Rum, first love is best!

GP Libations No. 2: RUM


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

and today.

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



[All Photos by  Fredi Marcarini from his forthcoming book “Rum: A Journey”]

Age in Palate of Besniffer

GP Libations No. 3: Aging Spirits

A PHILOSOPHICAL QUESTION: Given a choice between the Mona Lisa and an identical copy thereof, which would you prefer? Understandably, albeit perhaps illogically, most of us would select the original. In a similar vein, we prefer a fine spirit that has actually been aged a quarter-century over one that merely tastes as though it has been.

For generations, aging has improved, not lessened, the attractiveness of brown spirits. The oak barrels in which they’re stored transmute them, making them richer and smoother. Cognacs, dependent on judicious balancing of different years, are stuck with “VSOP” and other subjective designations to indicate their age. Whiskeys, though, stick to clearly defined rules and straightforward numbers. The general consensus: Older is better.

Well, maybe. Accepted industry wisdom used to be that anything that spent more than 25 years in a cask would be undrinkable. Then cellar masters at The Macallan discovered a cask that had been hiding in the back of a cold, damp warehouse for 53 years. It was, they discovered, very, very good. What’s more, collectors were eager to pay a premium for it. As such, Appleton has just introduced a 50-year-old at $5,000 a bottle. Island rum producers, meanwhile, have introduced a truth-in-labeling regulation that will require bottlers to list the youngest rum therein. Authenticity costs.

Other companies have been somewhat more cavalier about age — particularly those from the Spanish Main, who claimed anything up to 20-plus years. Havana Club, for example, has told me its ages are uno medio — an average. The rum producers’ labeling law seems to have shamed some of the Hispanic bottlers: Many of them still use numbers, but without “years” or “aged for” alongside.

I’m a firm believer in authenticity, so I can now stop denouncing consumer fraud and admit that these spirits are as good as, and often better than, those that are simply stored in barrels for a long time. The rums, for example, are made according to the solera method, in which the cellar master decants the rum into different barrels and blends it with different ages. It’s labor-intensive, but not especially time-consuming.

As ever, it all comes down to the consumer. You can purchase a spirit whose authentic age is listed on the bottle, but whose quality might not live up to its billing. Or you can seek out those that have benefited from true artistry and therefore hit all the notes of an aged spirit despite being relatively young. You need not wait decades to enjoy a superb spirit — and you can spend the extra time philosophizing as you sip. – IW

GP Libations No. 1: Tequila
GP Libations No. 2: Rum

[Opening photo + The Macallan Bottle photographs via The Macallan + The Macallan Masters of Photography photos by Albert Watson + Cognac photos via Sig]

Posted on October 29th, 2012

Rum Revolt!

Rumpundit has been advocating this for years. About time!

A few days ago the Caricom Secretary General, Irwin LaRoque, revealed in Washington that Cariforum nations had begun a process which if unresolved will lead to a full complaint at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) against the US Government in relation to rum—as David Jessop reports in this article for Stabroek News.

Following representations by the West Indies Rum and Spirits Producers Association (WIRSPA), the regional industry association, Caricom Governments last December formally expressed to the US their deep concern about measures being taken by the Governments of the United States Virgin Islands (USVI) and Puerto Rico to provide multinational rum producers with subsidies under a programme that makes use of excise taxes on rum received from the US Federal Government.

Caricom subsequently raised the issue at a meeting of the US-Caricom Trade and Investment Council in March in Georgetown. Then last week the Caricom Secretary General took the opportunity, during meetings with US officials in Washington, to stress the seriousness of the issue and its implications if left unresolved.

As a consequence a US Caricom technical meeting is expected to take place shortly. This is intended to lead to political exchanges with the United States Trade Representative (USTR) aimed at resolving the issue. At the same time Cariforum ambassadors in Washington have been meeting with others in the US administration and Congress to make clear the Caribbean’s concerns.

In a process that potentially sets David against Goliath, the Caribbean has initiated a dialogue with USTR that challenges an arrangement that enables the USVI to offer one of the world’s largest and wealthiest distilling groups, Diageo, huge subsidies.

The concern is that if the matter goes unchallenged it will result in Caribbean producers seeing their presently significant share of the US market wiped out by a subsidised product, and other large international distilling groups seeking to locate in the USVI and Puerto Rico to seek similar advantage.

