Rum is a distilled alcoholic drink made by fermenting then distilling sugarcane molasses or sugarcane juice. The distillate, a clear liquid, is usually aged in oak barrels. Most rums are produced in Caribbean and American countries, but also in other sugar producing countries, such as the Philippines and India. Rums are produced in various grades. Light rums are commonly used in cocktails, whereas "golden" and "dark" rums were typically consumed straight or neat, iced ("on the rocks"), or used for cooking, but are now commonly consumed with mixers. Premium rums are made to be consumed either straight or iced.
Rum plays a part in the culture of most islands of the West Indies as well as in The Maritimes and Newfoundland. This drink has famous associations with the Royal Navy (where it was mixed with water or beer to make grog) and piracy (where it was consumed as bumbo). Rum has also served as a popular medium of economic exchange, used to help fund enterprises such as slavery (see Triangular trade), organized crime, and military insurgencies (e.g., the American Revolution and Australia's Rum Rebellion).
The origin of the word "rum" is unclear. The most widely accepted hypothesis is that it is related to "rumbullion" or "rumbustion", but the origin of those words and the nature of the relationship is unclear. Both words surfaced in English about the same time as rum did (1651 for "rumbullion", and 1654 "rum"), and were slang terms for "tumult" or "uproar".
There have been various other theories:
It is often connected to the British slang adjective "rum", meaning "high quality", and indeed the collocation "rum booze" is attested. Given the harshness of early rum, this is unlikely.
That it is related to ramboozle and rumfustian, popular British drinks of the mid-17th century. However, neither was made with rum, but rather eggs, ale, wine, sugar, and various spices.
That it comes from the large drinking glasses used by Dutch seamen known as rummers, from the Dutch word roemer, a drinking glass. Other theories consider it to be short for iterum, Latin for "again, a second time", or arôme, French for aroma.
Regardless of the original source, the name was already in common use by 1654, when the General Court of Connecticut ordered the confiscations of "whatsoever Barbados liquors, commonly called rum, kill devil and the like". A short time later in May 1657, the General Court of Massachusetts also decided to make illegal the sale of strong liquor "whether known by the name of rumme, strong water, wine, brandy, etc.” In current usage, the name used for a rum is often based on its place of origin.
For rums from places mostly in Latin America where Spanish is spoken, the word ron is used. A ron añejo ("aged rum") is a premium spirit. Rhum is the term that typically distinguishes rum made from fresh sugar cane juice from rum made from molasses in French-speaking locales like Martinique. A rhum vieux ("old rum") is an aged French rum that meets several other requirements. Some of the many other names for rum are Nelson's blood, kill-devil, demon water, pirate's drink, navy neaters, and Barbados water. A version of rum from Newfoundland is referred to by the name screech, while some low-grade West Indies rums are called tafia.
Vagbhata, an Indian ayurvedic physician (7th century AD) advised a man to drink unvitiated liquor like rum and wine, and mead mixed with mango juice together with friends. Shidhu, a drink produced by fermentation and distillation of sugarcane juice, is mentioned in other Sanskrit texts. According to Maria Dembinska, the King of Cyprus, Peter I of Cyprus or Pierre I de Lusignan (9 October 1328 – 17 January 1369), brought rum with him as a gift for the other royal dignitaries at the Congress of Kraków, held in 1364. This is feasible given the position of Cyprus as a significant producer of sugar in the Middle Ages, although the alcoholic sugar drink named rum by Dembinska might not have resembled modern distilled rums very closely. Dembinska also suggests Cyprus rum was often drunk mixed with an almond milk drink, also produced in Cyprus, called soumada.
