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Discover Caribbean Rum – the True Spirit of the Caribbean

Rum conjures up fantasies of pirates, slavery, plantations, revelry and revolution. Rum also brings to mind relaxing on a white sandy beach and enjoying the pleasures of life or wining in a band on carnival day with a drink in one hand and a flag waving in the other. Pirates of the Caribbean’s Captain Sparrow, played by Johnny Depp, is the image one may call to mind – a drunk pirate with no care in the world, having the time of his life. But how ever you think about rum it usually goes hand-in-hand with thoughts of the Caribbean or Caribbean-related culture.

Captain Jack Sparrow (played by Johnny Depp) – Pirates of the Caribbean

A fermented liquor made from sweet sugarcane, rum is an alcoholic beverage that represents the true spirit of the Caribbean. Rum is to the Caribbean what communion is to Catholics; an almost sacred installation of Caribbean culture. Rum is as Caribbean as it gets – from rum cakes to rum cocktails, rum & rhythm, rum used as medicine, rum in religion, rum in history or rum all on its own. Virtually every Caribbean Island prides itself on its own brand of Rum that is touted as ‘the best’ on the market, whether it’s Havana Club from Cuba, Bacardi from Puerto Rico, Appleton Estate from Jamaica, Angostura rums from Trinidad and Tobago, or El Dorado from Guyana.  Rum is celebrated in nearly every Caribbean household and is deeply anchored in the culture and history of the islands. Rum is strongly linked to sugar, slavery, sacred rituals and the sensual carnivals celebrated throughout the Caribbean.

Table of contents

Table of Contents

I was Introduced to Rum at 8 Years Old

My first introduction to rum (Trinidad’s Vat 19 rum) was at the tender age of 8 years old. I know, who the hell gives rum to an 8-year old? I was walking home from school one afternoon without a care in the world, when a heavy rain came down and soaked me to the bone. I was dripping wet when I walked through the door to my house. Upon arriving home my grandmother, with a mix of shock, horror, anger and maternal concern immediately stripped me of my clothing and placed a shot of Vat 19 rum in my hand and said, “Drink it!” There, in the middle of the living room, I stood completely naked and reluctantly downed the odd-looking liquid. I had to admit, there was a small sense of excitement. I was allowed to drink alcohol; something reserved for adults only. I was finally going to understand what was all the fuss about rum. I remember the burning sensation and sharp taste that assaulted my mouth. “It’s good for you”, she said. “It will stop you from catching a cold.” That was my first experience with rum – no ice, no chaser, no warning. And eventually, no cold.

8-year old me, flying high. And no, it was not because of the rum my granny gave me

Rum is a Money-Making Industry

Not surprising, rum is big business. In 2022, the global rum market was valued at US $15 billion and is expected to pass US $20 billion by 2027.

 

Rum production was first introduced to the Caribbean in the 17th century. The rum that we know today originates from the colonial West Indies, and even then it was really about seeing rum as a money-making opportunity. Richard Ligon, an English author, who had lost his fortune in the English Civil war, ventured to the West Indies to secure a fortune from the “New World”. Ligon brought in sugar cane expertise from Brazil including equipment and distillation know-how. The combination of Ligon’s knowledge of rum and the sugar cane expertise from Brazil, including equipment and distillation know-how, in less than 10 years the sugar barons of Barbados became some of the richest people in the world, with a prospering sugar and rum export industry.

Sampling rum at St Nicholas Abbey (visitbarbados.org)

Kill Devil – The Origins of Rum in the Caribbean

The first records of rum being made in the Caribbean was on the island of Barbados. In the latter half of the 17th century, rum was called “kill-devil” or “rumbullion” or “rumbustion” (meant upheaval or violent commotion – likely for the effect that this spirit had on those who drank it).  By 1667, this sweet, distilled concoction was simply called RUM.[1]

[1]“The Tumultuous, Economy-Building History of Rum.” The Crafty Cask, September 13, 2021. https://thecraftycask.com/craft-spirits-liqueurs/history-rum/.

The Top Rums of the Caribbean

Rum is one of the Caribbean’s most popular alcoholic beverages, with many Caribbean islands producing and making their own unique brands of rums. Today, many of the world’s most famous rum brands are made and distilled in the Caribbean.

