A Brief History of Rum

Thursday May 16, 2024

More has been written about rum than any other spirit, It was drunk by Blackbeard, the pirate and was drunk by Privateers and Buccaneers. It was served to the sailors of the British Navy. It is probably the most popular and versatile of all the spirits and today, aged rum even attains the same prestige as whiskey.

Rum, by definition is the spirit produced from the fermentation of cane sugar (in all its various forms). Although associated with the West Indies, sugar cane was predominantly a crop found in the Philippines and West Africa before Columbus brought it to the New World in 1493.

In the 16th century, processing factories began to appear in the Caribbean, with the first exports of sugar leaving for Spain in 1516. As demand grew, large plantations were established in Barbados, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Jamaica and Cuba. Processing plants soon followed in their wake but poor production efficiency led to vast quantities of molasses (the by-product of making the sugar) being produced. If not quickly fed to slaves or cattle, or ploughed back into the fields as fertiliser, it would soon begin fermenting due to the heat and natural airborne yeast. It wasn’t long before this now fermented by-product, became rather popular with the locals and naturally was soon being distilled into a rough spirit, which by all accounts, was pretty terrible stuff.

As popularity (surprisingly) grew, the process of fermenting and distilling the molasses was refined and improved. Now called by a variety of names, the most descriptive being ‘Kill Devil’ due to its potential effects on any consumer. The earliest incarnation of the name we know today was ‘Rumbullion’, but by the 19th century, ‘rum’ became the internationally accepted name.

Rum was the preferred spirit of choice for Colonial Americans, so much so, that it was reported each man, woman and child consumed nearly four gallons annually. As rum found its way along the American Eastern seaboard, gaining greatly in popularity, the ruling English imposed taxation on the molasses used in its distillation.

Even though rum distilling began in Barbados in the 1630’s and the colonies continued to produce the finest of rum, the North American colonies took advantage of the growing demand and by the late 17th century, rum distilleries appeared in the New England. Demand exploded and the New England colonies soon began trading excess grain for molasses with The Caribbean territories. The English imposed restrictions and taxation on the trade, so the New Englanders simply started smuggling cheap French molasses from Haiti. As time went on, the smuggling became commonplace. So in 1764, in an attempt to thwart the growing problem of smuggling, England lowered the molasses taxation.

After the American revolution, rum consumption began to decline in favour of whiskey. However, today, rum is again increasing in popularity. Sales surged by 7% in 2019, with an 80% increase on spiced and flavoured rums over the last five years. As the blossoming cocktail trend looks set to continue unabated, there is no sign of the popularity of rum waning any time soon.

Other articles about our Whiskey, Rum and Spirits

Our jounal about Whiskey, Rum and our process and how we do it the old fashioned Tennessee way

in the pursuit of the finest handcrafted, premium spirits

dedicated to crafting the finest of American spirits

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