Rum, an alcoholic beverage that brings to mind pirates and high sea adventures, or wild college parties. Few would believe that their favorite rum and coke mix would have started out as waste from sugarcane.

During the mid-17th century, sugar farmers in the Caribbean had an abundance of molasses left over from sugar making, and didn’t have much use for the gooey liquid. It didn’t take long for someone to figure out how to distil molasses and skim from cane juice into an alcoholic concoction of greatness. The popularity of rum only increased as naval and pirate crews looked for ways to keep their sailors hydrated and happy on long voyages around the West Indies.

The British navy had a problem with their rationing system of water and beer. Left to long beer would sour and water would develop algae. Beer was therefore consumed first, and water second. Rum proved to be a better solution as it lasted longer due to its natural sweetness. In 1655, the capturing of Jamaica from the Spanish, by Admiral William Penn Sr., help to solidify the importance of rum on naval ships.

Rum Barrels

By the 18th century, rum making became a booming business that allowed many of the British Caribbean colonies to pull away from their French rivals. Finding bigger markets in London and other British colonies led to more advanced distilling techniques, that helped strengthen the British rum trade.

In the 19th century, British Caribbean rum making found an alcoholic competitor in American Whiskey, which begun to weaken their rum market. Further problems arose as new colonies formed and the abolishment of slavery in the Atlantic, and led to higher labor rates. This allowed for French rum makers to once again claim center stage.

A growing working class opened up an even larger market throughout Europe, Africa, and North America. French rum makers realized in order to compete with their British rivals, they would need to tap into this growing market, which they successfully did by the early 20th century.

Today, rum making is a thriving business, and continues to enchant us with interesting stories of pirate battles, and college party hi-jinks.


Sugarcane photo by ruurmo, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Barrels of rum photo by Darwinius, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons