Have you ever sat at the bar after a few drinks, peered up at the rack of various liquors, and thought, “how did they start making this stuff in the first place?”
We typically find ourselves knowing very little about the history of products behind the bar. We’re going to give you a little lesson on the history of rum in this article, adding to your repertoire of knowledge.
Knowing some rum history might help you appreciate it a little bit more next time it’s in your glass.
The History of Rum
The backstory of rum interweaves politics, slavery, economics, and ingenuity. To find where rum began, we have to go back to the late 16th century.
During that time, Spain had stolen the Caribbean land from those who lived there and placed much of the population into involuntary servitude. Spanish plantations, with the labor from hundreds of thousands of individuals caught up in the African slave trade, were used to produce sugar cane.
One of the byproducts of the sugar-making process is molasses. Molasses wasn’t commodified or thought to be a particularly useful food ingredient at that time, so it was either discarded or given to those who worked on the plantations.
Those people found that the blistering and humid climate of the Caribbean had a peculiar effect on molasses.
Alcohol from Molasses
The heat of the Caribbean leads the yeast present in molasses to incorporate its sugar, transform it, and produce ethanol.
Ethanol is pretty much the only variation of alcohol that humans can drink without causing a lot of damage to our internal organs. Ethanol comes from the fermentation of grains and sugars.
The first person to consume molasses ethanol probably got pretty sick, though. There are a lot of naturally-occurring impurities in fermented molasses, so the discoverers of rum tried distilling it to rid it of those impurities.
The result was the first barrel of rum known to man. It was a rudimentary drink compared to the variety of rums that we have now, but it immediately became a beloved drink to millions of people.
It was a major commodity and was traded heavily across the Atlantic ocean. It was so well-liked that it persisted through time and remains a perfect gift idea for anyone who likes alcohol.
Rum Rations and Pirates
“Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!”
There’s a strong connection between the idea of pirates and the image of a bottle of rum. Throw a few “Xs” and skulls onto the bottle and you’ve got the archetypal pirate imagery.
That story begins shortly after rum was discovered. It wasn’t long after the Spanish settled and laid claim to the Caribbean islands that the English wanted it for themselves. The trade winds caused these islands to be incredibly important economic waypoints, and the English made quick work of battling Spain to claim them.
The result was the transfer of power to England for various Caribbean islands at different points in time. That meant that they had authority over the crops, people on the land, and the products that the land produced.
In other words, they had control of the production of the world’s best rum. People growing sugar cane in North America tried to make rum, although it wasn’t quite as good as Caribbean rum.
Rations of rum were given to the British navy. In fact, each sailor was given an eighth of a pint each day in addition to their pay. This fact became a normal piece of life at sea, and sailors grew very fond of rum.
So, not long after rum was discovered, it became a steady piece of the British economy and the lives of sailors.
The reason that pirates are so associated with rum is two-fold.
The first point is that a lot of pirates who sailed the Caribbean were actually former sailors for the Navy. Whether they belonged to the British, Spanish, or Dutch navy, they deserted their ranks to sail the seas for their own benefit.
The colonial powers were extremely cruel and unbelievably heartless in their treatment of indigenous peoples as well as their own subjects. The profits and benefits from colonialism worked strictly for the few individuals who made orders and those who directly enforced them.
In light of those facts, you can imagine why someone would want to abandon their post and turn around to pirate goods and wealth from the rich masters they were once subjected to.
When they made the choice to leave, odds are that they already had a penchant for drinking rum. Rum had become a commonplace drink for anyone who sailed a ship.
The second reason that pirates are associated with rum is the fact that they probably stole a whole lot of it from colonial ships and ports. If you were a pirate sailing the seven seas, probably an alcoholic, what would you do if you saw a ship full of rum exports?
It’s likely that rum was an even more valuable treasure than gold to a ship of thirsty pirates.
Caribbean Trade Routes
There were a lot of other forms of alcohol floating around Caribbean seas, but the fact that rum became such a huge export made it common during those days.
Seeing as pirates were in the business of stealing from ships, they probably commandeered a whole lot of rum and a lot less of other forms of liquor. Pirates were attracted to the Caribbean for the forgiving climate as well as the fact that the trade winds required colonial ships to travel there.
Merchant ships were subjected to the will of the winds, and pirates exploited that fact. The result was a bottle o’ rum whenever ye’ needed one, and a drunken life of crime and persecution on the seas.
Want to Learn More about Alcoholic Drinks?
We hope our history of rum gave you a little insight that you didn’t have before. Whether you want to learn more about rum drinks or different alcoholic drinks, we’re here to help you find the information you need.
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