How Rum Got its Name.
Whether you call it rum, ron or rhum,
this sugar cane based drink must have got its name from somewhere. Where this was, no one is quite really sure. One thing
most people appear to agree on is that the name probably originated in Barbados, generally considered the birthplace or home
of rum. Sugar cane has been grown on this southern Caribbean island for centuries, originally by British settlers.
Even though it may have been one of the first islands to produce rum, it was not the first country in the New World to
grow sugar cane. It was Christopher Columbus who bought sugar cane across the Atlantic on his second voyage, to Hispaniola.
By the sixteenth century the Spanish were growing sugar cane on a large scale in Hispaniola, Cuba and Puerto Rico. All of
these countries today are still large rum producing countries, with similar style rums.
in these early days, they were not producing rum, just feeding their livestock and labourers with the waste from sugar production,
molasses. The Portugese on the other hand were setting up cane fields in Brazil and fermenting the molasses and distilling
it to produce a spirit. It had a terrible raw taste and the Portugese would not drink it themselves, but it was drunk by the
native Indians and African slaves.
Later when the British, French and Dutch colonized the
small islands of the eastern Caribbean, they began by growing tobacco and cotton. The British were looking for a better paying
crop and went to Brazil to learn the techniques for growing sugar cane. Soon after 1640, they were producing good quality
sugar and were distilling a product from the skimmings of the copper kettles and from molasses.
is where the origins of the name RUM are thought to have begun.
|Windmills were used for power centuries ago.
|This one is on the east coast of Barbados.
These first attempts at producing an alcoholic beverage from the waste product of sugar production were
not that popular. This rum was a very rough product when compared to todays distilled spirits, being described as "a
hellish and terrible liquor". Anybody who could afford to buy something better tended to avoid this drink like the plague.
It was a very strong liquor and those who drank it quickly felt its effects. It was said that it "lays them asleep on
|The Sugar Cane Plant.
This liquor sold for two shillings and sixpence a gallon and was bought by planters who did not have their
own stills, also by the large number of taverns established by the British, who were good customers, and also sold to visiting
ships for their crews and to ship back to their European countries of origin.
It is thought
that about 200,000 gallons of this raw spirit were being sold annually, this did not include what the servants and slaves
were drinking on the plantations. Other islands in the Caribbean got wind of what was happening in Barbados and started to
make their own versions of this drink.
One of the first recorded names of this harsh, raw
spirit was kill-devil,a name suited to the properties of the drink. This name was still in use in
Barbados until the nineteenth century for the raw white rum which caused so much drunkenness among the British soldiers who
were stationed there. There is even a town in North Carolina, USA, called Kill Devil Hills. It is thought that this town may
get its name from the rum that floated ashore from shipwrecks or from the rum consumed by the locals, that would kill
the devil himself.
By the early 1650's a new name had emerged, this was rumbullion.
This was an English word from Devonshire that was later shortened to rum. No one seems sure
if rumbullion got its name from the seventeenth century English word meaning "a great tumult or uproar". It may
have also come from the same Creole word meaning stem stew, which was rheu (stems in Sevillian patois)
and the word bouillon (that means clear soup in French).
word that has been associated with rum was rummage, this was a word used for the ship's
hold, where the rum would eventually be stored for the long journey's across the Atlantic.
great number of theories have exsisited as to the origin of the name rum. One is the obvious link with the Latin words for
sugar cane, saccharum officinarum.(pictured left) This name appears to be too much of a coincidence
to be ignored completely.
The French word for aroma, arome has been
put forward as to the origin of the word rum, however this was unlikely to have been used in Barbados.
Another possibility is the Dutch and German word for a large drinking glass, roemer. This
word was Anglicized to rummer and was in use long before the word rumbullion was invented. The Dutch
were frequent visitors to Barbados and these sailors would have undoubtedly been heavy rum drinkers.
Other words that have been used for rum in years past are devil's death, redeye, demon water, pirate's
drink, navy neaters, rumscullion, Rom, tafia and rumbustion.
