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Caribbean rum, circa 1941


Rum is a distilled beverage made from sugarcane by-products such as molasses and sugarcane juice by a process of fermentation and distillation. The distillate, a clear liquid, is then usually aged in oak and other barrels. The majority of the world's rum production occurs in and around the Caribbeanmarker and in several South American countries, such as Colombiamarker, Venezuelamarker, Guyanamarker and Brazilmarker. There are also rum producers in places such as Australia, Fijimarker, the Philippinesmarker, Indiamarker, Reunion Islandmarker, Mauritiusmarker, and elsewhere around the world.

Light rums are commonly used in cocktails, whereas golden and dark rums are also appropriate for drinking straight, or for cooking. Premium rums are also available that are made to be consumed straight or with ice.

Rum plays a part in the culture of most islands of the West Indies, and has famous associations with the Royal Navy (See: Grog) and piracy (See: Bumbo). Rum has also served as a popular medium of exchange that helped to promote slavery along with providing economic instigation for Australia's Rum Rebellion and the American Revolution.

Etymology

The origin of the word rum is generally unclear. Rum is a blunt, Anglo-Saxonlike name. In an 1824 essay about the word's origin, Samuel Morewood, a British etymologist, suggested that it might be from the British slang term for "the best," as in "having a rum time." He wrote that
"As spirits, extracted from molasses, could not well be ranked under the name whiskey, brandy, or arack, it would be called rum, to denote its excellence or superior quality."
-Samuel Morewood
Given the harsh taste of early rum, this is unlikely. Morewood later suggested another possibility: that it was taken from the last syllable of the Latin word for sugar, saccharum, an explanation that is commonly heard today. It should be noted though, that the -um is a very common noun ending in Latin, and plenty of Latin word roots end in r, so in reality, one could apply this logic to a plethora of Latin words to draw the link.

Other etymologists have mentioned the Romani word rum, meaning "strong" or "potent." These words have been linked to the ramboozle and rumfustian, both popular British drinks in the mid-seventeenth century. However, neither was made with rum, but rather eggs, ale, wine, sugar, and various spices. The most probable origin is as a truncated version of rumbullion or rumbustion." Both words surfaced in British English about the same time as rum did, and were slang terms for "tumult" or "uproar." This is a far more convincing explanation, and brings the image of fractious men fighting in entanglements at island tippling houses, which are early versions of the bar.

Another claim is that the name is from the large drinking glasses used by Dutch seamen known as rummers, from the Dutch word roemer, a drinking glass.Other options include contractions of the words saccharum, Latin for sugar, or arôme, French for aroma.Regardless of the original source, the name was already in common use by May 1657 when the General Court of Massachusetts made illegal the sale of strong liquor "whether knowne by the name of rumme, strong water, wine, brandy, etc."

In current usage, the name used for a rum is often based on the rum's place of origin. For rums from Spanish-speaking locales the word ron is used. A ron añejo indicates a rum that has been significantly aged and is often used for premium products. Rhum is the term used for rums from French-speaking locales, while rhum vieux 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 Newfoundlandmarker is referred to by the name Screech, while some low-grade West Indiesmarker rums are called tafia.

History

Origins

The precursors to rum date back to antiquity. Development of fermented drinks produced from sugarcane juice is believed to have first occurred either in ancient Indiamarker or China, and spread from there.An example of such an early 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 what is modern-day Iranmarker.

The first distillation of rum took place on the sugarcane plantations of the Caribbean in the 17th century.Plantation slave first discovered that molasses, a by-product of the sugar refining process, can be fermented into alcohol.Later, distillation of these alcoholic by-products concentrated the alcohol and removed impurities, producing the first true rums. Tradition suggests that rum first originated on the island of Barbadosmarker.

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".

Colonial America

After rum's development 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 present-day Staten Islandmarker. Boston, Massachusettsmarker 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 superior technical, metalworking and cooperage skills and abundant lumber; the rum produced there was lighter, more like whiskey, and was superior to the character and aroma of the West Indies product. Rhode Islandmarker 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 (13.5 liters) 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 was established between Africa, the Caribbean, and the colonies to help support this need.The exchange of slaves, molasses, and rum was quite profitable, and the disruption to the trade caused by the Sugar Act in 1764 may have even helped cause the American Revolution.

The popularity of rum continued after the American Revolution, with George Washington insisting on a barrel of Barbadosmarker rum at his 1789 inauguration.

