Rum is the oldest known spirit and the first to be distilled for non-medical purposes. Most historians believe that the first rum was distilled in the Caribbean and West Indies regions in the 1620s.
With such a long history, many stories and myths have been built around rum. We have researched and compiled the most interesting facts about this versatile spirit. Some may not be completely accurate, so take them with a grain of salt. Let’s get started!
Facts About Rum
The origin of the word “rum” is unclear.
Rum was used as a medicine.
Rum was used as a form of currency in trade.
There is no universal regulation for rum.
Rum gets drier with age, not sweeter.
1: The Origin of the Word “Rum” Is Unclear
The etymological origin of “rum” is still uncertain. There are several hypotheses, but none of them provide enough evidence. One theory suggests that “rum” is a shortened version of the Latin word for sugar cane, “Saccharum Officinarum.” Another theory is that it comes from the word “brum,” used by Malay people in the 14th century to refer to a sugar-based spirit. Some believe it is derived from the Dutch term “rummers,” which refers to the drinking glasses used by Dutch sailors during the time they farmed sugar cane in Barbados. However, the most accepted theory is that the word “rum” is a shorthand for the British slang “rumbullion,” which means a “great tumult” and refers to liquors made from sugar cane. This theory makes more sense considering that early rum was known as a strong and hot drink.
2: Rum Was Used as a Medicine
Since ancient times, there has been a belief that fermented drinks, including rum, have medicinal benefits. In the early 19th century, physicians used to prescribe alcoholic beverages for various medical treatments. Pirates also drank rum to prevent diseases and eliminate stress. Rum was considered an antiseptic to clean wounds and prevent infections. However, the therapeutic value of alcohol was discredited by scientific medicine in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
3: Rum Was Used as a Trading Currency
In the 18th century, rum was highly valued and used as a trading currency. Privateers and sailors received barrels of rum as payment. Rum was also used as a trading currency between pirates. In Australia, rum was used as a means of purchasing goods and services in the first decades of British colonial rule. Unfortunately, rum was also involved in the slave trade triangle between America, the Caribbean, and West Africa. The profits from the molasses trade were used to purchase slaves.
4: There Is No Universal Rum Regulation
Currently, there is no universal law regulating rum production. Each region has its own guidelines for classifying rum. For example, the Caribbean defines rum as a spirit obtained from the fermentation and distillation of sugar cane products and bottled at less than 96% alcohol by volume. In the U.S., rum is defined as an alcoholic distillate from fermented sugar cane juice or molasses. The European Union defines rum as a spirit produced by fermentation and distillation from sugar cane products. Australia defines rum as a potable alcoholic distillate derived from food sources and containing at least 37% alcohol by volume.
5: Rum Gets Drier with Age, Not Sweeter
There is a popular misconception that rum is sweet, but this may be due to the fact that many people consume rum in sugary cocktails. During fermentation, yeast consumes the sugar in the mash, leaving no residual sugar in the final product. Freshly distilled rum has essentially no sugar content. Some rums may have added natural sweetness during aging to enhance their flavor and texture, but this is not true for all rums.