Rum. Just the word conjures so many images. From swashbuckling pirates to daiquiris at the elbow of Hemingway, rum is a pillar of our history. Here are a few rum facts to enjoy as you celebrate World Rum Day this year.
Isn’t it amazing to think that rum started out as a byproduct of the sugar industry? The thick black molasses left over from extracting sugar from cane was once simply thrown away or worse, used to feed the poor slaves who farmed the crops.
It wasn’t until the 1620s in the Caribbean that the spirit we’d recognise as rum today was produced. And due to the poor quality and dangerously high ABV of the spirit, it was all but affectionately known as ‘kill devil’.
Over about 150 years, with the help of the navy, low sugar prices and up-skilling of distilleries, the quality of rum improved until it became the drink of choice across most of the known world.
However, after the 1770s, rum went out of favour when sugar prices escalated, quality deteriorated and grain-based spirits like whisky gained more traction.
Rum became known as the ‘poor man’s drink’ and fell from grace.
Nowadays, with incredible skill and care, craft distilleries are bringing back rum’s deserved reputation as a premium spirit with amazing nuances in flavour, aroma and texture.
World Rum Day - the second Saturday of July every year - sees a global celebration of this much misunderstood spirit.
10 fun rum facts
1. Rum - aka ‘Nelson’s Blood’
When Lord Nelson was killed at the Battle of Trafalgar, his body was submerged in a barrel of rum to preserve it. But thirsty sailors still tapped the barrel for a grizzly sip.
2. Rum is revolting
Rum - or more accurately how authorities have treated it - has been the touchpoint of many riots and revolutions. In particular the Australian Rum Rebellion of 1808, where colonists fought to depose William Bligh as Governor of NSW. Just a few years before, Bligh famously lost his ship The Bounty to mutiny in part because of his negative attitude to rum.
3. Rum has heritage
Sugar cane molasses was first fermented around 350 BCE and there have been many other alcoholic drinks made from sugar cane over the centuries. But proper rum had to wait until the 1600s.
Rum was the most popular drink in 18th Century England. At its height - in 1771 - over 2 million gallons (7.6 million litres) of rum were consumed a year.
5. Rum moves house
By 1788 rum’s popularity was in decline. Only the poor and the navy still drank it en mass. Luckily for rum, both these demographics were to be the new population of modern Australia, and boy did they take their thirst with them.
The new colony of NSW was addicted to rum to the point where crime, insanity and even suicide occurred when colonists couldn’t get their hands on a drop.
7. Rum instead of water
Famous for being the ration of choice in the British Navy, rum was divvied out to sailors from as early as 1655, when Vice Admiral Penn had to replace water and beer rations when sailing the West Indies. And the navy never looked back.
8. Rum rations
Naval rum rations in 1700 were a quarter of litre of rum per sailor per day. And considering this was when rum was strong enough to ignite, the ration was the same as around 16 standard drinks a day by our standards.
9. Rum lights up
Sailors were always worried their rum was watered down, so the purser would show ‘proof’ by mixing in some gunpowder and focusing a magnifying glass on it. If the powder burned, the rum was untouched. This stopped in 1816 with the invention of the hydrometer, but we still refer to rum over 54.5% ABV as ‘navy strength’.
10. Rum’s dark side
Although Australia has had an affection for rum since the age of Cook, our country’s first black spiced rum came in 2015, but it was worth the wait. Dead Man’s Drop from Stone Pine Distillery is perhaps one of the most delicious spirits you’ll taste.
For the most fascinating and funny read on rum and its Aussie connections, check out Rum - a distilled history of colonial Australia by Matt Murphy.
And in the meantime, here’s to World Rum Day and the movement towards rum’s return to the throne.