Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About
Rum got its start in the early 17th century as a by-product of sugar making in the West Indies. Yeasts and other microbes readily grew in the leftover molasses and wash waters, the yeasts producing alcohol and the bacteria all kinds of aromatic substances, many of them not pleasant. From this mixed material, primitive distillation equipment and methods produced a strong, harsh liquid that was given mainly to slaves and sailors, and traded to Africa for more slaves. Controlled fermentations and improvements in distilling technology brought more drinkable rums in the 18th and 19th centuries.