As with most trade disputes the matter is complicated. The Caribbean’s case revolves around the fact that subsidies offered by the USVI to the multinational rum producers Diageo and Cruzan are inconsistent with WTO rules in as much as they involve prohibited export subsidies, make use of discriminatory taxation, and use such subsidies to cause adverse effects to the interests of other WTO members, in this case the countries of Cariforum.

Specifically the Caribbean’s case relates to the application by the US Government of a ‘cover-over’ programme which remits 98 per cent of all excise duties raised on rums sold in the US back to the US territories of Puerto Rico and the USVI.

In 2010, this amounted to approximately US$450M. In order to secure a greater amount of this ‘cover-over’ support the USVI and Puerto Rico have since 2008 entered into new contractual arrangements with major multinational producers offering extremely generous concessions, subsidies and long-term support, in exchange for them agreeing to site their distilleries and production facilities in their territories.

In the case of the USVI its government signed a contract in 2008 with Diageo that promised the company very large subsidies over a thirty year period in return for the company’s commitment to produce locally all Captain Morgan rum sold in the United States. Estimates suggest that in these new contracts the value of the operating subsidies alone exceeds the actual production cost per litre of bulk rum.

It is also believed that the combined new production capacity which is planned as part of the agreements will be equivalent to at least 80 per cent of current US rum consumption.

Unsurprisingly, rum producers in the anglophone Caribbean, Haiti and the Dominican Republic have viewed this development with alarm.

So too have Cariforum governments which have recognised the dangers for themselves and the region’s largest agriculture-based export industry which generates an estimated US$500M in foreign exchange and well over US$250M in tax revenues, which is to say nothing of the industry’s role as an important provider of employment or its close relationship to tourism.

While there is understanding of the economic problems facing the USVI, the reality is that the US Congress has allowed its USVI development programme to divert hundreds of millions to primarily provide a development programme for the largest distilled spirits company in the world. In this way the US is damaging one of the few competitive industries that Cariforum nations have and which helps underpin the economic viability of small and sometimes vulnerable Caribbean states. For this reason the dispute is at a government to government rather than an industry level.

There is also a sense that the manner in which the cover-over programme is being used raises serious questions about US consistency in relation to its international obligations under WTO rules.

The US has for many years taken a leadership role in promoting strong WTO disciplines on trade distorting subsidies, so it is surprising that it has allowed a situation of competitive harm to arise.

International distilling groups may have more political and economic muscle to flex in Washington, London and Brussels than do the countries of Cariforum, but the region has the facts and strict rules of world trade on its side.

This is therefore an instance where Caribbean governments and the people of Cariforum need to stand tall, draw the line in Washington and, if necessary, in Geneva , and fight to win.

Rum has a special place in the hearts and minds of Caribbean people.

It is a product that brings identity through small producers to the islands and countries of Cariforum from which it comes. Unlike the product of large multinational distilling groups the success of Cariforum producers does not result from artificial tax breaks, transfer pricing or subsidy.

Instead it is an industry dominated by small local distillers whose product is export oriented, brings much needed foreign exchange, adds value to primary agriculture and provides significant levels of tax and revenue to governments struggling to deliver social programmes.

That is why rum has always been a product worth fighting for, as Europe knows to its cost and the US is about to discover.

Previous columns can be found at

For the original report go to

Image of rum under a microscope by Michael Davidson from

Bacardi 150

David Cid tells me that this rum is not the same as the exquisite ones that Facundo Bacardi had us taste at his HQ during last year’s Rum Renaissance… they were indeed very very good by any standards.




For 150 years, Bacardi Rum has been celebrating the good life. Bacardi Limited will celebrate unlike ever before in 2012 with promises of innovation, special celebratory affairs, launch promotions and a special, limited-edition decanter of rare Bacardi rum. Of course, it’s that $2,000 rum we’re here to talk about.

Bacardi Rum has been a family business since 1862, so when it came time to developing a one-of-a-kind Bacardi that combined the expertise of 150 years of talent, Bacardi turned to eight Maestros of the Ron Bacardi family to create Ron BACARDÍ de Maestros de Ron, Vintage, MMXII®.