Rum started to play an important role in the political system, since the outcome of an election usually depended on the candidate’s generosity with rum. The people would vote for incompetent candidates simply because they provided more rum. They would attend the election to see which candidate appeared less stingy with their rum. The candidate was expected to drink with the people to show that he was independent and truly a republican. In a Mississippi election, one candidate poured his drinks and socialized with the people. He was more personal and it appeared as if he was going to win. The other candidate announced that he would not be pouring their drinks and they could have as much as they wanted; because he appeared more generous, he won. This shows that colonial voters were not concerned with what the candidate represented or stood for; they were merely looking for who would provide the most rum.

Eventually the restrictions on rum from the British islands of the Caribbean, combined with the development of American whiskey, led to a decline in the drink's popularity.

Naval Rum

WRNS serving rum to a sailor from a tub inscribed 'THE KING GOD BLESS HIM'
Rum's association with piracy began with Englishmarker privateers trading on 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 Jamaicamarker. With the availability of domestically produced rum, the British changed the daily ration of liquor given to seamen from French brandy to rum.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 directed that the rum ration be watered down before being issued, a mixture which became known as grog. While it is widely believed that the term grog was coined at this time in honor of the grogram cloak Admiral Vernon wore in rough weather, the term has been demonstrated to predate his famous orders, with probable origins in the West Indies, perhaps of African etymology (see Grog). The Royal Navy continued to give its sailors a daily rum ration, known as a "tot," until the practice was abolished after July 31, 1970. Today the rum ration (tot) is still issued on special occasions by H.M. Queen Elizabeth II order "Splice the mainbrace"! Such recent occassions have been Royal marriages/Birthdays, special anniversaries. Splice the main brace in the days of the daily ration meant double rations that day.

A story involving naval rum is that following his victory at the Battle of Trafalgarmarker, Horatio Nelson's body was preserved in a cask of rum to allow transport back to Englandmarker. Upon arrival, however, the cask was opened and found to be empty of rum. The pickled 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, in the process drinking Nelson's blood. Thus, this tale serves as a basis for 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 drinking the daily rum ration. The details of the story are disputed, as many historians claim the cask contained Frenchmarker brandy whilst others claim instead the term originated from a toast to Admiral Nelson. It should be noted that variations of the story, involving different notable corpses, have been in circulation for many years.

The Royal New Zealand Navy is the last naval force left in the world that still gives its sailors a free tot of rum.

Colonial Australia

Beenleigh Rum Distillery, on the banks of the Albert River near Brisbane, Australia, circa 1912
See Also: Rum Rebellion
Rum became an important trade good in the early period of the colony of New South Walesmarker. 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 even though their alcohol consumption was less than levels commonly consumed in England at the time.

When William Bligh became governor of the colony in 1806, he attempted toremedy the perceived problem with drunkenness by outlawing the use of rum as a medium of exchange. In response to this action, and several others, 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.

Categorization

Dividing rum into meaningful groupings is complicated by the fact that there is no single standard for what constitutes rum. Instead rum is defined by the varying rules and laws of the nations that produce the spirit. The differences in definitions include issues such as spirit proof, minimum aging, and even naming standards.

Examples of the differences in proof is Colombiamarker, requiring their rum possess a minimum alcohol content of 50 ABV, while Chilemarker and Venezuelamarker require only a minimum of 40 ABV. Mexicomarker requires rum be aged a minimum of 8 months; the Dominican Republicmarker, Panamamarker and Venezuela require two years. Naming standards also vary. Argentinamarker defines rums as white, gold, light, and extra light. Barbadosmarker uses the terms white, overproof, and matured, while the United Statesmarker defines rum, rum liqueur, and flavored rum. In Australia Rum is divided into Dark Rum (Under Proof known as UP, Over Proof 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 that are produced.

Regional variations

The Bacardi building in Havana, Cuba
Within the Caribbean, each island or production area has a unique style. For the most part, these styles can be grouped by the language that is traditionally spoken. Due to the overwhelming influence of Puerto Rican rum, most rum consumed in the United Statesmarker is produced in the Spanish-speaking style.





  • French-speaking islands are best known for their agricultural rums (rhum agricole). These rums, being produced exclusively from sugar cane juice, retain a greater amount of the original flavor of the sugar cane and are generally more expensive than molasses-based rums. Rums from Haïtimarker, Guadeloupemarker, Marie-Galantemarker and Martiniquemarker are typical of this style.


