A cheap substitute to binge on without having to spend precious pennies on whisky, which is considered a premium drink. These are typically IMFL rums like Old Monk, McDowell's No.1 Celebration, Contessa etc which are ENA based to which artificial rum essence, malt spirits, sugar, glycerin and copious amounts of caramel colouring are added. In short, bogus rums just like bogus IMFL whiskies. One could argue that the majority of IMFL spirits are rum since the ENA is mostly derived from molasses. Technically, yes, but a large amount of ENA is also produced from rice, which cannot be classified as rum. The lack of quality imports, the prevalence of subpar local rums and the perception of it being a mixer has contributed to an unfortunate situation, where many have never experienced the true potential of an unadulterated, high-quality rum. The concept of savouring rum like a fine single malt whisky has been mostly overlooked. In that sense, we first need to unlearn rum.


 

Camikara 12 year old rum from Piccadily Distillery

Camikara Rum 12yo

Camikara rum is produced by Piccadily Distilleries who also make the multi-award winning Indri Trini Indian Single Malt whisky. Camikara, meaning liquid gold in Sanskrit as the label suggests, is made from 100% cane juice, pot-stilled, matured in American oak casks for twelve long years and bottled at a hefty 50% ABV. This is the first Indian rum produced from 100% sugarcane juice. At their Patiala distillery a total of 956 casks were filled in 2009 and apparently forgotten. By the time they discovered the rum slumbering in their warehouse, the thirsty angels had already devoured copious amounts, leaving behind only a measly 6% of the initial filled volume for the rest of us. Well at least that's the official story. I wonder if any distillery can afford to forget 956 casks? I guess in the fantastical world of marketing nothing is impossible. Moving on.





Review

Camikara Rum 12yo | 50% ABV

100% Sugarcane juice

Ex-Bourbon Casks

Non chill-filtered | Natural Colour | No sweetener

Outrun - 3200


Colour: Deep amber with viscous legs forming in the glass


Nose: Imagine standing at a sugarcane juice cart, with the aromas of frankincense in the air. Soon, this is followed by boozy bananas, baked apples, brown sugar and play-dough. There's a pronounced oak presence, bringing in leather, sawdust, caramel, vanilla pods, and a touch of liquorice, along with a mix of baking spices like cloves, cinnamon, candied ginger, and nutmeg. Give it some time, and it turns delightfully tropical with flambé pineapples, figs, fresh apricots, and dates. There's a subtle medicinal undertone like that of Strepsils. Im also getting a tiny bit of a fruity funk, something in between an overripe papaya and tomato. Add a few drops of water and the tropical notes become even more pronounced, along with a lovely resinous note of linseed oil that's used for seasoning cricket bats. What a lovely nose.


Palate: A warm, sweet and surprisingly spice forward arrival. Cloves, cinnamon, ground ginger, nutmeg and aniseed are joined by dried figs, apricots, butterscotch, praline, walnut puree and minty bubblegum. It is oak forward, but there is a nice interplay of bitter tannins and peppery heat which offer a good counterpoint to the sweetness. It has a good mouth coating texture, though I was expecting a bit more weight. There is a nice development of unsweetened chocolate and honey tobacco on the mid-palate which mingles with hints of wood char. Water coaxes out the tropical fruity side. I get banana bread, ripe musk melon, date syrup, vanilla cake, candied orange peel and mix of golden and black raisins. Very moreish with enough going on in the glass, inviting you to explore further.


Finish: Is long and a continuation of the sweet, spicy and oaky delivery on the palate. There's dusty chocolate, sweet vanilla, spicy candied ginger and drying minty tobacco which lingers retro-nasally.


 

Overall impressions: This is the best sipping rum to have come out of India. Period.

Full of flavour, character and so far removed from the IMFL imposters it is a pity it took us so long to get here. I shall rant about this later but I guess you know what I mean. Coming back to Camikara, it is a complex and enjoyable rum. The warm sweetness, bold spices, rich fruit notes, the balance of oak, and peppery heat add a lot of depth and uniqueness. Now one could certainly argue that the flavours of the source distillate derived from sugarcane juice have all but been obliterated by the heavy tropical ageing which has tipped the balance in favour of the casks. In a blind tasting I doubt anyone would be able to pick this up as an aged agricole style and yet it is a very tasty rum. The vatting of whatever little was left has been deftly blended. Full marks to Piccadily for not only putting an age-statement but also releasing it at 50% ABV. They have also released a 8yo & 3yo expression which I've yet to sample.


Those who are weaned on likes of Old Monk and its ilk would well be advised to add a bit of water. At the stated ABV of 50% it is a bit boozy but not in a bad way. I'm using the word stated because unlike scotch whisky which is tightly regulated and where compliance is high, rum producers are known for their dodgy practices of "doctoring" rum. The most common culprit is the addition of sugar (sweet wines or syrups) without disclosing the same on the label as "dosage". Take a look at the list here compiled by Ivar of Rum Revelations. Some of the more famous names will shock you. Other additives can be glycerin to improve the mouthfeel, oak extracts to fake age, fortified wines etc. Lance Surujbally aka The Lone Caner (rum reviewer and commentator extraordinaire) in his Camikara review tested the ABV which turned out to be 47.5% which is approximately 12g/L of some additive. To understand the math you need to checkout Johnny Drejer's website who I think was the original whistle blower on issue of additives. I'm not questioning Piccadily's integrity here. They've clearly mentioned that the rum is devoid of added flavours or sweetener and it certainly doesn't taste overtly sweet. But there seems to be something else in there. I'll just leave it at that.


