Brit.Privateer

Historically Accurate Rum

34 posts in this topic

I've seen quite a few recipes for punches and such that involve rum, but I am curious about the rum itself.

In the greater selection of rums there are today, which modern gets closest to the kind of rum the common sailor and pirate would have had access to (both at a cheap tavern and on ship)? I understand that this common stuff might choke modern drinkers, but I'm okay with that. I want to get an idea of what these guys had to put up with.

Also, if you can, provide evidence for why it's closer to the original.

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OK, just googled "historically accurate rum" and got this thread as the first hit. The second was a rum cake recipe posted on a mental health support site. Verrrry strange. More research is needed.

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Mount Gay has been produced in Barbados since 1703. Provided they haven't changed anything in all that time, it should be close.

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You could find out. There's believed to be some of it lying on the bottom of the ocean somewhere.

According to wiki,

"Plantation slaves first discovered that molasses, a by-product of the sugar refining process, can be fermented into alcohol. Later, distillation of these alcoholic by-products concentrated the alcohol and removed impurities, producing the first true rums. Tradition suggests that rum first originated on the island of Barbados. However in the decade of 1620 rum production was recorded in Brazil."

So that's all very interesting, but not really very helpful.

There's a company down in Kiwiland called Smoke and Oakum who go to great lengths to present themselves as arbiters of stuff like the original. You can read their sales-pitch, which contains all sorts of interesting tidbits on what would make for a real 17th/18th c. rum on this page (If it doesn't take you there direct, click on the 'Rum crafting...' tab at the top of the page once you gain admittance.) Getting ahold of their libation is an exercise left to the reader. (I noticed they listed Artesian Bar - Experimental Cocktail Club in London on their peddlers list, so if you're near there...) Their S&O recipe appears to feature gunpowder, the accuracy of which seems like it would make for a whole 'nother discussion around here.

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I looked at the Barbadoes Rum people, and it seems like they have refined the stuff a lot. I suspect that isn't what I am looking for. I would be almost convinced by Smoke and Oakum, but their mixing in of gunpowder kind of deters me. Any other possibilities?

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I looked at Smoke and Oakum's site and I find that they make way too many "suppositions" regarding the production of rum. For instance they claim that copper pot stills couldn't be regulated for temperature. Not true. Water boils at 212 degrees F, no higher, at sea level. Alcohol boils at 172.4. A sugar/water/alcohol mixture would have boiled at a lower temp than 212, the temp increasing as alcohol and water are boiled off, but viscosity and color would have been an indicator for a distiller of any experience. Once the wort starts to get thick, the alcohol is long gone, as is most of the water. No way to burn that unless the distiller is sampling too much of the goods. As any good moonshiner knows, one would have to attend the still from begining to end. Sampling the liqour (visually and by taste) as the distillation progressed would have provided the distiller with all the information he needed. It's an art.

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One question. Blackstrap Molasses, when did they start making that? The name itself comes from the early 20th century. Thomas Tew Rum uses Blackstrap.

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I actually know that one. Molasses is a byproduct of sugar manufacture. There are generally three grades of molasses: Barbados or light, left after the first extraction of sugar; dark, left after the second extraction of sugar and; blackstrap, a name not used in GAOP, simply because sugar was not generally refined to that level then. Sugar was expensive, molasses was much less so. After the first or second extraction the molasses was then barreled up and sold as the most widely used sweetener of that time. When a recipe of that period calls for molasses, it doesn't mean blackstrap but more likely Barbados. Lesser classes would have used dark. No one used blackstrap because it didn't exist in any quantity until after WW I, when refining techniques improved and crystal sugar became more popular than molasses as a sweetener.

Edited by Captain Jim

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I actually know that one. Molasses is a byproduct of sugar manufacture. There are generally three grades of molasses: Barbados or light, left after the first extraction of sugar; dark, left after the second extraction of sugar and; blackstrap, a name not used in GAOP, simply because sugar was not generally refined to that level then. Sugar was expensive, molasses was much less so. After the first or second extraction the molasses was then barreled up and sold as the most widely used sweetener of that time. When a recipe of that period calls for molasses, it doesn't mean blackstrap but more likely Barbados. Lesser classes would have used dark. No one used blackstrap because it didn't exist in any quantity until after WW I, when refining techniques improved and crystal sugar became more popular than molasses as a sweetener.

