Since I started working at The Oxford Wine Company I've had many opportunities to visit different wine producers in their native countries, therefore I feel it would be only fair to afford the same treatment to our many producers of fine Rums. This of course has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that such a trip would involve an island hopping tour of the very heart of Rum production - the Caribbean!
The Caribbean is the epicentre of world Rum production. Virtually every major island group produces its own distinct Rum style. The oldest of these producers is the Mount Gay Distillery in Barbados dating back to 1703. Their flagship product Mount Gay Eclipse, created in 1910 is a traditional light bodied rum with complex aromas and a subtle smoked oak character. I am informed by my wife (who was lucky enough to visit Mount Gay a few years ago) that it is well worth the journey to take a tour of their distillery and no doubt to stop off at their re-launched visitor centre as well.
In the absence of any forthcoming Caribbean trip let me fill you in on one or two of the interesting points behind Rum and its production...
What a waste... In 1643 Christopher Columbus introduced the Americas to sugar cane, the cane was crushed and the resulting juice boiled to form sugar crystals. Leftover from this process was a sticky sweet residue called molasses. It didn't take long for enterprising sugar mill owners to notice that once this 'waste' product was mixed with water and left out in the sun it fermented into spirit - Rum was born!
The early versions of Rum were known as rumbullion or kill-devil maybe partly due to its use as a cure-all for the many aches and pains brought on by life in the tropics. Rum quickly gained popularity as plantation owners sold it, at discounted prices to local naval ships to encourage their presence in the area and ward off pirates. So impressed were the British Navy that in the 1730s they adopted a daily ration of half a pint of 160% proof rum which remained (albeit in a more watered down fashion) until 1969.
Nowadays Rum can be found in many forms ranging from the White Rums which are said to be giving Vodka a serious run for its money in the mixer stakes through to aged Rums which are fast gaining pace amongst the drinker or single malt Scottish whiskies. These products along with Gold, Dark and Spiced Rums can all be found on the shelves of the Oxford Wine Company.