Where did rum come from?

Rum is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from sugarcane or byproducts, such as treacle or sugarcane juice. With over 3.5 million people consuming rum each year, it’s one of the most popular spirits, often mixed with cola, ginger ale, and orange juice. But where did it come from, and who invented it?

The origin of rum

A product often associated with a pirate’s favourite pastime, the exact origin of rum is shrouded in history and folklore. The first time the word “rum” was documented was in a description by a visitor to Barbados in 1647, who reported “the chief fuddling they make in the island is Rumbullion, alias Kill-Devil, and this is made of sugar cane distilled, a hot, hellish and terrible liquor.” While many advertisements and rum companies claim that rum was first made in Barbados by the British in 1647, records show that Sir Francis Drake consumed “agua ardiente” in 1596 as a remedy for dysentery while on an expedition in Cuba. This predates the British conquest of Jamaica in 1655, and there has been evidence of distilled sugar spirits in Jamaica since 1509.

Sugarcane was cultivated in ancient India and spread to various parts of the world through trade and exploration. When it reached the Caribbean islands, it thrived due to the favourable climate. The Caribbean became a centre for distillation, experimenting with byproducts to create alcoholic beverages.

The word rum could have originated for a variety of sources. The Latin word “saccharum” means sugarcane, could be its origin, as could the British slang term “rumbullion” which refers to a noisy commotion. Over time, the distillation techniques were refined and the process of creating rum became more standardised:

  • Fermentation
  • Distillation
  • Aging
  • Blending
  • Bottling and Packaging

Rum, unlike any other spirits, doesn’t have any rules or international laws that determine from where and how it should be distilled unlike spirits such as Bourbon, Scotch or Champagne. This allows rum to exist in many forms and has given the opportunity for the rise of UK Rum and reinventing itself as a premium and fashionable spirit.

The development of the rum bottle

In the early days of its production, rum was transported and stored in a variety of containers, such as barrels and casks. They were practical for bulk storage and transportation. As the rum industry grew, glass bottles began to replace traditional containers. Glass provided a hygienic and airtight solution to preserve quality and taste.

Over time, rum bottles started to take on distinct shapes and designs that reflected the cultural and artistic influences of the regions where the rum was produced. These designs developed further with the concept of branding and marketing.

Today, the rum industry embraces a range of bottle designs to appeal to modern consumers. Distilleries often invest in innovative packaging and unique bottle shapes to stand out in a competitive market. It is likely that designs of rum bottles will continue to evolve and adapt to growing environmental awareness.

A timeless beverage with an exquisite variety of flavours – artistry encapsulated within its carefully crafted bottles. We’ll drink to that.

Author Josh Webster