Caroni, the famous distillery of Trinidad, which closed its doors in 2002 has now a book that is entirely dedicated to him, an encyclopedia even! This book includes 1136 pages in two volumes and required five years of research. Meeting with its author, Steffen Mayer.
Adrien Bonetto: Could you introduce yourself and tell us what made you decide to write a book about Caroni rums?
Steffen Mayer: My name is Steffen Mayer, many know me by my Facebook synonym “Stefano Caroni”. I live on the edge of the Alps in beautiful Oberstaufen in the south of Germany. The first time I came into contact with rum was in 2013. One day when I ordered another bottle of rum, I was looking for an extra bottle to fill up the shopping cart so I wouldn’t have to pay postage and purchased on good luck a bottle of Bristol Caroni 1996.
When I opened the bottle a year later with my brother-in-law, we were both extremely excited. My brother-in-law, who is a whisky collector, couldn’t calm down and asked me “How much does a rum like that cost – it’s amazing”. I told him “Not much, I just bought it to fill up on postage – but let me Google it for a minute”. When I saw what the bottle cost a year later, I was shocked and couldn’t believe it.
That’s how my interest was aroused to deal intensively with the subject. Shortly before, I had quit my job because I had been working extremely hard and I wanted to change my life. This gave me time and I started researching Caroni. There were so many contradictory things on the internet and I just wanted to know more and since I had never done anything halfway in my life, I dug deeper and deeper. This passion gave birth to the book.
AB: Can you present this book to us?
SM: This extraordinary book was the result of five years of full-time research and shows the demise of the sugar cane industry and the Caroni distillery in Trinidad from different perspectives: that of the population, that of key employees, that of Angostura – the last remaining distillery in Trinidad -, of Luca Gargano, who rediscovered the incredible stock of barrels, and Carsten Vlierboom of E.A. Scheer, who valued the barrels in 2000.
But this work is much more. It explains the production of rum in general and the differences at Caroni in a way that is easy to understand for every reader. It reveals the last riddles of the distillation stills of the Caroni distillery. Overall, it gives very deep insights into the whole rum industry.
I talked to all the Caroni distillery managers back to 1980, Vijay Ramnarine who was in charge of distillation and the assistant lab manager who also worked at RDTT under Rudy Moore until the end. They spoke very openly, which would never have been the case with distilleries still in operation. The reader will learn to which distilleries Caroni supplied rum and whether only rum was really bottled in the barrels.
In addition, the book sensitises the rum collector with regard to many questions, starting with the acquisition and storage of bottles and ending with the recognition of fakes. The reader will find illustrations of all known original Caroni bottlings before the closure as well as all bottlings after the closure of the company.
They are supplemented by a lot of additional information, such as the correct bottle numbers of the bottlings, which many are eagerly awaiting, and background information on the bottlers.
This work comprises 1136 pages in 36-cm landscape format. The two volumes in a slipcase weigh a total of 9.4 kg and were produced in Italy in the highest quality. Caroni – 100% Trinidad Rum is limited to 2,000 books and individually numbered.
The book is multilingual – English, German, French and Italian, all in one book. The reason I decided to make the book multilingual in four languages is due to two reasons: I have read plenty of old literature and it is mostly English. My mother tongue is German and I speak English very well. When I read the literature, I found that I understood 90%, but the 10% I didn’t understand was the important information.
Therefore, I wanted to make it possible for as many people as possible to read my book in their mother tongue and since the languages are always arranged in parallel on one page, it also allows readers from, for example, the Netherlands or Denmark to switch languages if they do not understand it in their preferred foreign language. I have hired highly qualified native speakers to do the translations.
If I had produced each language separately, a print run per language of 500 books would have been feasible and such a book would have cost well over 1000 euros.
I promise those who have high expectations of the book that they will be exceeded both in content and quality.
The book will be on sale from 20 May. The demand from distributors and shops is very high, so I am already sold out myself. The person who would like to have such a book should therefore not hesitate too long.
The question often arises as to why I have limited the book. The answer is quite simple, because the edition of 2000 is the minimum that can be produced economically. In such a niche segment, I was initially not sure of achieving the desired sales, so I deliberately made the print run so limited.
I could not have dreamed that I would sell out even before publication. I generally rule out a reprint. What I can imagine is perhaps bringing out a second revised edition in five or seven years’ time – but that will be much higher in price. Since I subsidised this edition by not even including a fee for my work, and this must be possible with a new edition.
AB: Where does your passion for Caroni rums come from?
SM: When you work on a project like this for years and delve as deeply into the subject matter as I did and the puzzle finally fits together, the passion comes all by itself. I even sold my house to finance this project.
Many who hear the price of 299.00 and think it is expensive without having dealt with this book or even think I am making a fortune are wrong – I have put every cent into the quality of the book and in reality it is two books in a slipcase in four languages.
On my travels I had so many unforgettable experiences and made so many great friends that I can say “Caroni – 100% Trinidad Rum” has changed my life. The book was a dream for me and I had it produced in Italy in such a way that I can proudly say – it is for eternity. If you want to have an insight into everything, the best way is to join the Facebook group “Caroni-100% Trinidad Rum”.
AB: What is THE Caroni reference that you prefer?
SM: I generally like Caroni, with the exception of the 1993 vintage. I prefer tropically matured rum, but that doesn’t mean I don’t also drink continental matured rum. From my point of view, taste is subjective, which is why each bottling has a QR code that leads to the RumX app.
There, the reader can find out about the flavour profile and the rating of the Caroni. I did not discuss taste in the book, except for the original bottlings. But you can read in the book where the taste nuances between the vintages come from.
The jump in quality from 1991 to 1992, for example, is due to a new part of the column still. The origin of the dirty taste nuances is also explained in the book.
AB: Speculation is very present in the world of rum, Caroni in particular, don’t you think that your book can further influence this speculation?
SM: I have created this book for enthusiasts and collectors to put the necessary focus on the content of the bottles. Caroni is not just Caroni, there are huge differences in quality and there are many more Marks than HTR and LWR. I am only ever prepared to pay so much money for a bottle that it is worth it to me to open it.
I realise that Caroni Rum is getting rarer and rarer with every glass that is drunk and I am someone who is willing to pay too much money for bottles so that I can taste them and know what I am talking about. But when I look at what some people spend on Caroni bottles whose quality is subterranean, I hope that this book will help to sensitise readers to quality and not just buy bottles because they have Caroni written on them.
AB: We have also seen the arrival of fake bottles of Caroni, how to fight this proliferation and especially do you have tips to avoid being tricked?
SM: Yes, there is also a chapter on this in the book. I think the main problem is people’s collector mania. You can’t buy a bottle for a few thousand euros on Facebook from a person you don’t know, just look at a photo and immediately send the money to the seller, who might be a fraud and doesn’t even have the bottle, using PayPal Family & Friends, just to make sure that no one else gets the bottle.
Caroni – 100% Trinidad Rum
1136 pages – €299
Available from May 20th
Limited edition of 2000 books