Another early rum-like drink is brum. Produced by the Malay people, brum dates back thousands of years. Marco Polo also recorded a 14th-century account of a "very good wine of sugar" that was offered to him in the area that became modern-day Iran. The first distillation of rum in the Caribbean took place on the sugarcane plantations there in the 17th century. Plantation slaves discovered that molasses, a by-product of the sugar refining process, could be fermented into alcohol. Later, distillation of these alcoholic byproducts concentrated the alcohol and removed impurities, producing the first modern rums. Tradition suggests this type of rum first originated on the island of Nevis. However, in the decade of the 1620s, rum production was also recorded in Brazil. A liquid identified as rum has been found in a tin bottle found on the Swedish warship Vasa, which sank in 1628.
A 1651 document from Barbados stated, "The chief fuddling they make in the island is Rumbullion, alias Kill-Divil, and this is made of sugar canes distilled, a hot, hellish, and terrible liquor.”
Pirates carrying rum to shore to purchase slaves as depicted in The Pirates Own Book by Charles Ellms. After development of rum in the Caribbean, the drink's popularity spread to Colonial North America. To support the demand for the drink, the first rum distillery in the British colonies of North America was set up in 1664 on Staten Island. Boston, Massachusetts had a distillery three years later. The manufacture of rum became early Colonial New England's largest and most prosperous industry. New England became a distilling center due to the technical, metalworking and cooperage skills and abundant lumber; the rum produced there was lighter, more like whiskey. Rhode Island rum even joined gold as an accepted currency in Europe for a period of time. Estimates of rum consumption in the American colonies before the American Revolutionary War had every man, woman, or child drinking an average of 3 imperial gallons (14 l) of rum each year.
To support this demand for the molasses to produce rum, along with the increasing demand for sugar in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries, a labor source to work the sugar plantations in the Caribbean was needed. A triangular trade in rum, molasses, and slaves was established between Africa, the Caribbean, and the colonies to support this need. The exchange was quite profitable, and the disruption to the trade caused by the Sugar Act in 1764 may have even helped cause the American Revolution. In the slave trade, rum was also used as a medium of exchange. For example, the slave Venture Smith, whose history was later published, had been purchased in Africa for four gallons of rum plus a piece of calico.
The popularity of rum continued after the American Revolution, with George Washington insisting on a barrel of Barbados rum at his 1789 inauguration. Rum started to play an important role in the political system; candidates attempted to influence the outcome of an election through their generosity with rum. The people would attend the hustings to see which candidate appeared more generous. The candidate was expected to drink with the people to show he was independent and truly a republican. Eventually the restrictions on sugar imports from the British islands of the Caribbean, combined with the development of American whiskey, led to a decline in the drink's popularity in North America.
Rum's association with piracy began with British privateers trading in the valuable commodity. As some of the privateers became pirates and buccaneers, their fondness for rum remained, the association between the two only being strengthened by literary works such as Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island.
The association of rum with the Royal Navy began in 1655, when the British fleet captured the island of Jamaica. With the availability of domestically produced rum, the British changed the daily ration of liquor given to seamen from French brandy to rum. Navy rum was originally a blend mixed from rums produced in the West Indies. It was initially supplied at a strength of 100 degrees (UK) proof, 57% alcohol by volume (ABV), as that was the only strength that could be tested (by the gunpowder test) before the invention of the hydrometer. The term "Navy strength" is used in modern Britain to specify spirits bottled at 57% ABV.
While the ration was originally given neat, or mixed with lime juice, the practice of watering down the rum began around 1740. To help minimize the effect of the alcohol on his sailors, Admiral Edward Vernon had the rum ration watered, producing a mixture that became known as grog. Many believe the term was coined in honour of the grogram cloak Admiral Vernon wore in rough weather. The Royal Navy continued to give its sailors a daily rum ration, known as a "tot", until the practice was abolished on 31 July 1970.
Today, a tot (totty) of rum is still issued on special occasions, using an order to "splice the mainbrace", which may only be given by the Queen, a member of the royal family or, on certain occasions, the admiralty board in the UK, with similar restrictions in other Commonwealth navies. Recently, such occasions have included royal marriages or birthdays, or special anniversaries. In the days of daily rum rations, the order to "splice the mainbrace" meant double rations would be issued.
