August 16th is national rum day and had I not been reading Wayne Curtis's And a Bottle of Rum I probably would have thought little of it. Considering that rum is primarily made in the Caribbean and in South America, there seems to be little reason for Americans to celebrate it as nation. I mean, why not have national sake day then? However, the more I discover about the history of rum, the more surprised I become. Like many others out there, I was predisposed to the idea that rye whiskey was the foundation of American distillation. Old Potrero's 18th Century whiskey and other "frontier" style products have crafted the notion that to drink rye whiskey is to embrace our early American drinking habits. While rye whiskey was certainly being distilled early on in the colonial era, grain was simply too valuable to waste on distillation. These people needed rye for bread not booze! However, the giant glut of molasses coming from the West Indies provided a cheap and effective product for the early settlers to ferment and then distill. It was essentially a "trash product" - the remnants of sugar refining and "astoundingly cheap." In response to the 156,000 gallons molasses that would arrive every six months just in Massachussets, settlers built distilleries as close as possible to the ports where ships from the Carrbbean would arrive. The practice became very popular and Americans began drinking rum in gigantic amounts. According to Curtis, there were 159 rum distilleries in New England by the year 1763! By 1770, the U.S. was importing 6.5 million gallons of molasses to feed the thirst for more rum!
Amazing. Happy national rum day! Drink some rum. Celebrate our early drinking culture the right way!