Rum has always tended to favor and flavor rebellion, from the pirates and buccaneers of the seventeenth century to the American Revolution onward. Sugar and rum pretty much introduced globalization to a waiting world, tying together Europe, the Americas, Africa, and the Caribbean in a complex alcohol-dependent web of trade and credit. Not until crude oil was any single commodity so important for world trade.
After rum’s development in the Caribbean, the drink’s popularity spread to Colonial North America. To support the demand, the first rum distillery in the British colonies of North America was set up in 1664 on present-day Staten Island. Boston had a distillery three years later. Rum became 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. Rum produced there was lighter–more like whiskey. Rhode-Island rum even joined gold as an accepted currency in Europe for a time. Estimates of rum consumption in the American colonies before the Revolutionary War had every man, woman, and child drinking an average of 3 Imperila gallons (14 L) of rum each year.
The popularity of rum continued after the American Revolution, with George Washington insisting on a barrel of Barbados rum at his 1789 inauguration. Rum also played an important role in the political system; candidates attempted to influence the outcome of an election through their generosity with rum. People would attend the hustings to see which candidate was more generous — candidates were expected to drink with the voters to show he was independent and truly a republican. In the 1833 Mississippi state senate election, one candidate, Judge Edward Turner, poured his drinks and socialized with the people. He was more personal and it appeared as if he was going to win. The other candidate, a Methodist parson named Dick Stewart, announced he would not be pouring their drinks and they could have as much as they wanted; Dick Stewart won.
Eventually, 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. However, in 21st century America, rum is back – and it comes in many styles and flavor profiles. Pick your style!
Rums commonly available today are primarily from these styles:
Spanish-speaking islands produce light rums with a fairly clean taste. Rums from Cuba and Puerto Rico are typical of this style.
English-speaking islands are known for darker rums with a fuller taste that retain a greater amount of the underlying molasses flavor. Rums from Jamaica and the Demerera region of South America are typical of this style.
French-speaking islands are best known for their agricultural rums (rhum agricole). These rums are produced exclusively from sugarcane juice, and retain a greater amount of the original flavor of the sugarcane. Rums from Martinique and Guadeloupe are typical of this style.
Many countries produce spirits similar to rum. Cachaça is a spirit similar to rum produced in Brazil. The Indonesian spirit Batavia Arrack, or Arrak, is a spirit similar to rum that includes rice in its production. A spirit known as Aguardiente, distilled from molasses infused with anise, with additional sugarcane juice added after distillation, is produced in Central America and northern South America.