Rum – once known as rumbullion or kill-devil – is Jamaica’s national drink, and you couldn’t choose a better place to acquire a taste for the stuff. Jamaica was one of the ﬁrst countries to make rum commercially and it still produces some of the world’s ﬁnest. Overproof is the drink of choice for the less well-off – it’s cheap, lethally strong (64 percent alcohol) and, supposedly, cures all ills. If you can’t handle the overproof, the standard white rums are the basis for most cocktails, while more reﬁned palates go for the darker rums. During the ageing process these rums acquire colour from the oak barrels in which they are stored and, as they get older, they slip down increasingly smoothly with no need for a mixer.
Distilling of sugar-cane juice started in Jamaica during the years of Spanish occupation, stepping up a few gears when the British took over in 1655 and rum became famous as the drink of the island’s semi-legitimate pirates and buccaneers. The production process hasn’t changed much over the centuries, although it has become fully mechanized, putting a number of donkeys out of work in the process. The sugar cane is squeezed to extract every drop of its juice, which is then boiled and put through a centrifuge, producing molasses. In turn, the molasses is diluted with water, and yeast is added to get the stuff fermenting away. After fermentation, the liquid “dead wash” is sent to the distillery, where it’s heated, and the evaporating alcohol caught in tanks. It sounds simple enough – and it is. But when you discover that it takes ten to twelve tonnes of sugar cane to produce half a bottle of alcohol, which is then blended with water and a mixture of secret ingredients (molasses is almost certainly among them) to make the ﬁnished product, you begin to appreciate all those ﬁelds of swaying cane a little more.