The first Caribbean cocktail?

Originally posted 06 August 2012

The earliest named rum drink we know of in the Spanish Caribbean is the Draquecito or “Little Dragon,” a mixture of rum, sugar, mint, and lime. The drink was said to be named after either Sir Francis Drake or one of his Captains, Richard Drake. (At least one rum company has claimed that this drink was named by Sir Francis instead of after him, which is extremely farfetched.)

DrakeWhy anyone in the Spanish colonies would name a drink after someone who pillaged Spanish ships is an excellent question. Though the pun on Sir Francis Drake’s name (Drake and Draque) is most often cited, it may be that the bad rum that was most common in those colonies made one’s mouth burn like a dragon’s.

The earliest citation I have seen for the Draquecito is from the work of Cuban poet and novelist Ramón de Palma, who referred to the Draquecito in an 1838 book; the main character drank one of the cocktails daily as a preventive medicine. At some point around 1860, the name of the drink changed from Draquecito to mojito – but why, exactly? The usual answer I have seen is that the draquecito was made with aguardinte or garapo, while the mojito was made with rum. At this time aguardiente was a generic term for strong liquor, while garapo was literally a drink of unfermented cane juice but was apparently also Cuban slang for cheap unaged rum. Thus it appears that if you made this drink with bad rum it was called a Draquecito, but if you made it with something you didn’t mind serving to guests it was a mojito. By that name it became a favorite with Hemingway and his crowd, and went on around the world.

The Minneapolis Mystery Solved!

Originally posted 19 July 2012

It has only been a few weeks since I published the picture of the enigmatic spiced rum bottles from the 1940’s, and we have an answer already! I heard from Eileen Loucraft, who stated that a relative named Nelson Loucraft had a sugar cane plantation in Cuba in the 1940’s. Nelson had family in Minnesota, and apparently they started the Loucraft Corporation to import that rum, which was distributed via Courtesy Club. Nelson Loucraft died in the 1940’s and there is no record of what flavorings were in those bottles, so unless new information comes to light, details about the earliest commercially exported Caribbean spiced rum will still remain a mystery.

Rum in Japan, by more than one name…

Originally posted 16 July 2012

I was enjoying a meal in a small Japanese restaurant yesterday evening and decided to try shochu, the Japanese distilled liquor, rather than sake. I observed that along with shochu made from yams, barley, sweet potatoes, and other raw materials, there were some made with sugar cane and muscovado sugar. The one made from muscovado sugar had a pleasant light peppery taste, while the one made from cane resembled a typical cachaca. This is the label from the Jougo, made from muscovado sugar.

Jougo1The experience piqued my interest and I started researching Japanese rum, which has a longer history than I expected. Sugar grows well on the Ryuku and Ogasawara islands, which are about a thousand kilometers south of Tokyo, and the plant has been cultivated there since sometime before 1860. Rice-based alcohols were traditional in the region, but by the 1920’s mixes of sugar and rice were used to make a distinctive drink called Kokuto. By 1940 true rums were made, albeit in small quantities, and distilling continues today. Even when these drinks are made primarily or entirely with sugar or molasses, most are classified as shochu for tax reasons; foreign drinks like rum have a much higher rate than traditional alcohols like shochu. Only certain islands may claim this exemption, so Jougo, which is made from in the Ryuku Islands, is classified as a shochu despite being made almost completely from cane juice, while Ogasawara, a molasses rum from a nearby island chain, is sold as rum and is much more expensive.

Thanks to everyone who showed up at my recent events – I enjoyed meeting many of you at Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco, at the meeting of the Culinary Historians of Northern California, and at the various other places where Bay Area fans of rum history congregate.