The limited edition blend combines the craftsmanship of more than a century of hard work with the perfection developed in several fine rums laid in oak barrels for 20 years. The Ron BACARDÍ de Maestros de Ron, Vintage, MMXII® was finished in 60 year old cognac barrels and will be presented in a hand-blown, 500ml crystal decanter swathed in a leather case. Only 400 are produced and available at various international airports around the globe.

150 years doesn’t just merely get a private bottle, but also a host of activities. Celebrity Cruises will help Bacardi celebrate February 4 with a trip through San Juan, Puerto Rico; the Bacardi tradition of a Legacy Cocktail Competition will shake things up as more than 25 countries compete for the prize on February 20th in Puerto Rico; National Geographic Channel’s “Ultimate Factories” plans to showcase the Puerto Rico Bacardi rum factory on February 11.

Cap’n Morgan launches in USVI

So, after all the noise and fury, it happened. Since Obama was blamed for it, will he take credit?



USVI Governor Accepts First Case of St Croix-Produced Captain Morgan Rum


By the Caribbean Journal staff

US Virgin Islands Governor John de Jongh accepted the first case of locally-produced Captain Morgan Rum, following Diageo’s decision to build a distillery in St Croix which opened in 2010.

Captain Morgan had for some time been produced at a third-party distillery in Puerto Rico. The decision to move to St Croix did not escape controversy in Puerto Rico.

“More than three years ago, we overcame an unprecedented amount of opposition from elements within our territory, and those outside our shores, to succeed in creating this public partnership,” de Jongh said. “I am proud my administration and the leadership of Diageo stayed the course through the process, and now the landmark deal is beginning to bear fruit, or, more specifically, spiced rum.”

The Captain Morgan brand is the second-highest-selling rum in the world. It signed a 30-year commitment to St Croix in a deal negotiated by de Jongh.

“In this difficult economic time for the people of the Virgin Islands and St Croix, in particular, this first case of locally-produced Captain Morgan Rum represents some sorely-needed good news for this territory’s economy, and is a reassurance to all Virgin Islanders that even as we face the impact of the global economic downturn, we have laid the groundwork for our future prosperity,” de Jongh said.

David Gosnell, parent company Diageo’s president of Global Supply, told de Jongh that production was now in full swing at the distillery, and a million cases of Captain Morgan would be ready for distribution by the end of the month.

The distillery has a production capacity of 20 million proof gallons of rum each year — all the bulk rum used to make Captain Morgan-branded products in the US.

Angostura in Carnival Mode

Laronde-West: Take pride in locally-produced rum
Sunday, February 12, 2012
2011 Angostura Global Cocktail challenge winner Andy Griffiths in action.

As T&T gears up to celebrate its 50th year of Independence (August 31), Angostura’s manager–corporate communications Giselle Laronde-West feels T&T can take immense pride in its locally-produced rums. Interviewed recently at Angostura House, Laventille, Laronde-West, who also has the distinction of copping the prestigious Miss World 1986 title in London, England, said: “For Carnival, mixologists are converging on T&T for the Angostura Cocktail Challenge. The event spans a week, from February 15 to 23, at Trotters, Maraval Road. “As T&T approaches its 50th anniversary, it is doing well. We (Angostura) are a Trinidad company. We make every effort to help people understand it is a product which has been created in T&T; it is indigenous.” Laronde-West added: “It is made in Trinidad. These are our products. Over the years, it is an easily recognisable product that is made in T&T. Wherever we go, we market it. We want people to remember it is made in T&T. We want to enshrine pride and inculcate a sense of nationalism.” Seizing the opportunity, Laronde-West said the Angostura Global Cocktail challenge was a great opportunity to educate people on where these products (bitters and rum) originated. The rums are synonymous with T&T like icons Anya Ayoung-Chee, Brian Charles Lara and Tobago’s Dwight Yorke. She said: “The effort of the global cocktail challenge is to educate people on where they are made. It is made in my country. There is a sense of pride when you hear them comment on it.” Wherever Laronde-West marketed the products, she said there was a profound sense of pride and patriotism that surfaced. She said: “It makes makes me proud to hear people say how proud they are of the products made in my country. There is an overwhelming sense of pride when you get tremendous kudos for your rums.” It’s not surprising rum would figure prominently since it has been part of the Caribbean’s epicentre and has profoundly influenced the social, economic, political and religious development of the islands.

