Everything Nast hated in one package...
Political cartoonist Thomas Nast was one of the best artists of his generation, so it is unfortunate that his talents were frequently put to supporting bigoted candidates and causes. One of the odder examples combines two of Nast's obsessions: alcohol and immigration to the United States. Given those two concerns, what could be better than a cartoon about rum-crazed Irishmen?
The cartoon is a savage caricature of a riot in New York that was provoked when police broke up a St. Patrick's day parade. Rum isn't the alcohol usually associated with Irishmen, but it was the cheapest liquor available and Nast, like many others of his day, associated it with violence and debauchery. Like many modern media personalities, he wasn't about to let facts get in the way of a good story. Less confrontational cartoons by Nast have been more enduringly popular - he created the popular images of Santa Claus, Uncle Sam, and other American icons, and toward the end of his life drew cartoons that showed sympathy for the plight of immigrants.
16 May 2012
Political namecalling and rum in 1831
The American Presidential election of 1831 was a flowering of dirty politics, featuring savage satire by both sides. The Whig candidate, William Henry Harrison, was branded the “log cabin and hard cider” candidate by his opponents, suggesting that he was an old man who had nothing better to do than sit at home and drink the alcohol most associated with country hicks. The strategy backfired when Harrison embraced the accusation, realizing that it reflected the homespun image he sought to project. Since their first strategy hadn't worked, supporters of rival Martin Van Buren came up with a surprising strategy, namely to claim claim that Harrison actually preferred rum. Harrison, whose other nickname was Tippecanoe, was on the ballot with James Tyler, and both are mentioned in this little ditty:
Rockabye, baby, Daddy's a Whig
When he comes home, hard cider he'll swig
When he has swug
He'll fall in a stu
And down will come Tyler and Tippecanoe.
Rockabye, baby, when you awake
You will discover Tip is a fake.
Far from the battle, war cry and drum
He sits in his cabin a'drinking bad rum.
The new campaign against Harrison was another failure, and Van Buren lost the subsequent election. Harrison did not enjoy his triumph for long, as he died of pneumonia only a month after taking office.
15 May 2012
The Great Eggnog Riot of 1826
Just typing the header of this post made me smile; we associate eggnog with Christmas, not flailing fists. The sweet milky beverage is favored by children, and it seems unlikely that it could have once have been at the center of an altercation that imperiled the careers of men who would later become famous. Nevertheless, in 1826 a battle among West Point cadets over an illicit bowl of rum-laced eggnog resulted in the court-martialling of twenty candidate officers and one enlisted man. Among the riot participants who was not prosecuted was Jefferson Davis, who later became President of the Confederacy and as such commander of a fellow student who tried to maintain discipline, Robert E. Lee. It all began when the administration of the academy tried to crack down on the drinking of eggnog around Christmas, which had always been against the rules but was unofficially tolerated. In response a group of cadets decided to throw the biggest party West Point had ever seen. This picture shows the cadets enjoying a convivial mug before things got ugly.
Many broken windows and minor injuries later, some cadets had been expelled while others were reduced in rank. Some promising careers had been cut short, and the Academy enforced the rules with renewed vigor. Next time you sip some eggnog as a winter refresher, remember that the seemingly harmless drink was once a focus of contention at America's elite military school.
13 May 2012
Possibly the most frightening way to quit drinking...
When I was researching the chapter on the rise of the Prohibition movement, I found some fairly odd suggestions on how to reform those who imbibed rum to excess. My favorite so far is this one from the late 1900's:
I think this might actually work, having once drunk a Korean liquor with a dead pit viper in the bottom of the bottle. Just looking at the scaly creatures pickled in my beverage induced both melancholy and a complete lack of thirst. If you are interested in seeing more of this type of useful information, I recommend you to Questionable Advice, a blog that is filled with wisdom from the pens of advertsers through the ages.
11 May 2012
Drinking rum before dawn with the Governor
I was looking up the earliest recipe for a Canadian rum concoction called Moose Milk when I found the following passage about the annual Levees held by governors of Canada. These meetings between the executive and his constituents sound like a jolly time, if you like drinking rum before dawn.
