When rum comes to mind for many adults of legal drinking age, we often reminisce to the taste of ice cold piña coladas and strawberry daiquiris, laying somewhere on a warm beach underneath a perfectly shady palm tree. Those who haven’t tasted it are likely brought back to their younger days, when they knew it as the liquid gold that storybook pirates treasured so dearly. Regardless of which category you fall into, nearly every association with rum ties back to the Caribbean; the birthplace of this deliciously sweet liquor. Although initially crafted in Barbados, Jamaica is credited with creating it’s worldwide popularity and refining the rum-making process to a tee.
The rum-making process
Much like France’s strict standards regarding the term “Champagne” being used in place of “sparkling wine,” Jamaica has its own set of standards to ensure that every single bottle of Jamaican rum lives up to its reputation. As a matter of fact, it’s even government regulated! Rum produced in Jamaica is characteristically sweet, as it is made from molasses. The first step of the process is to grow sugar cane. Luckily, Jamaica’s natural underground limestone produces calcium carbonate to create the best growing conditions possible. When water passes through limestone before being absorbed by the plant’s roots, the final product becomes softer and sweeter. After harvest, the sugar cane is boiled until molasses is the final result. Then, the molasses is fermented in large oak barrels before distillation in a pot still. Jamaicans prefer to use American Oak barrels to capture the mild flavor of vanilla the wood emits. Finally, the rum is left to age for as long as desired. In the Caribbean, rum evaporates at a significantly faster rate than the rest of the world (300% to be exact), allowing the rum to mature notably faster in a shorter amount of time. This is because the heat causes the wood to expand and absorb the rum before releasing it once again, creating a greater flavor interaction between the wood and the rum. Jamaican rum always uses GMO-free yeast and absolutely no added sugars or flavors, to ensure an entirely natural process and taste.
The rich flavors
If you’re sampling a Jamaican rum for the first time, the professionals prefer that you save the fruity mixers and bubbly sugary additions for next time. While they may be undeniably delicious, the best way to truly appreciate the rum’s natural flavor is neat. While doing so, you will likely notice the fruity sweet undertones, rich, full-bodied nature, woodiness, smokiness, smoothness, and spiciness all at the same time.
The fascinating history
In the nineteenth century, 148 rum distilleries existed on the island, however today only four remain. While the number of distilleries has decreased due largely in part to the discontinuation of slave labor, the amount of rum produced and the variety of different types has certainly grown. Each year, Jamaica claims to produce enough rum to fill 20 Olympic-sized swimming pools! The rum is then exported to over 70 different countries around the world.
The fun facts
- An alternate name for rum used to be “kill-devil.” It is disputed whether this is because of the alcohol’s tendency to cause people to sin, it’s strong flavor, or because of its use when trading with the Americas.
- George Washington was such a big fan of rum, he used it to make his eggnog! He also distributed dozens of gallons of rum to his voters and even insisted a constant supply of rum was kept at military forts. He claimed it boosted morale and gave soldiers the energy they needed to be alert in the battlefield.
- The most popular rum cocktail is easily the Piña Colada, which was crafted in 1953 in a Hilton Hotel in Puerto Rico. Stop by Hilton Rose Hall Jamaica for a taste of the original recipe that made the cocktail what it is today.
- In the 1800s, rum was often used as shampoo. It was known as a staple beauty product due to its ability to strengthen your hair’s roots while cleansing it simultaneously.
- Appleton Estate in Jamaica is the second oldest rum distillery in the world, being a fully functioning distillery for two and a half centuries.
With the high-quality, detail-oriented rum Jamaicans are accustomed to drinking, it’s no wonder rum is a staple in the locals’ lives! It’s utterly delicious. Drink it neat, or combine it with some classic mixers for the flavors you see most fit to your liking. From Piña Coladas to Mojitos, Rum Runners, Mai Tais, and Cuba Libres, the possibilities are endless! Although rum is a Caribbean classic staple, nobody makes rum quite like the Jamaicans.