By Tony Bell
The next spirit I'll cover on our "Big Six" tour of major liquors is rum, which has a long history. Rum's main ingredient, sugar cane, is native to Indonesia. Chinese traders imported cane to India, where the art of sugar making developed about 5,000 years ago. 3,000 years after that, cane made its way to North Africa and to Spain. Christopher Columbus then transplanted sugar cane from the Spanish Canary Islands to the "West Indies", the islands of the Caribbean, where the ideal climate created large-scale sugar production. By the 1650's, molasses left over from manufacture was being fermented and distilled into a drink called "Kill Devil" or "rumbullion", later shortened to "rum".
Rum was originally valued for its medicinal purposes. In the 1730's, the British Navy guarding the Caribbean from pirates prescribed a half-pint of 160 proof (that's 80 percent alcohol) to the daily ration. Rum sailed with the navy to the New England colonies, where its popularity triggered trade for lumber. Eventually, distilleries were created in New England to produce rum from molasses. At this point, rum became part of the infamous "slavery triangle", where Caribbean molasses was sold to New England distilleries, the rum from those distilleries was sold to West African slave traders, and slaves were sold to Caribbean plantations. The American Revolution disrupted this cycle and whisky became more popular than rum in the new United States, until the 1820's. Fast-forward to the 20th century, where Caribbean tourism attracted an international audience, lured, in part by the wonderful drinks made with tropical juices and the regional drink – rum.
Today, white rum is an extremely popular drink, seen as a nice alternative to vodka. Aged rum has its devotees as well, and the spirit remains a prime ingredient in widely desired cocktails such as the mojito, the daiquiri and the hurricane. Bacardi (from Puerto Rico) is the dominant name in rum distribution, along with Malibu (from Barbados) and 10 Cane (from Trinidad). Brazil has its on special rum, cachaca.
Until next time, cheers!