Synonymous with all the heard tales of intoxicated pirates roaming the sea, rum has quite a chaotic history associated with it.
Mentions of rum in the history books date back to the 14th century with Marco Polo, the Italian explorer recorded a ‘very good wine of sugar’ whilst visiting what later became modern-day Iran.
However rum produced as we know it today comes from Caribbean sugar farmers in the 17th century. During the production of sugar, a liquid known as molasses is also created but back in the 17th century this was considered to be a worthless and somewhat annoying by-product of creating sugar. Furthermore, they had no way of disposing it.
Most farmers fed it to the animals (and even to their slaves!) but were still left with huge amounts of this sticky liquid. That is until some clever person, rumored to be a plantation slave, discovered that molasses could be fermented into alcohol. Thus, rum was born.
Rum quickly became popular with the British Royal Navy and it was officially introduced as a ration on their ships from 1655. Soon after, it became a favorite tipple of pirates since many of these ‘mateys’ were originally recruited from the Navy.
Once the drink reached the British colonies in North America, the first rum distillery was set up in New England and soon became the largest and most prosperous industry in the area. Rhode Island rum was so popular that at one point, it joined gold as an accepted currency in Europe and small Rhode Island had more than 30 distilleries.
With demand increasing, more labor was needed in the West Indies sugar farms and as a consequence new slaves were brought in from Africa. Ironically, in many instances the slaves were paid for in rum and / or molasses, leading to a cycle of more slaves being needed to create more and more rum!
In more recent times, rum production has become more specialized, with each area producing its own unique style. Darker rums with a fuller taste usually originate from English-speaking Caribbean islands such as Antigua, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago. Traditional rums with a smooth taste come from Spanish-speaking islands such as Cuba, Colombia and the Dominican Republic. Agricultural rums that are produced exclusively from sugarcane juice (typically the more expensive) hail from French-speaking islands such as Haiti. But production has now reached further than just Caribbean islands with production of rum in West Africa, Mexico and Brazil. So historically if you say we are part of how Rum comes to this world, Yes Africa takes part in it.
So next time you are sipping on a rum-based cocktail in a friend’s party or in a bar, while you are refreshing after work, you can be reassured that you’re in historically good company. Please, drink responsively.
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