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The History of Rum

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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 1600s.

When the first distillation of rum began, it began in the Caribbean when plantation slaves realized that 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. Works 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 1800s, 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 enters 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.

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About J Jordan

  • Me

    Hi,
    Most sources that I’ve read claim rum had it bebut in Barbados and that Appleton Estates is the second oldest ditillery. I don’t know were you got your sources, but I think you may need to do a little more research. Good article though, thanks.

  • STM

    Jennifer,

    I live in a country where rum was once the main currency, and nearly caused a revolution.

    This place is full of sugar cane, we still make the stuff here today, and it’s still drunk in vast quantity.

    My tip: don’t go near the stuff unless you like watching situations go slowly pear-shaped, out of control and into the realm of the surreal.

    Like a camping trip I went on once, where overproof rum was consumed and one of our comrades decided it would be fun to make us all dance.

    Luckily, we were able to get the gun off the bloke before we tied him up for the night to a tree.

  • Shelly

    Jamaican rum is the best

  • Bob

    The best rum in the world is the rum in your glass

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    Even if it’s “Old Cap’n Toenail’s 1864 Epithelial Remover No. 1″ – 378% proof, distilled in old rugby player’s jockstrap recycling bins and with the flavour and general effect of a tactical nuclear detonation occurring 1.7 miles away?

  • Sherri

    Like the first commenter, I can most assuredly say that Rum originated in Barbados and that the Mount Gay distillery in Barbados is the oldest distillery in world,and it still continues to produce superior rum. So while informative your article is flawed.

  • shayne

    what percentage is 58 degrees overproof

  • Stacy

    I’m agreeing a little with the first comment. While it’s likely that the earliest distillers/alchemists would’ve been likely to experiment with sugar in the early stages, it is highly unlikely that anyone would’ve continued distillation with the use of sugar due to how expensive it was. Mount Gay is the oldest distillery which has produced rum continuously.

  • Rumlover12

    Yeah mt gays distillery is the oldest, that doesn’t mean it was the first, or that rum originated in barbados. Simple logic, so for this who say the author needs to do more research, maybe you need to do more than read the back of an eclipse bottle.

  • Rum Daddy

    You’re ALL wrong… I invented rum!

  • Dabba

    Ammmm Mount Gay rum is the First and its in Barbados tho….WTF!!! Error much??!! Google it and you’ll see the real origin of rum. Sugar Cane or molasses fermented

  • CArlos

    Actually, before colonization even began, natives in the coast of colombia and Venezuela had already discovered the power of rum, in small scale this “magic elixir” was used by the curators to cure colds and sterilize wounds. There is a passage in Columbus’s diary dating 1498 that says translated into english ” a substance much like wine, yet stronger and colorless, compared to a dirty strong water” this passage clearly refers to Rum..there are also paintings done by natives indicating the procces of making rum from a different plant although it is true that columbus brought sugar canes with him in his second journey, rum has been around since before slaves even got to america.

  • matt

    i must say as a rum lover venezuelan rum is excellent!!

  • Piratess

    Yo guys…. isn’t Barbados one of the Caribean Islands???? So aren’t you contradicting youselves?????