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Virgin Islands 27 years
 

Got Rum On Your Boat Charter? Part One:
Rum Past and Present 

It would be a rare boat charter cruiser that did not at least sample a taste of rum sometime during his or her Caribbean vacation. Rum is the mainstay of Caribbean drinks and it is frequently used as flavoring in many of the region’s diverse cuisine. There is an old sailor’s saw that says if you open a bottle of rum, the cork must be tossed overboard. In other words- the bottle needs to be finished.



 
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Of course, this would make maintaining the rhumb line (a sailing term referring to a straight line course) rather challenging! Needless to say, rum has been an integral part of Caribbean life since the 1640’s when plantation slaves in Barbados discovered and experienced a fiery liquor that was derived from a mixture of molasses (a byproduct of sugar cane) and water that was left out in the sun and fermented. These early rums were not of high quality, and soon earned the nickname, “Kill devil.” Drinking too much of it often ended in a “rumbullion” – an old English word for a noisy brawl – and thus the possible origin of the name, rum.
 
 

Sugar cane was first introduced to the Caribbean in 1493 when Christopher Columbus transplanted cane cuttings he picked up in the Canary Islands. The Caribbean was an ideal environment for growing sugar cane. The insatiable demand in Europe for sugar led to the establishment of hundreds of sugar plantations and mills through the islands in the various English, Dutch, French and Spanish colonies. Cane Garden Bay, Tortola, for instance, had over seven family run sugar mills in the hills surrounding the bay alone, while St. Croix maintained 114 working sugar mills. Rum was used as a cure-all for the various aches and pains that resulted from living in the tropics. Soon, plantation owners began selling it to naval ships stationed in the Caribbean with the hope that the presence of these ships would discourage the attention of marauding pirates.

 
  The association of the British Royal Navy and rum began in earnest in 1655, when the British fleet captured Jamaica. With an abundance of locally produced rum readily available, the British changed the daily ration of liquor given to seamen from French brandy to rum. The Royal Navy continued to give its sailors a daily ration of Pusser’s rum until July 31, 1970. As anyone on a boat charter knows, Pusser’s Rum is still available in the British Virgin Islands.
Rum’s popularity as a recreational drink soon spread to Colonial America and led to the establishment of the first American distilleries. To support the huge demand for molasses necessary for rum production, as well as the increasing European demand for sugar during the 17th and 18th centuries, a large labor source was needed in the Caribbean to work the sugar plantations.
Charter Boat Sugarcane  
 
A triangular trade between Africa, the Caribbean and the colonies was established that lead to the infamous slave trade. African slaves were brought to the Caribbean; slaves and molasses were sent to the New England distilleries; and then slave traders carried approximately 80% of their cargo in rum back to West Africa to exchange for more human cargo. The disruption of trade caused by the Sugar Act of 1764 and the American Revolution eventually led to the decline of rum production in North America, and allowed the Caribbean to become the epicenter of world rum production.

 
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Rum making has remained much the same over the centuries. Yeast is added to sugar cane juice or molasses to kick-start the fermentation process. This “dead wash” is then boiled and the evaporating alcohol is collected. After a little blending, and the addition of water, white rums are ready to bottle. Smoother gold or dark rums are aged in oak barrels or casks, which color the rum to various shades of brown. It is a simple process, yet it takes approximately 10-12 tons of cane to produce half a bottle of pure alcohol.
 