Rumbustion is a seventeenth century word beleived to have originated in the sugar
plantations of Barbados.
Tafia is a name often given to low-grade
West Indian rum and is an old French name for fermented cane juice. The colour is usually a slightly cloudy brown. This word
is used frequently in Dominica where there is even a Taffia River. The water of the river flows over volcanic clay and
is clear, but brown in clour, like the rum.
Rom was a name meaning
Yet another name for rum was Barbados waters, this in itself
is pretty self-explanatory. People in Barbados feel that the word rum was invented on their island and
that the word was coined not by the planters, but in the taverns and on the waterfront of Bridgetown. This is where the
sailing ships were loaded with rum, for export allover the world.
There is evidence that fermented
drinks produced from sugar cane juice may have occurred either in ancient India or China and spread west from there. There
was a drink called brum that was being produced by the Malay people and this dates back thousands
of years. This is another coincidence of a word sounding similar to rum that cannot be totally ignored. Marco Polo as long
ago as the fourteenth century recorded his personal encounter with a "very good wine of sugar" that was offered
him in what is today known as Iran.
Even though we know that Barbados was probably not the
first country to produce rum, it is almost certain that this is where the name rum originated from, and also where the first
rum exports came from. It is also thought that this is where rum was first aged. It is believed that small amounts of rum
were being matured in oak casks for a short time by about 1660. More evidence appears to point to Barbados laying
claim to the birthplace of the name rum than any other country in the world. As rum is mainly considered a product of
the Caribbean, it would to nice to think that the name originated from somewhere amongst this group of beautiful island nations.
|The Navy rum ration was issued with these "tools"
|The rum was measured out by the ship's purser.
The word grog these days can refer to many
alcoholic drinks, often made with boiling water. Originally, it referred to the daily rum ration that was first altered from
neat rum, to a diluted cocktail and issued to British sailors in 1740. This combination of rum, water, and
citrus juice can be considered as the first mass produced cocktail, (without the umbrella).
the colonial navy's of the world started spreading their wings further away from home, they started to incur supply and
storage problems for their crews. The sailors had to be fed and watered everyday. Fresh water was always in high demand, but
often in short supply. Storing large quantities created problems and keeping it fresh was usually a greater problem. The water
tended to develop algae and turn green and slimy. The daily ration of beer stored below decks also tended to turn sour
on long journeys, but was usually consumed before the water. Each sailor was issued a gallon of beer a day and this
caused significant storage problems for the ships purser's.
It was after the British took
Jamaica from the Spanish in 1655 that rum was issued to British sailors instead of their daily ration of beer. Jamaica was
used as a naval base for centuries, but did not have a ready supply of beer or wine. It was Vice-Admiral William Penn (of
Pennsylvania family fame) who decided to give his crew a daily ration of rum, instead of the usual beer ration. Jamaica had
hundreds of small rum distilleries scattered around the island, usually on the scores of sugar plantations. Rum was a
readily available resource and was easier to store than beer or water. It also did not turn sour on long voyages, but actually improved
with age. This turned out to be the first large scale aging of rum ever recorded and was more or less discovered by accident.
When the casks of rum were opened after long journeys it was discovered that the rum had changed colour and taken on a golden
colour, more like the colour of the cask. The taste had also altered for the better. Some of the raw harsh flavours of this
early distilled rum had mellowed with this aging. The gentle rolling of the ships while at sea created continuous contact
of the rum with the inside of the oak cask while it was being stored and transported in the ships holds.
