8 remarkable rum facts for your big Jamaican break
Ever dreamed of jetting off to Jamaica? As Caribbean holiday destinations go, the fourth-largest island is a special place. Famous for many good things, including reggae music and white sand beaches, and some not so good – what is the point of cricket? – Jamaica promises much to give you a getaway to remember.
A big part of the island’s allure is the party and bar scene, and you can’t expect an authentic experience if you don’t encounter rum. You might have yours in a cocktail, but the locals will drink it by the flask. And that’s not all that we can tell you about rum…
1. The most expensive rum in the world will set you back a eurocent or two
If you have a spare 50,000 euros floating around – or $54,000 – you can purchase one of the four remaining bottles of the world’s most expensive rum. That comes in at about 2,400 euros per shot, if you don’t fancy the whole bottle! Made by Wray and Nephew and bottled in the 1940s, this is some seriously vintage stuff.
The rum’s value lies in the fact that the Jamaicans developed a serious thirst for Mai Tai cocktails, which were invented in the 1930s and popularised using the Wray and Nephew rum of the time. The locals loved the cocktails so much that the rum supply ran out in just two years… or so it was thought. In around 2004, 12 unmarked bottles of the rum were discovered – they became the priciest batch of their kind.
2. Jamaica’s Appleton Estate is the second oldest rum producer in the world
Located in Jamaica’s Cockpit Country, Appleton Estate produces its rum in the lush Nassau Valley. The first documented rum production on the site was recorded in 1749. Since then, the estate has been making one of Jamaica’s finest rums for more than 265 years, produced with pride and passion for both land and location.
The story of the oldest producer in the world, Mount Gay Rum, starts in Barbados in 1703 when the company’s founder, Sir John Gay, agreed to help a friend who had inherited an unknown distillery. What was the friend’s name? John Sober, of all things!
3. Jamaica produces enough rum each year to fill 20 Olympic swimming pools
The number of distilleries in Jamaica may have declined from 148 in the 19th century to just five in the present day, but this change doesn’t seem to have affected Jamaican enthusiasm for rum. Each year, Jamaica produces enough rum to fill 20 Olympic swimming pools. At 50 metres in length, an Olympic pool is double the size of your standard 25-metre-long swimming pool, so that’s a whole lot of rum!
4. An old name for rum was ‘Kill Devil’ for leading the drinker to sin
‘Kill Devil’ is just one of the curious names by which rum was originally known, as rum was considered fiery and strong. The name has caught on, with some places even taking the name of the rum as their name, such as the Kill Devil Hills, in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
The origin story behind the town’s name is interesting – a shipwreck occurred opposite the hills and the vessel was found to be carrying the drink. Rum was popular with sailors, and the sight of barrels of rum was common when ships ran aground opposite the hills.
5. Rum is a by-product of industrial waste
The tasty tipple that we now love as part of a mojito or a Cuba libre was originally industrial waste! Caribbean farmers had a problem with a surplus liquid, now known as molasses, that came from sugar cane production. At one stage, they simply dumped this sugary stuff in the sea.
Then, someone had the bright idea of skimming the liquid in the early stages of boiling sugar cane juice, and this became a starting point for producing rum. Fast forward to now, and molasses are far from industrial waste: instead they’re used to make a drink worth more than $2 billion worth of sales each year in the US alone.
6. Think ‘Old Fashioned’ for an authentic way to drink rum
In a world that has a taste for stylish, contemporary cocktails, sometimes you simply must pay homage to the timeless classics like the ‘Old Fashioned’. This cocktail, first made in the 19th century, combines rum with bitters, a sugar cube and a slice of zesty orange, plus ice cubes.
The result is a refreshing drink that is served in a tumbler glass. If you happen to enjoy a smoke with your cocktail, you might be consuming a little extra rum without realising it, as rum is also used to flavour tobacco.
7. George Washington made his eggnog with Jamaican rum
George Washington, the first US president, was a big fan of eggnog. He also liked his rum. His own eggnog recipe included a liberal measure of Jamaican rum: half a pint, to be exact. If you want to prepare the drink, you should prepare the recipe five days before you want to drink it. The alcohol then has plenty of time to cure the eggs.
The president didn’t keep his love of rum to himself. He’s thought to have supplied voters with 28 gallons of rum and 50 gallons of rum punch during his 1758 election campaign. But rum was more than just a simple tool to charm the electorate. President Washington held the view that rum boosted soldiers’ morale and requested that forts maintained plentiful supplies of the drink. The ‘wisdom’ of the day held that liquor helped people to stay awake: soldiers who drank rum would enter battle ready to fight, rather than too weary to stand.
8. ‘Wild Geese’ rum is named after marauding Irish pirates
As we’ve discussed before, Jamaica has many connections with Ireland that go back hundreds of years. The ‘wild geese’ were Irish exiles who were forced from their homes and sold into lives of indentured servitude – aka slavery – on Caribbean plantations.
A goodly amount of these dispossessed folk found themselves on pirate ships – some estimates suggest that as many as nine in ten Caribbean pirates were former slaves. And these marauding sailors loved their rum, which is why a commemorative rum called Wild Geese was released in 2015.
9. Rum was used as shampoo in the 1800s
Next time you wash your hair with shampoo, you might want to praise the innovators of the 19th century, who used rum to wash their hair. In those days, rum was considered one of the go-to-beauty products for its capacity to clean hair and strengthen roots. From industrial waste to essential beauty product to basis of refreshing mint cocktails – not many things can claim that journey.
Rum is an everyday part of Caribbean island culture and all this talk of the drink might just make you want to take a holiday to Jamaica to experience the island’s rum-making tradition for yourself. You’re just one long-haul flight away from sampling laidback island life.
Just imagine the feeling when you kick back on blissful beaches by day, and feel the zesty mix of rum and Ting – the islanders’ favourite grapefruit soft drink – hitting your palate by night. You can take time out to appreciate the Jamaica’s other draws, like vibrant dancehall music, delicious jerk chicken and colourful wildlife – paradise!