Lying on the east bank of the mighty Demerara River, just six degrees off the equator in Guyana’s tropical heat, the Diamond Distillery makes all its rums from Demerara sugar and is as famous for its wooden stills as it is for its highly regarded Demerara rums.
In the mid 17th century colonists planted sugar, cotton and tobacco in Guyana’s fertile land but sugar proved best suited to the climate and the first shipment left in 1661 destined for Holland. Rum started to be produced by a few of the sugar factories and by 1670 every Guyanan sugar factory boasted its own small rum still to use the molasses produced as a by-product of sugar processing. At one time there were over 380 sugar plantations in Guyana and during this era the terms Demerara Sugar and Demerara Rum were established.
Sharp fluctuations in the price of sugar resulted in the closure of some sugar estates and the consolidation of others. By 1849, only 180 sugar estates were in production and by the turn of the century this was reduced to 64. The spread of Coffey’s continuous still (patented in 1831) and competition to pursue the lucrative European export markets accelerated the decline. Those sugar estates producing rums that stood out due to the quality of their product took over their less successful competitors. The consolidation continued into the 20th century and by 1970 there were just eleven sugar factories and four distilleries left in Guyana.
The process culminated in 1974-75 with the Government privatising the sugar plantations and the distilleries a year later, amalgamating them into one large distillery owned by what was termed Guyana Liquor Corporation. The process was completed in 2000 when the once Dutch owned Uitvlugt distillery closed, leaving just Diamond Distillery as the sole surviving distillery in Guyana and the only distillery making Demerara Rum. Originally established circa 1670, and now owned by the privately controlled Demerara Distillers Ltd, the Diamond Distillery continues to make many of the better known styles of rum produced by the former plantation distilleries, often in the very same stills moved to Diamond as the other distilleries were closed.
Consolidation and nationalisation had one very positive outcome. Up until then, local plantations supplied Guyana’s domestic market - with many bars vatting their own blends with no widely distributed brands available. In 1976, the decision was taken to start laying down ageing rum stocks so that Diamond could launch its own brands. Given that date, it is perhaps no coincidence that the El Dorado brand with its flagship 15 year old was not launched until 1992.
The name El Dorado comes from tales of explorers who travelled to old Guiana in search of the legendary golden city, ‘El Dorado’. Legend describes a king who appeared to be golden due to frequently having gold dust blown over his body and it is said that his city, that of Manoa (in Rupununi, in the centre of Guyana) was made of gold.
The Diamond Distillery continues to predominantly make rums to supply bulk buyers, many of which demand styles of rum previously produced by the old plantation distilleries, which using its their original stills, Diamond is able to supply. While many other bulk rum producers in the Caribbean stopped making heavily bodied rums after the introduction of modern four column stills, the demand for these old rum styles was instrumental in Diamond continuing to operate its copper and wooden pot stills which are now so key to the character of its own El Dorado brand.