Governor George Simpson’s Athabasca Journal reports that on January 1st, 1821, “the Festivities of the New Year commenced at four o’clock this morning when the people honoured me with a salute of fire arms, and in half an hour afterwards the whole Inmates of our Garrison assembled in the hall dressed out in their best clothes, and were regaled in a suitable manner with a few flaggon’s of Rum and some Cakes. A full allowance of Buffalo meat was served out to them and a pint of spirits for each man”.
It goes to show once again that rum was an integral part of cultures far away from any canefield. As for what it's like to start your day with a pint of rum and a plate of buffalo meat, that is not recorded. I welcome any chance to find out.
11 May 2012
Sweet music of intolerance...
In the era before television and radio, music was the mass media that reflected the issues of the day. Topical songs were composed to argue points of view, and within days of a news story hitting the headlines, sheet music would appear advocating or satirizing both points of view. The anti-alcohol forces in the USA in the late 1800's churned out sheet music along with an endless stream of tracts and flyers, most of which depicted alcohol use in apocalyptic terms. A shining example is "Father's a Drunkard and Mother Is Dead," which marries a catchy tune to some very bad rhymes. Here's a sample couplet:
"We were all fine before daddy drank rum, then all our problems and troubles begun."
There are many words in the English language that rhyme with "rum", but that doesn't mean that Stella the Poetess actually knows any of them...
This piece has a personal side for me - that picture is of a page in my great-grandmother's scrapbook from the early 1900's in which she pasted the lyrics of these and other temperance songs that were printed in the Baltimore Sun. I had been amused by the dreadful poetry for many years before I ever heard the tune. Not all the songs are that bad; another temperance song called "The Rum Seller's Farewell" has surprisingly good lyrics and an interesting premise. The rum seller in question is boarding up his shop on his last day of business - his custom has dwindled because everyone has embraced the virtues of temperance, and now all his former customers are drinking tea with their families instead of carousing all night. Needless to say, the day those crusaders dreamed of never actually came to pass...
10 May 2012
On languages and records, part one...
I was exchanging emails with Captain Jimbo of Captain Jimbo's Rum Project, and he brought up one of the mysteries of rum - that it was not invented earlier. After remarking that sugar and the use of the alembic still both spread westward across the Mediterranean, he wrote, "To deny that this coexistence did not result in distilled cane spirits much earlier (and not in the Caribbean or Brazil) is not convincing. Anything that could be run through an alembic probably was, not least something as common as sugar cane."
He is right that sugar was widely available in cultures where distilling was a commonplace task. Unfortunately, in some of the likely places nobody made or kept records of economic activity. Sugar was grown in Sicily as early as the year 1000 - is it credible that for over 500 years nobody thought to run the byproduct of refining through a still? Or in Madeira, where the Portuguese were growing sugar by 1400? Unfortunately, with the exception of monasteries where monks used alembics for medicines, almost everyone who might have been involved in the distilling business was illiterate. What few records survived from that turbulent era were made by the aristocracy and concerned with their affairs, not the commercial dealings and diet of their inferiors. At least that is the case of the documents that have been translated - it may be that someone could delve through monastic records or the private letters of merchants and find some casual mention of a new distilled drink. The evidence may languish in some archive, waiting to be found and to extend the history of rum back by hundreds of years. We can only wait and hope.
09 May 2012
I demand that my opponent be sober!
If you were a general in the midst of a war, wouldn't you want your opponents to be drunk? This is a question that might occur to a modern general, but not to an eighteenth-century commander. The proof is in this regulation issued by Sir William Howe to the citizens of occupied Philadelphia:
Rum rations were important to the morale of both sides, and Howe tried to prohibit rum trade as vigorously as he did salt and medicines. Why salt? It was used in pickling, and armies depended on pickled and preserved rations. Howe's regulation was ineffective and counterproductive - since rum and salt were both used as currency in the coinage-poor colonies, this amounted to a shutdown of economic activity. The trade continued regardless, and the regulation was widely ignored.
08 May 2012
Find the rum in this picture...
Poets have celebrated rum, lyricists have sung its praises, and artists... well, with the exception of pictures of canefield workers and revelers roistering in taverns, they have mostly left it alone. An exception, perhaps, was Picasso, who painted a picture called "Still Life With a Bottle of Rum" in 1911.
