A FORUM FOR PEOPLE WHO APPRECIATE FINE WINES AND SPIRITS

History of rum

This is a very early version of this section, it's still in it's fact finding stage so just consider it a collection of notes. I am curious about the pre 1600's. Someone somewhere must have distilled sugar cane before they started doing it in the Americas and I want more information about that.

Sugar has been produced in the Indian subcontinent since ancient times. It was not plentiful or cheap in early times and honey was more often used for sweetening in most parts of the world. Originally, people chewed raw sugarcane to extract its sweetness. Sugarcane was a native of tropical South Asia and Southeast Asia. Different species seem to have originated from different locations with Saccharum Barberi originating in India and Saccharum Edule and Saccharum Officinarum coming from New Guinea.

Sugar remained relatively unimportant until the Indians discovered methods of turning sugarcane juice into granulated crystals that were easier to store and to transport. Crystallized sugar was discovered by the time of the Imperial Guptas, around 5th century AD. Indian sailors, who carried clarified butter and sugar as supplies, introduced knowledge of sugar on the various trade routes they travelled. In South Asia, the Middle East and China, sugar became a staple of cooking and desserts.

The triumphant progress of Alexander the Great was halted on the banks of the Indus River by the refusal of his troops to go further east. They saw people in the Indian subcontinent growing sugarcane and making granulated, salt-like sweet powder, locally called Sharkara (Devanagari:शर्करा,Śarkarā), pronounced as saccharum (ζάκχαρι). On their return journey, the Macedonian soldiers carried the "honey bearing reeds" home with them. Sugarcane remained a little-known crop in Europe for over a millennium, sugar a rare commodity, and traders of sugar wealthy.

Crusaders brought sugar home with them to Europe after their campaigns in the Holy Land, where they encountered caravans carrying "sweet salt". Early in the 12th century, Venice acquired some villages near Tyre and set up estates to produce sugar for export to Europe, where it supplemented honey which had previously been the only available sweetener. In the 15th century, Venice was the chief sugar refining and distribution centre in Europe.

In August 1492, Christopher Columbus stopped at La Gomera in the Canary Islands, for wine and water, intending to stay only four days. He became romantically involved with the governor of the island, Beatriz de Bobadilla y Ossorio, and stayed a month. When he finally sailed, she gave him cuttings of sugarcane, which became the first to reach the New World.

The sugar cane plant was the main crop produced on the numerous plantations throughout the Caribbean through the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, as almost every island was covered with sugar plantations and mills for refining the cane for its sweet properties. The main source of labor until the abolition of slavery was African slaves. These plantations produced 80 to 90 percent of the sugar consumed in Western Europe. In the 19th century sugar dominated Martinique, Grenada, Saint Croix, Jamaica, Barbados, Leeward Islands, Saint Domingue, Cuba, Guyana and many other islands that were run by French or British owners. During the late 19th and 20th centuries the sugarcane industry came to dominate Puerto Rico's economy, both under the colonial rule of Spain and the United States of America.

Sugar was the most important crop throughout the Caribbean, although other crops such as coffee, indigo, and rice were also grown. The sugar was best grown on relatively flat land that was near the coast where the soil was naturally yellow and fertile, so mountainous parts of the islands were less likely to be used for sugar.

In the mid-17th century sugar cane was brought into the British West Indies by the Dutch from Brazil. Upon landing in Barbados and other islands, they quickly urged local farmers to change their main crops from cotton and tobacco to sugar cane. With depressed prices of cotton and tobacco due mainly to stiff competition from the North American colonies, the farmers switched, leading to a boom in the Caribbean economies. Sugar was quickly snapped up by the British who used the sugar for cakes, and sweetener in teas.