A company in the Cayman Islands is now trying to recreate this idea by aging their rum underwater, seven fathoms
down on the sea floor. This is helping to recreate the gentle rolling motion of a large ship. The pressure of the incoming
and outgoing tides will help push the rum in and out of the pores of the oak, so extracting more flavours from the wood.
|Sailors Waiting for Their Daily Ration of Rum.
|The daily rum ration was issued from small barrels
This new spirit that was now being issued as the sailors daily ration was initially served neat, one half
pint at a time, twice a day. This daily ration caused mass disipline and drunkeness problems amongst these early
sailors, for which the punishment was often brutal. Also, many accidents were attributed to this daily ration of
grog. Just imagine trying to climb up the rigging of a tall sailing ship after drinking half a pint of rum neat. No easy task
when sober or even when the seas were calm. However, this rum ration was usually the highlight of the day for the sailors.
Conditions aboard these early war ships was very difficult, and when "Up Spirits" was called aboard the ship, the
sailors would often fight to be first in line.
The rum the sailors were issued was also a
form of currency. It was traded or bartered for almost everything. Some men would save up their ration and drink it all at
once, creating more problems.
One of the navy's high ranking officials at the time, Vice-Admiral
Edward Vernon, realised the problems that the daily rum ration was causing amongst his sailors. He decided to try and change
the way the rum was issued to his wards. On August 21st, 1740 he issued an order that the rum was now to be mixed with water.
The rum would be mixed with one quart of water and issued twice a day to the sailors. Once in the morning and once in the
evening. To make the rum and water cocktail taste better, lime juice and sugar were also to be added to the rum.
This move was not popular with the sailors, who affectionately called Vice-Admiral Vernon "Old Grog". Vernon
always wore a waterproof boat cloak made of grogam when the weather was bad. This thick material was a combination of silk,
mohair and wool and was often stiffened with gum.
This is how the name grog first came about
and was adopted by the sailors for their daily ration of rum, from the early beginnings of the word in 1740 until 1970.
Some 230 years later the traditional grog allowance was finally abadandoned with the onset of modern computer
warfare. Rum and computer aided missiles was not viewed as a good combination. It must be remebered, however, that the rum
issue was not the regular strength rum we are used to drinking today, but was poured at 95.5 Proof, which could prove a deadly
combination in the wrong circumstances.
July 31st, 1970 was the last time the grog was issued
to Royal Navy sailors, this became known as Black Tot Day. A very sad day for all the sailors who enjoyed their daily ration
of rum and the end of a long standing naval tradition.
The Admiralty Board had decided "Times
had changed" and they concluded after much debate that "in a highly sophisticated navy no risk for margin or error
which might be attributable to rum could be allowed".
Several years after Black Tot Day
the secrets and blending information of naval rum were sold to Charles Tobias by the Admiralty in 1979. Tobias formed
Pusser's Limited on Tortola in the British Virgin Islands and began bottling and selling his rum in 1980. The rest they
say is history.
|Nelson's flagship H.M.S. Victory in Portsmouth.
|This is the original ship that Nelson died on and was carried back to England.
There are several versions to
the origins of another name associated with rum, Nelson's Blood. Most people believe that
after Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson was mortally wounded (see photo below to see the plaque showing where he fell) at the great
battle of Trafalgar in 1805 that his body was was preserved in a barrel of rum or brandy for the long journey home to England.
At the battle of Trafalgar Nelson engaged the combined fleets of France and Spain where he was well outnumbered.
His smaller fleet of ships managed to sink or capture 17 of the enemy's ships without a single loss of his own.
This victory is considered one of the greatest naval victories of all-time. Unfortunately Nelson never lived to savour
the taste of victory, for he was mortally wounded three hours before the end of the battle, but died knowing victory would
As legend would have us believe Nelson's body was encased in a large barrel of
rum for the long journey home in less than favourable winds. Nelson had requested that when he
died he did not want to be buried at sea, which was common tradition, but would prefer to be buried in his birthplace of
Burnham Thorpe, England, or if The King wished, in St.Paul's Cathedral, London.
the long voyage home to England it was discovered that the barrel was almost empty of the rum that had been preserving
Nelson's body. It is believed that the sailors on-board the flagship H.M.S. Victory had drilled a small hole in the bottom
of the cask and had been drinking the rum for good luck and praying they would inherit some of Nelson's traits. The
barrel was then topped up with French brandy and spirits and bought back to Greenwich where Nelson's body was
transferred to a coffin for the final journey to St.Paul's Cathedral. This coffin was made from the mainmast of the captured
French ship L' Orient, a trophy from a previous battle. This coffin was then placed in a lead-cased elm coffin for the
journey from Chatham to Greenwich, where it was put into a third and final state coffin, that was 6' 8" long and
26" broad. It was covered in the finest Genoa black velvet, secured with over 10,000 double gilt nails.
