07 Apr
Tue / 2015

The Gilded Dish: A Rienzi Blog
Rum: Sugar and the High Seas

Are you interested in the history of rum? Objects in the Rienzi Collection with connections to spirits and rum provide inspiration for our “Demon Rum” Dinner on April 29. Join us for a unique evening with bartender Bobby Heugel, from Anvil Bar & Refuge, and chef Chris Shepherd, from Underbelly.

Many works in the Rienzi Collection are indicative of the surge in transcontinental trade and globalization during the 18th century. Here are two highlights that relate to rum in ways that might not seem obvious at first.

Punch Pot (c. 1765)

Rienzi’s Punch Pot, much discussed in earlier blog posts, is a prime example of an object that shows the association between Europe, the Americas, and Asia. Made in England of porcelain, a material once found only in Asia, the vessel is derivative of a traditional teapot, but it was not a genteel beverage that would have been held in its bowl; rather, it was punch, made from citrus, sugar, water, spices, and spirits. The last ingredient, often a direct result of trade and globalization, was frequently rum—a very New World concoction.

As chronicled by Tom Standage in A History of the World in Six Glasses, rum became a form of currency. English settlers flocked to the Caribbean islands when a robust sugar trade began in the 17th century. Molasses, a byproduct of the sugar-refining process, was not considered useful until the islanders began to make their own alcoholic drink: “kill-devil.” Less expensive than imported wine and beer, kill-devil was also called “rumbullion.”

Portrait of Captain Edward Knowles, R. N. (c. 1762)

Edward Knowles had a short career in the British Royal Navy that ended tragically when he disappeared after the declaration of war with Spain in 1761. Painted posthumously, this portrait by English artist Francis Cotes was commissioned by Knowles’s father.

How does it relate to a spirit nicknamed kill-devil? The Royal Navy substituted the sailors’ ration of beer for rum in 1655, eventually realizing that the drink needed to be watered down in order to keep ships functioning. The portion allotted per sailor was a “tot.” The change turned out to be surprisingly beneficial for the Royal Navy. To make the watered-down drink more appetizing, sailors added sugar and lime juice, which contained vitamin C and thus helped to prevent scurvy. This drink was called “grog.”

Try a grog or a tot for yourself at the “Demon Rum” Dinner, which pairs Bobby Heugel’s cocktails with a decadent meal by Chris Shepherd. More Info