|ENTERTAINMENTCaribbean Heritage – A Renaissance of Rum
If you’re from the Caribbean hemisphere, chances are you got your first taste of rum before you could toddle upright without help… most Caribbean nationals get a hint of the elixir when Christmas comes around as the scents of cured fruits permeate the air in the Black cakes or Rum cakes being baked in preparation for the festive season.
In celebrating the first Caribbean Heritage Month here in the U.S., the Brooklyn Historical Society hosted a most intoxicating forum on the potent drink which featured Rum expert Ian Williams. Born in Liverpool Ian Williams has had a variety of career experiences, he’s worked on buses and railways; was a speech writer for a UK Labor party leader and participated in a drinking competition with Chinese Premier Chou En Lai and argued about English Literature with Chiang Ching, aka Mme Mao.
Consuls-General (l-r) Odle, Robertson and Evans showcase the rums of Barbados, Trinidad and Guyana, respectively
The Brooklyn Historical Society was founded in 1863 as the Long Island Historical Society. At that time, the city of Brooklyn was the commercial and cultural center of Long Island. Headed by Deborah Schwartz the venue was most appropriate to host a discussion on an aged topic which had great impact on the structure of Caribbean nations and governments, as well as to the economies of today’s western super powers. One learned about the spirit of Brooklyn’s history and rum in vintage style.
Presented by the Office of the District Attorney and sponsored by Cockspur, the premium rum of Barbados established in 1884, that nations’ Consul-General Jessica Odle proudly welcomed guests and promised an enjoyable event as biting and multi-layered as it’s described in the lecturer’s book entitled what else… RUM: A Social and Sociable History of the Real Spirit of 1776. A quick and lively read, the author give us an in depth look at the evolution of rum and the renaissance it’s enjoying today as pointed out by Dr. Harold Robertson.
Ian Williams having a taste
Rum is “the global spirit with its warm beating heart in the Caribbean, the one factor that is shared by all the cultures of the region, and enthusiastically drunk by the descendants of those who were enslaved to produce it;” says Williams. He began drinking rum at an extremely early age and had he been in New York he’s sure children services would have taken him under their care. He began researching the subject seriously many years later while working in the Caribbean.
It was in Barbados in the first half of the seventeenth century that the British colonists realized that the by-product of sugar refining, molasses was more than just an inferior sweetener. In the tropics it fermented quickly, and although the immediate product was an intestinal challenge of a high order to any drinker, when distilled, a gallon of molasses produced a gallon of high-octane spirit.
Known as Kill-devil, Barbados Water, or rumbullion, before rum became the common term, it was a desirable commodity that quickly enhanced the profits of the sugar trade, while making more bearable the endless toil in the tropical heat necessary to grow and refine it. Rum quickly became the means of pay for soldiers and sailors who helped build the western empires, like the British. Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were avid rum collectors and drinkers. For the first of its two centuries Barbados was the positioned first port of call for ships to the other British colonies in the Western Hemisphere. Any “good” ideas that originated in the island, whether rum, sugar plantations, African slavery, or even the idea of calling the head of the local government the President, were sure to spread to all the British colonies, and in those early days, they were carried by the departing colonists, Williams is quoted as writing.
Joining the festivities with rum products representing their nations also, were the Consuls-General of Guyana; Brentnold Evans and Trinidad and Tobago Dr. Harold Robertson both proudly displayed aged rums from their countries. Also represented at the event were St. Lucia, Puerto Rico, and Haiti. The event would not have been complete without the quintessential crowning of the night; that meant of course that to close the lecture a live rendition of Drunk and Disorderly was performed by non other than the Mighty Sparrow himself. Photos by Mike Hadaway Sr.