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The History Of Rum Part 2

Updated: Apr 12, 2022

In part 1 you could already read how Rum was created. In this second part, we take a closer look at the further development of Rum and how this drink has left its mark on modern history.


Return ticket

Rum's invention may have been based on the ingenuity of the slaves on the plantations, but its further development was based on necessity. Trade between the Caribbean and Europe was running at full speed and that also created tensions. Nations fought for the possession or preservation of their territories and in that chaos more and more signs of piracy appeared. Given the value of the trade goods, this was of course logical. To protect that trade, and especially to maintain power, many countries sent their navies to the New World with the intention of restoring order and protecting their territory.

There were always supplies of liquor on board the ships of the British Navy that had to be sufficient to make the crossing of the ocean. There was always water, beer and spirits (usually brandy or genever) on board. The water quickly became unfit for consumption and had to be consumed first. Then came the beer. This beer was heavily hopped (hence the IPA) to keep it longer. Once the beer was finished, spirits were provided. It could be kept indefinitely and was also stored in sufficient quantities to have enough drinks on board on the way back.

The fact that a strong drink could now also be made at the destination meant that less stock had to be taken on the way there. This is a welcome saving in space, especially for war and merchant ships. For example, more barrels of gunpowder, more soldiers or more trade goods could be taken along. Rum thus became a way to conduct more trade and war more efficiently.

Did you know?

Drinking Rum aboard a British Navy ship is a practice that will last until 1970? To limit alcohol abuse, Rum was diluted with water, a recipe known as 'Grog'. Not illogical, since Rum contained much more alcohol at the time: Gunpowder always had to ignite, even if it had been soaked in Rum. That's why Rum was tested to see if it was ' Gunpowder-proof ' or ' Navy-Strenght '. This means an alcohol percentage of 54.5% vol and 57% vol respectively. So firmer than the 40% vol that most Rums know today.


On the road to success

The advance of Rum had begun. The sailors got a taste for Rum and took it with them to the other colonies and the Old World. England and by extension Europe came into contact with Rum and the success was enormous. It was a welcome alternative to the other drinks and it was relatively cheap, as it is essentially made with the residual waste from sugar production. The trade in tobacco, cotton and sugar was thus expanded with a trade in Rum. The demand for Rum was also high in New England (the current United States). Consuming more than a liter of Rum per week, per person, Rum had become such a popular drink that distilleries sprang up in this new British colony. The first distillery was built on Staten Island, the second in Boston. The distilleries imported molasses from the Islands and produced Rum for internal consumption as well as for export. A second trade triangle was born: Rum goes from New England to the African West Coast, slaves go from Africa to the Caribbean and molasses goes back to New England. A trade triangle that will once again bring in a lot of money at the expense of the lives of many African slaves. Together with the previous trade triangle, an economic system emerges that today still accounts for the wealth of all the nations involved in it. A trade triangle that will once again bring in a lot of money at the expense of the lives of many African slaves. Together with the previous trade triangle, an economic system emerges that today still accounts for the wealth of all the nations involved in it. A trade triangle that will once again bring in a lot of money at the expense of the lives of many African slaves. Together with the previous trade triangle, an economic system emerges that today still accounts for the wealth of all the nations involved in it.


Rumbullion!

The word Rum most likely comes from the word Rumbullion, which means 'rebellion'. The rebellious character of Rum is reflected in this and it will haunt this drink many times over. Rum has historically become the drink of revolt, of rebellion, of unwillingness to accept authority. That also explains the association of Pirates and Rum.

Rum and Pirates

Pirates and Rum, we would think they have always been there. Yet the strong bond between the two that we see today in movies like Pirates of the Caribbean is rather based on a story called Treasure Island in which the other clichés, such as a wooden leg and an eye patch, also have their origin. It is a fact that pirates also drank Rum. Most of them had had careers in the Navy before they got involved in piracy. Still, given the economic importance of Rum, it is highly unlikely that they drank only Rum, and then in large quantities. Its sale was much more lucrative than its consumption.

Capture of the Pirate, Blackbeard, 1718

Rum will soon cause a revolt. An uprising that still has important consequences today.


Given the high consumption of Rum in New England, more than a liter per week, per person, the import of molasses was a must and therefore the origin of the brown stuff was not looked at. Molasses was imported from every plantation that could supply, be it French, Spanish, British or Portuguese. That was not to the liking of the British government, which invested a lot of money in protecting and expanding the colony, but received less and less in return. On the contrary: the colonials increasingly enriched themselves through the production and sale of Rum to Europe. To put an end to this, the British government introduced a tax on molasses. This tax was not well received by the colonials and civil disobedience took place, as a result of which the tax was never paid and the British government had lost even more money. 30 years later, England tries again. This time with a tax on sugar (and therefore de facto also on molasses and Rum). This time there was a stricter supervision of the payment of this, albeit lower, tax, which meant that the lucrative nature of the sugar, molasses and Rum industries was lost. There was an increase in the price of Rum very quickly, coupled with a general lack of the drink. Civil obedience suddenly gave way to rebellion, and this mass uprising led to American independence. From now on it's best to celebrate the 4th of July with a glass of Rum in your hand! molasses and rum industry was lost. There was an increase in the price of Rum very quickly, coupled with a general lack of the drink. Civil obedience suddenly gave way to rebellion, and this mass uprising led to American independence. From now on it's best to celebrate the 4th of July with a glass of Rum in your hand! molasses and rum industry was lost. There was an increase in the price of Rum very quickly, coupled with a general lack of the drink. Civil obedience suddenly gave way to rebellion, and this mass uprising led to American independence. From now on it's best to celebrate the 4th of July with a glass of Rum in your hand!

