Rum is one of the most popular spirits, with many different variations – one of the most popular being spiced rum.
You may associate rum with pirates, but how much do you actually know about the historic beverage?
But where did rum come from? And what does the history of rum look like? Read on to learn more about rum, including its eventful origin and history.
What Is Rum?
Rum is an alcoholic spirit that’s made by fermenting sugarcane or molasses. Like most quality alcohol, it ages to ensure it tastes as good as possible. Rum is typically aged for at least 8 months, but usually between a year and two years before commercially sold.
Dark rums, however, are usually aged a lot longer. Rum is known for being produced in the Caribbean, but it’s also commonly produced in Latin America.
You can also find large scale rum operations in North America, various African Islands, and other surrounding areas.
If you’re not sure how to enjoy a glass of rum, click here for our guide.
Every rum style has its own history, so keep reading to learn more.
The Origin of Rum
Rum is thought to have originated back in the 17th century in the Caribbean when plantation slaves discovered that molasses (produced as sugar is refined) could be fermented and produce alcohol.
Rum was distilled and the impurities were removed, producing the first real rums that we know and love today. The oldest commercial rum distillery is thought to have been Mount Gay Rum, with the oldest surviving deed dating back to 1703.
However, there are records that suggest it existed before its Caribbean creation.
Sanskrit records from the 7th century refer to Shidhu, which is thought to be similar to rum as it was made by fermenting sugarcane. This was drunk as medicine at the time.
Marco Polo (a 13th-century Venetian explorer, merchant, and writer) tasted a sugar wine in 14th century Iran, which was more than likely a variation of rum.
At the time, Cyprus was a significant producer of sugar – and rum was likely around. Rum was frequently consumed with orgeat, which makes for a similar recipe to the modern Mai Tai.
Malaysia has been producing sugar-based spirits throughout history – with Dutch sailors calling the concoction ‘brum’ – and it’s believed that this is where we get the name ‘rum’ from.
It should be noted that it was plantation slaves who discovered that the byproducts of the sugar refinement process (molasses) could be fermented to create alcohol – making plantation slaves responsible for the rum we know and enjoy today.
Many grades of molasses were collected and sold to America as an affordable way to sweeten food and drinks – but the lowest grade of molasses known (blackstrap molasses), didn’t have much sugar and was typically thrown away.
The first creation of the drink was fermented similar to beer, but it quickly went through the distillation process to purify the drink.
Rum distilled in this way was first recorded back in 1620’s Brazil – but the techniques travelled through the Caribbean to Barbados and Nevis – the “Sugar Islands”.
The beverage quickly grew in popularity, increasing in value – and people saw the commercial value. Colonists took no time in appropriating rum, and it quickly became a part of the slave trade. As it was affordable and made using waste material essentially, it started to be used as currency in the slave trade, replacing French brandy.
People would actually buy slaves with rum – new slaves were purchased at the cost of a piece of cotton and 4x gallons of rum.
Movies such as The Pirates of the Caribbean have given the impression that pirates loved rum – and this isn’t far from the truth.
British privateers used rum to trade as it was affordable to create but a valuable commodity. Many of the privateers decided to join the pirate life and become buccaneers. However, their switch in career paths and lifestyles didn’t stop them from loving rum – in fact, drinking was encouraged.
Rum was The British Navy’s drink of choice back in the mid-1600s after the British captured Jamaica’s sugar cane plantations. They switched from Brandy (which had to be brought from the French, who were considered the enemy at the time) to rum – and it became a part of sea life until the mid 20’th century.