RUM SETS SAIL ON THE SEVEN SEAS
Since the first fleets set sail, the Royal Navy had carried alcohol on its ships for both crew and commerce. Water was impure and unsuitable for long voyages in wooden barrels - wine and beer also did not keep well and took up space – spirits were the perfect alternative. And as the focus of the high seas turned towards the Caribbean in the early 1600s, a new sugarcane spirit emerged that over the next 100 years would become the preferred spirit of the seas.
This spirit made from the waste product of the sugar-making process was at the time known as ‘Kill-Devil’, owing to its fiery properties. Indeed, as the first ever account of rum-making shows, it was not at the time thought worthy for general consumption. The privateers and the sailors in the Navy didn’t mind. This new spirit, this kill-devil, may have been rough to taste but it had many functions on board: it emboldened spirits, it acted as a medicine, it seemed to take away tiredness... and it was the only liquid to drink.
In fact, in 1699, a British observer commented that rum was “much ador’d by the American English” as “the Comforter of their Souls, the Preserver of their Bodies, the Remover of their Cares, and Promoter of their Mirth.” One can imagine that the Royal Navy viewed it as such too. And thus, their centuries-long relationship with the spirit began...
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