Long before tiki glasses or cocktails topped with bright paper umbrellas hit the scene, rum was a cultural power player, massive.com reports.
The quintessential New World spirit, rum has colonial origins that well predate other liquors of the Americas, such as bourbon or American whiskeys.
In its 400-plus years of production, this spirit has been everything from currency to political trump card, and not only its history is complex. Today, rum may be best known as the single most-mixed liquor in the bartending world, but many distillers are returning to the libation’s rich history of refined production by creating aged, specialty, and hand-mixed rums that even the most sophisticated liquor connoisseur can enjoy.
A sweet history
When Christopher Columbus first brought sugarcane to the Caribbean, little did he know that he was also revolutionizing the drinking world. It didn’t take long for producers to realize that they could ferment the molasses that was a by-product of sugar production then distill it into a high-proof flavored spirit called “rum” — most likely a contraction of the word “rumbullion,” meaning strong liquor.
So popular was this new drink that it became the basis for a wide variety of beverages, including punches; the demand for it skyrocketed. The British Royal Navy even issued a private rum to all its sailors. This daily ration of Pusser’s British Navy Rum, called “grog,” was comprised of agricole rums (made by fermenting free-run sugarcane juice) from several locales including Trinidad, Guyana, and the British Virgin Islands.
It remained a tradition for three centuries, until 1970, and is available on the general market today.
The demand for rum was so great that at one point the British had to enact laws to ensure that cane was not entirely consumed to make rum but also used to make sugar, for which it was the primary source.
In those early days, a good portion of rum production occurred outside the West Indies. Distillers in Britain and the colonies in New England purchased molasses and made rum on-site. The rum served a twofold purpose: a medium both for trade with Native Americans and for export to Europe, which in turn bartered it for human cargo.
Seeking cheaper sources for their molasses, the Americans began to buy a treaclelike by-product from the French and Portuguese colonies, thereby undercutting their motherland counterparts. To limit these activities, the Crown placed heavy taxes on molasses imports in a series of acts that were the actual basis for the movement toward independence.
Post-Revolution free access to West Indian molasses was short-lived. British naval blockades during the War of 1812 heralded the death of the American rum industry. The majority of rum production reverted to the American South, while Australia, Hawaii, and Tahiti produced rums of their own.
More than a Mai Tai
In its earliest days, rum was most often used in mixed beverages and punch for a reason: It was simply too rough on the palate to sip enjoyably. As production, aging, and flavoring processes improved, a more sophisticated variety of rums came to the fore.
By the early 19th century, a continuous-distillation process was perfected in England, replacing the old method of pot-still aging.
The result was a nearly tasteless but uniform product that could be enhanced by flavoring and coloring methods as well as oak-cask aging for at least one year.
Some decades later, in Cuba during the 1860s, Don Facundo Bacardi founded what was to one day become a rum empire. Perfecting white rum for mixing, as well as aged, sipping rums, the Bacardi firm eventually moved to Puerto Rico and continues to make the majority of rum consumed in the United States and elsewhere.
Among the types of mass-produced rums are light rums, also called white or silver, which are like vodka — clear, odorless, and nearly flavorless.
Distillers sometimes filter light rums or age them in stainless-steel tanks to achieve purity. Gold or amber rums are aged in oak and sometimes spiced by infusing the rum with a variety of ingredients, including cinnamon and nutmeg. Caramel or other food coloring can be added to achieve the right hue. Dark or black rum is aged in charred barrels and features a molasses or burnt-sugar overtone. It is the type of rum most often used in culinary preparations.
“Over-proof” or “puncheon” rums, typically unavailable in the United States, have alcohol content of greater than 75 percent and are often the basis for strong rum punches. CachaÃ§a, Brazilian rum made from free-run cane juice, is aged lightly in fruitwood casks.
Yet, even as mechanization created more consistent products, premium or aÃ±ejo (aged) rums maintained a certain niche. Made in limited quantities, each is often a hand-drawn product of several rums that is carefully mixed and then aged in oak. Aged rums have corks rather than screw caps. Pot-still fermentation, which creates richer flavor, fuller body, and darker tone, is also a characteristic of premium rums.
A new mix
A relatively untouched industry since its inception, rum has in recent years (like vodka) gone through new incarnations, including versions flavored with coconut, pineapple, citrus, and apple. These head primarily into mixed drinks. Companies such as Angostura Limited of Trinidad, makers of the world-famous bitters, are now bottling rum punch in a variety of flavors for commercial sale, as well as specialty products like Rum Cream, made from rum, spices, and heavy cream.
Just as premium tequila now enjoys a following among gourmands, boutique brands of premium rums are rapidly gaining a place in the market among connoisseurs. Jamaica’s Appleton Estate 21-year-aged and V/X rums fall into this category. So do Anguilla Pyrat Cask 23, blended from fine rums aged up to 40 years, Haiti’s Rhum Barbancourt, released in limited quantity, and Trinidad’s Angostura 1824, a dark rum aged 12 years.
Whatever your preference — rums for mixing or sipping — take the time to taste the rum as you would wine, exploring its many complexities of flavor, aroma, and color.
For the original report go tohttp://www.masslive.com/drinks/2013/12/the_history_of_rum.html