Yo Ho Ho and a Bottle of Rum

This Smile is dedicated to Dr. Lindsey Meredith.

On this Day:

In 1703, Mount Gay Estate, Barbados, began distilling rum. Mount Gay Rum is the oldest existing brand of rum in the world.

Rum is a liquor made by fermenting and then distilling sugarcane, molasses or sugarcane juice. The distillate, a clear liquid, is usually aged in oak barrels. Most rums are produced in Caribbean and North and South American countries, but also in other sugar-producing regions, such as the Philippines and Taiwan.

Rums are produced in various grades. Light rums are commonly used in cocktails, whereas “golden” and “dark” rums were typically consumed straight or neat, iced (“on the rocks”), or used for cooking, but are now commonly consumed with mixers. Premium rums are made to be consumed either straight or iced.

Rum plays a part in the culture of most islands of the West Indies as well as the Maritime provinces and Newfoundland, in Canada. The beverage has famous associations with the Royal Navy (where it was mixed with water or beer to make grog) and piracy (where it was consumed as bumbo). Rum has also served as a popular medium of economic exchange, used to help fund enterprises such as slavery (see Triangular trade), organized crime, and military insurgencies (e.g., the American Revolution and Australia’s Rum Rebellion).

Origins

Vagbhata, an Indian Ayurvedic physician (7th century AD) “[advised] a man to drink unvitiated liquor like rum and wine, and mead mixed with mango juice ‘together with friends.” Shidhu, a drink produced by fermentation and distillation of sugarcane juice, is mentioned in other Sanskrit texts. Maria Dembinska states that the King, Peter I of Cyprus, also called Pierre I de Lusignan (9 October 1328 – 17 January 1369), brought rum with him as a gift for the other royal dignitaries at the Congress of Kraków, held in 1364. This is plausible given the position of Cyprus as a significant producer of sugar in the Middle Ages, although the alcoholic sugar drink named rum by Dembinska may not have resembled modern distilled rums very closely. Dembinska also suggests Cyprus rum was often drunk mixed with an almond milk drink, also produced in Cyprus, called soumada.

Another early rum-like drink is brum. Produced by the Malay people, that beverage dates back thousands of years. Marco Polo also recorded a 14th-century account of a “very good wine of sugar” that was offered to him in the area that became modern-day Iran.

The first distillation of rum in the Caribbean took place on the sugarcane plantations there in the 17th century. Plantation slaves discovered that molasses, a by-product of the sugar refining process, could be fermented into alcohol. Then, distillation of these alcoholic byproducts concentrated the alcohol, and removed some impurities, producing the first modern rums. Tradition suggests this type of rum first originated on the island of Nevis. A 1651 document from Barbados stated:

“The chief fuddling they make in the island is Rumbullion, alias Kill-Divil, and this is made of sugar canes distilled, a hot, hellish, and terrible liquor.”

However, in the decade of the 1620s, rum production was also recorded in Brazil and many historians believe that rum found its way to Barbados along with sugarcane and its cultivation methods from Brazil. A liquid identified as rum has been found in a tin bottle found on the Swedish warship Vasa, which sank in 1628.

By the late 17th century rum had replaced French brandy as the exchange-alcohol of choice in the triangle trade. Canoemen and guards on the African side of the trade, who had previously been paid in brandy, were now paid in rum.

Naval rum

The association of rum with the Royal Navy began in 1655, when a Royal Navy fleet captured the island of Jamaica. With the availability of domestically produced rum, the British changed the daily ration of liquor given to seamen from French brandy to rum.

Navy rum was originally a blend mixed from rums produced in the West Indies. It was initially supplied at a strength of 100 degrees (UK) proof, 57% alcohol by volume (ABV), as that was the only strength that could be tested (by the gunpowder test) before the invention of the hydrometer. The term “Navy strength” is used in modern Britain to specify spirits bottled at 57% ABV.

While the ration was originally given neat, or mixed with lime juice, the practice of watering down the rum began around 1740. To help minimize the effect of the alcohol on his sailors, Admiral Edward Vernon had the rum ration watered, producing a mixture that became known as grog. Many believe the term was coined in honour of the grogram cloak Admiral Vernon wore in rough weather. The Royal Navy continued to give its sailors a daily rum ration, known as a “tot”, until the practice was abolished on 31 July 1970.

Today, a tot (totty) of rum is still issued on special occasions, using an order to “splice the mainbrace”, which may only be given by the Queen, a member of the royal family or, on certain occasions, the admiralty board in the UK, with similar restrictions in other Commonwealth navies. Recently, such occasions have included royal marriages or birthdays, or special anniversaries. In the days of daily rum rations, the order to “splice the mainbrace” meant double rations would be issued.

