Rum and gunpowder – The cocktail favoured by the bold!

Back in the day, it was the preferred potion of seafarers and pirates. Today, well, it’s definitely not for the faint-hearted, and absolutely not to be tried at home. Risk-takers, read on to learn more about this explosive combination.


The typical navy men in the 1600s were a wild bunch, and notoriously thirsty for the ‘strong’ stuff. You wouldn’t want to mess with their drink, especially not if you were the purser, aka the unfortunate soul charged with doling out rum to the parched sailors. The crew would test the rum by splashing it over gunpowder and igniting it. If the rum was not watered down, the gunpowder would flare. This was ‘proof’ of the unadulterated potency of the alcohol and the honesty of the purser, who could otherwise have been packed off to the depths of the Caribbean.


By today’s standards, 100 proof or “navy-strength” rum is equivalent to 54.5% alc./vol, and that’s some really potent stuff! No wonder those sailors were ready to fight armadas and sail around the world!


But proof of potency aside, gunpowder was apparently mixed into the rum for reasons that included taste, Dutch courage and a certain propensity for theatrics. Case in point? The infamous pirate Edward “Blackbeard” Teach, known as much for his love for the fiery cocktail as for his plundering and pillaging. Flowing black hair and braided beard aside, Blackbeard’s was also famous for imbibing his favourite rum-gunpowder cocktail before looting a ship.


Another place with rum-gunpowder enthusiasts was 18th century Jamaica, where West African oath-taking rituals were modified by the Igbo and Akan slaves as they strengthened alliances among themselves and rebelled against their plantation owners. And how exactly did they modify their oath traditions? With a bit of rum, gunpowder, grave soil and blood. During the Morant Bay peasant uprising in 1865, captured Jamaican police officers had to imbibe oath drinks of rum and gunpowder to seal their allegiance towards the rebels. And the 1791 St. Domingue slave uprising is believed to have started off with a Petro loa voodoo ceremony that included the ritual drinking of rum and gunpowder. The uprising eventually led to the creation of Haiti, so the rum-gunpowder combination definitely ignited a revolution!


Now, closer to the present day and age, a natural sense of curiosity has lead many to wonder about an era when fiery gunpowder was added to the already potent rum to spark adventure, uprisings and revolution. Some intrepid bartenders and rum aficionados are already at work rediscovering the pyrotechnics-laden combination. But let’s leave the volatile stuff for the young-guns and pour ourselves some of the smooth wisdom potion, shall we?


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