This is the fourth post in my summer 2013 guest blogging series with the theme “Somewhere, Beyond the Sea”. Let me briefly introduce today’s blogger: Anatoli Levine, the man behind Talk-a-Vino. In his blog, that seems to have been around since the earliest days of wine blogging, Anatoli explores his passion for wine and everything surrounding it. He is a fountain of knowledge, and the saying among some of us that “following Anatoli’s advice means you’re on a good way” could not be truer. What impresses me most on his blog is the number 470. The current count of grapes he hast tried. Isn’t that amazing? I was excited when Anatoli offered me to republish this post which was originally written for the now-defunct Art of Life Magazine in 2011, because I do have a weak spot for rum. Thank you, Anatoli, for always broadening my horizon!
Liquid Pleasures Beyond Wine – Rum
In this series exploring the world of liquid pleasures beyond wine , we already talked about Cognac, Scotch and Whiskey – is there anything else left in the world of spirits which deserves our attention? Yes, there are still quite a few things worth our attention. Particularly, today we will take a look at past and present of Rum.
Interestingly enough, Rum has probably most significant involvement into the history of humankind, more than any other spirit. Bold claim, you say? Let’s take a look.
History of Rum starts at around 1500s, when sugar cane was brought to Caribbean islands by Spanish conquistadors. Caribbean islands happened to have an ideal climate for growing the sugar cane, and the area became a big producer of sugar. After sugar is made, the retaining mass, called molasses, was still containing a lot of sugar. Mixed with water and left under the tropical sun, it was found to start fermenting. Once distilled, this is what became known as Rum.
Rum became a drink of choice for the sailors. During the long sea voyage, water supply was quickly getting spoiled with algae. In order to make water more palatable to drink, some amount of beer was added. Sometime in the middle of 17th century, the Rum started to make its way on board of Britain Royal Navy ships – it stayed as an official Royal Navy drink until 1970, even though the ration was quite diluted with water over time. As you might remember from the folklore, pirates also embraced Rum as their symbolic beverage, which finds its reflection even in the songs, such as “Yo ho ho and a bottle Rum”.
Sad part of the Rum’s history is related to the slave trade, a triangle of sorts. Molasses had being shipped to England, where they had being used to produce Rum. Rum then was sent to Africa, where it was exchanged for the slaves, which were in turn sent to Caribbean to work on sugar cane plantations. This triangle was broken with American Revolution. At about the same time, making sugar from beets became economically feasible in Europe, which reduced the need for cane sugar and subsequently lead to lesser production of molasses. Also Whiskey started to increase in popularity in United States. All these events lead to substantial drop in demand for Rum, reaching all times minimum in the first half of the 20th century.
Increase in tourism in the second half of the 20th century, coupled with improvements in methods and technology, lead to gradual increase of the interest in Rum in the second half of the 20th century. As many other spirits, Rum started to be aged in different types of the wooden casks, which lead to increased availability of sipping Rums.
Rum production and classification is not really regulated, as each Caribbean island has its own style of production. In general, Rum is made either from molasses or sugar cane juice, which is fermented with additional of water and different types of yeast. After fermentation, the liquid is distilled (again, there are no specific requirements for the number of distillations or the distillation methods). Once distilled, there are few choices for making the final product. If so called Light Rum is being produced, then different batches can be blended together to produce beverage with consistent taste. If Dark Rum is desired, process of ageing in the oak barrels will take place after distillation. Ageing can take anywhere from 3 to 23 or 25 years. After ageing, additional blending process is still possible, again, depending on the style. One more popular style is called Spiced Rum, which is produced by adding spices to so called Gold Rum, which is a lightly aged version of Light Rum. Both Light Rum and Spiced Rum are typically used in the cocktails, while Dark Rum are perfect for sipping in most of cases.
Practically all islands in Caribbean produce their own versions of Rum, with Appleton Estate being one of the most famous rums producers on Jamaica; Mount Gay Distillery is one of the most famous producers from Barbados, also probably one of the oldest in the world (operating from second half of the 17th century). Dominican Republic, Trinidad, Haiti, Guatemala and many other islands produce Rum of different styles and ever increasing quality. If you only had Rum in the cocktails until now, this is about the time to change it. Go find a bottle of 21 years old Zafra from Panama or 23 years old Ron Zacapa from Guatemala and see for yourself how good Rum might taste. Cheers!