American Rum

Today, the United States still has an important Rum production. Rum production used to be based on molasses imports, today production is mostly based on local cultivation of sugar cane. In Louisiana you can find many sugar cane plantations today. Yet the presence of sugar cane in the United States is based on a coincidence: after a slave revolt in Haiti, some slaves had fled to Louisiana and taken sugar cane with them to grow and consume it locally..


Also on the other side of the planet, there has been an uprising because of Rum: the Australian Rum Rebellion of 1808 is the only military coup in the country and was linked to the illegal Rum trade in Sidney.

The rebellious nature is also sometimes seen as an example of the inventive nature that the customers, producers and merchants possess. It is ultimately a drink that has seen the sunlight thanks to the inventiveness of the slaves.


What's in a name?

The Rum that conquered the world until then is what we know today as the 'English style' Rum. A result of a long fermentation of molasses, distilled in a pot still and usually aged in barrels. Until the creation of other styles of Rum, every country produced Rum in this way.


Et maintenant?

Inventive and rebellious are also 2 words that can best describe Napoleon Bonaparte. They have known this, especially on the French islands. Napoleon might be a huge proponent of slavery, but he opposed trans-Atlantic transportation to produce something that could actually be made in France. In 1812 he decided to set up a pilot project for growing sugar beet. As we know, that project turned out to be a success and in no time France was full of sugar beet for the benefit of sugar production. This was to the great frustration of the sugar plantations on Guadeloupe, Martinique, Marie-Galante, etc., which not only could no longer sell their sugar, but also threatened to lose the trade in molasses and Rum. Time to be inventive!

The plantations on the French islands are starting a pilot project: instead of making sugar and distilling Rum from the molasses, they let the juice ferment itself without boiling it. That juice is then distilled with modern stills that are also known as Coffey, column or continuous still. The result is a Rum that contains the taste of fresh sugar cane and thus tastes sweeter and 'greener' at the same time. The 'French style' was born.

Coffee still, also known as a column or continuous still

In this way, the French have given their own interpretation to Rum, which suits their own spelling: Rhum. The production is therefore at full speed and the French use their knowledge and experience in the world of spirits to give Rhum a complex character. Aging in oak barrels (new, ex-bourbon or cognac) is almost standard and this Rhum becomes the showpiece of the French islands. Napoleon probably didn't see that coming.


Party flights

The huge success of Rum in the world also attracts the attention of some Spaniards who, like the French, have a lot of knowledge of distillation and maturation techniques. Sherry producers in particular experimented with the new spirits. Many settled on the island of Cuba and used Coffey stills to make a smooth version of Rum. To give the drink more complexity afterwards, the Solera system was used for the maturation. This system means that you stack barrels with the oldest Rum at the bottom and young Rum at the top. You should always drain from the lower barrels (solera means soil) and top up with the upper barrel. This technique ensures a natural 'blend' of different years, so that the taste is always balanced and consistent. The system does have a lot of opponents,


The Rum becomes a huge success thanks to American tourism. Cocktail bars are popping up like mushrooms and producers like Matusalem and Bacardì are running at full capacity. Thanks to American Prohibition, even more Americans are coming to Cuba. Special flights are even planned to get Americans into Cuban bars like the famous Sloppy Joe's. The proximity to Cuba and the accessibility of the local Rum therefore provide an enormous economic boost.

Americans who do not have the financial means to go to Cuba seek refuge in the so-called 'Speakeasy'. Underground, hidden bars serving illegal booze. These bars are in many cases supplied by the so-called Rum runners: people with cars that had been staged and filled with hidden compartments with the intention of outsmarting the police. They drove from Florida with Cuban Rum to cities such as New York and Chicago to meet the huge demand for liquor. Those same Rum runners also used their souped-up cars to race against each other on the beaches of Florida. These races will eventually have an official standings and today is the most watched motorsport in America: NASCAR.


The revolution will eventually end American love for Cuba and major producers who saw their companies nationalized leave the island to settle on surrounding islands. Meanwhile, 'Ron de Cuba' has become a quality label that many producers such as Bacardì do not want to let go of, despite the fact that their Rum has not come from Cuba for years.

Most people come into contact with this Rum 'Spanish style' for the first time. We also still find real Cuban Rum on our shelves, but in the USA that is no longer the case.

Did you know:

Havana Club is indeed Cuban Rum with us, but that the same brand is distributed in the USA by Bacardì. There it is not Cuban Rum, but Rum from Puerto Rico. Lawsuits have been going on over the ownership of the brand for years.


Rum has clearly had an impact on our lives. That is why I also ask that you treat this drink with respect. Drink in moderation and sensibly so that we can enjoy it for a long time to come.


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