‘Trinidad is rum’
As the countdown to Carnival intensifies, Laronde-West said the visitors would get a first-hand experience of Trini multiculturalism—be it soca, pan, calypso and playing mas in Bliss. Among those visiting will be 2011 winner Australia’s Andy Griffiths. In the freestyle segment, he had created The Scarlet Ibis, after T&T’s national bird. She said: “It gives them that opportunity to experience the greatest show on earth. We are bringing people here to see what we’re about. They get to understand the culture…sample roti, doubles, bake and shark, and feel the excitement of T&T. They are getting everything. They are coming at a time when it is pulsating. They will even see masqueraders drinking strong rums.” Apart from enjoying the sites of the Magnificent Seven including Stollmeyer’s Castle, international guests would get a chance to tour Angostura’s facilities. “They get a chance to see where it is made; The fact Angostura has been around for almost 200 years. They get to speak to the people who make the rums. When they return to their respective countries, they would be able to understand our culture. When we sell our bitters and rum products, they would have a better understanding of where our products are coming from.” Laronde-West predicts uninhibited exposure to “babel, sun and Trini rums,” would augur well “for us in terms of selling the rum.” “And, of course, it would create some sales…and some profits.” But Laronde-West volunteered: “It’s great the people of T&T appreciate our rums. No matter what palate they have, we are able to provide a rum. That’s the pride we feel in our rums. “I think at the end of the day, Trinidad is rum. Rum is Trinidad.”

Distributors to share best practices
Buoyed by the interest, Laronde-West said there were distributors, distillers, rum enthusiasts and other stakeholders who were “even willing to pay their way.” She said: “We are happy to be able to bring them here. We have distributors who have heard about our products. They are paying their way. We have about 80 other people coming for the Distributors’ Conference. We have about 16 members of the media coming from different houses.” Among those who have expressed a keen interest in tete-a-tetes with master distiller John Georges are United States’ Tony Abu Ghanin and New Zealand’s Jacob Briars. She added: “It’s an opportunity for distributors to share their best practices in what they do… in promoting and selling Angostura. It is an opportunity to reach out… to network. They understand the culture and they appreciate where the products are made. It would give them a sense of connection and authenticity when they are speaking about it. We have bitters in Greece.” Rum appraisals are also on the itinerary. Rum has all the complexities of wine. Between swigs, they would determine whether the rum is robust, mellow, light and dark, new and aged, sweet and dry. They would determine if it has a trace of oak from its cask, the caramelisation and the hints of cherry and vanilla. During Angostura House tour, they would learn that the House of Angostura has been making fine spirits since 1824 and boasts almost 200 years experience of fermenting, distilling, ageing and blending. Rum paintings decorate its walls. A rum museum lures visitors. They might learn “rum” is possibly derived from a truncated version of rumbullion or rumbustion, British slang for tumult or uproar. Prior to the finalists being selected, Laronde-West said: “There is an interest for the Carnival and in our global cocktail challenge. In every region, they would have had competitions and they would have chosen a winner. “We have had hundreds competing. So think about the people who know about Angostura rums. Think how many people know it is ‘Made In T&T’.”

Alex Thomas comments: Senior manager–sales and marketing for the Americas Alex Thomas expressed similar sentiments—visitors would get a taste of local culture. He said: “People are coming to Trinidad. Many of them are not really sure where Trinidad and Tobago is. They are going to get a taste of Trinidad and Tobago culture. They will be coming for Carnival. They will be getting to take part in the competition as well. We have a local from Kapok.”

Lecture at Colonial Dames of NY. Rum, Cowboys, Indians and Loyalists.

NSCD NY + + Ian  Williams Lecturer

Reminder: Thursday, January 19th Historical Activities Lecture featuring
Ian Williams and a Rum Tasting

Rum Tasting by El Dorado and Favorite Lecturer
Ian Williams (of Rum fame) returns- Join US!

Ian Williams, one of our most INTERESTING guest lecturers,
a writer and historian on revolution- and on Rum, returns to speak on
The Loyalists of 1776

He will lead a riveting interactive discussion on the complex decision of picking political sides in 1776. Highlighted characters include loyalists Claudius Smith, the Ramapo Cowboy, & Joseph Brant, American Indian British Military Leader.
Rum tasting to follow his talk.

