A Brief History of Rum (told the Jamaican way, of course!)

Rum-lovers may find it surprising that the origins of their spirit of choice do not go as far back as the sugarcane that is the raw material for the drink. I mean, as long as there was sugarcane in the world there was rum, right? Wrong!

Rum as we know it was not created until sugarcane reached the shores of the Caribbean. And then, of course, history was made. In Jamaica, may I add.

Sugarcane was cultivated all across Asia and Africa, but hey, no amount of production there could satisfy the world’s sweet tooth. That’s why the colonial powers of the time brought sugarcane cultivation to the New World on a massive scale. The Caribbean islands, especially Jamaica, was put to work on sugar plantations to meet the sweet addiction of the ‘home’ countries.

And what became of the byproduct of sugar production – them dark, sweet molasses? The thick syrup was stored in containers before being released into the ocean. Thankfully, this practice did not continue for long, because some bright fellow (bless his soul) noticed that the liquid was frothing in the casks and might just become the colonies’ best invention ever.

When the Royal Navy of Britain captured Jamaica from the Spanish in 1655, our passion for the potion was was born. Sugar plantations flourished in Cockpit Country and from the 18th century onwards, Jamaica was the largest sugar producing country in the Caribbean. Back in the day, it also supplied most of the rum to British sailors (and pirates, who were just some of the interesting tourists visiting Jamaica those days).

Now, the first ever rum is believed to have been made in Barbados. In Jamaica, we may (or may not) concede that, but if you love a dark, full-bodied rum that is filled with the funky, vegetal flavour of molasses and spice…well, that’s made the traditional Jamaican way.

Traditional Jamaican rum is made by fermenting molasses with dunder in vats before distilling in clay or copper pot stills. Many of the newer distilleries no longer use pot stills, and that affects the distinct, full-bodied flavour that makes Jamaican rum so popular (sigh, sigh). After the fermented mash is passed through the stills, you get unaged rum. At this point, some of us can’t resist the call of the kill-devil (that’s one more fancy word for rum), and we often drink up our spirits without aging it. But we do manage to age some of the potent potion in oak barrels, being really patient for five to seven years, sometimes more!

The Wise Monkey, of course, offers a potion imbibed with all the wisdom of ages beginning with traditional Jamaican rum-making techniques and barrel-aging. It is also infused with the flavour of Cockpit Country, right from the molasses from sugarcane grown in valley and the obeah from the wild places up on the mountains. What’s more, the master blender has some sorcery in his blending pot, too. He’s been adding flavour-notes from other sugar-growing countries to accentuate the distinctive taste of the rum. Ahhh, it takes you to a powerful place, a higher ground, a more sublime plane….All right, now the Wise Monkey has taken over, don’t mind me!