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The History of Rum In 4 Drinks

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With hot weather upon us, tropical rum tipples are totally in season. But the stories behind these drinks—and their evolution—often parallel the history of the spirit itself.

According to Wayne Curtis, author of And A Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails, “any given cocktail would arise only when the confluence of economics, technology, trade, and culture came together. Without all those elements, that drink—grog, mojito, whatever—would fail to appear. Drink deeply of any historic drink, and you'll usually find a good story.” Rum is no exception.

During the 16th and 17th centuries, sugarcane farmers were producing a lot of molasses. At the time, it wasn’t considered to be a proper food, so it was given to slaves or dumped in the ocean. Luckily, someone realized that it could be fermented and distilled. The result, as they say, made history.

1. EL DRAQUE

Like the Sazerac, some claim that the El Draque was the world’s first cocktail. Though the claim is questionable, the drink’s history largely parallels that of rum itself. We know for certain that the Draque (also known as the “Draquecito”) was likely named for Sir Francis Drake.

As the legend goes, the English vice admiral’s fleet of ships became stranded near Havana in the late 16th century. His crew sick, Drake responded by whipping up a medicinal concoction using tree bark soaked in crude rum (known as aguardiente), mint, lime, and sugar. Each of the ingredients served a medicinal purpose, and they also helped cover up the taste of the rough spirit.

Aguardiente (which translates as “fiery water”) was basically rough, un-aged rum, and it would’ve likely been the only spirit available in town.

Some time after that point, some intrepid drinker substituted white rum for aguardiente. Ice was added. Someone else, probably a bartender in Cuba, topped it with soda water, changed the name, and the Mojito was born. It’s likely these small changes happened over years or decades, but the result is one of the most recognizable cocktails ever sipped.

2. GROG

Grog is probably best known as the precursor to the Daiquiri, that familiar combination of rum, sugar, and lime. “The main difference [between the two is] ice,” writes Wayne Curtis, though “Grog was originally just water and rum.” In the 1740s, Admiral “Old Grog” Vernon campaigned for soldiers to mix their rum rations with water.

Later on, British naval decrees issued daily lime and sugar rations. According to Curtis, “all the ingredients were there, but it needed to be deeply chilled and served shaken until frigid to make it into the sublime sip we now know as the Daiquiri.”

By this time, rum was an ingrained part of overseas trade and colonial life. Rum doesn’t spoil like beer, wine, or sugarcane. And because it takes up much less space, it makes for easy transport. As a result, it was used as currency in the tragic and shameful Triangle Trade of slaves across the Atlantic.

That rum was made in New England, not the Caribbean. During the 1700s and 1800s, the sugarcane exported from tropical regions fueled the stills in the Northeast. At the peak of the New England rum boom, the colonies imported six million gallons of molasses to fuel the area’s 159 distilleries. Most of the rum was produced for domestic consumption, but some was exported. How much, exactly, is a contentious issue among historians. Many, Curtis included, believe that the amount involved in the Triangle Trade has been overstated.

After the American Revolution, the British cut off the supply of cheap molasses. Grain, however, was plentiful and cheap, so whiskey began to eclipse rum in the mid-1800s in America.

Before the craft cocktail revival of the late '90s, the Daiquiri became a class of drinks rather than a singular beverage. Though many know the syrupy sweet frozen Daiquiri that certainly holds a spot in cocktail culture, the classic, simple Daiquiri has made a resurgence.

3. THE ZOMBIE

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, rum largely faded from public view in America, but the emergence of the tiki movement in the 1930s helped to bring back it back in style. Not only that, the tiki trend also called for combining different spirits into a single drink.

The tiki trend was fun and a little weird, and The Zombie embodies that strangeness and strength (and sometimes its slightly less-than-palatable kick). According to cocktail historian Dave Wondrich, the Zombie was created as an extremely potent hangover cure in the late '30s. Before you go searching out recipes for making it at home, please note that it's well-known for its potency, not its deliciousness. Please drink responsibly.

4. RUM OLD FASHIONED

In the world of cocktails, few contemporary drinks are 100 percent original. Take, for example, the Rum Old Fashioned (and all the different variations on this theme). Though you may be more familiar with the Old Fashioned made with whiskey, bars are constantly looking for ways to tweak the classics.

Back in the 19th century, the Rum Old Fashioned would probably have been called a Rum Cocktail. This simple mixture of bitters, sugar, water, and spirit fits the first known definition of an alcoholic cocktail perfectly.

Despite its simplicity, there’s not a standard definition of what constitutes a Rum Old Fashioned. As a result, it’s the perfect drink to customize exactly how you like it. Like with other spirits, the quality of available rum has risen and the number of brands on the market has skyrocketed, making it easy to find a rum that matches your tastes. Check out some of our suggestions here.

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How to Choose the Best Watermelon
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Buying a watermelon is an experience one can grow to resent. The 92 percent moisture content of Citrullus lanatus means you're basically buying a giant ball of water. On the plus side, they're delicious and packed with enough vitamin C and D to keep you from getting scurvy.

But how to select the best of the batch? Food blogger Emma Christensen over at kitchn recently offered some advice, and it involves a little weight-training. When you examine watermelons in the produce section of your local grocery, you want to look for the heaviest one for its size. The denser the fruit, the more juice it has. That's when it's at its most ripe.