Cocktails from 6:00 to 6:30
El Dorado Will Serve a Signature Cocktail El Dorado Double Spice (Spiced Rum and Infused Cider) as well as Wine

Lecture and Discussion 6:30 to 7:30

Continuation of the cocktail reception including a Rum Tasting from 7:30 to 8:30
El Dorado Will treat us with a Rum Tasting of 3, 8 and 12 year aged Rum Member tickets $30.00 , Non-Member tickets $35.00 Member & non-member tickets at the door $45.
For Tickets call Penny 212-744-3572, Address- 215 E 71st St (off 3rd Ave)
Joseph Brant- 1785  Famous Loyalist

Rum quoted (indeed mined!) in Salon article

Monday, Oct 31, 2011 2:00 PM EDT
The twisted history of candy
From the tragedies of the slave trade to the glitz of the Jazz Age, the story of these sugary treats echoes our own

By Felisa Rogers


(Credit: carbonated / CC BY 3.0/iStockphoto/lisafx)
Topics:Eatymology, Food, Halloween

As frost bites the air and plastic Halloween bunting unfurls in suburban yards, our thoughts turn to the simple delights of candy: the pastel snap of Necco wafers, the dubious rattle of a box of Good & Plenty. Half the candies we ate as kids weren’t actually good. Even at the time we suspected as much. But candy offered an undeniable pleasure: It was fantastic, it was unreasonable, it came in colors and shapes unrelated to actual food. And on Halloween, it was free.

Although tricks and treats have been part of Halloween tradition for ages, October 31st didn’t become a candy-centric holiday until the 1950s, when aggressive marketing campaigns began to tell Americans a different story about All Hallows’ Eve. And naturally, the story was about candy. Perhaps this is appropriate. Our larger story as a people is, in a sense, a story of candy.

Leafing through the wrappers of forgotten candy bars, you see a gaudy reflection of our past. Ghostly faces stare back: The silent film star Clara Bow graced the “It” bar, the Gypsy bar honored burlesque dancer Gypsy Rose Lee. Eager to capitalize on the glitz of the Jazz Age, candy manufacturers churned out the Charleston Chew, the Black Bottom, Red Hot Liza, Big Dick, Jazz Hound and the Sloppy Sally. We asked candy expert Dr. Samira Kawash for her take on these names. “In the years between the world wars, there were real tensions and conflicts about the changes in sexual norms and the changes in propriety and manners … There were so many candy bars coming out [in the 1920s] that the candy makers really were striving in the most innovative and creative ways to catch attention — like naming candy bars after lewd dances and strippers. Just like today, sex sells.”

But it wasn’t all strippers and jazz hounds. Candy advertising has always played on the double gamut of human desire: Marketers have sold candy as a sinful indulgence while simultaneously touting it as a bona fide food, a healthy snack and even a diet aid. Candy bars like the Chicken Dinner and the Denver Sandwich were the 1920s precursors to our modern “breakfast bars”: by evoking an association with food, advertisers grant us guiltless pleasures.

In World War II, American soldiers carried D ration, one of the few packaged snacks in history that tasted vile by design not accident. Captain Paul Logan of the U.S. Quartermaster’s office explained his requirements to Hershey representatives: “a bar weighing about four ounces, able to withstand high temperatures, high in food energy value, and tasting just a little better than a boiled potato.” It sounds sadistic, but Logan had the G.I.’s survival in mind: He assumed that if the chocolate tasted too good, it wouldn’t still be around when the actual emergency hit.

Ad agencies were quick to capitalize on military-mandated candy rations. A 1941 advertisement for Dextrose corn syrup claims: “Today people realize that candy is more than a confection. It is a veritable bulwark against between-meal fatigue. Even doctors consider candy a desirable requirement of the daily diet. It is a specified item of military rations.”

Although the Draper-esque characters who penned these ads may have been stretching the American imagination, human evolution was working in their favor. As evolutionary biologist Jason Cryan points out, “The evolutionary explanation for the sweet tooth revolved around that idea that we have physiologically associated a sweet taste with high-energy foods which would have helped our earliest ancestors survive better in their environment … if an individual has to spend time and effort foraging for food, it’s better to obtain energy-dense food items than energy-poor food items.”

