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Rum – the drink of the fete season

Wednesday, February 4 2009

click on pic to zoom in
 Barrels of rum left to age at Angostura Limited, one of the largest rum distilleries in the Caribbean....
Barrels of rum left to age at Angostura Limited, one of the largest rum distilleries in the Caribbean....

RUM IS without a doubt the drink of TT’s Carnival. Calypsonians sing about it and it is the drink of choice at the fetes and shows of the season. But where did it all start and how did this sugar cane product evolve to become the alcoholic beverage of choice in this part of the the world?

As Julie Arkell said in her book Classic Rum: “If Christopher Columbus could take a peek at the Caribbean today, he’d probably be amazed. The cane cuttings he took to the New World in 1493 were planted to make sugar. He could not have foreseen that they would eventually give rise to a drink that was to dominate the West Indian economy.”

Each Caribbean country should be proud of the rums we make in our individual locations.

Indeed, patriotic Jamaica and Barbados have been living by this for years. Have we as Trinbagonians taken our rum, produced here, as seriously? Are we proud of our local rums? Is it perhaps a lack of understanding of how it is made? The process of rum making is magical and when understood, will certainly give us all a sense of pride and achievement, especially since we have the ability to produce rums that are being accepted the world over.

For those of you who do not know, rum is a distilled beverage made from sugarcane by-products such as molasses and sugarcane juice. The process of fermentation turns the molasses or cane juice into an alcoholic liquid, and distillation separates the alcohol from the water in that liquid. Distillation also removes undesirable flavouring agents and retains others. Different elements are then added to the virgin rum (the distillate – a clear liquid) to enhance the flavour and create different types of rums. Some of the rum is then aged in oak barrels for a number of years.

It is said that the first distillation of rum in the Caribbean took place on sugarcane plantations during the 1600s. Plantation slaves first discovered that molasses, a by-product of the sugar refining process, can be fermented into alcohol.

Tradition also suggests that rum in the Caribbean first originated on the island of Barbados.

In Trinidad, the majority of our rums are made from molasses, which is the final by-product in the manufacture of raw sugar from sugar cane.

The rum distillery at Angostura is one of the largest in the Caribbean and one of the few to still encourage the art of coopering, which is making barrels from raw materials manually.

These oak barrels (casks) are used for ageing. New, clear spirit is put into the barrel and left for a few years so that it can gather elements from the charred insides of the barrel. As is the case with good wine, rum improves dramatically as it ages. One thing to note is that the process of ageing does not only apply to dark rum but to some white rums as well.

Rum plays a major part in the culture of most islands of the West Indies today, and is produced in a variety of styles.

Light rums are commonly used in cocktails and golden and dark rums are appropriate for drinking straight or with chasers, while Premium rums are made to be consumed straight or with ice.

As one great man of the soil commented, “Rum is to the Caribbean what whiskey is to the highlands of Scotland, or wine to France.”

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