Here are some of the top rum brands of the Caribbean. These are our picks, based on our personal tastes but also on awards and international recognition.

  1. Angostura 1787
  2. El Dorado Demerara – 21 year Old Rum
  3. Bacardi Añejo Cuatro Rum
  4. Appleton Estate 12 Year Old Rare Blend
  5. Havana Club Professional Edition C
  6. Neptune Rum Barbados Gold
  7. Angostura 1919
  8. Bacardi Gran Reserva Diez
  9. Havana Club Selección de Maestros
  10. Don Q Gran Añejo rum

 

One may ask which is the best Caribbean rum to have? But that all depends on one’s taste for the spirit, as different islands make different blends. Typically, Puerto Rican rum is known for its light and smooth profile; Jamaican rums are known for their rich and robust flavours; Barbadian rums are known for their balanced flavour profiles, while the Guyanese Demerara rum is known for its sweet taste; and there are so many more rums coming from Trinidad, Haiti, Martinique, St. Lucia, all with different flavour profiles; it’s all about personal preference.

The Science and Art of Making Rum

Making rum is as much an art form as it is a science. While rum requires 3 key ingredients – sugar cane, water and yeast. There are a number of factors than can affect the taste and smoothness of the rum. Aging is critical. The more a rum is aged the more sophisticated it becomes and of course, it’s sold at premium. Even the quality of the water can affect taste and quality. Islands such as Dominica and St. Vincent with natural springs have the potential to have exquisite rums. The level of sweetness of the sugar cane is also a major factor.

Then, rums can be in three categories white, gold and dark. The longer a rum is aged the darker and richer the flavours become. Consider also how the rum is stored. The receptical itself influences the fermentation process and affects the flavour. Vats (the container storing the rums) made from oak, for example, gives a very rich woody flavour and aroma to the rums. Some add vanilla, spices, tobacco and orange or lime peel to enhance the flavours. It’s really an art.

The Rum Making Process

During the 17th century, it became apparent to those working on the sugar plantations that fermenting and distilling molasses, a by-product of sugarcane production, produced alcohol, and so, modern rum was born. Some rums are produced from the sugar cane juice rather than the molasses, a process which retains more of the original flavours[1].

 

There are four major processes involved in making rum: fermentation, distillation, ageing and blending. The basic principles of rum making are quite simple and use three ingredients – sugar cane, water and yeast.  The main raw material of rum is either sugar cane juice or molasses (a by-product of sugar processing) used for the fermentation process. The addition of yeast and sugar creates a spontaneous reaction which produces the alcohol and a range of by-products – called congeners – that give rum its unique aroma and flavour. Distilling separates the alcohol and congeners from the fermented mixture and concentrates them to make the actual rum. Distilling equipment and practice varies from place to place which produces rums of different characters. Rum is aged in oak barrels and ultimately blended to produce the spirit we know as rum[2].

[1] Culture Trip. “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Rum.” https://theculturetrip.com/caribbean/articles/everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know-about-rum/.

[2] “The Rum Process Angostura PR Toolkit – Thirstmag.com.” https://www.thirstmag.com/uploadfiles/AngosturaProductSheet.pdf.

A tour of the rum distilling process at St Nicholas Abbey, Barbados (visitbarbados.org)

Rum was an ‘Escape’ for Enslaved Africans

Working on sugar plantations, at sugar mills and rum distilleries, enslaved Africans in the Caribbean had fairly easy access to rum. They consumed rum as a key element of their social life and culture. They also used rum as a connection to the spiritual world. Rum drinking offered a momentary escape from harsh labour regimens and cruel conditions they had to endure on sugar estates. Rum, therefore, helped enslaved peoples temporarily transcend the physical bonds of slavery, which elevated its symbolic value in resistance ideologies.

Rum and the Sugar Trade

Sugar cane was first cultivated in New Guinea and first fermented as early as 350 BC in India. Back then, however, these fermented drinks were primarily used medicinally. As Caribbean islands began to be ‘discovered’, they became a perfect climate for growing sugar cane. Sugar was highly valued on the triangular slave trade route and required incredible manpower and water[1].

Sugar cane became one of the Caribbean’s most important commodities. Manpower and water, the two most important elements for the cultivation of sugar meant that, together with slavery, the West Indies was the perfect place.

