There is considerable debate about where the word ‘rum’ comes from. Some say it’s the name of Dutch drinking glass, others claim it comes from saccharum, the Roman word for sugar. But perhaps the most compelling explanation is that the popular name for this distilled, fermented sugar cane spirit comes from the slang word rumbullion, meaning ‘uproar’. This flavorsome and eminently mixable spirit certainly took the nautical world by storm. By becoming the favored quaff of slaves, spice-traders, sailors and pirates, and later of cocktail-makers trying to conjure up the romance of the seafaring life in a glass. Sipped neat or on the rocks or used as foundation stone for myriad cocktails, rum is the world’s favorite spirit. And certainly its most versatile.
History Of Rum
Ask anyone where rum was invented and almost everyone would pick a palm-fringed island in the Caribbean. So it might come as a surprise to learn that, as with most things, the Chinese were fermenting sugar cane juice around a thousand years before Europeans stumbled across the Americas. But credit where credit is due – it was the plantation owners of the Caribbean, and more importantly their slaves. Who worked out that fermented cane juice could be distilled into the finest firewater this side of Port Royal. By 16th century, every pirate and seafarer worth his salt had taste for the drink known as ‘kill-devil’ and the rest is history.
Before taking that fiery first sip, every rum-drinker should nail their colours to the mast. Are you a white rum drinker, more concerned with the medley of rum tones and mixers. Or are you a card-carrying aficionado of spiced rums that swim with the flavour of the Caribbean, or dark rum aged on pirate ships in old oak barrels?
Whatever your poison, rum tastes like what it is prepare from – caramel, sugar, molasses. And transported on a smooth alcohol base that is perfect for sipping or mixing. To fully appreciate a dark rum, sip it neat at room temperature; after the initial fire, look for subtle overtones of vanilla, Caribbean spices, combustion and smoke.
There are almost as many varieties of rum as there are nations that grow sugar cane. The drink that most people think of as rum is conventionally made from fermented molasses, often spiced for added punch. But unrefined sugar cane juice is used as a base for the rhum produced on French-speaking Caribbean islands such as Martinique, Guadeloupe and Haiti. Sugar cane juice is also the base for dozens of hooch-like aguardiente spirits produced across Latin America. And for Brazilian cachaça, which gains extra flavour from added cane sugar and maturation in aged barrels.
Africa gets in on action too, with sugar cane spirits such as ‘CJ’ (‘cane juice’, obviously), favoured firewater in Liberia. Adding flavouring to rum is as old as the spice trade. Classic spiced rums come with heady overtones of brown sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, allspice, cloves and pepper, conjuring up images of pirate brigantines roaming the Caribbean. Then there are the flavoured rums that no purist would touch outside of a cocktail glass – sticky coconut Malibu and super sweet coffee-flavoured Kahlua and Tia Mari.
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