One of these things is not like the other, and trust us when we say this has nothing to do with current day politics or congressional primaries. But it is most certainly about American history and the events that shaped the drinking culture of this country, i.e. why we drink what we do and why other beverages of choice have gone by the wayside. It’s pretty clear (as we have discussed before in this arena) that whisk(e)y, and more specifically Bourbon, is incredibly popular right now. We’ve heard these words verbatim: “I’ll buy whatever cool whisk(e)y on the market because it will sell.” Hyperbole? Maybe. Pretty close to the truth? Like shooting fish in a barrel.
Bourbon is undoubtedly American. It must be aged in the USA, in American Oak barrels, and distilled from corn and other grains grown in the United States. But recently inspired by a trip to New Orleans (if you haven’t been, go now) and a big bowl of popcorn done in coconut oil, we started to wonder why Rum doesn’t get more credit as the original American spirit. When you think about the history of sugarcane and molasses production, albeit it’s an ugly one, the consumption of Rum in the American colonies and the impact that the taxation of sugar had on the formation of this great nation, whiskey takes second fiddle to Rum.
Sugarcane production and the subsequent versions of fermented beverage have been around for thousands of years. This member of the grass family (yes, sugarcane is a grass) moved from South Asia and India through the Middle East and eventually was brought to the New World by Christopher Columbus. The entire Caribbean region became a hotbed for sugar farming and a source of income for the British, French and Spanish colonies. British colonial rule was strengthened by selling things like sugarcane to the American colonies, while taxing them at the same time. The Molasses Act of 1733 was one such attempt, but crafty colonials started illegally buying molasses and rum from the French and Spanish islands. Every text about US history talks about the Stamp Act and the Tea Party as the igniting points of the American Revolution, but the Sugar Act of 1764 is often overlooked. Prohibition is a great example of how to make people mad when you take away easy access to alcohol. When you consider the annual per capita consumption of Rum in the colonies was above 4 gallons, it’s no surprise revolution was around the corner.
The first recorded distillery in America was in Staten Island, New York in 1664, and no, they weren’t making rye whiskey. Rum was a huge part of colonial life, and although no one can really agree on the origin of the word the Old English word “rumbustion” meaning “great tumult or uproar”, it should have been a warning to the King back in England. So, as we approach July 4th and the celebrations of Independence, remember that drinking Rum is just as American as playing baseball or questioning authority.
Cheers to smart drinking!