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A History of Rum
Sugar cane, the plant from which rum is made, is native to New Guinea and has spread from there throughout the East before finally being encountered in India by Alexander's Greeks, who compared its sweet juice to honey. It was first used to make alcohol deep in antiquity, since in the primitive circumstances of early sugar production it was almost impossible to prevent the sweet and sticky stuff from grabbing onto some yeast and fermenting spontaneously.
The North Africans known as Moors probably were the first to distill a rum-like drink. We don't know when, but it came to the attention of Europeans after the Moors conquered most of what is now Spain in 711. Christopher Columbus brought sugar cane to the Caribbean on his second voyage there.
Soon Europe was locked in a sugar craze. Sugar processing was still crude and a lot of molasses byproduct was left over and made into rum. Cuba eventually emerged as the primary rum producer.
The Bacardi family started out in Cuba in the mid-19th century. The invention of the column still made it possible to produce a very light, clean rum and the Bacardis quickly adopted it, building their reputation on this lighter style.
During Prohibition, rums from Bacardi and other Caribbean producers were smuggled into the United States, just like scotch and Canadian whiskey. Bacardi had a major presence in Puerto Rico, and elsewhere, long before Castro made Cuba so inhospitable. Although Bacardi is a huge and diversified company, it is still owned by the Bacardi family. The mammoth distillery at Cantano, Puerto Rico, is visible across San Juan Bay from many parts of the capital.
Bacardi's new style of rum was perfect for making refreshing cocktails, the most famous of which is the daiquiri. The drink originated in 1898 shortly after the Spanish-American War in the small mining town of Daiquiri, Cuba when an American engineer by the name of Jennings Stockton Cox of the Juraga Iron Company was sent there to begin developing its iron-ore mines.
As the story goes, soon after his arrival in Cuba, Mr. Cox searched for a way to cool himself in the intense tropical heat. One day he picked a lime from a nearby tree and squeezed the juice into a glass. He then added a teaspoon of sugar to mask the sour lime taste and added a jigger of Bacardi Carta Blanca (now known as Bacardi Superior) along with crushed ice. Originally named the "Ron Bacardi a la Daiquiri," the cocktail was an immediate hit and spread quickly. It became especially popular at Ernest Hemingway's favorite cocktail lounge, La Floridita. Hemingway once said of his drink preferences, "My Mojitos at La Boquedita and my Daiquiris at El Floridita."
FUN FACTS ABOUT RUM
1. Nobody really knows where the word 'rum' came from.
It's been suggested that it could have been taken from the British word 'rum' meaning 'the best' - as in 'having a rum time' - and that it could have derived from the last syllable of saccharum, the Latin word for sugar.
2. Rum was the Navy's official tipple.
Although rum had been long associated with British privateers, when the British Navy captured the island of Jamaica in 1655, they switched from giving their sailors a daily ration of French brandy to a tot of the locally available rum.
3. Rum was the first drink to be proof-tested.
The idea of testing the proof of alcohol to see how strong it was came from the testing of rum during the 18th century. Sailors were often paid in rum, so before they accepted it, they 'proved' the rum by putting gunpowder in it to see if it would ignite or not. If it didn't, the rum had been watered down.
4. George Washington used rum to fuel his campaign.
When running for a seat in the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1758, he plied the 391 voters with 28 gallons of rum and 50 gallons of rum punch, as well as wine, beer and cider - it cost his campaign £50 but he won his seat.