During a small getaway to Cornwall, RumCask made it down to the Eden Project. It’s an amazing place which everybody should visit at least once; if you can pack it all in during one visit. They have two Biomes which are the main draw to the attraction. One contains a Mediterranean climate and the other a rainforest climate. The rainforest climate Biome is much larger and has diverse array vegetation throughout its different stages, not to mention the warm and muggy climate to go with it!
Once you moved along from the World’s Rainforests section, you enter the crops and cultivation part of the 50 meter tall Biome. In this section, I came across a Bay Rum Tree (Pimenta Racemosa). Obviously being drawn to it, I found it is native to Tropical America. The distillation of the leaves and stems produces an essential oil used in lotions and colognes and contains anti-bacterial properties. Although this oil is essentially rum, the concentrated oil is actually toxic and renders the products undrinkable. Much to our dismay!
Further on we stumbled across a bright colourful truck with the word sugar across it. We had reached the sugar cane! Along side the live crop, Eden had given quite a few signs with a lot of information on sugar and sugar cane. Worldwide it is grown more than wheat in around 26 million hectares in over 90 countries globally! In 2012, this attributed to a worldwide harvest of 1.83 billion tons. Although it was chewed in New Guinea 10,000 years ago, in the 14th century, European luxury consumed a teaspoon per head per year, a far cry from today’s consumption of around 30kg!
A relatively large section of Eden was dedicated to Sugar cane crop, showing just how imperative the crop is not only to the rum world, but the world in general!
In a previous article: Christopher Columbus and Sugar Cane, I mentioned how he transported sugar cane seedlings to the Caribbean. However, from that point there is still a long way to go before you get to the bottle of rum that is (hopefully) sitting in front of you.
The bulk of all sugar cane is still harvested by hand throughout the world. It is cut down by machete and then transported to machines which crush the sugar cane’s hard stalk. This extracts sugar cane juice. From here depending on the producer of rum we have three different options.
1) If producing Rhum Agricole then the fresh juice is moved directly to the fermentation and distillation process.
2) This juice can be cooked and concentrated into sugar syrup and then fermented and distilled from here.
3) The fresh juice is then manipulated into molasses and crystallised sugar. The molasses are sold to distilleries and are fermented and distilled into the bulk of rums that are produced today. They also contain a noteworthy amount of minerals and other elements which contribute to the flavour of the final product.
From any of these stages, we end up with the raw materials for the next stage in production cycle, which is fermentation.
Rum has also been used in ways other than just drinking during its long history. Rum was used as currency when trading. It was at first used by English privateers to trade with, however some of these privateers become pirates and the appeal of rum never left them. As a result, rum was used as a trading currency between pirates as well and that is part of the reason pirates are associated with the molasses based beverage.
But as well as currency for simple bartering and trading, rum was also used in the infamous slavery triangle for almost 3 centuries. This triangle carried slaves, cash crops and manufactured goods between the Caribbean, American and West Africa. For the colonial molasses trade, sugar was transported to America where it was distilled to rum. The profits were used to purchase manufactured goods which were taken to West Africa and traded for slaves. The slaves were taken to the Caribbean and traded for sugar and sold to plantation owners. The profits were spent on sugar and the triangle began again.
Next time you’re out with another rum enthusiast, give him a bit of extra knowledge of the history of rum and keep the conversation flowing enough so he can buy you another rum or two!