Cachaça is a spirit similar to rum that is produced in Brazilmarker. (Some countries, including the United States, classify cachaça as a type of rum.) Seco, from Panama, is also a spirit similar to rum, but also similar to vodka, since it is triple distilled.The Indonesianmarker spirit Batavia Arrack, or Arrak, is a spirit similar to rum that includes rice in its production. Mexicomarker produces a number of brands of light and dark rum, as well as other less expensive flavored and unflavored sugar cane based liquors, such as aguardiente de caña and charanda. In some cases cane liquor is flavored with mezcal to produce a pseudo-tequila-like drink.

A spirit known as Aguardiente, distilled from molasses and often infused with anise, with additional sugarcane juice added after distillation, is produced in Central America and northern South America.

In West Africa, and particularly in Liberiamarker, cane juice (also known as Liberian rum or simply CJ within Liberia itself, is a cheap, strong spirit distilled from sugar cane, which can be as strong as 86 proof.

Within Europe, a similar spirit made from sugar beet is known as tuzemák (from tuzemský rum, domestic rum) in the Czech Republic and Kobba Libre on the Ålandmarker Islands.

In Germanymarker, a cheap substitute of genuine dark rum is called Rum-Verschnitt (literally: blended rum). This distilled beverage is made of genuine dark rum (often from Jamaica), rectified spirit, and water. Very often, caramel coloring is used, too. The relative amount of genuine rum it contains can be quite low since the legal minimum is at only 5 percent, but the taste of Rum-Verschnitt is still very similar to genuine dark rum. In Austriamarker, a similar rum called Inländerrum or domestic rum is available. However, Austrian Inländerrum is always a spiced rum, (brand example: Stroh) German Rum-Verschnitt, in contrast, is never spiced or flavored.

Grades

Example of dark, spiced, and light rums.
The grades and variations used to describe rum depend on the location that a rum was produced. Despite these variations the following terms are frequently used to describe various types of rum:

  • Light Rums, also referred to as light, silver, and white rums. In general, light rum has very little flavor aside from a general sweetness, and serves accordingly as a base for cocktails. Light rums are sometimes filtered after aging to remove any color. The Brazilian Cachaça is generally this type, but some varieties are more akin to "gold rums". The majority of Light Rum comes out of Puerto Rico. Their milder flavor makes them popular for use in mixed-drinks, as opposed to drinking it straight.


  • Gold Rums, also called amber rums, are medium-bodied rums which are generally aged. These gain their dark color from aging in wooden barrels (usually the charred white oak barrels that are the byproduct of Bourbon Whiskey). They have more flavor, and are darker-tasting than Silver Rum, and can be considered a midway-point between Silver/Light Rum and the darker varieties.


  • Spiced Rum: These rums obtain their flavor through addition of spices and, sometimes, caramel. Most are darker in color, and based on gold rums. Some are significantly darker, while many cheaper brands are made from inexpensive white rums and darkened with artificial caramel color.


  • Dark Rum, also known as black rum, classes as a grade darker than gold rum. It is generally aged longer, in heavily charred barrels. Dark rum has a much stronger flavor than either light or gold rum, and hints of spices can be detected, along with a strong molasses or caramel overtone. It is used to provide substance in rum drinks, as well as color. In addition to uses in mixed drinks, dark rum is the type of rum most commonly used in cooking. Most Dark Rum comes from areas such as Jamaicamarker, Haitimarker, and Martiniquemarker, though two Central American countries, Nicaragua and Guatemala, produced two of the most award-winning dark rums in the world: Flor de Caña and Ron Zacapa Centenario, respectively.


  • Flavored Rum: Some manufacturers have begun to sell rums which they have infused with flavors of fruits such as mango, orange, citrus, coconut or lime. These serve to flavor similarly themed tropical drinks which generally comprise less than 40% alcohol, and are also often drank neat or on the rocks.


  • Overproof Rum is rum which is much higher than the standard 40% alcohol. Most of these rums bear greater than 75%, in fact, and preparations of 151 to 160 proof occur commonly.


  • Premium Rum: As with other sipping spirits, such as Cognac and Scotch, a market exists for premium and super-premium rums. These are generally boutique brands which sell very aged and carefully produced rums. They have more character and flavor than their "mixing" counterparts, and are generally consumed without the addition of other ingredients.


Production methodology

Unlike some other spirits, such as Cognac and Scotch, rum has no defined production methods.Instead, rum production is based on traditional styles that vary between locations and distillers.