The pageantry of rum at sea…

Originally posted 06 July 2012

The British navy created an elaborate ceremony for serving rum aboard ships, an occasion presided over by the Rum Bosun to the sound of music that was played at no other occasion. (I have tried to find a recording of this tune so I could include it with this post, but no luck yet.) Special measuring cups were used so that sailors would know that they received the precise amount specified by law, and those cups have become collector’s items. The friendly folks at The Pirate’s Lair have put pictures of some of these online, and with their permission I share these:


The Pirate’s Lair site even has information about how to detect counterfeit grog cups, the existence of which I hadn’t suspected until I read the article. As I mentioned in the book, rum has spawned religious ceremonies in several parts of the world, but the most majestic ritual may have been the purely secular one that evolved around the British Navy’s grog rations.

Images of Ecuadorian rum…

Originally posted 05 July 2012

Anywhere sugar is grown, rum is made, though in many cases it is all consumed locally and documentation is hard to find. Some sugar is grown in coastal Ecuador, and the friendly people at Cristal rum company sent me a few examples of labels and old pictures of rum production.


The white rum was branded as “Aguardiente Superior,” and the slogan translates to “For the Toast that Lasts.” I don’t know the date, but from the fashions I would guess this to be from the 1960’s. Here is a picture of the bottling line, featuring someone who looks eerily like a young Peter Lorre filling the bottles:


…And here is the cane crushing equipment, which looks unchanged from that used in the Victorian era:


Cristal claims an interesting heritage for their product, namely that the Incas who inhabited Ecuador made a type of beer from local sweet grasses, and the regional taste in alcohol reflects that heritage. I have never seen documentation for any traditional Andean alcoholic beverages except those like chicha made from corn, but would be interested in learning more.

The Haitian mystery bottle solved!

Originally posted 27 June 2012

While I was in Washington DC to talk about rum for the Culinary Historians of Washington, I met a charming lady from Haiti named Anne-Gaelle Laplanche who had seen this site and was able to answer the question about the mysterious bottle of Haitian rum. I had been fooled by the eccentric spelling of Haitian creole French – the word that had been spelled “Celebride” is actually a compound word of “Sele” and “Bride,” which together mean “Saddle and Bridle.” This drink, also spelled Selebride, is a white rum made in the Cap Haitian region called Kleren that is made by moonshiners, and this label wih no distiller’s name is typical. To make Selebride, the Kleren is spiced with local herbs – the resulting drink is supposed to have aphrodisiac properties. Apparently there are many different types of Haitian moonshine – others are called tranpe or tafia. I hope to elaborate on the differences in a future post, as well as provide a link to Anne-Gaelle’s new blog on Haitian cuisine and culture.

The trip to the East Coast was quite a success – there were good crowds at all four events, one of which was followed by an impromptu rum sampling in a sunny garden. Many thanks to all who came out. I had already planned a visit to the Carolinas this fall, and may be stopping through Virginia again for more fun in early November. If you have a suggestion for a venue, feel free to contact me!


Bundaberg, and a wonderful rum poem from 19th Century Australia

Originally posted 26 June 2012

As long-established distillers are sold and resold by multinational companies, the histories of the people and events behind the brands are lost. It seems strange that someone would pay for a famous name and then allow the reasons for that fame to be forgotten, especially as an archive is inexpensive to maintain and can be the foundation for a museum that can attract tourists, but it happens all too often. Therefore it is worth cheering the owners of Bundaberg Rum, who are cooperating with Australian rum enthusiasts who recently established a Bundaberg history page.

BundabergOldTheir site is at, and they are looking for stories, historical notes, and memorabilia. If anybody out there can give them a hand, please be generous with your information – we all benefit. In their honor, I would like to refer you to a wonderful poem called “Rum and Waterby the nineteenth century poet Thomas Edward Spencer.

Stifling was the air, and heavy; blowflies buzzed and held a levee,
And the mid-day sun shone hot upon the plains of Bungaroo,
As Tobias Mathew Carey, a devout bush missionary,
Urged his broken-winded horse towards the township of Warhoo.
He was visiting the stations and delivering orations
About everlasting torture and the land of Kingdom Come,
And astounding all his hearers, both the rouseabouts and shearers,
When descanting on the horrors that result from drinking rum.

