The Origin of Rum

There’s so much more to rum than meets the eye. And sometimes it’s good to know a little bit of history of what’s in your glass. (Also good for making good impressions at the bar.)

rum n. (r m)
1 : an alcoholic beverage distilled from a fermented cane product (as molasses)
2 : alcoholic liquor

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

The origin of the word rum is unclear. A common claim is that the name was derived from the word rumbullion, meaning, “a great tumult or uproar.” Another claim is that the name comes from the large drinking glasses used by Dutch seamen known as rummers, from the Dutch word roemer, a drinking glass. Other theories suggest that it is a contraction of the words saccharum (Latin for sugar) or arôme (French for aroma).

Regardless of the original source, the name had come into common use by May 1657 when the General Court of Massachusetts made illegal the sale of strong liquor, “whether knowne by the name of rumme, strong water, wine, brandy, etc., etc.”

In current usage, the word for rum is often based on the its place of origin. For rums from Spanish-speaking locales, the word ron is used. A ron añejo indicates that a rum has been significantly aged. Rhum is the term used for rums from French-speaking locales, while rhum vieux is an aged French rum.

Some of the many other names for rum are rumbullion, rumbustion, Barbados water, rumscullion, devil’s death (or “Kill-Devil”), Nelson’s blood, and rumbo. A version of rum from Newfoundland is referred to by the name screech, while some lowgrade West Indies rums are called tafia.

For more cool facts on rum and more, check out our Rum Bible!

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