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The First Rum Day in France 1931

By Gregoire Erchoff

My interest in Rum has grown in the last few years, and knowing that the history of France is linked to the history of rum because of the French Caribbean Islands, I wondered when rum became a popular spirit for the French consumers.

In 1777 the king of France, who had forbidden the importations of rum or taffia from the French colonies in 1713, had declared that Rum was no longer dangerous and « néfaste ».

So Rum Punch started to appear in the cafés in Paris and also next to the harbours where the sailors used to hang out. They used to have the punch hot & strong! And they advised that Jamaican rum was used!

Between 1853 and 1856, during the war in Crimée against the Russians, rum was consumed by the soldiers as a daily issue. After they returned from war, they contributed to make rum even more popular, in fact it gave them help to fight against the climate down there.

Back then, there were a lot of ships doing the trip from different harbours in France (Bordeaux , le Havre & Marseille) to the Caribbean, and wine traders became also rum traders. One thing that contributed to make the sales of rum pretty good in the 19th Century was the prohibition of absinthe in 1915. So during World War I every man on the field had a flask of rum in their military belt to give them some courage at war.

A law was passed in 1922 to limit the importation of rum. Then, suddenly rum was replaced in the bars by cognac & calvados.

One strange thing about people’s first approach to how rum tastes was because of the way rum was imported in France. In 1931 we had a Rum celebration day during the Colonial exhibition in France at the «Bois de Vincenne» where the Rum Fest takes place nowadays. In his speech Paul Rebou said: “in the 17th and 18th centuries, the wooden casks were not as developed as they are today. In the colonies they used to keep rum the Spanish way in leather wineskin, so rum was exported in France in those wineskins. The trips in sailing ships were taking more than 3 months to reach France, so what happened to rum in those leather wineskins in the ships’ hold while they sailed in the hot Caribbean sea was that cane liqueur took the taste of leather.”

So for consumers, that specific taste became the taste of rum, and when the ships became bigger and it was now possible to carry wooden casks made of wood from Limousin (same cask as Cognac), the taste of rum changed.

How did consumers react? They said… “This spirit is not rum!!! We don’t want to buy that, what we want is rum!”

No rum shop wanted to lose its clients so they had to accept their customers’ needs. They started to cut small pieces of leather and threw them into the cask and they sometimes added some cloves as well to reproduce that leather taste.

Maurice Désembriaux, a famous Belgian gastronome made an intervention and said: “True rum, the one from Jamaica and Martinique, is much better than the one marinated in old leather. What a marvellous taste is an authentic rum. What a taste, what a heat wave and abundance of flavours, how can such an essence be denigrated by the amateurs…”


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








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