A Modern European Distillery
The Establishment of a Great Enterprise
Morning Leader, 23 August 1924

There is a broad and crowded belt of coconut growing in prolific luxuriance along the sea border from Colombo southwards to Ambalangoda or thereabouts. So close and in such compact clusters have the palms been planted that there seems to have been a fearsome struggle for existence among them for years together; and in their battle to push their way through their shadowy thatch work of branches to get a glimpse of the sun, they have grown to inordinately lanky heights. The first burst of the monsoon gales would have laid half this countryside low but for the toddy drawers who have lashed the trees together and strapped them with ropes – along which they go from tree to tree on their tapping mission. These palms have no coconuts so to speak of but they bear flowers and the flower is all that counts, for the palm covered fringe of country is premier arrack district of the Island. Government, who have all along held a monopoly over the arrack, were greatly exercised in exerting proper control over the industry. Illicit sales were rampant in the country and with these little pot stills scattered all over the country control was impossible. Government was determined on drastic change. It introduced the Excise Department; it abolished the farming of arrack rents; it got rid of all middlemen who were supposed to reap all the profits. It next started its own distillery with the intention of running the trade strictly as a monopoly. Public opinion however, was against the Government enterprise. A Commission was appointed to go into the matter and advise Government. The Commission suggested that half a dozen large stills be permitted, worked by private enterprise, and all the small stills be suppressed. The Government agreed and called for tenders but nobody in Ceylon seemed inclined to venture. In its extremity the Government turned to India and Messers Parry and Co. of Madras sent representatives over to see the chances of successful work. At this juncture a few local capitalists came forward but were not able to suggest any improved methods. Accordingly, Mr. J. B. M. Pereira an old Arrack renter offered to install a Modern European Distillery.

The offer was accepted and within so many weeks the distillery was set up by him and his partner, Proctor W. D. Martin of Kalutara and is now in working order. The work is most satisfactorily going forward. There is no dearth of arrack, as far as the Government is concerned and in quality the arrack turned out is of prime stuff – pure enough to satisfy the most fastidious and exacting customer.

The distillery fittings are from Messers E. Barbet and Sons, the leading manufacturers of stills in France through the agent here. Monsieur Schoch, Fort, Colombo. M. Barbet, it may be mentioned in passing, is a scientist of European repute and was associated with M. Pasteur in his laboratory work in tracking germs. And while one worked along purely abstract lines the other applied his knowledge to the perfection of distilleries, the secrets of fermentation and the like. The Ceylon Distillers Co. as this new venture is known, had fortunately asked Messers Barbet to send out one of their own engineers to fit and work the distillery. An engineer came with the result that in scarcely three weeks time, the machinery has been landed and erected. The distillery is in working order and the Government already supplied with arrack.

The engineer sent out is Mr. Fernand Guilland, Ingenieur E. N. I. A. (1903). He holds a much coveted medal from the Minister of Agriculture for practical work. He had previously been sent by Messieurs Barbet to Venezuela, Central America, South America and other distant parts of the world. He has come here after fitting up and working a new distillery in North France. He is a practical engineer, an able mechanic and he has the secrets of the distilling industry at his fingers' ends. His views of the possibilities of toddy are most encouraging and hopeful. He is confident of producing a liquor similar to Whiskey and another similar to Brandy. Of course, he has rum, motor spirits, rectified spirit and methylated spirits as inevitable products on his programme. Machinery for the latter have already been indented for.

M. Guilland

tells me that the distillery is equal to the best models in Europe and of course it is the best of the largest producing distillery in all Asia. It is built on Rockland Estate in Beruwala, about a mile and a half from Colombo-Galle road and can be reached by motor. The building is all of concrete and is four storey's high. It stands in the slope of a hill. At the foot of the hill is a small building and one can hear the palpitation of an engine there and there too the electricity is generated by which the whole premises is lighted. At the top of the hill is a third building. This is where the toddy is collected.

The stills proper consist of two large big columns, all of copper, ponderously and showingly riveted. Large brass knobs produce at intervals. It all reminds of the fittings of a ship. These columns are two separate stills. We will follow one. The column is fixed on the ground floor but pierces the floor above where it is joined by a second column, where the pasteurizing takes place and by a condenser. From the latter issue tubes which communicate with two glass cylinders in which a liquid is seen to pour out as from a little tap. This is arrack. The liquid in one cylinder is by means of a hydrometer float, shown to be absolute pure alcohol and the liquid in the other is arrack with certain impurities but this liquid is re-passed through the still and made to issue forth as immaculately pure an alcohol as in the other cylinder.