The classification of rum is a complex issue, with existing systems like the colonial style flavour map (English,French,Spanish), the Gargano System based on production methods and stills, and others, fall short of adequately capturing the full spectrum of rum production. These systems, while useful to some extent, overlook crucial aspects such as fermentation techniques, pre-distillation preparation methods (muck pits and dunder), and the impact of aging. The need for a unified and globally accepted classification system is paramount. Such a system would need to strike a delicate balance between simplicity and depth, providing a framework that can accommodate the incredible diverse range of rum styles and production methods found around the world. Will we ever get there? Your guess is as good as mine.


A glass of Camikara 12yo Rum

Parting thoughts

Despite the history and the wealth of resources at our disposal—abundant sugarcane (124 varieties), molasses, and a deep-rooted expertise in sugar processing which dates back centuries—we have missed a golden opportunity to produce world-class rums that could stand shoulder to shoulder with the finest spirits in the world. While researching Bengal rum I came across an account of Major William Francklin of the British East India Company, published for The Monthly Magazine or British Register, 1st August 1808. Titled - Narrative of a tour through Bengal, Bahar, and Oude, to Agra, Delhi, and other places in the interior of Hindustan, undertaken in the years, 1794, 1795, 1796, and 1797. Bahar and Oude are modern day Bihar and Awadh.

"For it is a well known fact that no good rum has yet been produced in India, although no country possesses more capability in this respect; the canes are remarkably fine and the sugar may be made as good as the best West India, yet the spirit extracted is but poor sickly unpalatable stuff. To what cause can this inferiority be ascribed? The fault is evidently neither in the soil, the climate, nor the materials; it must therefore be in the manufacturers: these in general are much more solicitous about the quantity than the quality of their spirit"

Camikara was launched in 2022. But the potential always existed; observed and published in 1808, two hundred and fourteen years ago. The remark on quantity vs quality is still largely relevant.


While other countries boast national drinks that serve as cultural touchstones, representing far more than just a beverage in a bottle with a fancy label, we have yet to fully capitalise on our heritage and potential. The fact that rum is not our national drink is an unforgivable travesty. Our rums could have been more than mere commodities; they could have been a symbol of resilience, cultural pride, and craftsmanship, reflecting our diverse ecology, the spirit of our people and our journey through history. While the arrival of indentured labourers from India eventually left their imprint on the cultural fabric of the Caribbean with rich traditions rooted in Indian heritage, we've done very little to honour their hardships and history. Their sacrifices and contributions deserve more than mere acknowledgment; they deserve to be celebrated and remembered in every bottle of rum we produce. It is never too late to reclaim our narrative and imbue a national drink with the essence of our identity, forging a legacy that honours our history. Kudos to Piccadily for taking this important step and I hope it inspires others to follow.


 

Sidenote: Amrut does produce a good rum called Two Indies which is a blend of West Indian rums from Barbados, Guyana and Jamaica and Indian pot-still rum made from jaggery. They have also released Bella which is a single jaggery rum bottled exclusively for Velier. It would be exciting to see if they have any plans for a local release. Rampur has recently announced The Kohinoor Reserve Indian Dark Rum a new premium rum also made from sugarcane juice and matured in Cognac XO and Vermouth casks.


There is a very nascent craft rum movement with brands like Maka Zai, Pipa, Rock Paper Rum, etc have released their products. While I have not yet tasted any so far, my guess is they are more cocktail focussed than a sipping rum category in terms of positioning. But I shall revert once I've sampled them in due course.

 

References:


1. Galloway JH. (2005). The Sugar Cane Industry: An Historical Geography from its Origins to 1914.


2. Cowell EB, Chalmers R. (2017). The Jataka Tales, Volume 1. Jazzybee Verlag.

Cambridge Studies in Historical Geography. Cambridge, UK:Cambridge University Press.


3. Daniels, J., & Daniels, C. (1988). The Origin of the Sugarcane Roller Mill. Technology and Culture, 29(3), 493–535. https://doi.org/10.2307/3105272


4. Shamastry, A. S. (1967). Kautilya's Arthashastra. Mysore Printing and Publishing House.


5. Arrian MH (Translator), Atkinson J (Translator). (2013). Alexander the Great: The Anabasis and the Indica. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


6. Sen, T. (2003). Ancient Indian influence on Southeast Asia. Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.


7. Clutton, D.W. (1974). Flavour Industry 5, 286.


8. Nicol, D.A. (2003). Rum. In: Lea, A.G.H., Piggott, J.R. (eds) Fermented Beverage Production. Springer, Boston, MA. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4615-0187-9_12


9. Clutton, D.W. (1974). Flavour Industry 5, 286.


10. Darity, W. (1997). Eric Williams and Slavery: A West Indian Viewpoint? Callaloo, 20(4), 801–816. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3299409


11. Vertovec, S. (1992). Hindu Trinidad: Religion, Ethnicity, and Socio-economic Change. Macmillan Caribbean.


12. Singh, SA. (2019). Indian Indentured Labourers in the Caribbean. In: Ratuva, S. (eds) The Palgrave Handbook of Ethnicity. Palgrave Macmillan, Singapore.




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1 Comment


Guest
Jun 04

Excellent post and well researched. The history is fascinating!

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