Fermentation

Most rum produced is made from molasses. Within the Caribbean, much of this molasses is from Brazilmarker.A notable exception is the French-speaking islands where sugarcane juice is the preferred base ingredient.

Yeast and water are added to the base ingredient to start the fermentation process.While some rum producers allow wild yeast to perform the fermentation, most use specific strains of yeast to help provide a consistent taste and predictable fermentation time.Dunder, the yeast-rich foam from previous fermentations, is the traditional yeast source in Jamaicamarker."The yeast employed will determine the final taste and aroma profile,"says Jamaican master blender Joy Spence.Distillers that make lighter rums, such as Bacardi, prefer to use faster-working yeasts.Use of slower-working yeasts causes more esters to accumulate during fermentation, allowing for a fuller-tasting rum.

Distillation

As with all other aspects of rum production, there is no standard method 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 and thus produces a fuller-tasting rum.

Aging and blending

Many countries require that rum be aged for at least one year. This aging is commonly performed in used bourbon casks,but may also be performed in stainless steel tanks or other types of wooden casks. The aging process determines the coloring of the Rum. Rum that is aged in oak casks becomes dark, whereas Rum that is aged in stainless steel tanks remains virtually colorless.Due to the tropical climate common to most rum-producing areas, rum matures at a much faster rate than is typical for Scotch or Cognac.An indication of this faster rate is the angel's share, or amount of product lost to evaporation.While products aged in Francemarker or Scotlandmarker see about 2% loss each year, rum producers may see as much as 10%.After aging, rum is normally blended to ensure a consistent flavor. Blending is the final step in the Rum making process.As part of this blending process, light rums may be filtered to remove any color gained during aging.For darker rums, caramel may be added to the rum to adjust the color of the final product.

In cuisine

Besides rum punch, cocktails such as the Cuba Libre and Daiquiri have well-known stories of their invention in the Caribbean.Tiki culture in the US helped expand rum's horizons with inventions such as the Mai Tai and Zombie.Other well-known cocktails containing rum include the Piña Colada, a drink made popular by Rupert Holmes' song "Escape ",and the Mojito.Cold-weather drinks made with rum include the Rum toddy and Hot Buttered Rum.In addition to these well-known cocktails, a number of local specialties utilize rum. Examples of these local drinks include Bermudamarker's Dark and Stormy (Gosling's Black Seal rum with ginger beer), and the Painkiller from the British Virgin Islandsmarker.

Rum may also be used as a base in the manufacture of liqueurs. Spiced Rum is made by infusing rum with a combination of spices. Another combination is jagertee, a mixture of rum and black tea.

Rum may also be used in a number of cooked dishes. It may be used as a flavoring agent in items such as rum balls or rum cakes. Rum is commonly used to macerate fruit used in fruitcakes and is also used in marinades for some Caribbean dishes. Rum is also used in the preparation of Bananas Foster and some hard sauces. Rum is sometimes mixed in with ice cream often together with raisins.

Ti Punch is short for "petit punch", little punch. This is a very traditional drink in the French-speaking region of the Caribbean.

See also



Notes

  1. See article on triangular trade.
  2. Wayne (2006). p.34-35
  3. Blue, p. 72–73
  4. Blue p. 73
  5. Wayne (2006). p.14
  6. Blue p. 72
  7. Blue p. 70
  8. Blue p. 74
  9. Roueché, Berton. Alcohol in Human Culture. in: Lucia, Salvatore P. (Ed.) Alcohol and Civilization New York: McGraw-Hill, 1963 p. 178
  10. Blue p. 76
  11. Tannahill p. 295
  12. Tannahill p. 296
  13. Rorabaugh p. 152-154
  14. Pack p. 15
  15. Blue p. 77
  16. Tannahill p. 273
  17. Pack p. 123
  18. Blue p. 78
  19. Clarke p. 26
  20. Clarke p. 29
  21. Blue p. 81–82
  22. Cooper p. 60
  23. Tourism Industry in Liberia
  24. Surreptitious drug abuse and the new Liberian reality: an overview
  25. Photo-article on Liberian village life
  26. http://www.exploretaca.com/eng/article.html?id=1070 exploretaca.com
  27. Cooper p. 54
  28. http://www.knet.co.za/psrum/manufacturing_rum.htm
  29. Blue p. 80
  30. Cooper p. 54–55


References





Further reading



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