A brief history of rum

Matt Bradley

Matt Bradley works at Hancocks as their spirit brand ambassador. He scored this plum role as a result of being one of the best Maitre D's in the business for many convivial years...

The technical definition of rum is: an alcoholic beverage made from sugar, cane juice, molasses or syrup. Sugar cane, of which there are 23 different varieties, is a member of the grass family. Even though rum was first produced in the Caribbean, sugar cane is not actually native to that region of the world. Sugar cane was first found in Papua New Guinea 10,000 years ago. It was later found to spread through places like China, India, Africa and the Canary Islands.

When Christopher Columbus discovered the Eastern Caribbean in 1493 he claimed it for Spain introduced sugar cane to that region of the world. In the 16th Century, the Portuguese took sugar cane to Brazil.

Sugar and slavery have a long historical connection. There is evidence that the Moors used slaves, but it was the Portuguese who began trading in human flesh on a major scale. By the seventeenth century every European nation with an interest in the sugar island was sucking Africa dry of humanity. Over four million slaves were purchased by the sugar colonies in the eighteenth century.

A brief timeline

1515 – First rum exported to Spain from the Caribbean
1660 – In the US, rum is distilled from Caribbean molasses
1655 – Rum is taken on board Her Majesty’s Royal Navy
1660 -  Rum becomes an official term
1687 – ½ pint of rum becomes part of daily naval provisions
1703 – Mount Gay rum company is founded
1749 – Appleton rum is founded
1804 – Lemon Hart matures rum in London
1825 – Alfred Eton invents technology of charcoal mellowing
1825 – Wray and Nephew rum company is born
1838 – Don Facundo imports wine to Cuba
1847 – Alfred Lamb produces rum in London and supplies the Royal Navy
1862 – Don Facundo perfects Bacardi and sets up a distillery

His name is actually Don Facundo Bacardi Masso, and he was a Spanish Catalonian who emigrated to Cuba in 1830 to work in the import and export business with his brother.

Don Facundo had the idea to ‘civilize’ the harsh local rum, using methods he originated. Eventually, he perfected his rum - quadruple distilled (a first) and double filtered (another first), aged in oak barrels, and then blended to perfection. His friends and family loved it and he soon started to sell it. People would bring their empty bottles and jars to be filled.

Don Facundo saw the potential and purchased an old tin distillery on the 4th of February 1862, for 3,500 pesos to start production of his superior new spirit. He personally tested the quality of each bottle and signed it with his signature. Bacardi Rum’s popularity soared. Bacardi’s origins as Cuba’s and the worlds first smooth sipping rum saw it used as the base of many classic rum cocktails of the late 1800’s.

Bacardi’s first distillery in Santiago de Cuba

Several years before the war of liberation, a team of American mining engineers were working in a Cuban copper mine near the small town of Daiquirí. To motivate them to carry out the difficult, monotonous work in the heat of the Caribbean sun, they were not only paid a good wage, but they were also given a free quota of fine cigars and the best Cuban rum: Bacardi Rum.

One engineer, Jennings S. Cox, was always on the lookout for the ideal refreshing drink, and began experimenting with the valuable rum. He mixed exotic Caribbean ingredients with Bacardi Rum over and over again, until finally, in 1896, he invented his favourite cocktail, made with Bacardi Rum, freshly pressed lime juice, sugar and crushed ice. A wonderfully refreshing drink, and therefore a perfect end to a hot day in the copper mine.

Daiquiri recipe

Cox didn’t just introduce his new creation to his friends and colleagues, but also to a barkeeper at the Hotel Venus in Santiago de Cuba. The bartender recommended passing the recipe around, and giving the cocktail an impressive name. Several drinks later, the cocktail was named Daiquiri, in honour of the town where it originated. The Daiquiri quickly became a hit in all Cuban bars, with creative barkeepers developing exciting variations of the recipe. One ingredient, however, has remained unchanged.

Sort by
  • bryn says
    If you ever see a bottle of Cadenhead's Demerara 25yr old aged Rum sitting behind the bar I heartly recommend giving it a try. It'll probably set you back a bit (similar is price to an aged single malt) but it's delicious and well worth it - and nothing like the dirty ol' Captain Morgan or Blackheart.

    Best consumed straight with a couple of cubes of ice... or in a 50/50 mix with fresh pineapple juice.

    I know it used to be available at Galbraiths but I haven't been in there for a while so don't know if they still stock it.

  • Fozzie says
    Good Infomrative article. Appletons is a good rum as well as the good old Coruba
  • Timothy says
    yep rum is up there. Lambs Navy rum is the best for me, my grandpa, dad, and now have been drinking that stuff
  • I'm only now beginning to understand that in each of the categories there is the crap that the mass marget get sold, then there's the premium stuff sold to the connoisseur. I've done wine, whisky, vodka, now rum... not sure if thats a journey of enlightenment I want to make.
  • DeviousX says

    I tried this waiheke island rum recently. It was quite nice. Again far better then the captain morgans etc of the world.

Post your comment

Want to have your say?

It's quick, easy and 100% free.


Latest discussions

Endorsed Events

  • SpringBreak FIJI SpringBreak FIJI

    Surrounded by nothing but tranquil water, SpringBreak Fiji brings together the best of everything

  • The Fijian Cup The Fijian Cup

    The Pacific Touch Rugby festival (Fijian Cup and Kava Cup) is underway on November 2, 2017 and with support from Touch Fiji and...

  • Rock Island VANUATU Rock Island VANUATU

    Rock Island is an all inclusive fully immersive travel experience which was brought into the music festival scene by The Rock and...

  • TourismHQ TourismHQ

    With seven years and growing under their belt; TourismHQ has established and continues to deliver on their extensive wealth of...