The Real American Spirit

Contributed by

Advocates for whiskey in general and bourbon in particular like to claim they represent the true spirit of America. They insist you should reach for liquor made from grain when you’re feeling wistful around holidays like Thanksgiving.

Yes, but…no. Celebrating whiskey as the quintessential American spirit is like celebrating Wii Golf as the quintessential American sport. This just in: The Wii came to the game a little after baseball. And in the liquor world, whiskey is Wii.

Rum is baseball.

Rum established itself first and foremost in the nation’s narrative arc, serving as the engine that helped the colonies grow and become economically confident enough to make a play for independence from Great Britain. (Spoiler alert: It worked.)

You may be thinking, hey, wait a minute… Sugar—the main ingredient in rum—wasn’t a serious crop in the North American colonies. How did rum become such a player?

Well, England had territories scattered around the New World in the 18th century. And that included several in the West Indies, where sugar generated remarkable wealth. (It was the precursor to railroads, oil and the internet in the spawning of outrageous fortunes.)

Trade among the colonies was robust—the North Americans provided almost everything the islanders needed to survive, since virtually all the arable island land was devoted to growing sugar cane. Dried cod, salt pork and other foodstuffs sailed south, and in return, molasses (a byproduct of sugar production) sailed north.

Now, New Englanders liked baked beans and gingerbread. A lot. But that’s not why they loved molasses. It was because you can use the stuff to make rum. On the eve of the American Revolution in 1776, some 160 distilleries were cranking it out.

After independence, trade between the newly formed country and colonies still under British rule was disrupted. Thanks to this sudden opportunity, and to an abundance of grain, the age of whiskey dawned in the United States.

So with Thanksgiving on the horizon, if you want to properly celebrate the patriotic early-American spirit, my suggestion is to reach for rum.

Pineapple Syllabub

Contributed by Wayne Curtis


  • 1.5 oz Pineapple-Infused Rum*
  • 1 tsp Lemon zest
  • .5 oz Lemon juice
  • 1 oz Half-and-half
  • .5 oz Honey syrup (one part honey, one part water)
  • Garnish: Nutmeg
  • Glass: Rocks

Add all of the ingredients to a shaker and fill with ice. Shake vigorously (until the drink is as foamy as a Ramos Gin Fizz) and strain into a rocks glass. Garnish with grated nutmeg.

Pineapple-Infused Rum*

  • 1 (750-mL) bottle White rum
  • Half a pineapple, peeled and cut into spears

Combine the rum and pineapple in a large jar or other container with a lid. Cover, and let stand for 2 to 3 days, tasting periodically for optimal flavor. Strain out the pineapple and re-bottle the rum.

Wayne Curtis writes about drinks for The Atlantic and is the author of And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails. He is also host of the site

From our Friends



  • Sylvan posted 6 years ago

    And, apple brandy gets no love. Again. I'd love to see real consumption/production numbers, but unless apple cider won out over brandy production, I'd guess applejack beat rum to the punch, so to speak.

  • Grazing Bull Worldwide posted 6 years ago

    This Holy-Day season celebrate with the best of Rhum from Martinique "Rhum Clement's Harvest Punch".
    1-Gallon "Good" Apple Cider
    2-12oz Bottles of Regatta Ginger Beer
    2-Packages of Mulling Spices: Star anise, nutmeg, cinnamon, clove
    1-Package of Cinnamon Sticks
    2-Fresh Whole Lemons Quartered
    2-Fresh Whole Lemons Sliced for Garnish
    4-Apples Quartered
    2-Oranges Slices for Garnish
    375ml-Rhum Clement VSOP
    375ml-Rhum Clement Creole Shrubb
    In large pot warm apple cider, mulling spices, lemon & apple quarters 30 minutes DO NOT BOIL. When very hot add ginger beer, VSOP & Creole Shrubb. Stir & Transfer this hot punch into thermal carafes. Serve in hot paper cups or glass mugs with a cinnamon stick & orange or lemson slice garnish. Enough to warm the cockles of 6-8 hearts for an evening. Will keep for a few days and makes an excellent marinade cold for pork tenderloin.

  • Dias posted 6 years ago

    I recommend Banks 5 Island Rum, the best white rum in the market today.

  • Dick Greenleaf posted 6 years ago

    If you read your own column then rum was the drink of British colonials. Bourbon was the drink of newly independent Americans

  • Mark posted 6 years ago

    Ibteresting, and I'll give rum 'first in time' status here. But given the associations with the slave trade, the Whiskey Rebellion and the association with post-Revolution times I choose whiskey.

  • Mike DeLancett posted 6 years ago

    Isn't this kind of contrary to the point that Bourbon lays the claim because it is a literal native spirit, rather than other whiskies (which predate rum in europe easily), rums, or other spirits that were brought in by settlers? Don't get me wrong, I like a good rum as much as the next guy, but it's kind of a giant fallacy in this argument. It's nice that there's a history lesson on the role rum played here in the states, but c'mon guys,a weak argument for controversies sake is kind of below this site.

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