Rum: A Global History by Richard Foss should be required reading for anyone who considers themselves a Tiki-phile. When you think about it, Rum, that golden elixir of the Sugar Cane, is at the center of our worship. It’s only right that we know the answers to these basic questions…. Where Did Rum Come From? What is Rum made of? How is Rum made? And what effect did Rum have on Global History?
Now, before you spin off into a panic with High School Pop Quiz flash-backs…. I have some good news for you. Rum: A Global History is a very engaging read. You may not even want to put the book down. Richard Foss presents the material in a way that is entertaining, interesting, and even funny. He even suggests that you read it while drinking rum (what High School teacher ever gave you that advice?)
Where Did Rum Come From?
You may (or may not) be surprised to learn just how much of United States history, and the history of the “New World” was tied up in Rum. Nation’s economies were entirely tied up in the production of rum (in some places it actually replaced money). The British Navy allocated their Sailors a ration of rum daily (and did so through 1970). And Slavery, while not entirely a result of the rum trade, was certainly increased because of rum… slaves were needed to work in the Sugar Cane fields, and these same slaves were given rum to keep them from rebelling.
Remember that Trade Triangle from High School? (The thing your history teacher was droning on about?) Big part of the Triangle…. Rum.
Growing conditions for Sugar Cane in the Caribbean and South America were excellent, so businessmen swooped in to cash on the sweet tooth that was developing in Europe and America. Of course… when you produce sugar from Sugar Cane, you end up with a sticky sweet byproduct… Molasses… run that Molasses through the distilling process (something that humans have been doing for many years) and Ta Da! Rum.
Of course, the early rum was of the lowest quality. In fact, the worst rum you’ve ever tasted (going back to that party in high school… thank goodness for Cola) is far superior to any of the rum that existed then. No problem… the upper classes were drinking other things, so Rum was left to the worker bees.
Eventually, Rum was improved. Better distillation (in Brazil, they were actually cooking it in CLAY pots… you can imagine just how tasty that mud must have been), and aging the rum in old wine barrels improved rum to what we have today.
Rum in the 20th Century- The TIKI Revolution
When Prohibition (hereafter to be referred to as “that black spot in history”) ended in 1935, most of the New England Whiskey distilleries were still not up to speed, but companies like Bacardi had plenty of Rum on hand ready to export. Ernest Gannt opened a swank little spot called Donn the Beachcomber in Los Angeles, and created some crazy Tropical Drinks, like the Zombie and Navy Grog, to match the breezy Polynesian style. Up in San Francisco, Victor Bergeron redecorated his old bar Hinky Dinks with Tikis, palm leaves and Puffer fish, christened it Trader Vic’s, and came up with his signature drink… the Mai Tai.
And it was good.
As Richard Foss points out, today Rum is making a new resurgence. What once was a means of keeping Slaves sedate, is treated like Whiskeys or Fine Wines. New processes of blending and aging is creating Rums that are flat out amazing.
Why Should you Read Rum A Global History?
I was lucky enough to hear Richard speak about Rum at Tiki Oasis (and was VERY lucky to try some of the wonderful and rare rums he brought along). His knowledge of the topic goes quite deep… but his treatment is very approachable. The book, Rum: A Global History, is less than 150 pages (with LOADS of photos). Yet, in this short book, you will learn all you need to know about the production of rum, the history of rum (including some great stories about those Founding Fathers that no one bothered to tell you before), and what wonderful things are happening in the rum industry today. He’s even included some recipes for drinks that you may want to try…. (although, truth is, some of these early recipes seem a bit… sketchy (let eggs, sugar and cream sit a few days… add beer, rum and a hot poker…. YIKES).
After reading this book, you will know the difference between Rhum Agricole and Rhum Industriale, you’ll understand the etiology of words like rummage, and most importantly, you will be able to appreciate where your rum comes from.
And maybe, just maybe, you will love your Daiquiris so much more….
Where to buy RUM: A Global History
You can find the book, both new and used, on Amazon.