Origin

Whether it’s called rum (for English rum), rhum (French) or ron (Spanish), this eau de vie made from sugar cane remains the common denominator between the Caribbean islands and the South American countries, with each boasting its own distinctive culture and set of traditions.

Rum: between legend and reality

Discovered as a result of the Spanish, French and English colonial conquests, rum was originally a drink for sailors and slaves. Used as bait by pirates to intoxicate and thereby recruit young sailors in the British navy, rum has retained a connection with its adventurous, seafaring past.

Whether it’s called rum (for English rum), rhum (French) or ron (Spanish), this eau de vie made from sugar cane remains the common denominator between the Caribbean islands and the South American countries, with each boasting its own distinctive culture and set of traditions.

In the mid 200s, over a hundred countries were growing sugar cane, with Brazil, India and China topping the list. At that time, sugar cane was providing nearly 75% of the world’s sugar (source ACER – Nov. 2005).
Depending on distillation and ageing processes, rum has the most diverse range of aromatic profiles of all the spirits.

The European conquest for white gold

Discovered in Asia and brought back to Europe by the pilgrims from the first crusade (1096-1099) on, sugar was at that time a rare and highly-prized commodity. It gradually gained economic importance, becoming a source of rivalry between European countries. In the 14th century, Venice claimed a commercial monopoly on this ‘brown gold’ and developed the first refining processes. Envious of this Italian success and keen to break free from Italy’s control over the supply, the Portuguese and Spanish set up plantations and refineries in their colonies: Madeira, the Canary Islands and then the Azores. Lisbon quickly became a major sugar refining centre.

The discovery of America enabled sugar cane production to be extended even further, thanks to the excellent navigational skills of the Portuguese. While Brazil, Peru and Mexico presented exciting opportunities thanks to the richness of their natural resources (timber, gold, minerals), the Caribbean quickly became the sugar islands. Christopher Columbus introduced sugar cane to the West Indies at the end of the 15th century. His first attempts at planting seem to have been on the island of Hispaniola (Haiti and Santo Domingo). In 1512, the Spanish launched an aggressive sugar cane plantation campaign in Cuba, which after a few decades consisted of more than 250 Spanish families. By 1520, sugar cane had spread all over South America: Mexico, Peru, Brazil... 

Having controlled sugar trade until 1630, the Spanish gradually became more interested in gold and timber, leaving the French and English to continue in the West Indies, with Barbados, Jamaica, Martinique and Guadeloupe.

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