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History of New England Rum

By Bastian Heuser

Not everyone realizes that USA has a long lasting relationship with rum. When asked, most people will guess that USA has always been a Bourbon country since its puritan heydays, but that is by no means correct.

MelazaMed.jpgWhen sugar production began to take off in the West Indies in the 17th century, molasses – the co-product of the sugar making process – was soon to be imported to the American colonies. Used as a sweetener for those that could not afford the luxury good that was sugar it became highly popular not only in the colonies but also in Europe. But the settlers did not only sweeten their tea with molasses it was also used for distilling. At the peak of the American molasses industry in 1770 some six million gallons of Caribbean molasses were imported and a high percentage went into the roughly 160 operating distilleries in New England. The city of Medford became the mecca of American rum production and coined the term “Medford rum” as a category of its own.

Almost all the rum was produced for domestic consumption, because the rum was dirt cheap in comparison to imported rum from the West Indies. In 1777 Medford rum sold for 3 shillings and 10 pence a gallon.

In the beginnings of the 19th century the industry underwent a turning point. The British highly taxed the import of molasses and with the expansion of the American colonies into the grain-heavy mid-west the settlers gained hold of a different and cheaper source for distilled spirits: wheat, maze and rye.

In 1905 the last distillery in Medford, the Lawrence distillery, closed its doors forever. 

‘The views expressed above are the opinions of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of WIRSPA Inc.’ 

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