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What Is Overproof Rum?

Many of us have heard of the term ‘Overproof’ when it comes to rum, the most famous examples being Bacardi 151 and Wray and Nephew Overproof.  But what does it actually mean and where does the term originate from?

The actual history of the term comes from many centuries ago when sailors in the British Navy were given rum. As rum became the norm for the sailors, they started to worry that the rations they were given were being watered down too much. The system they devised to check the quality of the rations was to mix a small portion of the ration with some of the gunpowder they had on board. This mixture was then lit to see if it would ignite. If it did ignite then the sailors knew their rum wasn’t watered down.

The sailors realised that this method would work, due to barrels of rum spilling onto the gunpowder in the past. When these spillages occurred with water, it would make the gunpowder useless. However, when the liquid spilt was rum, the mixture still ignited, much to the delight and relief of the sailors.

By using this method, the sailors had ‘proof’ the rum ration they were given wasn’t watered down. It is from this ‘proof’ we have evolved to the term ‘Overproof’ today which in basic terms means that the rum in question is flammable.

We have written a small piece on Overproof rum earlier which you can visit here. Let us know your favourite Overproof rum, and how you like to drink it!

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The Most Expensive Rum In The World? – Wray & Nephew’s 1940’s Rum

When I last checked (please let me know if this has changed since) Wray and Nephew owned the most expensive bottle(s) of rum in the world. Whilst there are some very expensive rums which are valued highly due to their design and style, this rum however, is the most expensive due to the quality, age and limited supply (4 bottles) remaining.

As the title suggests, this rum was bottled in 1940, over 75 years ago. It is claimed this bottle contains blends from 1915. But what happened to the supply? To answer that, we need to look into the origination of one of the most famous rum based cocktails, the Mai Tai.

Mai Tai:

There are two contradictory stories about the origination of this cocktail. I’m going to focus on the story at Trader Vic’s. Victor J. Bergeron (Vic) owned his now infamous Trader Vic’s restaurant in Oakland, California where he claims he invented the cocktail in 1944.

“In 1944, after success with several exotic rum drinks, I felt a new drink was needed. I was at the service bar in my Oakland restaurant. I took down a bottle of 17-year old Jamaican J. Wray Nephew rum, added fresh lime, some Orange Curacao from Holland, a dash of Rock Candy syrup, and a dollop of French Orgeat, for its subtle flavour. A generous amount of shaved ice and vigorous shaking by hand produced the marriage I was after.
Half the lime shell went in for colour … I stuck in a branch of fresh mint and gave two of them to Ham and Carrie Guild, friends from Taihiti, who were there that night.
Carrie took on sip and said, “Mai Tai – Roa Ae”. In Tahitian this means “Out of this World – The Best”. Well, that was that. I named the drink “Mai Tai”.

– Victor J. Bergeron

Once Vic found his ideal blend, he was adamant not to change any part of the recipe including which rum he used. Due to the popularity of those Mai Tai’s, his institution literally came close to drinking the entire supply of that Wray and Nephew rum. To fill demand, Trader Vic’s started using a 15 year old version, but similarly this rum had its supply exhausted in a short space of time.

The last known place to sell this rum publically was the Merchant Hotel in Belfast, Northern Ireland. They would make a Mai Tai with exactly the same ingredients as the original by Vic for an eye watering £750 a glass.

The remaining 1 litre bottles of the original 17 year old rum were only found recently in 2004, when Wray and Nephew took an inventory world-wide. There, they discovered the remains of a barrel with 12 unmarked bottles of this rum. Until then this particular blend was thought to be extinct. By 2007, only 4 known bottles were left and one went on display at RumFest in London.

Wray and Nephew themselves have a long history and began in 1825 in Kingston, Jamaica. J. Wary opened “The Shakespeare Tavern” that year and it grew steadily alongside Kingston itself.  J. Wray brought in his brother’s son in 1860 to run the business side of the company and retired 2 years later leaving it to his nephew Charles James Ward when he died in 1870. They have become one of Jamaica’s biggest rum exporters and are one of the oldest producer’s on the island.

The last price I found for a bottle of this particular rum was $55,000. If you do manage to get your hands on one, RumCask would be happy to swing by for a tasting!