And a bottle of rum
And a bottle of rum

Rum! Hardly any other word is so strongly associated with the image of pirates and filibusters.

I've been to countries where it's hot as boiling pitch

where people fell from the Yellow Jack, and earthquakes shook the land like a sea wave.

… And I lived only on rum, yes! Rum was for me meat, water, wife and friend.

And if I don't drink rum now, I'll be like a poor old ship, washed ashore by a storm.

R. L. Stevenson. Treasure Island Rum! Hardly any other word is so strongly associated with the image of pirates and filibusters of the West Indies. The most famous of them is Henry Morgan - being already on his deathbed demanded to serve him rum. The most famous pirate song "Fifteen Men for a Dead Man's Chest" also glorifies this drink of real sailors, and each pirate considered himself primarily a sailor. With such popularity today, rum was discovered relatively recently, in the 16th century, although sugar cane, which serves as a raw material for the production of rum, has been known to mankind since ancient times. Sugar extracted from sugar cane is familiar to the Sanskrit language: "sarkura", in Arabic it is called "sukhar", in Persian "schakar". Sugar is mentioned among the ancient Romans under the name "saccharum" in the writings of Pliny (although it is known to Europeans since the time of the campaigns Alexander the Great). At that time, sugar remains as a very rare and expensive substance used only for medicine. The Chinese knew how to refine sugar as early as the 8th century, and the Arab writers of the 9th century mention sugarcane as a plant cultivated along the Persian Gulf. In the 12th century, they brought him to Egypt, Sicily and Malta. In the middle of the 15th century, sugarcane appeared in Madeira and the Canary Islands.

At the turn of the 15th and 16th centuries, immediately after the discovery of America, sugarcane was transported to the Antilles. The sugarcane plantations on Saint-Domengue have been particularly successful. By this time, the demand for sugar in Europe was already significant, since it was the only sweetness (besides honey). Pretty soon, at the beginning of the 16th century, sugarcane appears in Brazil, in 1520 in Mexico, in 1600 - in Guiana, etc. It should be said that attempts to cultivate sugarcane in Europe were unsuccessful, the cost of its production here turned out to be higher than sugar imported from tropical countries.

Collecting sugar cane in Barbados
Collecting sugar cane in Barbados

Collecting sugar cane in Barbados.

The discoverer of the Roma is unknown, the first information about him is contained in the book of the missionary Tertra A General History of the French Antilles, which he wrote in 1657 after returning to France from a trip to the Caribbean. In the book, he was very surprised how local residents can constantly consume such a strong drink. Another missionary, Father Laba, wrote the following about rum: “The living water that is extracted from sugarcane is called guildiv; savages and negroes call her tafia; it is very strong and has an unpleasant odor."

Unlike the missionaries, the sailors liked rum: it not only amused and raised morale, but also warmed. Sailors and pirates said about rum that it "cannot ruin the liver, because it immediately blows the brains out." Rum was introduced into the daily diet of British sailors as a preventive measure against scurvy and other ailments, and this tradition continued in Her Majesty's Navy until 1970. Each crew member was entitled to half a pint of 80% rum (about 240 grams). Naturally, from habit or hunger from such an amount, one could quickly get drunk. There is a version that in order to avoid such undesirable incidents in 1740, the admiral Sir Edward Vernon issued a decree, according to which rum began to be diluted with hot water and lemon juice. At first, the sailors did not like this innovation, since the amount of the drink was left the same - half a pint - and the rum itself was already half as much. The drink began to be called "rum on three waters", or "grog" - by the nickname Old Grog, which was given to Vernon for his habit of walking on deck in bad weather in an old waterproof cape called a grogram. This name has survived to this day - grog is a warmed drink made from alcohol, water and some flavors (lemon juice, burnt sugar, etc.)

Bottle of rum
Bottle of rum

It is believed that the very name "rum" first appeared in the English colony on the island Barbados somewhere in the early 17th century. For some time rum was even called "Barbados water". By the way, the already mentioned father Laba, during the 10 years he spent in the West Indies, ordered distillation apparatus from Charente (France). Such distillation apparatus functioned until the invention of the continuous distillation column.

There are two versions of the etymology of the word "rum". According to the first of them, it is the end of the word "saccharum", which I already wrote about above. According to the second, it comes from the word "rumballion", which meant a fight, a brawl that often took place between those who drank this miraculous drink. Whatever it was, but the British were the first to use the name "rum", and the French supplemented it with one "h" - rhum. The raw material for rum is molasses - molasses made from cane juice. Molasses was a by-product of sugar production, which is why rum and sugar production facilities have always been built side by side. Until the 19th century, English distilleries on the islands of Jamaica and Barbados were considered the largest rum producers in the world, when the French improved the processing of rum, applying their experience in making cognac. The success of rum in France was so great that the French monarch was forced to introduce legislative measures to protect the producers of cognac and wines.

Today, the main rum-producing countries are the Greater Antilles (Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, Puerto Rico), the Lesser Antilles (Martinique, Guadeloupe, Trinidad, Barbados), the Dominican Republic, South America (Guiana, Brazil and Venezuela), as well as The USA, Mexico, the Philippines, Madagascar and Reunion, and the rums of the French overseas departments, such as Martinique, are considered the most exquisite.

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