It was Rum, not tea, fool!
In the States, the beverage of choice among swashbucklers, Rum-runners, and colonial boozers has come a long way since its ingredients were shipped from the Tropics at great risk to sea captains and their ships.
Rum’s route to prominence on the mainland began in the West Indies, where traders with ships ran sugar across the Caribbean, and up the coast to the bustling young centers of commerce in New England where it was distilled.
The liquor quenched the thirst of the colonists who, without a trustworthy source for potable water, had developed a penchant for it, consuming an impressive 3 imperial gallons annually for every man, woman, and child.
By the mid-1700s, the spirit had become the largest and most prosperous industry in the colonies, and a point in a lucrative trade triangle: Slaves were shipped from Africa to the Caribbean. There they farmed sugar plantations. Molasses, the byproduct, was shipped to northeastern distilleries.
So the Sugar Act of 1764 was a big buzz kill. It cut taxes in half but tightened laws banning Rum-running. The subsequent stamp and tea taxes pushed the Colonists over the bow and then it was time for a Revolution.
Two and a half centuries later, these patriots are distilling the finest the U.S. of A.—and its slushy pal Jamaica—have to offer:
Freshwater Rum from New Holland, inspired by the Great Lakes, made from molasses and cane sugar that are fermented on-site, pot-distilled twice, then aged for 6 months in wine, Whiskey, and fresh barrels. It's on the young side, but that barrel variety brings plenty of complexity and richness to the table.
Albany Distilling Co. is gathering some cred. Tucked beside the distillery is a Bar & Bottle Shop where fans gather for neat shots and fancy cocktails—and stoke their enthusiasm for products like the amber Quackenbush (washed, fermented, distilled).
Stolen Overproof Rum. When a Rum-maker slaps “overproof” on the label you know you’re in trouble. We plucked this one from our friends in Jamaica where a 250-year-old distillery gets jiggy with its heavy pot-still method, boasting mountain rain water, proprietary yeast strands, and cedar.
So get up, stand up, stand up for your right (to Rum).
1) A bit for the historian in you: The earliest indicators of Rum’s existence—or rudimentary versions of it—are centred in China and India. Take that, rice wine!
2) What president demanded a case of Rum for his inauguration in 1789? Answer: The stoic founding father Georgie W. Historians wonder if this enabled him to get the head count right.
3) Rum nabs third place in sales volume in the good old U.S.A., just behind Vodka and Whisky. This means more than 24 million nine-liter cases are knocked back at restaurants and cocktail parties annually. Lushes!
4) As with Whisky, the amount of alcohol that evaporates from casks while the beverage is maturing is called angel’s share. In the case of Rum, which is produced largely in hotter climates, this evaporation is accelerated. The angels in the Tropics are greedier it seems!
5) Those wily Barbadians get the credit for being the first to distill the product for drinking purposes. They did so in the early 17th century. Jamaica soon left them in the dust.
6) What’s with Johnny Depp? The actor has starred in at least two flicks that have brought the beverage into the spotlight? “Pirates of the Caribbean,” featuring his sultry charcoal eyes and ragged bandana, and “The Rum Diary” in which he plays an author drowning his failures in a bottle, or many.
7) Rum-running is the illegal transport of Rum over a body of water, borne of the frugality of flappers and their gangster lovers who winced at the thought of an excise tax during Prohibition.
8) Name five cocktails made with Rum: The Cuba Libre, Planter’s Punch, Hot Buttered Rum, the Mojito, and the ominous-sounding Dark & Stormy, best drunk on the beach as a hurricane threatens.
9) You know you’re a poser: Make like an etymologist and expound on the origins of the word Rum. Is it from the Romani word meaning potent, from “Rumbullion,” meaning an uproar, from the Dutch “Rummer,” meaning a drinking glass, or from “Saccharum,” the Latin word for sugar? We’re going with Rumbullion because that’s how we roll!
10) Rum is like a rainbow. It’s available in many colors, including color-less, like Bacardi’s mainstay, and then gold or amber, depending on your taste for the exotic, spiced, anejo, and age-dated. And who knows? The molasses hounds among us could be cooking up a new category.
11) Overproof: A Rum that consists of a dizzying 57.5% percent alcohol. The “151” that often dons the label would be the proof of this fact. Get it?