That means we can eliminate Thomas Tew Rum then, since they use blackstrap molasses.

The search continues.

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Bear in mind that rum was not traditionally made in the Islands. In the (simplified) "triangle trade", slaves went to the Caribbean to raise 'cane, molasses went to the Colonies to make rum, rum went to Africa to buy slaves. When the trade began to break down, rum began to be made in the Islands, cutting out the middleman. That said, some distillers in the Islands started earlier. Mount Gay Rum is the oldest still operating, having been in production since 1663.

Now the rums we all drink today are usually aged to one extent or another. Rums of that time would most likely have been raw, clear, unfiltered and un-aged. They would have been shipped in uncharred barrels, and used long before the raw cask would have had any real effect on the rum itself. It would also likely have been "cask strength", bordering on explosive in some cases. Think Bacardi 151, but without the refinement. Also, alcohol can transmigrate through wood. Leave it long enough and you end up with much less bang for your buck (or shilling).

As a side note, the highest proof outside of a lab is 180 proof. Anhydrous alcohol (200 proof) is explosive with a flash point of 55 degrees F. It catches fire spontaneously at room temp.

So the rum you are looking for is colorless, generally tasteless (since no aging) and will have the characteristics of gasoline, much like pure moonshine. Now you know why they mixed it in punches or made grog from it. Pure, it might raise a blister on boot leather.

Perhaps a better question would be, "When did rums start to become acceptible spirits to age in barrels, and who did it?"

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Bear in mind that rum was not traditionally made in the Islands. In the (simplified) "triangle trade", slaves went to the Caribbean to raise 'cane, molasses went to the Colonies to make rum, rum went to Africa to buy slaves. When the trade began to break down, rum began to be made in the Islands, cutting out the middleman. That said, some distillers in the Islands started earlier. Mount Gay Rum is the oldest still operating, having been in production since 1663.

Well, for rum not traditionally being made in the Caribbean during this time, that's not the case. According to the well researched book Caribbean Rum: A Social and Economic History by Frederick Smith, the islands began producing rum in the 1630s and 1640s, mostly for local consumtion in the Caribbean but a good amount still went abroad to the Chesapeake and New England. Also, ships coming into port frequently restocked their alcohol with local rum. Between 1699 and 1701 Barbadoes alone exported around 600,000 gallons of rum annually to the colonies, 19% of all Barbados exports. The strong majority of that rum went to New England and the Chesapeake.

As for how nasty this rum was, I would still be interested in seeing what that mainstream nasty stuff was like. Stuff like that gives you a good appreciation for modern technology in drink-making.

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How about Brazilian Rum, or Cachaca. I've read that it was produced in South America prior to 1650. It is made from the cane syrup itself and not from molasses which was a byproduct of the sugar making process. It does have a completely different taste than any of the rums we're used to now; although some rums today are made from cane syrup too.

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My bad. Use of the word "traditional" was not the best. While some rum was being produced in the Caribbian, the vast majority of rum feuling the triangle trade was being produced in New England, especially after the late 1600's, as much as 4.6 million gallons annually. And that's just New England. There were hundreds of local distillers catering to the local trade that don't even count toward export production.

Still haven't come accross any references to rum being aged or consumed without being mixed with something. The hunt is still on...

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Capt.

try a book entitled ....the history of rum....facenating and informative......unfortunately i gave my copy away to a bloke that was going to start a microdistillary but did not......so my rum ref manual is gone....if you find it ( it is in paperback)you will enjoy it........

Edited by Capt. J...

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There is a book coming out about the history of rum this year. As of this writing, you can pre-order it on Amazon.

However, that isn't what Brit Privateer seems to be looking for. He wants a bottle of equivalent to sample, I think. Where are all the alcohol experts that used to infest the forum?

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However, that isn't what Brit Privateer seems to be looking for. He wants a bottle of equivalent to sample, I think. Where are all the alcohol experts that used to infest the forum?

That's pretty much what I'm looking for. Sample, and ability to refer anyone to the source if they wish to sample too.

Also, I'm not going to set up a still just to do this.