Today, many of the Caribbean islands have several of their own rum factories with their own brands that they are fiercely proud of. Among some of the better known rum distilleries are:
 

 

Bahamas – Bacardi; Ole Nassau

Barbados – Mount Gay; Cockspur

Bermuda - Bacardi

British Virgin Islands – Pusser's; Callwood

Dominica – Shillingford Estates (Macoucherie Rum)

Dutch Virgin Islands – Saba Spice Rum

Grenada – Clarke’s Court; Rivers Rum

Guadeloupe – Distillerie Longueteau

Haiti - Barbancourt

Jamaica – Appleton Rum

Marie-Galante – Domaine de Bellevue(Magalda Rum); Distillerie de Grand’Anse

Martinique – Trois Rivieres; Saint-Etienne; St. Clement

Puerto Rico – Captain Morgan; Dom Q

St. Lucia – St. Lucia Distillieries

Saint Vincent & Grenadines – Jack Iron

Trinidad & Tobago – Caroni; Old Oak; Vat 19

Tortuga – Tortuga Rum Company

U.S. Virgin Islands – Cruzan

 
 
 

Until the mid to late 1800’s, all Caribbean rums were dark and heavy, and were often associated as the poor man’s drink. Hoping to expand the market to consumers used to the refined double distilled spirits of Europe, the Spanish Royal Development Board offered a prize to anyone who could improve the rum making process.

 

In 1862, after much experimentation with the distilling, filtering and aging processes, Don Facundo Bacardi Masso founded the Bacardi Company, which introduced the smooth and mellow drink typical of the modern light rums.

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Today’s Caribbean rums have a unique style that varies not only from island to island, but even among the production regions on a particular island. Since there is no single standard for what constitutes rum, varieties are usually grouped by the island language spoken. For instance, the English speaking islands tend to be known for the fuller tasting dark rums that retain a greater amount of the underlying molasses flavor. Jamaican rums are typical of this style. French speaking islands like Guadeloupe and Martinique are known for their rhum agricole (agricultural rums) which are produced entirely from sugar cane juice and thus contain more of the original flavor of sugar cane. The Spanish speaking islands, like Puerto Rico, traditionally produce the clear tasting, light rums first introduced by Bacardi.

 
  Boat Charter Vacation   In addition to grouping rums be region, they are also classified by types. Light or white rums are generally clear and have little flavor other than from a general sweetness. They are often filtered after aging to remove any color that may have transferred from the oak casks. Light rums are mainly used as mixers or a base for cocktails, and blend very well with fruit flavors. Gold or amber rums tend to be medium-bodied. They derive their color from aging in oak casks. This aging process gives this type of rum a smooth, mellow taste.
 
Dark or black rums are full-bodied rums that have been aged for extended periods of time in heavily charred oak barrels. Their taste is dominated with a strong molasses or caramel overtone. These rums are usually enjoyed straight-up, and are the type of rum most commonly used in cooking. Spiced or flavored rums can be light, gold or dark rums. They are infused with island spices or fruit flavors such as citrus, coconut, mango or pineapple. Ma Dou Dou from St. Martin is a homemade blend typical of this type of rum. They usually contain less than 40% alcohol, and are commonly used in the popular Planter’s Punch found throughout the Caribbean.

 
 
Anejo or age-dated rums are rums from different batches that have been mixed together to ensure a continuity of flavor in brands from year to year. Usually the youngest rum in the blend has been aged for ten years. Premium rums have more character and flavor than their mixing counterparts. Like cognac or scotch, they are carefully aged and produced without the addition of other ingredients to provide a premium sipping spirit. Over Proof Rums contain more that the standard 40% alcohol. Most of these rums contain greater than 75% alcohol, and preparations of 151 to 160 proofs commonly occur.
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No matter the type or where it is from, rum is as much a part of the Caribbean as palm trees swaying in the tropical breezes and turquoise blue water gently lapping white sandy beaches. No boat charter would be complete without sampling this liquid gold of the islands. As Lord Byron wrote, “There’s nought no doubt so much the spirit calms/as rum and true religion.” To taste the treasure of the Caribbean islands, known as rum, for yourself, contact www.visailing.com to book your boat charter. A paradise vacation and yo, ho, ho – a bottle of rum - awaits!

 

Part Two: Drinks and Delectables

 

 

 

Written By Donna Wolfson
Photographs By Donna Wolfson

Copyright © Virgin Island Sailing Ltd.
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