On social media or in the shops, it’s not uncommon to read or hear someone bemoaning the fact a new Rum has a Pirate related image on it. (Pirate Flags, Crossbones, etc.) So how did we get here to this Love-Hate Relationship with Pirates and Rum?
Well, me buccos (that’s “buccaneers” to you land-lubbers), grab a mug of Grog or whatever you fancy and read this brief Rum-soaked tale.
Pirates and Rum in 18th centuryBack during a glaringly brief spot of history there was a time known as the Golden Age of Piracy (1650 to 1720) and in 1724 a book called “A General History of Pyrates” by Captain Charles Johnson (long suspected to be an alias of author Daniel Dafoe) was released and became a best seller.
This book of tall tales, along with pamphlets of Pirate’s deeds, trials, confessions, and executions captured popular culture’s imaginations.
Writers continued to write about them, often as villains in some high seas romantic story, but the game changer that locked Pirates into Popular Culture was a children’s book called “Treasure Island” published in 1883 by Robert Louis Stevenson.
Originally a serial for a children’s magazine, the book full of Pirates, Parrots, Treasure maps, and - oh yeah - Rum, generated much of the pop culture imagery and iconography we see today. The influence of “Treasure Island” on modern times should not be underestimated as it has inspired all sorts of media from theatre, TV, movies to even video games.
Enter the Bloody MarketersPirates lived and died by their reputations. From the flags they flew, the clothes they wore, to the weapons and ships they used, the object was to influence their prey to surrender without a shot being fired to maximize their profit.
Marketers embraced some of the same sensibilities; only instead of threatening violence, they captured the imagination of the consumers with images of colorful freebooters toasting their health or serving up Rum Punch with the goal of relieving them of their hard earned cash via legal means.
Check out an example of a vintage ad to get an idea of what they were doing.
Why is the Rum Gone? Trust me it isn’t…Modern day Pop Culture has taken the relationship between piracy and Rum to new levels with the help of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” series of movies; we are currently up to over 50 Treasure Island related movies and TV series including most recently the Starzs show “Black Sails”.
Diageo-owned Captain Morgan Rum line distilled in St. Croix, then blended and bottled in the States is perhaps one of the greatest Rum brand success stories of marketing, piracy, and Rum. The Spiced Rum is blended to 70 proof and is a favored entry level product, easy to mix with cola, and approachable with decades of marketing campaigns imbedded in our collective subconscious.
Perhaps there lies part of the problem as some enthusiasts associate piracy and Rum as an indication that Rum is an entry level product and should not be taken seriously.
At the time I am writing this, they are easily 20 brands in the United States and Caribbean that have a pirate name or use piracy related iconography. To automatically dismiss the product related to the imagery is a failure of imagination and doing your palate a disservice.
With that in mind, here are a few brands you should think about exploring:
1. Thomas Tew RumThis Rum from Rhode Island is named for Newport based Pirate/Privateer Thomas Tew who sailed the waters between the northern colonies and Bermuda in the 17th century.
The Newport Distilling company uses fermented molasses and pot still to make their Thomas Tew Rum. How they make it is they age it in oak barrels for two years before blending to 42% ABV.
2. R.L. Seale Old Brigand RumAnyone who has visited the island of Barbados is familiar with Old Brigand Rum as it is one of the top selling Rums on the island. The brand was acquired by the Seale family in 1993 and is produced at Foursquare Rum distillery using fermented molasses and aged for five years in use Bourbon Barrels.
This blend of Rums is 43% ABV and is favored both for sipping neat and in cocktails. I recently saw the Black Barrel version of this product on the shelves in the U.S. so you need not wait for a trip to Barbados to explore it.
3. Blackbeard Spiced RumProduced by Destilería Serrallés, the makers of Don Q Rum on the island of Puerto Rico, this molasses based, column still Rum swings in at 43% ABV. This gives it a robust flavor profile that stands out in comparison with other spiced Rums on the shelves. One of few spiced Rums that holds up neat as well as in cocktails.
4. Bones Virgin Island RumThe Rum is sourced from the U.S. Virgin Islands most likely the island of St. Croix (only U.S.V.I. with Rum distilleries). Aged for four years in a combination of French Oak and used American White Oak Bourbon barrels, the Rum is blended and bottled to 40% ABV on the island of St. Thomas.
The Rum performs well in most cocktail recipes that call for a gold Rum.
Like the phrase “Never judge a book by its cover” be careful to not rush to judgment on what is on a Rum label. Yes, some of the Rums will not meet expectations, but wonderful surprises wait for those willing to do their homework and explore.
Read reviews, listen to bartenders, and likeminded Rum enthusiasts and make your purchasing decision on reliable information and not marketing. You never know when the treasure map with an X on the bottle really is showing you where the treasure is hidden.