The Origins of Rum in California Part: The First

Culture — January, 15, 2024



Rum has a rich history intertwined with exploration and maritime adventures. One such captivating tale is the Northern California/Oregon voyage of Sir Francis Drake, a renowned English spy, sea captain and privateer. 

In this article, we delve into the origins of rum and explore the intriguing connection between this distilled beverage from the Caribbean and its first importer to Northern California, Sir Francis Drake.

The Origins of Rum

Before there was rum sailing to California, there was Guarapo, a fermented molasses product with spices added for flavoring.

Before there was Guarapo in the Caribbean there was Christopher Colombus.

Christopher Columbus, whose father-in-law was a Madeira sugar planter, introduced sugar cane to the Caribbean in 1493. On his second trip across the Atlantic, he brought live sugarcane seedlings to La Hispaniola (Dominican Republic).

The sugar grew successfully, and business interests established plantations over the next two decades in Mexico, Cuba, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico. Not to be outdone, the Portuguese planted cane on the Brazilian coast and brought in sugar presses and copper boiling vats from home.

In one of these ports of call, the Golden Hind would have pulled over and picked up a few barrels for the road, as it were.

Sir Francis Drake's California Voyage?

Sir Francis Drake, the Elizabethan spy, sea captain and privateer, known for his daring exploits on the high seas. Amongst his many exploits and firsts, some suggest that the introduction of rum to the naval traditions began with Sir Francisc Drake. His voyage through the Caribbean would have found him provisioning with Guarapo.

As he navigated his way to landfall along the Northern California and Oregonian Coast line it has been suggested that he made landfall and contact with the local peoples living there. If we imagine a drink of Guarapo was shared, then Sir Francis Drake also becomes the first commercial importer of sugarcane drink to the California area in 1579.

This seafaring cocktail, designed to uplift the spirits of the crew after long and treacherous voyages, became a symbol of camaraderie and resilience on the open ocean and without a doubt the first of many introductions of far away products to California.

Drake's California voyage is shrouded in mystery and controversy. Some historical accounts suggest that he landed in a bay near present-day San Francisco, after all there is a bay and a city named Francisco ( perhaps unrelated ). Other, perhaps less biased and more fact driven research suggests that landfall would have been in Whales Cove in Oregon. 

Regardless of the exact location, it is widely accepted that Drake's journey marked the first importation and degustation of rum on the West Coast and thus setting a precedent for the future.

Rum on the High Seas

During his maritime exploits, Sir Francis Drake and his crew faced numerous challenges, including the need for a reliable and long-lasting source of sustenance. Rum emerged as a vital component of their provisions, providing both hydration and a means of boosting morale during the arduous voyage.

The tradition of sailors turning to rum on the high seas has become deeply ingrained in maritime lore. The association between rum and seafaring adventures has endured through the centuries, contributing to the spirit's romanticized image as the drink of choice for those who braved the open ocean. For those who have sailed past the Golden Gate and out onto the Pacific, bravery and drinking rum are often logical associations.

Legacy and Impact

The origins of rum and Sir Francis Drake's California voyage are intertwined tales of exploration, adventure, and maritime history. From the sugarcane plantations of the Caribbean to the shores of California, these narratives showcase the enduring spirit of discovery and the role that rum played in sustaining and uplifting those who dared to sail into the unknown, certainly a spirit that matches the California feeling.

Sir Francis Drake's California voyage left an indelible mark on history, opening the door to the world to explore and appreciate the beauty and wonders of the Pacific coast. While the details of his interactions with indigenous peoples are still debated, there is no doubt that his journey  played a significant role in the subsequent joys and hardships that shaped the course of California. 

Mixology and Myths

One such rum cocktail story suggests that in 1586, the crew of the naval fleet commanded by Drake fell ill somewhere near Havana. As a remedy, Francis had a drink made with Lime, Mint and rum soaked in the bark of a local tree varietal

Presto the origins of the Mojito emerge!

For those playing along at home, this historical use of rum herbs and bark could be:

El Draque

  • 2 tsp Raw Sugar

  • 1 Lime Cut into Four Wedges

  • 6 Mint Leaves

  • *Muddle All Above*

  • 2 oz (60 ml) Batiste Silver True Cane Rum

  • No Ice

For the bark, one could soak cinnamon sticks in rum along with white willow bark. Certainly there are medicinal attributes, efficacy hard to know.

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