JAMES BEARD, THE RENOWNED CHEF, FOOD WRITER and seminal figure in advancing American gastronomy, whom Julia Child once accurately described as, “the quintessential American cook” said of rum, “Of all the spirits in your home, rum is the most romantic.”
And in many ways Mr. Beard was right. One of the pivotal characteristic that is supports the enduring interest in rum is that of all the spirits, it has the most exciting back story, one that includes: pirates, slavery, the British Navy and of course the Caribbean sun and sand of its original home to back it up.
While Bedouin tribes had apparently distilled alcohol from sugar products, and used it medicinally, its first explicitly recorded modern appearance as a beverage was in Barbados in the 1640’s, where it was variously called kill-devil, Barbadoes Waters, rumbullion, and finally rum, the name which, with some variations, Spanish (ron), French (rhum) and other languages adopted. While some writers claim that a Martinicans and Brazilians might have made a spirit from sugar earlier, it was certainly Barbadian planters who first made rum a commodity distilled in commercial quantities and traded. Regardless rum, irrespective of its spelling, has been around a long, long time…
And from its Caribbean origins, rum has expanded world wide with distinctive varieties produced almost everywhere sugar cane is grown. Today, India, Philippines and Brazil are now some of the world’s largest producers of rum, hosting between them six of the world’s top ten brands, but they are also among the world’s biggest consumers, and like Australia, another large market, they consume most of their production locally.
The Rum Sugarcane Field Harvest yesterday…
Rum comes in an infinite variety of colors and flavors. White rums, used for cocktails, are sometimes unaged, and in many Caribbean islands even aged white rums are subsequently charcoal filtered to remove the color they acquire from the oak barrels.
Each Caribbean island produces its own distinctive variation of rum; Cuba and Puerto Rico for example, sport a lighter style of rum for export. The demands of the French forces in World War One hugely boosted production in Martinique and Guadeloupe. After the war they developed their distinctive rhums agricoles made from the full sugar cane, which they contrast with rhum industriel, made from molasses, which they shrewdly market as superior. In the English speaking Caribbean it is produced in relatively small quantities and often called sugar cane brandy
Some rums, especially those from “The Spanish Main” around the Caribbean are using the solera method, derived from sherry production, in which the rums are decanted into a variety of casks previously used for other drinks, such as port and sherry, and then blended. Aged rum based on these, from Venezuela, Guatemala, Panama, Honduras and Nicaragua are increasingly penetrating global markets.
From its earliest days, rum has been a prime constituent of mixed drinks, beginning with punch (from the Hindi word for five, which was the number of ingredients) which are typically rum, water, sugar, spice and citrus. Variations on theme included the Cuban mohito, the mint julep, the Franco- Caribbean ‘tit ponche and the Brazilian Caiparinha.
Premium aged rums, also known as “sipping rums” are enjoyed unmixed and have seen a growing recognition among the world spirits elite connoisseurs, but no matter how rum aficionados might bridle, manufacturers are of course entirely happy with bars mixing premium rums into cocktails! IW
- Brugal 1888
- El Dorado 15 year Special Reserve (and upwards)
- Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva Rum
- Rhum Clément X.O.
- Ron Zacapa Centenario Rum 23 Anos
[All Photos by Fredi Marcarini from his forthcoming book "Rum: A Journey"]