History of Rum
From distilled rubbish to pirates fuel to sipping delight, rum has come a long way. Today, seasoned spirit lovers sip on premium rum, and many a cocktail wouldn’t exist without it.
The story of rum begins in a sea. Back in the 17th century, the Caribbean was the world’s powerhouse of sugar production. When they made sugar by crushing sugar cane and boiling the juices, the main industrial waste was molasses. The colonial sugar daddies were swimming in it and wondered how to get rid of the damn thing. Then, colonial slaves, most likely those on the island of Nevis, realized there’s just enough sugar in molasses to attract yeast, so they fermented and distilled it into alcohol and rum was born!
The startup spirit, however, was far from great. A 1651 document from Barbados described the new potion: The main hooch they make on the island is known as ‘kill-devil.’ It’s a hot, hellish, and terrible liquor. It’s incredible how a horrible moonshine became the sipping delicacy we know today.
Colonial America soon caught the rum fever, and by 1775, the average American drank three and a half gallons of rum per year. America’s landlord, George III of the United Kingdom, therefore decided to tax sugar and, consequently, rum, in addition to tea. Now the Yankees were already less than pleased with the King and showering them with taxes when they had no representation in the British Parliament was just another insult to injury. The sugar tax was one of the things that galvanized the colony into rebellion, that led to the Revolutionary War, America’s independence, and barbeque every Fourth of July.
While the British monarchy taxed the American rum, they fueled their own mariners with it. Between 1850 and 1970, the Royal Navy issued a tot of rum to every sailor every day at noon, sourced from a special barrel dedicated to the current king or queen. A tot, by the way, is one eighth of a pint, or 2.4 ounces.
In 1948, Puerto Rico passed a law that said rum had to be aged at least three years, whild ad men launched an expensive campaign telling America to try aged rum, and Uncle Sam even enlisted Burgess Meredith, the Penguin himself, to star in a film called A Glassfull of History, where the story of rum was presented. The government went all in to put rum back in people’s glasses and get those tax dollars. Mai Tais and Tiki Bars soon followed and the American palate wanted flavors and quality. When craft distilleries started popping up to cater to the demand in the following decades, old rum brands upped their game as well. They combed through their warehouses and use their best barrels for premium and limited releases. Names such as Ron Zacapa, Dictador, and Ron Botran are now shorthand for class and quality. Turns out the spirit we put in mojitos has a wild history, and it’s pretty remarkable!