Rum figured in the slave trade of the American colonies: the enslaved were brought from Africa and traded to the West Indies for molasses; the molasses was made into rum in New England; and the rum was then traded to Africa for more enslaved people[2].

[1] “The Tumultuous, Economy-Building History of Rum.” The Crafty Cask, September 13, 2021. https://thecraftycask.com/craft-spirits-liqueurs/history-rum/.

[2] “Rum.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/topic/rum-liquor.

 

An Old Sugar Mill, Barbados (visitbarbados.org)

Rum was a Favourite of the Indian Indentured Labourers

Drinking rum and smoking ganja was a common pastime for many of the East Indian indentured labourers. Unsurprisingly, many ordinances and laws had to be implemented to try and curb the wanton drunkenness amongst the Indian plantation workers.

Rum, Drums and Spirits

Rum isn’t merely used as a beverage. It also has a prominent place in some ingenious Caribbean religions. Rum is used in Obeah, Voodoo and Santeria in Caribbean islands such as Cuba and Haiti. The priests or obeah men interpret the will of the spirits using divination, which involves elaborate rituals that often includes rum, drums and animal sacrifice. Rum is seen as an element that, when fused with other ingredients (special herbs) and combined with incantations and rhythmic beating of the drum, can call forward spirits and deities. Much like being intoxicated, when participants in these rituals ‘catch the spirit’ they can actually feel their presence and onlookers too can sense when they enter their trance-like state. They are often unaware of what’s happening to them. They walk differently, speak differently and their visage transforms into a state of ecstasy. But which ‘spirit’ is responsible for this effect? Is it the rum or their deities?

Source: https://www.vice.com/da/article/3b7vyn/santeria-in-cuba-phil-clarke-hill

Why is Rum So Popular?

Among American drinkers, rum is the third spirit of choice following vodka and cordials. Rum is the ‘spirit’ of choice for many drinkers for a number of reasons. Unlike many other liquors, rum has a rich and colourful history. Rum also provides the best value/quality ratio compared to say, whisky, according to Harpers Bazaar.  Rum is also a must for many cocktails (the third most popular spirit used in cocktails). Some of your favourite cocktails (and mine) contain rum – mojito, rum and coke, piña colada, and of course, the classic Caribbean rum punch that my grandad used to make (best rum punch ever). And no, I’m not sharing the family recipe here. Sorry!

Rum and Caribbean Culture

The carnival vibe of rhythmic music, gyrating hips, stomping feet and colourful costumes can be seen and felt all over the Caribbean islands. However, no carnival in the Caribbean would be complete without rum.

trinidad carnival

Rum and Rhythm

Rum in the Caribbean is also associated with partying/feteing and having a good time. With many calypsos and soca songs with rum in the title and lyrics throughout the song. From the early days of calypsos, an internationally recognised song, “Rum and Coca Cola” sung by Lord Invader and made popular in America by the Andrew Sisters to modern day soca songs like “Rum is meh lova” by Ravi B and “Bottle of Rum” by Machel Montano. These songs highlighting the love for rum and signifying the cultural significance of the Caribbean and its love for rum.

Here’s a list of the Top Rum Songs:

Rum and Coca – Lord Invader:

 Rum ‘Til I Die – Adesh Samaroo

Rum is meh lova – Ravi B

Bottle of Rum – Machel Montano

Rum & Roti – Patch

Rum in the Morning – Hunter

Rum and Caribbean Cuisine

While rum is famously used as a beverage and mixed into our favourite cocktails, in the Caribbean rum is also utilised in its cuisine.  Rum is used in flambés, ceviche and even used to season and flavour meats. But one of the most popular uses of rum in cuisine in the Caribbean, is its use in Black Cake/Fruit Cake/Rum Cake. Black Cake is a popular cake during the Christmas season in the Caribbean. Persons soak their dried fruits in rum for at least a year in advance in preparation to make this delicious dessert. Rum cake is usually moist and potent as the rum infuses with the fruits to make the perfect Christmas dessert.

The Health Benefits of Responsible Rum Drinking

Besides being one of the best sold alcoholic beverages in the world, rum consumption can actually be healthy for us (in moderation, of course). Drinking rum can give strengthen your heart, decrease your cholesterol levels and can also be a great blood thinner.

But let’s get real, is anybody drinking rum for its health purposes? Rum in the Caribbean is a popular drink simply because it’s the perfect alcoholic beverage and can be paired greatly with many chasers.

