The history of Jamaican rum

The origins

Jamaica is the third largest island in the Caribbean, and the largest of the former British possessions... Read more

The history of Jamaican rum

The origins

Jamaica is the third largest island in the Caribbean, and the largest of the former British possessions... Read more

The history of Jamaican rum

The origins

Jamaica is the third largest island in the Caribbean, and the largest of the former British possessions. "Discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1494, it was first settled by the Spanish in 1509. It was the English who marked the beginning of thesugar industry on the island, when they conquered it in 1655. It was the English who also defined the style of rum that would later be produced there. Endowed with an unprecedented potential, Jamaica saw the establishment of 57 plantations as early as 1670, until the figure rose to 1061 in 1784!

By 1740 it was the world's largest producer of sugar and rum, and this continued until the end of the 18th century. (thanks to Appleton and Worthy Park among others). The abolition of slavery in 1834 naturally marked a slowdown in production. However, production continued with the arrival of workers from India and China.

The turn of the 20th century

The beginning of the 20th century was very difficult, notably because of the various sugar crises, but also because of fierce competition from the rest of the Caribbean. 140 sugar mills remained in 1900, only 48 in 1922, 27 in 1943, and finally 6 in 2009.

With sugar production closely linked to molasses production, Jamaica has always been a rum giant. It traditionally supplied European brokers and the major Caribbean blends. It continues to do so today.

In 1890, the increase in customs duties led distillers to produce highly concentrated rums, especially for their German customers. A separate category was born at that time, German Rum for Rumverschnitt, a drink based on Jamaican rum and neutral alcohol. The Hampden distillery, for instance, was very successful in this specialisation.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Martinique and Guyana overtook Jamaica. But the distilleries kept their methods and know-how without giving in to the sirens of rationalisation.

In 1932, due to profitability problems, a reduction in production was imposed by the government. A sort of state cooperative was created. All the rum was then aged for 3 years in large cellars to be exported mainly to Great Britain.


After the second world war, several distilleries were bought by groups. Owners of big brands like Myers' and Captain Morgan controlled their supplies. This was the case of Long Pond for instance.

In 1983, 6 distilleries were still active (Innswood, Long Pond, Hampden, Clarendon, New Yarmouth and Appleton). There are as many today, because although Innswood closed, Worthy Park reopened in 2005 after a closure in 1962.

While Jamaica has always been a bulk supplier, there are now more and more distillery brands. It took several centuries for the island to really develop its unique know-how.

Rum in Jamaica

The geography of the Jamaican distilleries is as follows: Appleton and Worthy Park in the centre of the country (Nassau and Lluidas Vale), Clarendon in the South (near the New Yarmouth factory), then Long Pond and Hampden in the North (Trelawny).

Almost all the rum consumed here is overproof white rum. This tradition goes back to the early days of rum, with the famous John Crow Batty. This rum was collected at the end of the stills and left the distilleries under the table, before being sold as is. This was of course without reduction, and without even bothering to remove the heads and tails of the distillation. It was consumed in the island's many rum bars and was used for just about everything. It was said to have medicinal, invigorating and even aphrodisiac properties.

Jamaicans have retained a taste for these rough white rums. But today's overproof rums are much healthier and more controlled. The symbol of this category is Wray & Nephew Overproof. It still reigns supreme, although Worthy Park, Hampden and Monymusk have launched themselves as challengers. The Rum Bar, Rum Fire and Monymusk Overproof are real little pieces of Jamaica.

The production of old rum is mainly sold in bulk abroad. It is characterised by heavy, highly concentrated rums, mostly distilled in pot-stills. It is often referred to as "stinky rum" or "hogo". (which comes from "haut goût" in French, perhaps an equivalent of "grand arôme"?)

Until very recently, Appleton was the only brand of old rum recognised on the island and abroad. The distilleries are only now starting to take back control of their production. Worthy Park and Hampden released their first official bottlings in 2017.

However, these rums are still mainly intended for the European and American markets. Only tourists and wealthier people consume them locally.

Jamaican rum is extremely popular in the cocktail world. Its explosive flavours are the basis for many of the classics of Tiki culture.

A little technique

One of the specificities of Jamaican rums is their fermentation. Often spontaneous, with indigenous yeasts, it uses the famous dunder (vinasse), skimmings (from the cooking of cane juice for sugar production), and even vesou (pure cane juice). We should also mention muck. This sort of compost of distillation residues, cane straw and fruit gives rise to many fantasies. It is said that bats and other animal carcasses occasionally enrich the mixture.

