The liquor's history may be brutal and complicated, but this recipe is sweet and simple
Early Americans and pirates drank rum because it was ubiquitous, effective, and, in contrast to the available drinking water, unlikely to cause dysentery. Club girls and tourists drink rum because it’s typically served in sweet, fruity concoctions that represent the sweet freedom of a vacation. I drink rum because it’s delicious.
Rum is wicked with the taste of burnt sugar. The warmth of rum is not the fiery burn of whiskey but rather the decadent breath of the jungle. To drink rum is to indulge in indolence made possible by back-breaking labor. A good rum drink evokes not only the whisper of palms, but the creak of great sailing ships, and the slash of machetes in the cane. Do I drink rum to celebrate its legacy of brutality? No. But I’m a history nerd, and if I have the time to sit around and drink a rum cocktail, the activity is made more enjoyable by contemplating the layers of nuance shadowing a beverage that more often awakens images of simple sloth and excess: deck chairs, azure waters, paper umbrellas, spring break in Cabo.
Although America is now known for bourbon, in the 17th century, rum distillation was the biggest manufacturing industry in the colonies and rum an important export. Ships heavy with rum sailed from the eastern seaboard to the Gold Coast of Africa, where colonists traded rum for captives and gold; on the return trip they disembarked in Barbados, where they traded slaves for molasses (produced by slaves) which was then transported to the colonies to feed back into the booming rum industry.
But colonists weren’t exporting nearly as much as they were drinking. As Ian Williams writes in his book “Rum: A Social and Sociable History”, the American colonies (population 1.7 million) exported 1 million gallons of rum in 1770 and consumed 7.5 million gallons. Rum remained the most popular liquor in the United States throughout the 18th century. According to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States — (now that’s a council I’d like to be on) — the 1808 law banning the importation of African slaves broke the trade triangle that had long made rum so profitable. Bourbon rose to prominence in the vacuum.
Due to the unfortunately large segment of people who want to drink without tasting alcohol, vodka is now more popular than either whiskey or rum. I understand it: vodka mixes well and is low in calories.
However, rum and vodka are about equal when it comes to calories. (Liquors of the same proof tend to have an equal quantity of calories.) And if you discount the martini, rum is even more versatile than vodka. It adds a lush, complex sweetness to any drink: spiced rum mellows the most acrid coffee, rum and fresh-squeezed orange juice tastes like caramelized sunshine, and rum and ginger ale is just as excellent as its name: “dark and stormy”.
Speaking of dark and stormy, the political history of rum didn’t end with slavery. As Tom Gjelton writes in his book “Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba: The Biography of a Cause,” Cuba’s Bacardi family meddled in 19th century politics (lobbying for armed insurrection against the Spanish and thus helping create the inspiration for the popular cocktail, the Cuba libre), early 20th century politics (rallying against ‘puppets of American imperialism’ such as Batista), mid 20th century politics (funding the young rebel, Fidel Castro, turning against Castro when he nationalized the Cuban rum industry, participating in the Bay of Pigs invasion) and late 20th century politics (abandoning liberal roots and funneling money to Tom Delay).
Like its history, the best rum is dark and complex. And as I have discovered through careful research, you can put rum in almost anything. Favorites include: rum and Thai iced tea, rum and black coffee, and the mojito. I also think it’s worth drinking a Cuba libre every now and then, just in the interest of historical appreciation, though I would never waste good quality rum by mixing it with Coke. Which brings me to my final point: although fruity cocktails can be delicious (particularly when fresh juice is used), the best rum is worthy of being showcased, not obscured. A fine rum and soda (with a dash of fresh orange juice for body) is an ideal accessory for a summer afternoon.
When I make this drink for myself, I include three parts soda water because I like weak drinks, which allow me to enjoy drinking longer while keeping undesirable drunkenness at bay. But if you enjoy a strong drink and/or are new to rum, the following recipe allows for more flavor.
- 1 part Flor de Cana rum (5 year or above)
- 2 parts club soda
- The juice of one slice of lime
- The juice of one slice of orange
- Mix all ingredients together.
- Serve in a cold glass, over ice, garnished with lime.
The result? Simple and sweet, unlike rum’s history.
Felisa Rogers studied history and nonfiction writing at the Evergreen State College and went on to teach writing to kids for five years. She lives in Oregon’s coast range, where she works as a freelance writer and editor. More Felisa Rogers.
More Related Stories
- Man arrested for sending Craigslist sex party to neighbor's house
- Greek yogurt, toxic waste hazard?
- Glenn Beck: CNN interview with atheist tornado survivor was a setup!
- Incoming BBC news director on journalism gender gap: "We can do better"
- Illegal construction, shoddy materials at fault in Bangladesh factory disaster
- Pope Francis: Atheists are all right!
- Lawsuit alleges anti-gay hiring practices at ExxonMobil
- Boy Scouts poised to vote, still greatly divided on gay youth
- Is recreational pot use safe?
- How I ended up in a pyramid scheme
- My bipolar partner beat me
- Teenagers care more about online privacy than you think
- Radio host tweets rape joke, blames journalists for reporting on it
- El Salvador court delays ruling on abortion case while woman's life hangs in the balance
- Kicked out of the mall -- for an anti-cancer hat
- Why do men pretend to be women online?
- Pa. governor "can't find" any Latinos to work in his administration
- Conservative group blames military sexual assault on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal
- Is Pittsburgh the next Portland?
- Tornado survivor to Wolf Blitzer: Sorry, I'm an atheist. I don't have to thank the Lord
- Donald Rumsfeld worried that marriage equality will lead to polygamy
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11