Next, check the underside of the watermelon for the "splotch." That's the yellow patch the watermelon develops by resting on the ground. If it's a creamy yellow, it's also a good indicator of being ripe.

Finally, give the underside a little smack—not aggressive enough to draw attention from grocery workers, but enough so that you can determine whether the watermelon sounds hollow. If it does, that's good. If it sounds dull, like you're hitting a solid brick of material, it's overripe; put the watermelon down and slowly back away from it.

If you're not confident in your watermelon evaluation abilities, there's another option: Local farmers markets typically have only choice product available, so any watermelon you pick up is likely to be a winner. You can also ask the merchant to pick one out for you. Pay attention to what he's doing and then try to emulate it the next time you're forced to choose your own produce.

[h/t: kitchn]

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10 Things You Might Not Know About Wine
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by Tilar J. Mazzeo

Between the vine and the liquor store, plenty of secrets are submerged in your favorite bottle of vino. Here, the author of Back Lane Wineries of Sonoma spills some of the best.

1. DIGITAL EYES ARE EVERYWHERE IN VINEYARDS.

Certain premium estates in Bordeaux and Napa are beginning to look a little more like an army base—or an Amazon.com warehouse. They’re using drones, optical scanners, and heat-sensing satellites to keep a digital eye on things. Some airborne drones collect data that helps winemakers decide on the optimal time to harvest and evaluate where they can use less fertilizer. Others rove through the vineyard rows, where they may soon be able to take over pruning. Of course, these are major investments. At $68,000 a pop, the Scancopter 450 is about twice as costly as a 1941 Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon!

2. THERE ARE ALSO LOTS OF COW SKULLS.

They’re not everywhere, but biodynamic farming techniques are on the rise among vintners who don’t want to rely on chemicals, and this is one trick they’ve been known to use to combat plant diseases and improve soil PH. It’s called Preparation No. 505, and it involves taking a cow’s skull (or a sheep’s or a goat’s), stuffing it with finely ground oak chips, and burying it in a wet spot for a season or two before adding it to the vineyard compost.

3. FEROCIOUS FOLIAGE IS A VINTNER’S FRIEND.

The mustard flowers blooming between vineyard rows aren’t just for romance. Glucosinolates in plants like radishes and mustard give them their spicy bite, and through the wonders of organic chemistry, those glucosinolates also double as powerful pesticides. Winemakers use them to combat nematodes—tiny worms that can destroy grape crops.

4. WHAT A CANARY IS TO A COAL MINE, ROSES ARE TO A VINEYARD.

Vintners plant roses among their vines because they get sick before anything else in the field. If there’s mildew in the air, it will infect the roses first and give a winemaker a heads-up that it’s time to spray.

5. VINTNERS EXPLOIT THE FOOD CHAIN.

A trio of wines
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Small birds like blackbirds and starlings can clear out 20 percent of a crop in no time. But you know what eats little birds? Big birds. Falconry programs are on the rise in vineyards from California to New Zealand. Researchers have found that raptors eat a bird or two a day (along with a proportion of field mice and other critters) and cost only about as much to maintain as your average house cat.

6. THE BIG PROBLEMS IN TASTING ROOMS ARE VERY SMALL.

Winemakers are constantly seeking ways to manage the swarms of Drosophila melanogaster that routinely gather around the dump buckets in their swanky showrooms. You know these pests as fruit flies, and some vintners in California are exploring ways to use carnivorous plants to tackle the problem without pesticides. Butterworts, sundews, and pitcher plants all have sweet-sounding names, but the bugeating predators make for terrific fruit fly assassins, and you’ll see them decorating tasting rooms across wine country.

7. WINE NEEDS CLEANING.

Winemaking produces hard-to-remove sediments. Filters can catch most of the debris, but winemakers must add “fining agents” to remove any suspended solids that sneak by. Until it was banned in the 1990s, many European vintners used powdered ox blood to clean their wines. Today, they use diatomaceous earth (the fossilized remains of hard-shelled algae), Isinglass (a collagen made from fish swim bladders), and sometimes bentonite (volcanic clay). Irish moss and egg whites are also fine wine cleaners.

8. ATOMS HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS.

About 5 percent of the premium wine sold for cellaring doesn’t contain what the label promises. So how do top-shelf buyers avoid plunking down serious cash on a bottle of something bunk? Most elite wine brokerages, auction houses, and collectors use atomic dating to detect fraud. By measuring trace radioactive carbon in the wine, most bottles can be dated to within a year or two of the vintage.

9. FINE WINES GET MRIs.

Even with atomic dating, there are certain perils involved in buying a $20,000 bottle of wine. Leaving a case in the hot trunk of your car is enough to ruin it, so imagine what can happen over a couple of decades if a wine isn’t kept in the proper conditions. Back in 2002, a chemistry professor at University of California at Davis patented a technique that uses MRI technology to diagnose the condition of vintage wines. Not planning any $20,000 wine purchases? This is still good news for the consumer. This technique may soon be used at airport security, meaning you’ll be able to carry on your booze.

10. THERE’S A TRICK TO AGING YOUR WINE.

If you end up with a bottle of plonk, Chinese scientists have developed a handy solution. Zapping a young wine with electricity makes it taste like something you’ve cellar aged. Scientists aren’t quite sure how it happens yet, but it seems that running your wine for precisely three minutes through an electric field changes the esters, proteins, and aldehydes and can “age” a wine instantly.

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