The Sometimes Dirty History of Rum

Rum labels from an old cookbook, from the collection of Sneakytiki
Rum labels from an old cookbook,
from the collection of Sneakytiki

Last year a book all about our favorite liquor, rum was released by Nation Books. Rum: A Social and Sociable History of the Real Spirit of 1776, by Ian Williams, shines a quite illuminating spotlight on rum. Williams is a true rum lover, but he is eager to educate about the seedier side of the political and commercial history of rum, which was the oil of its day in terms of influencing international trade and legal machinations. An excerpt of Williams’ book is available on The Nation’s website, and it takes a look at the role Rum has played in relations between Cuba and the United States over the past several decades. Williams also touches briefly on the scourge of Bacardi on the rum landscape:

While Fidelistas may berate Bacardi for its feud with Havana Club, rum aficionados almost universally deplore the company for the effect it has had on rum. Gresham’s law observes that bad money drives out good; Bacardi has achieved this with rum. Its bland ubiquity has been driving the distinctive rums of the world from the mass consumer market. It is the equivalent of American cheddar driving out the 300 cheeses of France. Its monopoly power has been used to keep much better, genuinely local Caribbean brands from reaching takeoff. The islands cannot compete with subsidized and tariff protected high fructose corn syrup and Floridian sugar grown by former Cuban barons, so their one chance to market a value-added branded commodity is frustrated by the transglobal black bat.

This is an excellent summary of exactly why I encourage people to avoid Bacardi: it is not good rum, and worse yet, its aggressive (and downright shady) tactics — both in the marketplace and in Washington, D.C. — are making it near impossible to purchase the good stuff — which is hardly something one would want to support.

A tip of the Demerara to Cynical-C, who’s really on a roll today, and also to Sneakytiki, who posted this swell picture of old rum labels on Tiki Central today.

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