And by 1941, candy had been selling as medicine and dietary supplement for over a thousand years. Ancient Indians developed special confections to feed to new mothers and invalids. In the seventh century, Persian monks learned to refine raw sugar by boiling it with lime water and bullock’s blood; they used the resulting sugar loaves as a base for developing new medicines. When the Arabs invaded Persia, they developed a taste for candy and sweet Persian remedies; to that end, they turned Sicily and Spain into sugar production centers. Enthusiasm for candy-based medicine spread across the continent — in the Middle Ages, wealthy Europeans ate confections of spices and sugar to aid digestion. In Britain, candy was touted as a cure for the common cold: Sugar was sold in twisted sticks, flavored with oil of wintergreen.

Then, as now, the sales pitch went both ways: Candy was hawked as either a health supplement or an indulgence. But whether lozenge or lollipop, up until the 19th century candy conveyed status: Sugar was expensive. Arab texts from the 13th and 14th centuries describe sugary treats as a focal point at the most elegant banquets. European kings and queens employed court confectioners to spin fantastic sugar sculptures.

Queen Isabella of Castile, as it happens, was particularly fond of sweets. The queen’s apothecary mixed her sweet cordials and kept her tables stocked with sweetmeats. When Isabella sought the perfect Christmas present for her daughters, she settled on a truly sumptuous item: a little box brimming with sugar. Perhaps it’s fitting that Isabella’s minion Christopher Columbus would lay the groundwork for the American sugar dynasties: On his second voyage of discovery, Columbus transported sugarcane cuttings from the Canary Islands to the Caribbean Island of Hispaniola. And so began one of the darkest chapters of our history.

In “Rum: A Social and Sociable History,” Ian Williams notes that sugarcane needs plenty of sunshine and water to grow. He adds that “the intensive labor needed to cut, cart, and process the cane under a broiling tropical sun has never appealed to people with other career options.” African slavery was a direct result of the world’s lust for sweets and rum. This desire created brutal places, redolent with burning sugar and blood. These small plantation fiefdoms were isolated, and enslaved Africans dramatically outnumbered planters, who relied heavily on fear as a method of control. The typical workday stretched from sweltering dawn till sweaty dusk; the typical workplace was a scorching sugar mill or a snake-infested cane field. After surviving the deadly voyage to a Caribbean sugar kingdom, an enslaved African could expect to live about seven years.

Abolitionists began calling for a sugar boycott. In 1788, the British abolitionist William Cowper condemned the sugar trade in his poem, “The Negro’s Complaint”:

Why did all-creating Nature
Make the plant for which we toil?
Sighs must fan it, Tears must water,
Sweat of ours must dress the soil.
Think ye Masters, iron-hearted,
Lolling at your jovial Boards,
Think how many Backs have smarted
For the Sweets your Cane affords!

Fifty years later, such doggerel would help spark the American Civil War, which, ironically, led to a decrease in sugar prices and a subsequent increase in candy consumption. The demand for candy triggered an explosion of new varieties: Hershey’s kisses, Goo Goo Clusters, Mary Janes, King Tut, Subway Sadie, Snow Cup, the Snirkle, the Squirrel Nut Zipper, and the unfortunately named Daddy Sucker (later changed to the Sugar Daddy). According to the late candy historian Ray Broekel, around 30,000 varieties of candy bar were introduced to American in the first three decades of the 20th century.

Although it’s difficult to imagine a workplace more terrifying than the sugar plantations of the slave era, early American candy factories were no cakewalk. The candy giants (Nestle, Lindt and Hershey) pioneered innovations in candy processing that spawned an industry characterized by low wages and questionable sanitation.

In the first decades of industrial production, candy workers were generally young women, immigrants or the children of immigrants. In 1913, a teenage candy worker confided to a Chicago journalist: “Do you know … I laugh whenever I see a sign in a street car telling a man to show his girl how much he loves her by buying a box of somebody’s candy. It is like killing beautiful birds so women can wear aigrettes in their hats. If they only knew about candy making in factories, they would make their own candy at home or do without it.”