During the colonial period, the arrival of sugar culture deeply impacted society and economy in the Caribbean. It not only dramatically increased the ratio of slaves to free men, but also the average size of slave plantations. Early sugar plantations made extensive use of slaves because sugar was considered a cash crop that exhibited economies of scale in cultivation; it was most efficiently grown on large plantations with many workers. As a result, slaves were imported from Africa to work on the plantations. For example, before 1650 more than three-quarters of the island’s population was white. In 1680, the median size of a plantation in Barbados had increased to about 60 slaves. Over the decades, the sugar plantations became larger and larger. In 1832, the median plantation in Jamaica had about 150 slaves, and nearly one of every four bondsmen lived on units that had at least 250 slaves.

For about the next 100 years Barbados remained the richest of all the European colonies in the Caribbean region. The colony's prosperity remained regionally unmatched until sugar cane production grew in geographically larger countries such as Saint-Domingue, Jamaica and elsewhere. As part of the mass sugar production, the process gave rise to other related commodities such as rum, molasses, and Falernum.

In the 1740s, Jamaica and Saint-Domingue (Haiti) became the world’s main sugar producers. They increased the production by using an irrigation system that French engineers built. The engineers also built reservoirs, diversion dams, levees, aqueductsand canals. In addition, they improved their mills and used varieties of cane and grasses.

After the abolition of slavery in Saint Domingue as a result of the Haitian Revolution, Cuba became the most substantial sugar plantation colony in the Caribbean, outperforming the British islands.

After slavery, sugar plantations used a variety of forms of labour including workers imported from India under contracts of indenture. In the 20th century, large-scale sugar production using wage labour continued in many parts of the region.

By the early 21st century many Caribbean islands were no longer producing sugar. However, sugar is still grown in Jamaica and Cuba, among other countries.

Sugar was a luxury in Europe prior to the 18th century, when it became more widely available. In 1795 Etienne de Bore and two Cuban workmen produced the first granulated sugar in Louisiana (and North America). This made it more usable for export and sugar became a major commodity crop in the colony (soon to be part of the United States.) By later in the 19th century, sugar became considered a necessity.

This evolution of taste and demand for sugar as an essential food ingredient unleashed major economic and social changes. It drove, in part, colonization of tropical islands and nations where labor-intensive sugarcane plantations and sugar manufacturing could thrive. The demand for cheap labor to perform the hard work involved in its cultivation and processing increased the demand for the slave trade from Africa (in particular West Africa). After slavery was abolished, there was high demand for indentured laborers from South Asia (in particular India). Millions of slave and indentured laborers were brought into the Caribbean and the Americas, Indian Ocean colonies, southeast Asia, Pacific Islands, and East Africa and Natal. The modern ethnic mix of many nations that have been settled in the last two centuries has been influenced by the demand for sugar.

During the Napoleonic Wars, sugar beet production increased in continental Europe because of the difficulty of importing sugar when shipping was subject to blockade. By 1880, the sugar beet was the main source of sugar in Europe. It was cultivated in Lincolshire and other parts of England, although the United Kingdom continued to import the main part of its sugar from its colonies.

The precursors to rum date back to antiquity. Development of fermented drinks produced from sugarcane juice is believed to have first occurred either in ancient India or China, and spread from there. An example of such an early drink is brum. Produced by the Malay people, brum dates back thousands of years. Marco Polo also recorded a 14th-century account of a "very good wine of sugar" that was offered to him in what is modern-day Iran.

The first distillation of rum took place on the sugarcane plantations of the Caribbean in the 17th century. Plantation slaves first discovered molasses, a byproduct of the sugar refining process, can be fermented into alcohol. Later, distillation of these alcoholic byproducts concentrated the alcohol and removed impurities, producing the first true rums. Tradition suggests rum first originated on the island of Barbados. However, in the decade of the 1620s, rum production was recorded in Brazil.

A 1651 document from Barbados stated, "The chief fuddling they make in the island is Rumbullion, alias Kill-Divil, and this is made of sugar canes distilled, a hot, hellish, and terrible liquor."

