Latest on the rum trail for the season
For centuries, rum has been a warming folk remedy for colds, flu—and indeed cold itself. As the winter solstice approaches in its various festival forms, one worldwide constant is the need for rum to bring a little tropical warmth into the winter. In places like the Caribbean, India, and Australia a solid rum-drinking tradition ensures that the amber nectar is savored year-around, but in colder climes, rum in eggnogs, Christmas cakes and puddings, mince pies and of course just rum in tots, are traditional accoutrements for the holiday season.
Rum is the world's biggest selling spirit—and both the European Union and the United States define it as any drink distilled from sugar cane products, so Brazilian cachaca is rum whether the Brazilians like it or not. (And they do tend to like it, whatever it's called.) While a certain formerly Cuban transnational corporation is, despite its bland tastelessness, the biggest brand,
Not So Useless Byproduct
Most rums are made from the molasses left over when the white sugar is crystallized out, and one of its original attractions was that it used an otherwise useless byproduct instead of competing for scarce food grains—as whiskey did for example. The American colonies banned whiskey distillation because it drove up the price of grain and hence bread. And when that happened, old Anglo Saxon tradition was that you rioted and knocked the Town Hall down until the authorities did something about it.
On current evidence,
The Portuguese in
Hot Hellish Liquor
People knew that the molasses left behind by sugar refining fermented easily, but only the bold risked drinking it. It continues fermenting in the stomach, according to some who've tried. However, put it through a still and you had a potent and palatable drink. They called it Kill-Devil, or rumbullion, “a hot, hellish liquor,”—and they loved it.
Rum was born.
Soon, they discovered that storing it in oak barrels did wonders for the palatability. Killdevil became rum or “Barbadoes Water” and was in demand across the Atlantic World, until in
It soon spread. New Englanders made rum from contraband molasses that they smuggled from the French colonies, where
They did so initially under the protection of the British Royal Navy, which won its wars with the French through the period not least because the British national debt was underwritten with the profits of the
Revolution Over Taxation
After defeating the French, the Royal Navy turned to defeating American smugglers who had been busily trading with the enemy, and the American Revolution began. The British felt that the American colonists should make a financial contribution to the biggest national debt hitherto that they had run up clearing the French threat from
Throughout the 18th century, the Caribbean was the equivalent of the modern
Not that it did him much good, but Napoleon devalued
Within a few decades, beet sugar and the anti-slavery movement had converted the Caribbean from being the engine of
Bacardi and Revolutionaries
The English-speaking islands had lost American markets to the new whiskey distilleries that Western grain made possible, and the French and Spanish colonies were finally allowed to make rum themselves. Even so,
Bacardi won prizes from the
Even as it saved the royal life, the family supported the Cuban revolutionaries against
Bacardi boss Juan Pépin Bosch brought a touch of the old connection between buccaneering and rum back to life in 1961 by buying a surplus U.S. Air Force B-26 Marauder medium bomber, to bomb a Cuban oil refinery. Later he was the money behind a plot to assassinate Castro.
In fact, the Castro takeover had not fatally wounded the company, which had already become one of the first trans-nationals. From 1955, Bacardi was headquartered in the
Bacardi has been the evil empire to the other smaller
But tourism and rum could go together. The region's Rum producers should be selling more than a drink—they should be selling a concept, a life style. As Johnny Depp exulted, staggering round his desert island in the film Pirates of the Caribbean, “Rum, sand, and sun! It's the
And almost every shot you down will help development. Sugar cane only grows in the tropical zone, which as it happens, is mostly underdeveloped in the modern world. Selling high value-added branded spirits on the world market makes much more sense than trying to compete with cane sugar in a market where the EU protects sugar beet farmers and the
These pathetic substitutes need high tariff protection and subsidies because there is nothing as efficient as cane for producing sugar and energy—and hence rum. As a result, as Fidel Castro discovered, mass marketing high-value added Havana Club rum across the world produces far more revenue than bags of sugar in the supermarkets.
Somehow, the Caricom island rum producers have to overcome their insularity. Just as the island governments have been selling the Caribbean as a concept, they should be boosting
Caribbean Rum distillers have millions of potential customers coming into their territories who can take their acquired tastes back with them to the bars of
However, it takes more than variations on “Old” and “Aged,” on the bottles to build a brand. Discerning and affluent consumers want to see precise ages and they want a back-story for their bottle. And what a back-story rum has. It can beat any other drink with four centuries of
Every rum bottle on every cold northern bar shelf should be a spirited ambassador for