Satisfying Europe’s Sugar Hunger

The modern Rum era dawns in the seventeenth century AD in both South America and the Caribbean region when European colonialists founded sugarcane plantations to satisfy Europe’s frenzied need for sugar. Once sugar was introduced to the European palate, first in aristocratic circles then later in the streets, the demand outstripped the supply. Europe craved sugar more than gold.

The size of the average sugar plantation in the tropics was 750 acres. Depending on the location and skill of the farmer, twenty-five to one hundred tons of sugarcane would be produced per acre. Plantation owners in Jamaica estimated that they would produce about 1,600 pounds of refined sugar per acre. Sugar refining on the vast plantations created large amounts of waste, mostly in the form of molasses.

Slave Labor – the Dark Side of the Story

A dark side to sugarcane history casts a pall over the story but is one that cannot be ignored. In the process of founding a regional industry, many of the Caribbean islands were deforested to make way for cane fields, causing severe erosion problems for its population. Worse, millions of slaves from Africa and India were, almost always against their will, shipped in terrible conditions across great expanses of ocean to work the ever-expanding cane fields. Their lives were unimaginably unpleasant and wretched. Countless numbers of slaves perished from the brutality and inhuman conditions. By stark contrast, the modern Rum industry is marked by perceptive, forward-thinking companies that are both socially and environmentally sensitive and proactive.

Once Rum started being produced in the Caribbean region, its consumption became de rigueur for the various eighteenth century navies that navigated the Caribbean Sea with regularity. Daily portions of Rum were measured out by the liter, especially within the British Navy, to tranquilize the crew members as much as to refresh them. The navies of the region turned out to be some of the biggest customers of the plantation owners who produced Rum.