The origin of the word "rum" is generally unclear. The most probable origin is as a truncated version of rumbullion or rumbustion. Both words surfaced in English about the same time as rum did (Coromines states 1651 as the first recording of "rumbullion", and 1654 for "rum" -1770 for the first recording in Spanish of ron), and were slang terms for "tumult" or "uproar".

Regardless of the original source, the name was already in common use by 1654, when the General Court of Connecticut ordered the confiscations of "whatsoever Barbados liquors, commonly called rum, kill devil and the like". A short time later in May 1657, the General Court of Massachusetts also decided to make illegal the sale of strong liquor "whether knowne by the name of rumme, strong water, wine, brandy, etc."

In current usage, the name used for a rum is often based on its place of origin. For rums from Spanish-speaking locales, the word ron is used. A ron añejo indicates a rum that has been significantly aged and is often used for premium products. Rhum is the term used for rums from French-speaking locales, while rhum vieux is an aged French rum that meets several other requirements.

Some of the many other names for rum are Nelson's blood, kill-devil, demon water, pirate's drink, navy neaters, and Barbados water. A version of rum from Newfoundland is referred to by the name screech, while some low-grade West Indies rums are called tafia.

Colonial North America

After rum's development in the Caribbean, the drink's popularity spread to Colonial North America. To support the demand for the drink, the first rum distillery in the British colonies of North America was set up in 1664 on present-day Staten Island. Boston, Massachusetts had a distillery three years later. The manufacture of rum became early Colonial New England's largest and most prosperous industry. New England became a distilling center due to the technical, metalworking and cooperage skills and abundant lumber the rum produced there was lighter, more like whiskey. Rhode Island rum even joined gold as an accepted currency in Europe for a period of time. Estimates of rum consumption in the American colonies before the American Revolutionary War had every man, woman, or child drinking an average of 3 imperial gallons (14 l) of rum each year.

To support this demand for the molasses to produce rum, along with the increasing demand for sugar in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries, a labor source to work the sugar plantations in the Caribbean was needed. A triangular trade was established between Africa, the Caribbean, and the colonies to help support this need. The exchange of slaves, molasses, and rum was quite profitable, and the disruption to the trade caused by the Sugar Act in 1764 may have even helped cause the American Revolution. In the slave trade, rum was also used as a medium of exchange.

Eventually, the restrictions on rum from the British islands of the Caribbean, combined with the development of American whiskey, led to a decline in the drink's popularity.

Colonial Australia

Rum became an important trade good in the early period of the colony of New South Wales. The value of rum was based upon the lack of coinage among the population of the colony, and due to the drink's ability to allow its consumer to temporarily forget about the lack of creature comforts available in the new colony. The value of rum was such that convict settlers could be induced to work the lands owned by officers of the New South Wales Corps. Due to rum's popularity among the settlers, the colony gained a reputation for drunkenness, though their alcohol consumption was less than levels commonly consumed in England at the time.

Australia was so far away from England that the convict colony, established in 1788, faced severe food shortages, compounded by poor conditions for growing crops and the shortage of livestock. Eventually it was realized that it might be cheaper for India, instead of England, to supply the settlement of Sydney. By 1817, two out of every three ships which left Sydney, went to Java or India, and cargoes from Bengal fed and equipped the colony. Casks of Bengal Rum (which was reputed to be stronger than Jamaican Rum, and not so sweet) were brought back in the depths of nearly every ship from India although taken to shore clandestinely, to the dismay of the governors. Englishmen living in India grew wealthy through sending ships to Sydney "laden half with rice and half with bad spirits."

Rum was intimately involved in the only military takeover of an Australian government, known as the Rum Rebellion. William Bligh became governor of the colony, he attempted to remedy the perceived problem with drunkenness by outlawing the use of rum as a medium of exchange. In 1808, in response to Bligh's policies, the New South Wales Corps marched with fixed bayonets, to Government House and placed Bligh under arrest. The mutineers continued to control the colony until the arrival of Governor Lachlan Macquarie in 1810.

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Last modified onFriday, 23 January 2015 18:19

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