The history of Rum is the history of sugar. Sugar is a sweet crystalline carbohydrate that occurs naturally in a variety of plants. One is the sugar cane (Saccharum officinarum), a long, thick grass species that originates in the islands of present-day Indonesia.
Chinese traders brought the cultivation to Asia and to India.
Arabs in turn brought it to the Middle East and North Africa where it came to the attention of Europeans during the crusades in the 11th century.
When the Spaniards and Portuguese started trading companies in countries on the Atlantic Ocean, they planted sugar cane in the Canary Islands and the Azores.
In 1493 Christopher Columbus brought sugar cane cuttings to the Canary Islands, and on his second trip to America he took them to Hispaniola, the island in the Caribbean that is now shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
Portuguese explorers soon did the same in Brazil.
The Caribbean turned out to have an ideal climate for growing sugar cane, and the production of sugar spread rapidly around the islands. The insatiable demand in Europe for sugar soon led to the establishment of hundreds of sugar cane plantations and mills in the various English, Spanish, French, Portuguese and Dutch colonies.
These mills crush the harvested sugar cane and take out the juice.
They cooked and obtained chunks of crystallized sugar.
The remaining unused juice was called Melazas, from "miel" the Spanish word for honey.
in English this was called molasses.
Molasses is a sticky syrup, which still contains a considerable amount of sugar.
Sugar cane millers soon discovered that if the molasses were mixed with water and allowed to ferment in the sun it would be a very nice drink.
In the 1650s, former waste product was distilled into a nice alcoholic drink.
In English colonies it was called Kill Devil or Rumbullion (origin uncertain but probably a corruption of rebellion), which over the years was shortened to our contemporary name "Rum".
The French called it Rhum, while the Spaniards call it Ron.
Locally, Rum was used as a panacea for the many aches the inhabitants had in the tropical areas.
Sugar cane plantation owners also sold, at discounted prices, Rum to navy ships stationed in the Caribbean to discourage the marauding pirates.
The British navy gave their sailors and soldiers a daily ration of half a pint of Rum until 1730.
This ration was then modified by mixing it with an equal amount of water to produce a beverage called "Grog". The ration grog remained in the British Navy until 1970!
This marine Rum connection introduced the Rum to the outside world and in the late 17th century a flourishing export trade was developed.
The British islands shipped the Rum to Great Britain and the British colonies in North America, where it became very popular.
This export from Rum to North America, in exchange for New England wood and dried cod (still a culinary dish in the Caribbean) soon passed to the export of molasses to distilleries in New England.
This was done to bypass laws from the British Parliament, which protected the British distillers by preventing banning the trade in spirits directly between colonies. This law was, of course, this was not really fun and smuggling quickly took off.
In order to save on the freight costs of molasses, a particularly nasty way was found, the so-called slave triangle.
The first stage was the transfer of the molasses to New England to make Rum. The second stage was sending Rum to the ports of West Africa and exchanging it for slaves. The last stage was the passage of the slave ships to the sugar cane plantations of the Caribbean and South America where many of the slaves were put to work in the sugar cane fields.
The American Revolution and the rise of whiskey production in North America led to the slow decline of Rum dominance as the American national drink.
The Rum production slowly declined in the United States in the 19th century. By draining in 1920 even the last distilleries in New England Rum distilleries disappeared.
The famous rum runners in that era mainly smoked whiskey.
By the invention of sugar extraction from the sugar beet in Europe, the demand for Caribbean sugar decreased, as a result the amount of molasses that was produced also decreased and so also less rum was distilled. Many small sugar cane plantations were closed.Rum production disappeared, for the most part, to countries where sugar cane was grown.
Today we thank the Rum spread for a large part to tourism and a few smart companies such as Bacardi and Diageo.
Rum is currently the fastest growing liquor in Europe.
Thanks to the internet, holidays and various promotions, Rum is also very popular among the various whiskey, cognac and armagnac drinkers. Rum is no longer just in the cola or cocktail, but because of the many varieties and ripening rum is also very tasty.