The term, drinking Nelson's Blood is still used today by many sailors and has
been especially adopted by Pusser's Rum Company amongst others.
|This is where Nelson fell after being shot.
|He later died below deck and was interred in a barrel of rum.
Traditional Royal Navy Toasts
In the early days, up until about
1900, the naval officers also receivied a daily rum ration along with the jack tars. In the Ward Room of the Officers Quartes,
the daily dinner ritual, at noon, was to toast the reigning monarch, which was then followed by the toast of the day.
The toasts are:-
Monday:- Our ships at sea.
A bloody war and a quick promotion.
Friday:- A willing soul and sea room.
Saturday:- Sweethearts and wives, may they never meet.
Absent friends and those at sea.
|A Special Blend of Navy Rum, Nelson's Blood.
|This small batch blend is made in a pub in England.
British Royal Navy Imperial Rum
This story goes a familiar route that other lost stocks of rum have gone: British Royal Navy Imperial Rum is all
that remains of the Royal Navy's daily rum ration that was ended in 1970. After the infamous Black Tot Day the remaining
stocks of rum silently aged in bonded underground warehouses in Jamaica, under the authority and supervision of the British
Government, who owned the old stock.
The remaining stocks of rum were only used on special
occasions or sold off in small amounts to benefit the Royal Navy's Sailor's Fund.
Texas oil man from Houston decided to purchase the remaining stock of 650 wicker-covered ceramic demijohns. He started a spirits
company that also produces Sea Wynde Rum, a blend of five pot still rums from Jamaica and Guyana.
British Royal Navy Imperial Rum (108.6 proof) comes in a beautifully packaged classic ceramic demijohn encased in wicker (see
photo below). This rum also comes with a glass decanter, a funnel and stopper in a seperate box. The retail price of this
rum if you can afford it is between $5,500 to $6,000.
|British Royal Navy Imperial Rum.
|Issuing the Daily Rum Ration on a Navy Submarine.
|Vintage Bottles of Navy Rum from Caroni.
|It is thought these bottles are from the 1940's and survived the Blitz in London.
A brief overview from Dean Reeve, Caroni, The Rum Quest:
The above bottles of Rum were found in a house in Manor Park in the London borough of Newham
in England in the late 1980s when we were clearing my grandads house.
have had the Rum ever since and was recently lucky not to have been involved in a fire which would have finished the story
During the early 1990s I took the Rum to the Tate and
Lyle refinery off of Silvertown Way where they had a small museum. The person in charge dated the bottles at early to middle
1940s and asked me if I would let them have the bottles for the museum. My response was, maybe, but they will be empty
if I do. He added that the Rum was given to the staff as a perk quite often.
I would like to be able to date the bottles with some authority because I think that is important to the history of
the bottles. Depending upon when and if they were from the early 1940s it would mean that there is a real chance that they
would have survived the bombing of London during the Blitz of the sustained bombing of London and the docks between 7th September
1940 and 10th May 1941. Or the sporadic bombing raids after the blitz leading to the ferocious attacks by the V1 and
V2 flying bombs during 1944. There was a lot of damage around Manor Park during
Another reason to accurately
date the Rum is that we could possibly work out which still at the CARONI DISTILLERY the Rum came from.
(Click on the photo above to go to Dean's website)
|Two Caroni Navy Rum Coasters.
|Coasters Kindly Given to The Rumelier by Dean Reeve.
|Shipping Navy Rum at Chatham Dockyard, England.