The Three Rum Revolutions And The Beginnings Of Rum

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Rum sugarcane fields - the three rum revolutions

Rum as a category is possibly the most difficult to understand. One of the reasons could be the fact that, at the moment, there is no existing international law other than Rum must be produced 100% from sugarcane and be at least 37.5% ABV. The main reason, however, is its complexity in all production processes and the infinite universe of possibilities Rum can offer for those who produce it and for those who enjoy it: Three “states” of sugarcane that can be fermented; three fermentation systems; more than four fermentation “timings”; more than fifteen different stills; three aging systems and hundreds of barrel types that can be used for Rum production. There is no other spirit in this world that can be compared to this exotic liquid gold. 

In this article and the upcoming ones, I will try to share with you all the useful knowledge to understand this amazing sugarcane spirit, starting with its origins and history. 

Most of the consumers think that sugarcane comes originally from South America. The actual truth is that “Saccharum Officinarum,” the first sugarcane, was born in Papua, New Guinea, around 6.000 BC. Then it traveled around Asia arriving in the Middle East and North Africa thanks to the Muslim expansion during the VIII Century and finally to South Europe used mainly as medicine. It was Christopher Columbus who took this sugarcane from the Canary Islands during his second trip to the New World to “La Española” Island (which is now Dominican Republic and Haiti). Right after this, sugarcane grew fast around the Caribbean and South America becoming the main sugar source for those able to pay for it. 

But what about Rum? Even though alcohol made from sugarcane was already invented before Christ in India and Mongolia, it was the Netherlands and England who saw a business opportunity in producing alcohol from sugarcane and importing it to Europe. This is how Rum was born. 

Around 1624, an English admiral named Richard Ligon saw in Barbados what the slaves had been producing from the foam which appears during sugarcane sugar production. He called this spirit “hot, hellish and terrible” but had the idea of taking advantage of this in favor of the English crown. He built the first official Rum distillery. After William Penn conquered Jamaica in 1655, they also started to produce Rum. The island itself became the main Rum distillery for the whole of England. More than 170 distilleries were built in a short amount of time in Jamaica and the same happened in Guyana with almost 400 distilleries being built by the Dutch. We called this glorious moment the first Rum Revolution.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Second Rum Revolution started with a unique and exotic style of gastronomy. Don “The Beachcomber,” with his visual restaurant inspired by Polynesian patterns, his Cantonese food (unknown and fancy for the Americans at that time) and his secret cocktail recipes based on exotic fruits, syrups, juices and, obviously, different types of Rum, created a totally new trend called “Tiki.” After him, Victor Bergeron, aka “Trader Vic,” also pushed the whole concept around the world. Thanks to these two characters, the Second Rum Revolution travelled beyond the Oceans. 

Nowadays, all of us are part of the Third Rum Revolution. What is it though? For more or less ten years, the Rum market has been developing in a very particular direction. For the first time in history, the bartenders, maitres and chefs, spirit shop owners and final consumers started to look at the Rum category not only as a mixing spirit, but also as a premium product. High value Rums started to appear in luxury hotels, restaurants and cocktail bar shelves next to the premium Whisky or Cognac bottles. The world understood that Rum can be luxurious and extremely well made. But, what makes a Rum premium? What’s the difference between mainstream Rums and Luxury ones in terms of production? 

I invite you to follow my next articles where we will discover all the secrets about this unique spirit.

Read Chapter 2 in this series: Rum: The Sugarcane Journey
Jump to Chapter 3 in this series: Rum: Fermentation Craziness

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Cristobal Srokowski , born in Poland and raised on the Spanish Coast called "Costa Brava" , began his professional side with flairtending and tiki cocktails in Lloret de Mar, a famous touristic city of the north mediterranean coast. At just 19, he was managing the Lounge club on the beach in Malgrat de Mar, also in the Barcelona’s Coast, and soon became part of the team of one of the oldest and best cocktail bars in Barcelona : Harry's Cocktail Bar, also recognized internationally as one of the best classic cocktail bars. Meanwhile, Cristobal studied History and Philosophy at the Barcelona’s University; the target was to become a History Teacher! Is curious that he finally found the teaching side of the cocktail and rum world. During his time in this flagship classic cocktail , Cristobal won twice the Catalonia IBA cocktail championship and in November 2012 became the champion of Spain ( Spain championship of the Federation of Spanish Barmans IBA ) Long Drink category . This allowed him to travel to Italy , where he trained at the Training Center IBA (International Bartenders Association), by achieving the prestigious Elite JWC curse . From the year 2012 , Cristobal Srokowski was incorporated to the large family Varela Hermanos SA as the Abuelo Rum Global Brand Ambassador directing the artistic and creative combination of exquisite drinks with the Varela family rum. After all this years, Cristobal had the opportunity of meeting rewarded Master Blender and visiting rum distilleries for his investigation and apprenticeship. The complex world of sugar cane spirits gave him an infinite universe of possibilities and the last nomination as the Polish Rum Love Festiwal Ambassador is the perfect stage to share the rum passion in his mother country. Currently Cristobal is based in Italy and from Europe he travels the rest off the world. From China to Europe and from there to Panama , Cristobal currently conducts its work splitting his time by the 42 countries where the Abuelo Rum brand is present.

4 COMMENTS

  1. I love the history in this article!!! I would never have known this much about rum, but for this article. And I have wonderful memories of Trader Vic’s colorful rum drinks. Great article – I really enjoyed it.

  2. A very educational and fascinating history. Rum was the main ingredient of a Caribbean drink like the Bahama Mama. Lots to explore here.

  3. Rum only strikes my fancy when I’m lounging on a beach in the Caribbean. Maybe it’s the humidity that prevents hangovers, maybe I’m doing my best subconscious manifestation of Captain Jack Sparrow, who knows. Otherwise rum just makes me think of everything I forgot in college. But I can guarantee that any revolution in rum leaves everyone with their heads spinning.

  4. So very informative! Had no idea the history! Will truly appreciate that rum infused cocktail in a much more enlightened experience!

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