The Noble Spirit from Sugar Cane
|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 India 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 Iran.
The first distillation of rum took place on the sugarcane plantations of the Caribbean in the 17th century.
Plantation slaves first discovered that molasses, a by-product of the sugar refining process, 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
Barbados. Regardless of its initial source, early Caribbean rums were not known for high quality. 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".
After rum's development in the Caribbean, the drink's popularity spread to Colonial America. To support
the demand for the drink, the first rum distillery in the colonies was set up in 1664 on current day Staten
Island. Boston had a distillery three years later. The manufacture of rum became early Colonial New
England's largest and most prosperous industry. The rum produced there was quite popular, and was even
considered the best in the world during much of the 18th century. 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 circular 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 Revolution with George Washington insisting on a
|barrel of Barbados rum at his 1789 inauguration. 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 in the US.
Until the middle of the 19th century most rums were heavy, single-distilled spirits, considered less elegant than the refined
double-distilled spirits of Europe. In order to expand the market for rum, the Spanish Royal Development Board offered a prize to
anyone who could improve the rum making process. This resulted in many refinements in the process which greatly improved the
quality of rum. One of the most important figures in this development process was Don Facundo Bacardi Masso, who moved from
Spain to Santiago de Cuba in 1843. Don Facundo's experiments with distillation techniques, charcoal filtering, cultivating of
specialized yeast strains, and aging with American oak casks helped to produce a smoother and mellower drink typical of modern
rums. It was with this new rum that Don Facundo founded Bacardi y Compañia in 1862, and the great rums of the 19th and early
20th centuries date from this time. The best are quite superb, and although rare (much more so than cognacs of equivalent
vintage), worth seeking out - on the nose intense and complex, on the palate simultaneously both mellow and fiery, with an
exotic melange of tropical and wood ageing flavours.
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