Posted in Kafevend Blog
Most folks like a good excuse for a stiff drink. Christmas is one of the best excuses of all, as family and friends come together to share gifts and big dinners. Whether drinking for enjoyment or to get you through the day at your in-laws, alcohol is certainly in abundance at this time of the year, be it beer, bitter, or something extra to perk up your coffee. Today we are kicking off a series on some of the spirits you might be adding to the latter, starting with rum.
It is not known exactly when the practice of making alcohol from sugar began. It is believed that it first occurred in ancient India or China, but it was in the Caribbean of the 17th century that it started to take the world by storm (particularly large, floating wooden parts of it! - more on that in a bit) as the process became industrialised. The name shares a similar ambiguity as to its origin. Whilst many theories have been put forward, the name was at least common by the 17th century. It had also had time to develop a reputation by this point , along with a selection of nicknames such as "kill devil", which perhaps gives you an idea about the sort of notoriety it had. For two centuries rum was such a popular drink in colonial (and later the United States of) America that requirements for its production contributed to the Atlantic slave trade.
The association between rum and sailors can be attributed in large part to Britain. Beer had been the drink of choice in the Royal Navy for daily rations. As Britain headed overseas to warmer climates however, the large quantities of beer had a habit of going sour. In order to remedy this situation, wine and spirits took beer's place. In 1655, Britain captured the island of Jamaica from Spain which led to rum being adopted as the new drink of choice for the Royal Navy. For almost a century, sailors received half a pint(!) of rum at midday until, in the 1740s, Admiral Edward Vernon ruled that the rum rations should be mixed with water, due to behavioural and health concerns. This mixture became known as grog.
Sticking with the nautical terms, "splice the mainbrace" is also related to rum. The mainbrace was a key part of the rigging on a sailing ship. If it was damaged during battle it would render the ship unmanoeuverable. Repairing it was no easy task, let alone when you were being shot at. As a reward, the sailors who carried out the task would recieve an extra rum ration. As time went on, the term began to be used when the crew as a whole received an extra rum ration on special occasions, as the ration itself was reduced and eventually recinded. Interestingly, the Queen is one if the few individuals permitted to give the order!