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RUM: Five Things You Didn't Know


1. It's the world's oldest spirit!

It is thought that the world’s first distillation took place in the 1620s in the Caribbean - and it is assumed that this product was probably classed as rum. From the mid 17th century, the rum trade transformed the culture, ethnicity and economy of the West Indies - and had a profound impact on the economic development of eastern North America. It was also the first spirit to be produced for entertainment purposes, as opposed to medicinal.

2. There Are SO Many Types

Much like its most famous drinkers, the rum category is a wild, lawless space. In short, anything distilled from sugarcane or sugarcane by-products can be called rum. Unlike the origin of denomination-monitored tequila, or the provenance & production defined scotch or bourbon - anything goes. Distilled from fermented Tate & Lyle molasses in Birmingham? Call it rum. Made from Nicaraguan cane juice in Scunthorpe. That’s rum too.

Although, the one thing most rum-producing countries can agree on? That it must be aged. That’s why the Brazilian spirit of cachaça is out. But this also doesn’t have as many rules as other spirit producers may like - when it comes to Scotch, the age on the label must be the youngest whisky in the bottle. But with rum, producers can put a teaspoon of the older stuff in with the younger rums and call it a 23 year old. Cheeky.

This does mean, however, that much more exciting things are happening in the rum space. Like Panama rum that is aged in ex-cognac barrels from France like Ron Zacapa, coffee flavoured rum blended in Cornwall, and a spiced rum produced in Scotland.

5. Sailors basically lived off it

Back in the day, men of the sea (long haul pirates and sailors of the British Royal Navy) didn’t just use rum for recreation - it actually kept the crew hydrated. Ships tended to stock three types of liquid sustenance: water, beer & rum. First, they’d drink the water (sensibly), but this often was the first thing to go rancid. So then they turned to the beer, which had a (slightly) longer shelf life. After the beer had tapped out, they’d turn to rum, which obviously could sit in the hold for the longest amount of time without going bad. The only drawback? The sailors then spent a lot of the time drunk. 

In fact, until 1970 (which is only 48!!!! years ago), the British Navy gave its sailors a daily ration of rum, called a “tot”, which equated to a pint of rum. The last tots were delivered on July 31st 1970 - which is now known as Black Tot Day, and still mourned, with Naval officers wearing black armbands to show their despair (and sobriety presumably).

4. So. Many. Names

Kill-Devil, Demon Water, Navy Neaters, Nelson’s Blood, Barbados Water, Grog, Pirates Drink, Rumbullion - rum has an impressive amount of nicknames - most of them stem from a time when rum was so potent that it was believed to kill the devil inside you. Grog came from the mixing the rationed water and rum provided to Naval officers - and if you were lucky enough to be issued a second rum ration, the order was named ‘splicing the mainbrace’.

5. American probably wouldn't have won independence from the British without it…

Americans will be well aware of the midnight ride of Paul Revere to warn of the approaching British - but it is said that on the way he stopped in Medford, Massachusetts at the house of Isaac Hall. Medford was in the middle of a rum explosion and Isaac Hall was (alongside being captain of the local Minutemen) owned a distillery that turned out rum said to be strong enough to make “a rabbit bite a bulldog”.  Nobody knows for sure that Revere fortified himself with rum before galloping off to Lexington but Wayne Curtis, author of the thoroughly fascinating And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails, figures it’s a good guess.


Tags: rum