Even candy manufacturers conceded that the industry had its unsavory side. “The less the public knows about candy making, the better,” the manager of a large candy factory told a representative of the Consumers’ League of New York. The results of the league’s 1928 survey of candy factories backed this assertion: Temperature in factories hovered around 45 degrees, and 14-hour days were common. The investigator was appalled by the sanitary conditions in some factories: “Floors and stairs were coated with sugar and fallen candy; machinery and worktables were apparently never scrubbed; the odor of rancid chocolate permeated the atmosphere.” Of the industries that employed women, candy offered the lowest wages. And things were going downhill for the worker: Even in 1928, larger corporations were squeezing or buying out smaller competitors. The report concluded: “Working conditions have deteriorated with corporation control and quantity production. In one factory, a decrease in the beginning wage, from $14 to $12 (a week) took place.”

When we asked Steve Almond, author of the excellent “Candy-freak: A Journey through the Chocolate Underbelly of America,” about conditions today, he put it this way: “In the popular imagination, it’s all Willy Wonka, pure imagination and childish enchantment. But up close, it’s pure Darwinian capitalism.” That said, “Candy-freak” emphasizes both the dark and the light side of candy: a product that spawns both tooth decay and pure delight, an industry ruled by corporate behemoths, yet home to the rare small factory that offers workers a sense of pride and family. During his research, Almond toured the few old school American candy factories that haven’t been swallowed by the big three (Hershey, Mars and Nestle). He describes Russ Sifers of Valomilk and Dave Wagers of Idaho Candy Company (makers of the Idaho Spud as regional producers who struggle valiantly to keep afloat in a world where supermarket chains demand $25,000 slotting fees to even stock a product. These last scions of the old school are notable for their dedication to original recipes and packaging, for their genuine love of candy, and for their sense of responsibility to the nostalgic candy-freaks of the world. As Sifers himself notes: “We make Valomilks, not money.” Which reminds us: despite sugar’s sordid history, there’s a certain beauty to candy for candy’s sake alone.

Felisa Rogers studied history and nonfiction writing at the Evergreen State College and went on to teach writing to kids for five years. She lives in Oregon’s coast range, where she works as a freelance writer and editor.

St Lucia pioneers WIRSPA De Luxe range

St Lucia Rum Receives Top Honour
Tuesday, 14 June 2011 21:28
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Chairmans Reserve RumsSt. Lucia Distillers Ltd has become the first company to be certified to use the highest tier of the Authentic Caribbean Rum Marque which is administered by the West Indies Rum & Spirits Producers Association Inc. (WIRSPA).

A new brand, 1931 – A Celebration of 80 years of St. Lucian Rum Making – was accredited to bear the ‘Deluxe’ level emblem of the Authentic Caribbean Rum Marque at a recent meeting of WIRSPA. This follows previous accreditation for Admiral Rodney, Chairman’s Reserve and TØZ at the standard tier.

The WIRSPA Deluxe rum marque is given to rums that have been 100% matured for a minimum of 5 years. Products in this category reflect the true artistry of the master blender. Products are likely to be blended from a wide palette of aged rums in differing styles. Many will be older but all will be aged for a minimum of 5 years. This classification bears the word ‘Deluxe’ and displays five barrels.

Dr. Frank Ward, Chairman of WIRSPA, said “I am delighted that this certification has been granted to St. Lucia Distillers Ltd. In creating the first brand of rum to be accredited at this top level a small but extremely vibrant rum company based in the OECS has shown to the whole of the Caribbean that vision and innovation are key attributes to success and size is not all. I hope others will soon follow this example.”

Mr. Laurie Barnard, Managing Director of St. Lucia Distillers Ltd who accepted the award from Mr. Paul Brummel, British High Commissioner said “It is a great achievement for us to become the first company to be accredited in this way and is testament to the energy and commitment of the whole team to produce rums of excellence that can lead the way in world markets”.

The brand, which is to be officially launched in July at the Imbibe Bar Show in London is blended from a selection of the finest rums laid down at the distillery between 1999 and 2004. Every bottle will be numbered and the first run will comprise 6,000 bottles. Every year will see a change in the colour of the label and presentation box as well as the rums comprising the blend.

1931 – A Celebration of 80 years of St. Lucian Rum Making will therefore become a collectors piece for true connoisseurs of great rum. Demand for this new super premium rum from European and American markets has been high, but St. Lucia Distillers has set aside 500 bottles for St. Lucian consumers who will be able to pre-order from the distillery prior to the international launch in July.

The First edition of 1931 will be released at the Bar Show in London in July 2011 and thereafter at Rum Fest in London in October each year.

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