That is briefly the fitting of the distillery machinery. The working of it is

Almost a Romance.

The engine at the foot of the pumps water from a natural reservoir into a tank hardby and while it does that, it also raises the water in the tank, through a line of pipes right up to the fourth floor- a considerable height- where there is a large tank to receive this water. The water runs down from here to the various engines and machinery cooling the heated parts and ultimately having itself acquired a high temperature, it is turned into the boiler which is located in an outhouse and which supplies the steam for the still.

From the toddy house from the top of the hill, toddy is made to flow by gravity, through a line of overhead pipes, to the third floor of the distillery, where is a tank to receive it and warm it. The toddy next finds it way into the still-the copper column – but it does not pour in a spout, but, by dropping through a number of perforated sheets it ultimately comes down in a shower of drops as through the flower of a watering can. And as the shower of toddy rains down the heated column the steam assails each individual drop in mid-air and in a twinkle vaporizes it.

Here, again the work is most marvelous. The ether and similar impurities which vaporize at a low temperature first get affected and rush up the column. These are allowed out to mixed with the atmosphere. At the moment these are regarded as waste matter. Alcohol vaporizes at the next higher temperature and as it rushes up it is caught up by the pasteur column and thence passed into the condenser, where the vapour turns into liquid-

Little Drops of Arrack

Here a division takes place, the absolutely pure arrack goes into the glass cylinder where the hydrometer pronounces it pure and the impure into the cylinder adjoining. From the former cylinder the arrack goes through the pipes in the godown where it is casked and where the excise officer-who has his office in the grounds-passes it out for the use of the Government. After the alcohol vaporizes and rushes away there is a bulk of impurities and the toddy residue left. These pass down the column before the heat can affect them any further-and are drained away as waste matter. This refuse is what gives the ordinary pot still Arrack the impurities and the taste of vinegar.

From what has so far been said it would be apparent that thereto is no limit to the arrack made. There is no stopping of the machinery, to wash the stills, refill and start afresh, as in the case of pot stills. There need be no stopping in the modern distillery at all. The system is accordingly known as the Continuous Distillery System. As long as the boiler supplies the steam and the toddy house supplies the toddy the work will go on unabated, night and day, and the whole contrivance is so simple and so easily handled, that two house boys have been trained to run the distillery all by themselves.

As I have already noted there are two column stills. When both are in full working 3,000 gallons of pure arrack will be turned out per day. All this liquor is not for Ceylon, of course, for the company looks forward to a large and profitable foreign business. The demand in India is more than the distillery can cope with. And if Government will permit the Company to sell Ceylon Whiskey and Ceylon Brandy and local motor spirit through Colombo shops, the Company can assure itself of a very large business.

To give some idea of the

Work Now Being Done

In connection with this distillery it may be mentioned that 400,000 trees are being tapped. The work takes 400 toddy drawers and 400 collectors of toddy. A like number of men and women are engaged in the work, so that outside its walls the distillery gives employment to 1,200 people not to mention carters, lorry men, hewers of firewood-and the people in the distillery itself. And the continuity of the work is also assured for the multitude of coconut trees which are now being tapped, cannot be put to any other use nor can they stand by themselves without the strapping of the tappers ropes for the trees are so tall and so slender that they are not proof against the monsoon winds. So the toddy but come and even if all Ceylon refuse to touch arrack a world outside offers a vast and ready market from the Ceylon made beverage. F. F. M.


Rockland Distilleries began on a family estate in 1924. A pioneering venture, set up to produce high quality Arrack for the first time in Ceylon's history. For nearly a Century, Rockland Distilleries remains a privately owned family business, maintaining its position as one of the most advanced distilleries in the country.

Around the late 1920's, two men met in a bar for a drink. They had just formed a new company and wanted to create an appropriate logo. Several drinks later (at that time, life was lived at leisure) they decided to continue thinking (and drinking?!) into the next evening. Suddenly, in a flash they realized they had the answer all along – today the Rockland logo still depicts two men in a bar.

Since its establishment and now four generations down the line, the company continues to be a privately owned family business. Even today, unknown to many, the company is still run by the family members who are involved in manufacturing and blending – which is why our drinks maintain their consistency and timeless taste. The passion we enjoy in blending and following our family recipes seem to run through the company. We admit, our passion today is as intense as it was back in '24.