The distillation is typically done in a Caribbean double retort pot-still, more efficient than the early double distillation. Some distilleries are also equipped with more modern distillation columns.

Jamaican rums have long been, and still are, commissioned rums. The distilleries are able to produce rums of different concentrations according to the wishes of their customers. A classification has been established by the English traders:

Common Clean: 80 - 150 g/hlap in esters. The oldest style produced, the lightest, easily achievable in large quantities.

Plummer: 150 - 200 g/hlap in esters: This is called "medium body", it is a balanced rum that is starting to have more body.

Wedderburn: + 200 g/hlap in esters. We are entering the category of traditional rums that are a little heavier, with more distinctive aromas.

Continental Flavoured / High Ester: 500 - 1700 g/hlap in esters. These are the most concentrated rums, with extreme flavours. They are used in small quantities in a variety of blends to enhance their profile.

Within this generic classification, each distillery develops its own "marks". Habitation Velier thus offers bottlings of different marks from Jamaican distilleries. A didactic and tasty exercise!

The distilleries of Jamaica


Established in 1949, it is equipped with large pot-stills and a large multi-column structure. It is a very large producer that sells most of its rum in bulk, and works for major brands such as Captain Morgan

It has 100 fermentation tanks, which gives an idea of its capacity. For heavy rums, the molasses ferments for 14 to 30 days in wooden vats, using crushed cane, cane juice and water, but without dunder. For light rums, fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks for 24 to 30 hours.

Their first official bottling was only released in 2012 with the Monymusk brand. The India Company was the first to offer us some single casks featuring the Clarendon name.


The sugar estate has been in existence since 1684, with uninterrupted rum production dating back to 1753. Privatised since 2009, it released its first official bottling in 2011 (Rum Fire Overproof).

It is an ultra-traditional distillery that produces rums as in the 18th century. Fermentation is done with molasses, cane juice, dunder, muck, fruit, cane vinegar and indigenous yeasts, in wooden tanks.

She uses only Forsyths and Vendôme pot-stills.

Habitation Velier has detailed the extent of its production with single mark bottlings. It has a long history with independent bottlers, and has offered a range of official bottlings since 2018(46% and Overproof).

Long Pond

The distillery has been in operation since thebeginning of the 18th century.Bought in 1953 by Seagram to produce Captain Morgan, it has been nationalized in 1980 and privatized again in 1993. Today it belongs to National Rums of Jamaica (like Long Pond), an entity managed by Ferrand (Plantation), Demerara Distillers Limited (El Dorado) and the Jamaican government.

It offers a multitude of different profiles (marks), from light to heavy. The distillation is done in 5 Vendôme pot-stills, all different because they have been modified over the years.

The distillery does not have its own brand and therefore only sells its rum in bulk. There are manyindependent bottlings. The distillery's rums are also present in a large number of blends, like this Xaymaca for example.

Worthy Park

With a large sugar estate dating from 1670, but above all a distillery founded in 1710, it is the oldest rum producer on the island. The distillery suffered from the post-war consolidation measures. In 1950, the distillery produced almost no rum, which led to its closure in 1962. Fortunately, it reopened in 2005 and immediately set about conquering the local market with its Rum Bar Overproof (2007), then Rum Bar Gold (2010)

For the fermentation, no dunder but yeasts cultivated on the spot and sometimes very long fermentation times. The distillery has only one pot-still of 18000 litres and produces only 3 marks (light, medium and heavy)

Very present with independent bottlers such as Silver Seal, Kill Devil or L'Esprit among others, Worthy Park also offers aged rums under its own brand since 2017. The Single Estate Reserve is a pure example of the distillery's style.

Appleton / Wray & Nephew

The distillery has been active since 1749, but it was John Wray (a merchant and fine blender) who really started to popularise it by developing the Wray brand from 1825. While all the other distilleries were doing only bulk business, Wray was the biggest local and international seller, including old rums. It is this long history that gives the distillery its legitimacy and status today. 

The production process remains fairly secret, we only know thatAppleton uses proprietary yeasts, as well as a combination of pot-stills and columns.

Today the brand of old rums is called Appleton Estate, with the essential Rare Blend and the sublime 21 year old. The white rums continue to be called Wray & Nephew (the latter being distilled at New Yarmouth, the star of independent bottlers such as La Compagnie des Indes and S.B.S.)

Since 1997, the famous Joy Spence has been the master blender and is in charge of one of the largest stocks of old rums in the Caribbean. Read less

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