A legend involving naval rum and Horatio Nelson says that following his victory and death at the Battle of Trafalgar, Nelson's body was preserved in a cask of rum to allow transportation back to England. Upon arrival, however, the cask was opened and found to be empty of rum. The body was removed and, upon inspection, it was discovered that the sailors had drilled a hole in the bottom of the cask and drunk all the rum, hence the term "Nelson's blood" being used to describe rum. It also serves as the basis for the term tapping the admiral being used to describe surreptitiously sucking liquor from a cask through a straw. The details of the story are disputed, as many historians claim the cask contained French brandy, whilst others claim instead the term originated from a toast to Admiral Nelson. Variations of the story, involving different notable corpses, have been in circulation for many years. The official record states merely that the body was placed in "refined spirits" and does not go into further detail.
The Royal New Zealand Navy was the last naval force to give sailors a free daily tot of rum. The Royal Canadian Navy still gives a rum ration on special occasions; the rum is usually provided out of the commanding officer's fund, and is 150 proof (75%). The order to "splice the mainbrace" (i.e. take rum) can be given by the Queen as commander-in-chief, as occurred on 29 June 2010, when she gave the order to the Royal Canadian Navy as part of the celebration of their 100th anniversary. Rum was also occasionally consumed mixed with gunpowder, either after the proof was tested—proof spirit, when mixed with gunpowder, would just support combustion (57% ABV)—or to seal a vow or show loyalty to a rebellion.
Rum became an important trade good in the early period of the colony of New South Wales. The value of rum was based upon the lack of coinage among the population of the colony, and due to the drink's ability to allow its consumer to temporarily forget about the lack of creature comforts available in the new colony. The value of rum was such that convict settlers could be induced to work the lands owned by officers of the New South Wales Corps. Due to rum's popularity among the settlers, the colony gained a reputation for drunkenness, though their alcohol consumption was less than levels commonly consumed in England at the time.
Australia was so far away from Britain that the convict colony, established in 1788, faced severe food shortages, compounded by poor conditions for growing crops and the shortage of livestock. Eventually it was realized that it might be cheaper for India, instead of Britain, to supply the settlement of Sydney. By 1817, two out of every three ships which left Sydney went to Java or India, and cargoes from Bengal fed and equipped the colony. Casks of Bengal Rum (which was reputed to be stronger than Jamaican Rum, and not so sweet) were brought back in the depths of nearly every ship from India. The cargoes were floated ashore clandestinely before the ships docked, by the British Marines regiment who controlled the sales. It was against the direct orders of the governors, who had ordered the searching of every docking ship. Britons living in India grew wealthy through sending ships to Sydney "laden half with rice and half with bad spirits."
Rum was intimately involved in the only military takeover of an Australian government, known as the Rum Rebellion. When William Bligh became governor of the colony, he attempted to remedy the perceived problem with drunkenness by outlawing the use of rum as a medium of exchange. In response to Bligh's attempt to regulate the use of rum, in 1808, the New South Wales Corps marched with fixed bayonets to Government House and placed Bligh under arrest. The mutineers continued to control the colony until the arrival of Governor Lachlan Macquarie in 1810. Dividing rum into meaningful groupings is complicated because no single standard exists for what constitutes rum. Instead, rum is defined by the varying rules and laws of the nations producing the spirit. The differences in definitions include issues such as spirit proof, minimum ageing, and even naming standards.
Mexico requires rum be aged a minimum of eight months; the Dominican Republic, Panama and Venezuela require two years. Naming standards also vary. Argentina defines rums as white, gold, light, and extra light. Grenada and Barbados uses the terms white, overproof, and matured, while the United States defines rum, rum liqueur, and flavored rum. In Australia, rum is divided into dark or red rum (underproof known as UP, overproof known as OP, and triple distilled) and white rum. Despite these differences in standards and nomenclature, the following divisions are provided to help show the wide variety of rums produced.
