Rum is the third most-popular spirit in the world, and it’s a staple in many refreshing, tropical cocktails—which is why we celebrate National Rum Day on August 16, right in the midst of the dog days of summer.
It’s no wonder that rum conjures notions of swaying palm trees and ocean breezes. Rum hails from the islands of the Caribbean, where it has been produced using traditional methods since the 17th century.
In the 1600s, the West Indies was an epicenter of sugar production. A major byproduct of sugar production was molasses, which—having no practical use—was discarded. Slaves working on the plantations discovered that the molasses could be distilled, and thus rum as we know it was born.
As rum’s popularity grew, so did its demand—soon, rum became a primary export of the Caribbean islands. By the 1700s, American colonists were drinking, on average, 3 gallons of rum per year, and a rum distillery was established on Staten Island to keep up with demand. George Washington even served Barbados rum at his inauguration. Rum became an acceptable form of currency in Europe, and became a valuable bargaining chip in the burgeoning slave trade.
At the same time, rum was also gaining popularity among sailors and pirates. In the mid-1600s, the Royal Navy captured the island of Jamaica. The British sailors, who had historically been given a daily brandy ration, switched to rum—a practice that remained until 1970. When pirates and buccaneers raided the British fleet, rum was one of the “treasures” they sought to plunder. And occasionally, British privateers would defect, and took their taste for rum with them as they adopted the pirate lifestyle. This gave rise to popular representations of pirates drinking rum, such as Long John Silver and Billy Bones from the classic adventure tale Treasure Island.
These iconic images persist today, and are a staple in modern tiki culture. Rum is by far the most popular spirit in tiki cocktails, and forms the base of iconic staples made popular by tiki pioneer Don the Beachcomber, like the Mai Tai, Zombie, and Painkiller.
The Caribbean is still a primary producer of rum, which each island specializing in its own style of rum—from the dark rums of Jamaica and Haiti to the rhum agricoles of Guadeloupe and Martinique. Today, you can find dark rum, flavored rum, gold rum, light rum, spiced rum, white rum, and overproof rum.
This August 16, party like a pirate and mix up some classic rum cocktails for your crew to celebrate National Rum Day—perhaps with a Cuba Libre, Dark ‘n Stormy, or classic Daiquiri. Or try something large format, and whip up a batch of rum punch… the possibilities are endless. Ahoy!
National Rum Day is typically celebrated