Traditional English Rum

The English rum tradition is linked to colonial history, i.e. to the colonising country that most influenced rum production in a given place... Read more

The English rum tradition is linked to colonial history, i.e. to the colonising country that most influenced rum production in a given place... Read more

The English rum tradition is linked to colonial history, i.e. to the colonising country that most influenced rum production in a given place. This particular tradition can be found in the former English colonies, such as Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad, Grenada, etc.

This classification is becoming less and less relevant, as there are in fact many exceptions; however, it remains a good basis for understanding production methods, consumption habits and the resulting styles of rums.

A short history of traditional English rum

Although it is suspected that the first distillations of sugar cane took place in the Portuguese colonies of Madeira, the Azores, or Brazil, the first written records of rum distillation and trade were found in Barbados, and date from around 1630.

The first 'finished' rums, or at least the highest quality, also came from this island. Indeed, in 1654 it was said that 'Barbados water' was the best there was. Jamaica also quickly established itself, with its highly aromatic rums and consistent quality.

The oldest official distillery still in operation also belongs to this tradition, as it is Mount Gay, established in Barbados in 1703.

It is indeed the British know-how in terms of distillation which is at the origin of this success, since it is them who imported the proven techniques of whisky, namely the double distillation in pot-still.

In the 18th century, the British West Indies largely dominated the rum world, with Barbados and Jamaica still at the forefront. It was not until the end of the same century that the French in Santo Domingo overtook them. Barbados, Jamaica, but also Grenada, Antigua or Saint Kitts exported as never before and flooded Europe and North America with their powerful, aromatic and therefore infinitely dilutable rum. Trinidad also joined the British fold during this century. Far from the West Indies, Australia and the Fiji Islands should not be forgotten, which are still part of this English style today.

Navy Rum, an iconic style

Traditional English rum is closely linked to the British Navy. Sailors received a daily ration of rum until 1970, but the legend of this type of rum has continued to this day thanks to blends such as Pusser's. This Navy Rum was made up of rums provisioned as the ship sailed and called, and therefore mainly English style rums. This style of rum is perhaps the one that best reflects the English rum tradition.

At the beginning of the 19th century, the end of Saint-Domingue and the proclamation of Haiti benefited the English. Their rum was still of excellent quality, and they were ready to regain the lead (although Cuba, and later Martinique, were also serious competitors). Guyana passed into British hands in 1813, and then it was St Lucia' s turn the following year. Large distilleries were built, and quickly equipped with the new distillation columns which had just been developed. Barbados and Jamaica, however, adopted the column only in 1893 and 1960.

At the end of the century, the Demerara region in Guyana was the second largest producer after Martinique. The beginning of the 20th century was a difficult time for everyone, with sugar crises raging and distilleries regrouping. For the more recent history, we invite you to consult the pages of each producing country.

English style rum

If one were to sum up the English style, one could speak of traditional molasses rum and pot-still distillation. The pot-still is a characteristic feature of the style, as it is rarely found elsewhere. Still distillates are often coupled with column distillates, as is the case in Barbados, St. Lucia, Guyana and Fiji. Jamaica has the distinction of having a good proportion of rums distilled solely by still.

These are rather dry rums, with little added sugar, with a full-bodied but balanced character. As elsewhere, aging is typically done in old bourbon barrels.

There are of course many exceptions. In Trinidad, for example, there is a tendency to produce lighter rums. In some distilleries in Grenada and Barbados, pure cane juice syrup is used, not molasses. Some islands now affiliated to France, such as Mauritius and Reunion, have a style which could be closer to the English tradition. This is also the case for rums from Belize, despite the country's location in Central America.

To get a good idea of the rum of English tradition, you can for example discover Doorly's XO from Barbados,Appleton 12 years from Jamaica,El Dorado 15 years from Guyana, or Chairman's Reserve Legacy from Saint Lucia. Read less

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