Whiskey may claim the title of “America’s spirit,” but rum was at the center of colonial American life (1607–1776). It acted as currency in lieu of paper money, was believed to have medicinal purposes and even fostered a budding cocktail culture.
However, at the onset of the Revolutionary War, as nationalism grew and people had less access to molasses and the other necessary ingredients, rum faded into the background. Whiskey, made with ingredients that became progressively less expensive for many in the continental U.S., quickly rose to fill that void.
Whiskey may be the iconic American drink now, but it’s time to start giving rum the credit it deserves as an integral part of American history and culture.
Early Days of Rum
For much of the 17th and 18th centuries, alcohol was considered safer than water. But rum was prized over other beverages since it was easier to transport and more shelf-stable than drinks like beer and cider.
It was used for more than a substitute for water, however. According to Maggie Campbell, Mount Gay Rum’s estate rum manager, rum “allowed those privileged enough to hold capital, namely European immigrants, to purchase a bulk commodity of low value—molasses—and turn that into a highly value-added product—rum.”
In addition, “it was used as currency and many bills of sale include rum as part of the buyer’s purchasing power,” says Campbell.