The grades and variations used to describe rum depend on the location where a rum was produced. Despite these variations, the following terms are frequently used to describe various types of rum:
Dark rums, also known by their particular colour, such as brown, black, or red rums, are classes a grade darker than gold rums. They are usually made from caramelized sugar or molasses. They are generally aged longer, in heavily charred barrels, giving them much stronger flavors than either light or gold rums, and hints of spices can be detected, along with a strong molasses or caramel overtone. They commonly provide substance in rum drinks, as well as colour. In addition, dark rum is the type most commonly used in cooking. Most dark rums come from areas such as Jamaica, Haiti, and Martinique.
Flavored rums are infused with flavors of fruits, such as banana, mango, orange, pineapple, coconut, starfruit or lime. These are generally less than 40% ABV (80 proof). They mostly serve to flavor similarly-themed tropical drinks but are also often drunk neat or with ice. This infusion of flavors occurs after fermentation and distillation. Various chemicals are added to the alcohol to simulate the tastes of food.
Gold rums, also called "amber" rums, are medium-bodied rums that are generally aged. These gain their dark colour from aging in wooden barrels (usually the charred, white oak barrels that are the byproduct of Bourbon whiskey). They have more flavor and are stronger-tasting than light rum, and can be considered midway between light rum and the darker varieties.
Light rums, also referred to as "silver" or "white" rums, in general, have very little flavor aside from a general sweetness. Light rums are sometimes filtered after aging to remove any colour. The majority of light rums come from Puerto Rico. Their milder flavors make them popular for use in mixed drinks, as opposed to drinking them straight. Light rums are included in some of the most popular cocktails including the Mojito and the Daiquiri.
Overproof rums are much higher than the standard 40% ABV (80 proof), with many as high as 75% (150 proof) to 80% (160 proof) available. Two examples are Bacardi 151 or Pitorro moonshine. They are usually used in mixed drinks.
Premium rums, as with other sipping spirits such as Cognac and Scotch whisky, are in a special market category. These are generally from boutique brands that sell carefully produced and aged rums. They have more character and flavor than their "mixing" counterparts and are generally consumed straight.
Spiced rums obtain their flavors through the addition of spices and, sometimes, caramel. Most are darker in colour, and based on gold rums. Some are significantly darker, while many cheaper brands are made from inexpensive white rums and darkened with caramel colour. Among the spices added are cinnamon, rosemary, absinthe/aniseed, pepper, cloves, and cardamom.
Production of Rum
As with all other aspects of rum production, no standard method is used for distillation. While some producers work in batches using pot stills, most rum production is done using column still distillation. Pot still output contains more congeners than the output from column stills, so produces fuller-tasting rums.
Ultra Premium Gin is a purer gin than the other variants. Ultra Premium gin has been distilled several times, making this gin much purer than other types of gin. Due to the higher production costs, this gin becomes more expensive to sell.
Many countries require rum to be aged for at least one year. This ageing is commonly performed in used bourbon casks, but may also be performed in other types of wooden casks or stainless steel tanks. The ageing process determines the colour of the rum. When aged in oak casks, it becomes dark, whereas rum aged in stainless steel tanks remains virtually colourless.
Due to the tropical climate, common to most rum-producing areas, rum matures at a much higher rate than is typical for whisky or brandy. An indication of this higher rate is the angels' share, or amount of product lost to evaporation. While products aged in France or Scotland see about 2% loss each year, tropical rum producers may see as much as 10%.
After ageing, rum is normally blended to ensure a consistent flavour, the final step in the rum-making process. During blending, light rums may be filtered to remove any colour gained during ageing. For dark rums, caramel may be added for colour. Artificial ageing attempts to match the molecular composition of aged rum using heat and light.