And a Bottle of Rum

A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails

By Wayne Curtis

Mention the word rum and a mélange of images often spring to mind. Pirates plundering the high seas. Sultry Cuban bodegas. White sand and palm trees on a distant West Indies shore. Courtesy of centuries of lore, the most colorful scenes are associated with this rather mundane byproduct of sugar production.

In his thorough investigation of the history of this spirit, Wayne Curtis mixes equal parts fact and storytelling with just a dash of imagination to serve up a comprehensive look at how rum – and ten rum-based drinks in particular – played a role in the development of the New World. Beginning with the wild sugar plantations of the British and French West Indies and ending in nightclubs from New York to Los Angeles, the author showcases rum’s influence.

From contributing to the start of the war of independence between Britain and the United States to helping end the temperance movement, rum has held sway at critical junctures of US history. Drinking it brought with it, according to the author, a measure of status never before enjoyed by its imbibers. That is a surprising outcome for this spinoff of the lucrative sugar manufacturing process. The author asserts that rum, beyond simply becoming a status symbol, helped a nation gain its cultural independence.

This informative history begins with the first documented occurrence of rum – aptly referred to as “kill-devil.” This powerful West Indian rum was described as “a hot, hellish and terrible liquor.” As time passed, the distillation process – and quality – vastly improved, and rum’s reputation grew as a drink of choice throughout the New World. Curtis moves through the centuries to explain how flips, rum punch, daiquiris, mojitos and other rum-based drinks each played their part.

OUR TAKE: This compact and entertaining book offers a unique perspective on the prominence of rum throughout the growth of modern America. Mixed with the historical tales are observations about the relationship between consumer and spirit over the past four hundred years.

The book aptly illustrates the Consumer Alpha concept in action. Despite ebbs in popularity over the centuries, rum has maintained a firm hold in the mass consumer market. This puts rum in the enviable position of a product that enjoys steady and continued growth, despite a variety of external market influences that are not always kind. Stable long-term demand for rum makes it a Consumer Alpha product.

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