Sharon Sue-Hang: Demerara Distillers’ Master Blender

Mark DeWolf

Sharon Sue-Hang holds an enviable title. She is the Master Blender at Demerara Distillers Limited, producers of the much acclaimed El Dorado rums. But with great honour comes a lot of pressure.

Imagine you were responsible for creating the blends of a prestigious spirit house with hundreds of years of history.

Of course, Sue-Hang didn’t leap into blending. She originally came to the organization as a chemist. “As a chemist, I came armed with the technical knowledge. I learned to blend by following the footsteps of previous masters (including the legendary George Robinson) and through their mentorship gained an understanding of El Dorado’s inherent peculiarities.

Along the way, I honed my natural ability for picking up taste profiles very quickly and distinguishing the nuances in the flavour profiles.”

Despite her science background — she majored in chemistry in university — Sue-Hang describes blending “as more of a fine art than a science.”

Part of the art of making El Dorado rums is honouring the past and translating the unique terroir of Guyana into each spirit the company makes.

By all accounts, Sue-Hang has an incredibly adept sense of taste and smell, developed over two decades, which has been key to her successful ability to perform her duties to the highest standards in the industry.

It’s this experience and natural talent that provides her the confidence to stamp one the company’s rum as ready for release or send it back for further evaluation.

Today, she is the gatekeeper of the El Dorado rum tradition, ensuring the main taste profiles of each rum are maintained. Sharon says of her role, “while each rum has its own nuances, for reasons of consistency, I try to ensure that the main taste profiles are maintained. It is imperative to do a lot of upfront work ensuring the fresh distillates maintain their quality profiles and during the ageing process, continuous checks are done to monitor the progress of the ageing.”

El Dorado rums simply taste different than others. Some of this has to do with the terroir of Guyana. Sharon points out the “influence of the soil and climate on the sugarcane growing and harvesting, and thus, the resultant molasses quality and fermentation of the rums. In particular, the natural presence in our soil and atmosphere of native micro-organisms especially the microflora (such as the wild yeasts etc.) interacts with the cane and the molasses.

As a result, the fermentation process benefits from a multitude of side-reactions, each of which produce a series of flavour-inducing “congeners” that boost the richness and depth of the fermentation “wash.”

When that wash is distilled, the product inherits a richer depth of flavours.”

Sue-Hang also notes the soil (having been reclaimed from the ocean by the Dutch when they established the coast originally in the 17th century) carries a high mineral content, which gets translated as a mineral character in the rum.

The climate also plays a role on how the rums age. Guyana is in the Demerara region, about five degrees north of the Equator, meaning the climate “is not only tropical but Equatorial — steady, year-round hot and humid.

This is especially progressive for the ageing process of our rums, which accelerates at such a rapid pace, that fairly “young” rums achieve a level of maturity that would require much longer periods of ageing in more temperate climates,” says Sue-Hang.

It also results in the legendary character of El Dorado rums, especially their aged versions, which count themselves as some of the most sophisticated spirits in the world.

As for how Sue-Hang recommends enjoying them during the hot summer months, she says, “I am a simple person. On a hot day, I enjoy El Dorado 5 Year Old with fresh coconut water. My favourite after dinner drink is our El Dorado 15 Year Old.

In fact, it is my go-to rum for special occasions. For those who like to have the debate on whether the best is our El Dorado 12 Year Old or 15 Year Old, for me it’s the El Dorado 15.”

A broad selection of El Dorado rum is available at the NSLC including Sue-Hang’s favourite, El Dorado 15 Years Old.

NEXT WEEK

We raise the sail and set our sights for Lunenburg. The Unesco World Heritage Site, known for its colourful buildings and exemplary cuisine is also home to Ironworks Distillery’s Bluenose Rum. We discover the pleasures of this locally crafted rum.

Occasions Recommends

  • El Dorado 12 YO, 750 ml $37.99
  • El Dorado 15 YO, 750 ml $49.98
  • El Dorado 5 YO, 750 ml $27.98
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