The History of Rum
Photo © 2005 Santiago Arce.
An early alcoholic drink, rum has been around since ancient times. Nothing if not old, it is practically forced to walk with a (sugar) cane. Though it wasn't first distilled in plantations until the 17th century, rum is believed to have existed thousands of years prior in the form of brum, a drink made by the Malay people. In the 14th century, Marco Polo (the explorer, not the swimming pool game) wrote about a wine made of sugar, giving further credence to the belief that rum was around before the 1600's.
When the first distillation of rum began, it began in the Caribbean when plantation slaves realized the molasses, left over from sugar refinement, could be turned into alcohol. This alcohol, however, was not well received...at least not at first. Like the beginning of most things, the beginning of rum was a little shaky and the spirit was dispirited to learn that it was initially thought to be a terrible tasting liquor.
Once the Caribbean set the rum ball in motion, it quickly spread to the American Colonies. In 1664, the first distillery for rum was set up in what is now Staten Island; a distillery in Boston quickly followed.
New Englanders had a special penchant for making rum; not only was the rum industry their most profitable industry, but the rum they produced was considered to be of higher quality than all others.
An alcoholic drink determined to have a place in history - even the dark parts of history - rum was involved in the slave trade, as slaves, molasses, and rum were part of the triangular trade. When this trade was interrupted because of the 1764 Sugar Act, another straw was thrown on the American Colonists back. Thus, bottles of rum can often be overhead bragging to bottles of wine and bottles of whiskey that they were the reason for the American Revolution.
More than any other alcoholic drink, rum was associated with pirates (yo ho ho and a bottle of rum, anyone?). This initially started when English privateers began trading it. As some of these men eventually became pirates (aim high, kids), they carried with them their liking of rum. Pieces of literature that coupled rum and piracy perpetuated this notion.
Rum was also associated with the British Royal Navy, an association that began in 1655 when Jamaica was captured by British sailors. Once ashore, rum was so available that the seamen began drinking it instead of the brandy to which they were accustomed.
The refinement of rum began in the place it all started: the Caribbean. Prior to the late 1800's, rums were dark and heavy. The Spanish Royal Development Board set out to make rum more appealing to the general public and offered a reward for anyone who could improve its quality. And so enter Don Facundo Bacardi Masso.
After moving to Cuba from Spain in 1843, Masso began to refine his rumming techniques. He improved distillation, filtering, and aging in casks made of American oak. This all worked together to produce a rum that was light and smooth, a spirit that today we have come to love, to drink, and one that makes our senses rum...ble.
Jennifer Jordan is the senior editor at www.savoreachglass.com. With a vast knowledge of wine etiquette, she writes articles on everything from how to hold a glass of wine to how to hold your hair back after too many glasses. Ultimately, she writes her articles with the intention that readers will remember wine is fun and each glass of anything fun should always be savored.