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Want to know where rum originates from? You’re in for a serious history lesson… “A hot, hellish, and terrible liquor,” states a 1651 document from Barbados, describing what was then known as ‘rumbullion’ (or Kill-Devil) and that’s pretty how it started. Rum indeed originates from the sugarcane plantations of 17th century Caribbean, where slaves discovered that molasses, crystallised and boiled down sugarcane juice, could be fermented into alcohol.

These early incarnations of Caribbean rum were not known for their taste of quality, in case ‘hot, hellish and terrible’ enticed you, but rather their ability to get one inebriated and to forget the sorry state of the world. Thanks to its less desirable taste, desperate times called for desperate measures, and people began mixing this rumbullion with sugar, lime and other ingredients to make early punches and cocktails.

With forced slave labour and an abundance of sugarcane, rum became a cheap and easy spirit to produce, cheaper than in-demand spirits like French brandy. The spirit’s popularity spread to colonial North America, with rum distilleries set up in British colonies of Staten Island and Boston, Massachusetts – becoming Colonial New England’s most successful industry. Believe it or not, Rhode Island was even an accepted currency in Europe for a period of time.

From 1850 all the way up to 1970 (yes, 1970!), British Royal Navy sailors received a daily rum ration and were sometimes even paid in rum, and its reported that US president George Washington wanted a barrel of Barbados rum at his 1789 inauguration.

While rum as close to how we know it today was first produced in the Caribbean, the foundations of the spirit actually date back to the antiquity. Fermented alcoholic drinks made from sugarcane juice are reported to have been drunk in ancient India and Imperial China. Malay people also made their own version of rum, named ‘Brum’, thousands of years ago, while Marco Polo recorded an account of sampling ‘very good sugar wine’ back in the 14th century Persian Empire (now Iran).

So, now you know just where rum originates from, and its tumultuous journey from a hot, hellish and terrible liquid to a damn fine, delicious and well-respected spirit.