Many popular drinks like Rum and Coca Cola, Rum and Coconut Water and the many famous Rum mixes and cocktails – daiquiris, pina colada, mojitos, mai tai, long island iced tea etc. that all feature a white or dark rum.

Rum ‘til I Die

So whether it’s a quiet Sunday evening with friends or chilling out at my favourite local bar, rum will always be my go-to drink. I typically combine it with coconut water (a staple in the Caribbean), cola or on the rocks. And when I’m trying to be ‘sophisticated’ an aged rum is what I reach for, either Angostura 1919 or El Dorado Demerara 21-Year Old rum if I really want to be posh.

Top Award-Winning Rums

Pusser’s Rum

A Caribbean traditional rum of the British Virgin Islands blended to the Admiralty’s Specifications, The Royal Navy.

Doorly’s Rum

Doorly’s Rum, a wide range of exceptional rums made at Foursquare Rum Distillery in Barbados.

Ron Barceló

With the most exported dark rum in the world, you can’t experience anything better than Ron Barceló. A Dominican Republic Elite Rum.

Brugal Rum

Brugal Family premium quality, sipping rums, carefully aged and crafted by master blenders since 1888, in the Dominican Republic.

Tortuga Rum Cakes

Authentic, Caribbean and Tasty. Tortuga Rum Cakes is a product of The Cayman Islands consisting of the finest ingredients.

Goslings Rum

Rich & Smooth! Home to the famous Ginger Beer and Dark n’ Stormy cocktail, Goslings Rum is a family-led business from Bermuda, that has been around since 1806.

Plantation Rum

Travel the Caribbean with these exquisite blends of rum, produced on the island of Rum – Barbados.

Bacardí

A premium, family-owned, alcohol giant not only known worldwide for its famous and superior Caribbean rum but also its cocktails, festivals, and so much more.

El Dorado Demerara

Discover the heart of Guyana with El Dorado rum – a luxurious rum range produced by the famous Demerara Distillers Ltd.

Mount Gay Rum

Traditional and Delicious. Mount Gay Rum distillery is the world’s first commercial rum distillery. The rum is made with molasses giving it a golden finish.

The House of Angostura

Welcome to the House of Angostura, home to the leading rums of the Caribbean and the #1 bitters in the world.

Top Recommended Rums

Chairman’s Reserve Rum

St. Lucia’s finest rum is made using pot and column stills. The rums are some of the most flavourful rums in the Caribbean.

Cubaney Rum

From Cuba to the Dominican Republic! Cubaney rum is a true encapsulation of the Spanish Caribbean.

Doorly’s Rum

Doorly’s Rum, a wide range of exceptional rums made at Foursquare Rum Distillery in Barbados.

Opthimus Rum

This quality, award-winning rum from the Dominican Republic is full of pleasing flavours and aromas reminiscent of the Caribbean.

Siboney Rum

Originating in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Siboney rum is distilled using a combination of traditional and modern techniques.

Boukman Rhum

A traditional drink from Haiti, Boukman Rum is distilled with fresh suger cane and blended with spices and botanical ingredients.

Matusalem Rum

Originated in Cuba, but produced in the Dominican Republic. Transport to the islands of the Spanish Caribbean with Matusalem Rum.

Six Saints Rum

Authentic Caribbean rum aged in bourbon barrels from the island of Grenada. Enjoy a sip of the Six Saints!

Cockspur Rum

A rum to experience the tropical island of Barbados. Make the perfect cocktail with Cockspur Rum.

Soggy Dollar Rum

This rum, made in the British Virgin Islands at Soggy Dollar, is a handcrafted unique blend of aged rums from across the Caribbean.

Ten To One Rum

Founded and Owned by Marc Farrel, and Co-Owned by Singer Ciara, Ten To One is black owned and diverse in it’s blend. Enjoy 100% pure Caribbean rum.

Author:

Kevon Wilson

kevon wilson

Kevon Wilson, is a premier researcher and strategist. He has more than 16 years’ experience in research and digital marketing.

He is co-author of many of Leve Global’s research publications such as Big Data – Delivering the Big Picture to Drive CompetitivenessEverything You Need to Know About Internet Marketing,  and The Top Ten Emerging Markets.

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