The tale of the wandering missionary and the drunken bushman arguing about what has hurt more people, rum or water, is too long for me to reproduce here, but trust me, it is worth reading.

Another Mystery Bottle from Haiti…

Originally posted 19 June 2012

A reader from Florida sent a picture of this bottle, which is labeled in French “Celebration du Cap.” It appears to be an old Barbancourt bottle that has been relabeled, a common practice a few decades ago when many small distilleries couldn’t afford to buy stocks of new bottles.


As you can see, the label has been professionally but crudely printed. Given the “Celebration of the Cape” wording, my guess is that this was a special bottling for some festival or other event. Has anybody out there seen anything like it, and do you know how old this might be? Please let me know, and I will post any information I receive.

I will be posting only sporadically for the next week or so, as I have speaking engagements in New York and Washington. My lecture on rum for the Culinary Historians of Washington received excellent preview coverage in the Washington Post, so we are hoping for a good crowd. If any readers of this site show up at that event, please come and introduce yourself – I like meeting people who care about food, drink, history, and anthropology.

And more on temperance songs, with recording!

Originally posted 13 June 2012

The overwrought style of most early temperance songs is laughable nowadays, but some had interesting lyrics and catchy tunes. They were pop songs, designed to appeal to Victorian sentiments. The Hutchinson Family were rock stars of their day, and this ticket from an 1843 concert at the Howard Street Tabernacle in Boston gives you a sense of how the Rolling Stones might have been marketed if they had come along 130 years early.


Their lyrics are pretty good – consider this sample from “King Alcohol”:

“King Alcohol is very sly, a demon from the first, He’ll make you drink until you’re dry, then drink because you thirst.”

It would be interesting to know how this group sounded, but they flourished long before the era of recording equipment. There are later versions of their songs, but even the first recordings may not sound anything like the original because by the time Edison cylinders were available, tastes had changed. As an example of this, you might listen to the earliest recording of another temperance favorite, “Father’s A Drunkard and Mother Is Dead.” The earliest recording I have been able to find is from 1929, and it was performed by Walter Coon as a singsong country blues. You can listen to it here.

Not only was this tune written for a woman’s voice rather than a man’s, a look at the original sheet music shows that the tune was completely different. Here is a modern recording in something closer to the original style:

This is a very raw recording by the Foss Household Temperance Band (Elizabeth Rose-Marini on vocals, Professor Simon Spalding on octar, Richard Foss on mandolin). We played this take only a few hours after looking at the sheet music for the first time, so the rendition is far from perfect. Even so, you can hear that the tune is more ornate than the better-known version, and Ms. Rose-Marini sounds much more like a starving orphan girl than Mr. Coon. It’s the sound of another era, earnest and naive and dedicated to ending the evil reign of demon rum. If you’d like to see the lyrics so you can sing along, they are in an older post on this site.


Cold Water versus Hot Liquor

Originally posted 12 June 2012

From the 1700’s to the late nineteenth century, rum was seen as a healthful beverage, and when the Temperance movement launched their campaign against strong drink they were out of the cultural mainstream. A measure of this is seen in the language of the Temperance Battle Hymn, published in 1889:


“Stand up for the cold water fight, Against doctor and lawyer and priest,

Stand up and do battle for right, Against foes from the west or the east.”

Doctors, lawyers, and priests were indeed the foe – lawyers because they prosecuted those who vandalized saloons, priests because Catholics used wine as a sacrament, but the matter of doctors is more complicated. Some doctors did regard rum as good by itself to “calm the nerves,” but many more used alcohol as a base for medicines. The chemistry of the time had no better way of extracting the essence of some herbs or as a base for compounds, and popular remedies such as Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound were 18% alcohol, or 36 proof. Those who eschewed alcohol in all forms did have other options, but those often contained mercury, opium, strychnine, and other virulent poisons. A sensible person might decide that they would get at least as much relief from a glass of rum with lime and sugar, and much more enjoyment from the experience.