A legend involving naval rum and Horatio Nelson says that following his victory and death at the Battle of Trafalgar, Nelson’s body was preserved in a cask of rum to allow transportation back to England. Upon arrival, however, the cask was opened and found to be empty of rum. The [pickled] body was removed and, upon inspection, it was discovered that the sailors had drilled a hole in the bottom of the cask and drunk all the rum, hence the term “Nelson’s blood” being used to describe rum. It also serves as the basis for the term tapping the admiral being used to describe surreptitiously sucking liquor from a cask through a straw. The details of the story are disputed, as many historians claim the cask contained French brandy, whilst others claim instead the term originated from a toast to Admiral Nelson. Variations of the story, involving different notable corpses, have been in circulation for many years. The official record states merely that the body was placed in “refined spirits” and does not go into further detail.

The Royal New Zealand Navy was the last naval force to give sailors a free daily tot of rum. The Royal Canadian Navy still gives a rum ration on special occasions; the rum is usually provided out of the commanding officer’s fund, and is 150 proof (75%). The order to “splice the mainbrace” (i.e. take rum) can be given by the Queen as commander-in-chief, as occurred on 29 June 2010, when she gave the order to the Royal Canadian Navy as part of the celebration of their 100th anniversary.

Rum was also occasionally consumed mixed with gunpowder, either after the proof was tested—proof spirit, when mixed with gunpowder, would just support combustion (57% ABV)—or to seal a vow or show loyalty to a rebellion (per Wikipedia).

First, a Story:

A pirate walks into a Vietnamese bar and orders….

Pho Hoe Hoe and a bottle of rum…

Second, a Song:

“Dead Man’s Chest” (also known as “Fifteen Men on the Dead Man’s Chest”) is a fictional sea song, originally from Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel Treasure Island (1883). It was expanded in a poem, titled “Derelict” by Young E. Allison, published in the Louisville Courier-Journal in 1891. It has since been used in many later works of art in various forms.

Stevenson found the name “Dead Man’s Chest” among a list of Virgin Island names in a book by Charles Kingsley, possibly in reference to the Dead Chest Island off Peter Island in the British Virgin Islands. As Stevenson once said, “Treasure Island came out of Kingsley’s At Last: A Christmas in the West Indies (1871); where I got the ‘Dead Man’s Chest’—that was the seed.” That is, Stevenson saw the three words “Dead Man’s Chest” in Kingsley’s book among a list of names, germinating in Stevenson’s mind it was the “seed”, which then grew into the novel.

Original song

In Treasure Island, Stevenson only wrote the chorus, leaving the remainder of the song unwritten, and to the reader’s imagination:

Fifteen men on the dead man’s chest—
…Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!
Drink and the devil had done for the rest—
…Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!

Another lyric in the novel, near its end:

But one man of her crew alive,
What put to sea with seventy-five.

Stevenson does not make clear if this lyric is part of “Dead Man’s Chest” or another fictional song entirely. Regardless, the words of the lyric help advance the storyline.

Pirates of the Caribbean

Pirates of the Caribbean is a series of fantasy swashbuckler films produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and based on Walt Disney’s theme park attraction of the same name. The film series serves as a major component of the eponymous media franchise.

Directors of the series include Gore Verbinski (films 1–3), Rob Marshall (4), Joachim Rønning (5–6), and Espen Sandberg (5). The series is primarily written by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio (1–4); other writers include Stuart Beattie (1), Jay Wolpert (1), Jeff Nathanson (5), and Craig Mazin (6). The stories follow the adventures of Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley). Characters such as Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) and Joshamee Gibbs (Kevin McNally) follow Jack, Will and Elizabeth in the course of the films. The fourth film features Blackbeard (Ian McShane) and Angelica (Penélope Cruz), while the fifth film features Armando Salazar (Javier Bardem), Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) and Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario). The films take place in a fictionalized version of the Golden Age of Piracy, and are set primarily in the Caribbean.

The film series started in 2003 with Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, which had a positive reception from audiences and film critics. It grossed US$654 million worldwide. After the first film’s success, Walt Disney Pictures announced that a film series was in the works. The franchise’s second film, subtitled Dead Man’s Chest, was released in 2006 and broke financial records worldwide the day of its premiere. Dead Man’s Chest became the top grossing movie of 2006 with almost US$1.1 billion at the worldwide box office. The third film in the series, subtitled At World’s End, followed in 2007 earning US$960 million. Disney released a fourth film, subtitled On Stranger Tides, in 2011 in conventional 2D, Digital 3-D and IMAX 3D. On Stranger Tides succeeded in also grossing more than $1 billion, becoming the second film in the franchise and only the eighth film in history to do this, at the time of release.

The franchise has grossed over $4.5 billion worldwide; it is the 14th-highest-grossing film series of all time, and is the first film franchise to produce two or more movies that grossed over $1 billion (per Wikipedia).

Here is Michael von Ullrichstein’s version of Fifteen Man on the Deadman’s Chest, set to images of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. I hope you enjoy this!

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=srI1VsRDytw)

Thought for the Day:

“Rum, n. Generically, fiery liquors that produce madness in total abstainers.” – Ambrose Bierce

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Have a great day!

Dave & Colleen

© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky

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