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I guess the question still goes back to whether the rum of the pyrate/working class was the petrol-like triangle-trade rum, some unknown Island rum or some sort of rum that had been aged, filtered, blended and touched with a bit of the European-style distiller's art as it were.

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just a comment on the history of rum Mission.....good luck on finding the most historically made and tasting rum.......Yo Ho!!!!!!

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I'm not trying to find it; Brit Privateer is.

I think Jim brings up good points, though. Since there was a great deal less control of the distilling process (and probably little, if any, regulation of distilling at this time) and multiple different sources for alcohol, especially for sailors who went from place to place...you could probably pick any rum made from light or dark molasses and call it accurate. (You may or may not be right.) Keep in mind that our taste expectations are likely much different today and even rums made with an original recipe likely have to account for that and regulations, both of which probably affect their ability to make period accurate-tasting rum.

Someone once told me the same thing Brit Privateer hints at in his first post: period rum was very harsh which was why they usually mixed it in punches. (You'll find TONS of references to punch in period accounts of sailors in the Caribbean. Of course, not all punches contained rum either... I was just reading an account that talked about a punch made with "palm wine." But I digress... ) I wish I could remember who made the comment about the harshness of period rum so I could invite them in to comment on this post.

Of the ones that have been posted, if I were going to seek any of them, I would be seeking out the Smoke & Oakum. It's the only one that professes to try and capture the original taste. (And there is some evidence that gunpowder was mixed in with rums for various reasons. See wiki.) The others are all mass-produced rums "based" on old recipes. But you can't make a mass-produced rum that tastes so bad it has to be mixed to be palatable. (Er, Sailor Jerry's notwithstanding...)

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http://youtu.be/ak7-2KbrZjo

The legend is real. Extremely limited quantities. This is more of an antique than a beverage, but please feel free to drink it if you like. Black Tot is the last remaining stock of the original Royal Naval Rum Tot. On July 31st, 1970 a 300 year old Royal Naval tradition ended when the last rum ration was issued aboard the Royal Navy's vessels. This day would be remebered as "Black Tot Day". Since then the rum has sat silently in ceramic flagons in bonded warehouses only served at State functions and Royal weddings. Thanks to careful storage in these stone decanters, Black Tot Rum is bottled at an incredible 108.6 proof, very close to the original strength, which it was served daily by the British Royal Navy. Own a piece of history or drink it if you must!

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"And there is some evidence that gunpowder was mixed in with rums for various reasons."

I wonder if the whole gunpowder thing has to do with 100 or above 'Proof', ie, not being watered down.

I was always under the impression that the origen of the Proof system was that if you poured some of the liquor of questional stregnth on a small pile of gunpowder, and then attempted to light it...... The proof that the liquor was of full 100% stregnth would be if the gunpowder ignited, if it did not, the booze in question was below 100% and thus watered down. (100 Proof liquor is 50% alcohol and 50% water) Anyway, that is what I was always told. If you were out and about testing your Rum with gunpowder, maybe some sailors developed a taste for the sulphur residue, just like some sailors liked to spike their rum with nutmeg.

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From Wiki-pedia: Regarding 100 proof Origins.....( for what Wiki-is worth anyhow)

"In the 18th century and until 1 January 1980, the United Kingdom measured alcohol content in terms of "proof spirit", which was defined as the most dilute spirit that would sustain combustion of gunpowder.[1] The term originated in the 18th century, when payments to British sailors included rations of rum. To ensure that the rum had not been watered down, it was "proved" by dousing gunpowder in it, then tested to see if the gunpowder would ignite. If it did not, then the rum contained too much water and was considered to be "under proof". Gunpowder would not burn in rum that contained less than approximately 57.15% ABV. Therefore, rum that contained this percentage of alcohol was defined to have "100 degrees proof".

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Which proves they put alcohol in the gunpowder, but not necessarily the other way 'round. ;)

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The first thing one needs to do is to understand that all the refinements of rum and leting it age in oak kegs are for modern taste. Distillers in the 1600 were only interested in making and selling rum as cheaply and quickly as possible. Based on what research I've done, I would say that Wray & Nephew White Overproof Rum would be very close to what was drunk in those days. It isn't aged, it isn't spiced, and it's 63% alcohol by volume. You almost have to put it in punch to get any quanity down easy.

M. Williams

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