Saturday, January 20, 2018

Industrial Waste to Rum is the True Beginning

St. Nicolas Abbey, 15th Century Barbados Sugar Plantation
     The first distillation of rum took place on the sugarcane plantations of the Caribbean in the 17th century. Plantation slaves first discovered that molasses, a byproduct of the sugar refining process, could be fermented into alcohol.   Tradition suggests rum first originated on the island of Barbados.

     A viscous liquid would seep out of the pots, and sugar would be left behind.  That liquid was molasses. Today we know molasses as a delicious sweetener found in gingerbread, poured over pancakes and an ingredient in baked beans, but in the 17th century, planters in Barbados couldn’t give the sticky and messy liquid away.  Slaves and livestock ate some of the molasses, but for the most part, it was an annoying bit of industrial waste.   For every two pounds of sugar that was produced, there would be a pound of molasses.  Colonial planters were swimming in this sticky stuff.   There was no good use for the stuff nor was there an export market, so planters resorted to dumping most of the molasses into the ocean.

Sugar Factory at St. Nicholas Abbey
     Fortunately, someone eventually figured out a use for this molasses. By mixing the Molasses with water and adding some naturally occurring yeast found on the cut cane stocks left behind in the field, they found that this industrial waste would ferment.  This was the basis for what was in those days as Kill-Devil or rum.

     It is said that the first distillation of the fermented molasses occurred in the sugarcane plantations of the Caribbean island of Barbados.  Later, distillation of these alcoholic byproducts concentrated the alcohol and removed impurities, producing the first true rums. Tradition suggests rum first originated on the island ofBarbados, but in the area of 1620’s, rum production was recorded in Brazil.   A liquid identified as rum has been found in a tin bottle found on the Swedish warship Vasa, which sank in 1628.
Wind Driven Sugar Cane Crusher
     A 1651 document from Barbados stated, "The chief fuddling they make in the island is Rumbullion, otherwise know as Kill-Devil.  “Kill-Devil is made of sugar canes distilled, a hot, hellish, and terrible liquor”  Time and distilling, fermentation and aging skills has brought rum a long way to what it is today.  It is one of the finest categories of brown spirits on the market today.