Rum is one of the oldest and most versatile spirits in the world, with an interesting history. Although the exact origin of this liquid gold cannot be determined, many experts agree that it was perfected in Jamaica.
The source of all rum is sugar cane, a grass-like plant believed to have originated in Papua, New Guinea. Christopher Columbus introduced sugar cane to the West Indies in 1493. The plant flourished in the warm climate and fertile soil of the Caribbean islands, and plantations were soon established on practically every island (in particular Jamaica, Barbados, Puerto Rico, and Cuba).
Initially revered for the sugar it produced, it was soon discovered that alcohol could be created by fermenting and distilling the sticky brown substance that remained after sugar was produced.
This drink has had many names over the years — including, Eau-de-Vie de Molasses, Rumbullion, Aguardiente de Cana, and “Kill Devil,” amongst others — as the raw spirit was quite fiery. From these original names, there are two stories of how the name rum came about. The first is that rum is a derivative of the name sacharum, the accepted botanical genus name for sugar cane. The second version is that rum is a derivative of Rumbullion.
Back in the olden days, estate owners would develop special rums for their exclusive use; these rums were blended, and then placed in oak barrels for the long sea voyage back to England. The estate owners discovered that the rums were much smoother, mellower, and more flavourful when they arrived in England. They surmised that a transformation took place, while the rum rested in the oak during the journey, and this was the genesis of aged rums as we know them today.
Jamaica’s place in the history of rum is one of primary importance. Jamaica is renowned around the world for producing wonderfully rich and flavourful rums and the island also has the privilege of being the first country to refer to this delicious spirit as rum in writing. An article that appeared in the 1937-38 edition of Planter’s Punch states that the earliest mention of “rum” occurred in an order from the Governor of Jamaica. The island was also the first to produce rum on a commercial basis and the finest rums in the world are produced in Jamaica.
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