We mostly think of using rums for desserts (think rum balls and rum cake) and mixed drinks (think punches, and rum and coke), but in the Caribbean, it is often used in savoury dishes.
Most rum is made from either molasses or sugar-cane juice.
Dominican rum is considered superior to Jamaican rum. Nowadays, though, rum is even made in Nepal. If a rum is marked “rhum agricole“, it is from the French-speaking Caribbean (e.g. Haiti, Martinique) and will be made from fresh sugar cane juice, rather than molasses.
See also: Rum Day
Light Rum (Silver Rum, White Rum)
Light rums, also called silver or white rums, are distilled from sugarcane syrup instead of molasses and are not aged in oak casks.
Golden rums are light rums that have been aged in oak barrels for six months to two years. The barrels used are those that previously held whiskey or brandy. This gives them their colour and taste.
Dark Rum (Black Rum)
Dark rums, also called “black” rums, are usually distilled from molasses (though some may be coloured) and cask-aged for 2 to 4 years (some are aged up to 8 years.) These rums are treated like fine brandies, and considered worthy of being drunk on their own, rather than being used in a mixed drink.
Sugar processing left behind molasses. Eventually, people noticed that molasses fermented when left in the sun, and someone of course, tried it, and decided it had potential. By the mid 1600s, mixtures of water, cane juice and molasses were deliberately being brewed and fermented.
In the mid-1700s, no fashionable London party was complete without a rum punch bowl.
In 1896, the Daiquiri was reputedly invented in Cuba — a mix of Rum and lime juice — and named after the town of the same name there.
Barbados was possibly the first centre of large production. By 1687, the Royal Navy was issuing rum rations to its sailors. By 1740, it was decided that the twice daily half-pints of rum were too much for the sailors, so they were mixed with water: 1 pint of Rum to 1 quart of water, twice daily. This was called grog. The Admiral who introduced this, Admiral Vernon, was known as “old grog” because he always wore a cloak made out grogram, a rough taffeta. The Royal Navy’s rum ration remained in effect until 1969.
The Bacardi rum business was started by a man named Don Facundo Bacardi Masso, who immigrated to Cuba from Spain in 1829. In the Caribbean, he found the existing rums too dark and rich for his more refined European tastes, and set himself the task of creating a lighter rum. By 1862, having devised a filtering process to make Rum that would be lighter both in colour and taste, he bought a building to make into a distillery. The building, incidentally, had fruit bats living in the roof when he bought it: bats, which are considered good luck in Cuba, became part of the Bacardi logo still seen on the bottles today. By 1944, Bacardi had set up an office in New York City to position itself for moving strongly into the post-war American market. In 1966, Bacardi partnered with Coca-Cola on advertising that popularized rum and Coke as a drink.
Bacardi rum is a light rum (see above.)
Literature & Lore
“Fifteen men on the dead man’s chest—
Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!
Drink and the devil had done for the rest—
Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!”
— Robert Louis Stevenson (1850 – 1894. Treasure Island, Chapter 1. 1883.)
Rum is most probably a short form of an old English slang word from Devonshire, “Rumbullion”, meaning an uproar or a great tumult.
An unknown visitor to the Barbados in the 1650s wrote:
“The chiefe fudling they make in the Island is Rumbullion, alias Kill-Devil, and this is made of sugar cane distilled, a hott, hellish and terrible liquor.”
By the 1670s, the English were calling it “rum” and the French were calling it “rhum”.