Rum, A Brief History
Bars & Drinks Seller Server Classes
Mike Parker

Rum, as you might know, is an alcoholic beverage distilled from fermented sugar cane. Popular with the likes of Jack Sparrow and the other pirates of the Caribbean, Rum has a long and storied history, which began shortly after Chris Columbus sailed the ocean blue, way back in 1492.

No one is quite sure where the name derives from. Some claim rum was a short form of ‘rummer,’ the large drinking glasses favored by Dutch sailors. Others say the name derives from ‘rumbullion,’ which is "a great tumult or uproar" – and understandable conclusion considering the affect excess rum had on rowdy seamen of the day. Still other etymologists suggest rum is a contraction of the Latin word for sugar, ‘saccharum,’ or a bastardization of arôme, the French word for aroma. Regardless of where the name came from, it was in common use as early as May 1657 when the General Court of Massachusetts made the sale of strong liquor, “whether knowne by the name of rumme, strong water, wine, brandy, etc.,” illegal.

The British Navy played a major role in growing the popularity of rum. When the British captured Jamaica from Spain in 1655, Admiral Penn authorized the locally-made liquor to replace the official beer ration, due to its natural tendency to remain sweet in the cask for much longer than water or beer. In 1731 the British Navy Board made the official daily ration, one pint of wine or half a pint of rum, to be issued in two equal amounts daily, plus a gallon of beer if the sailor wanted it.

Alas, British sailors weren’t known to hold their liquor, and drunkenness on duty soon became a common problem, which the Navy attempted to remedy by mixing the half-pint of rum with a quart of water in a not particularly palatable concoction known as “Grog.” The rum ration was gradually reduced until in 1850 it was fixed at an eighth of a pint. The rum ration was completely eliminated on July 31, 1970, known as ‘Black Tot Day.’ As one high ranking official in the British Navy explained, “A large tot in the middle of the day is not the best medicine for those who must handle the Navy’s electronic mysteries.”

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