Some people claim to see a rum bottle in this picture. I don't, so will have to take their word for it.
07 May 2012
More information on Russian navy rum
In a recent post I asked readers to help identify the approximate date of a picture showing Russian sailors standing around a rum pot on the deck of a warship. The fellow who owns the photo, Mike at The Pirate's Lair, sent me another shot which is slightly clearer:
I contacted my friendly local Russian Orthodox liturgical music expert, a gentleman named Bernard Brandt, who was able to make out the name embroidered on the sailors' hats. This reveals that the shot was taken aboard the Dmitri Donskoya between 1885, when the ship was commissioned, and 1905, when the vessel was scuttled by its captain to avoid capture by the Japanese after the Battle of Tsushima.
The next question is where Russia was getting rum for their navy. I was surprised to find that the first sugar cane processing factory in Russia opened in 1723, with some rum production commencing shortly thereafter. Sugar cane grows well in sourthern Ukraine, then part of the Russian Empire, and there may have been some importation of molasses from other areas to feed the distilleries. Russians are skilled at extracting alcohol from just about anything, so it is no surprise that a high volume of fairly bad rum was available for their warriors at sea. I have not been able to find any information about whether rum rations continued after the Bolshevik revolution - anybody out there who knows is invited to enlighten me.
05 May 2012
A cartoon for common sense
The crusade against alcohol in America continued long after Prohibition was repealed, and at the outset of World War II anti-alcohol activists tried to use that conflict as an excuse to reinstate the ban on liquor production. A San Diego-based editorial cartoonist named Theodore Geisel responded with this cartoon:
Yes, that is Carrie Nation as envisioned by Dr. Seuss, axe in hand and ready to smash rum barrels. Geisel's work as an editorial cartoonist is less known than his children's books, but it is worth a look just to see how his graphic style was used to make fun of Hitler, Mussolini, and other targets. (Photo used by permission of Geisel archive.)
04 May 2012
Sally Brown, and the shanty that isn't a shanty
In the book I mentioned a sea shanty called "Sally Brown" that reveals a lot about a sailor's vision of the good life. You can hear it at this link - the file will open in a new window.
There is a clear West Indian beat in Simon Spalding's rendition of this song about a mixed-race woman who "drinks rum and chews tobacco", an ideal of womanhood far from the more genteel ladies back at home. Another vision of the good life that awaited ashore is in the song "Rolling Down to Old Maui," in which a sailor sings
We're homeward bound from the Arctic Sound
With a good ship taut and free
And we don't give a damn when we drink our rum
With the girls of Old Maui
This is an old song, the earliest version of which was first recorded in 1858, but it is not a sea shanty - it was not designed as a work song to be sung in unison while accomplishing a task aboard ship. It is technically a forebitter - a ballad to be sung after the work is done. And if it's a happy song, why does it have that name, with the word bitter right there to be seen? It actually comes from the forebitts, a place by the bow of the ship that is convenient to sing and play music. If you are interested in nautical lore and sailor songs, I recommend that you investigate MusicalHistorian.com, the webpage for shantyman and historian Simon Spalding. He learned from Stan Hugill, the last man alive to sing those songs aboard a British Merchant Navy sailing ship, so there is a chain of tradition here.
03 May 2012
A Spoonfull of Rum Punch...
I was interviewed for a local paper about rum history, and when the piece came out I was puzzled by an allusion the writer made to Mary Poppins drinking rum. I wondered if there was perhaps a scene that I missed due to a trip to the snack bar at the theatre - perhaps a subplot where Mary gets tired of taking care of the kids, leaves them with Uncle Albert, and heads to the local pub for a double navy grog with a shot of old Jamaican heavy for a chaser. When she is thrown out of the place for being drunk and disorderly and singing lewd sea shanties, she lands in the arms of Mr. Binnacle, who is always at that location around closing time because it's a good place to meet women who are being thrown out of bars for singing lewd sea shanties.
If Disney did film that scene, it ended up on the cutting room floor, but it is clear that Ms. Poppins did enjoy her tipple. In the scene after the rainstorm in which she informs the children of the virtues of taking a spoonfull of sugar to help the medicine go down, she pours three colors of liquid from the same bottle. The two children take a sip and in turn report the flavor as lime cordial and strawberry. Mary takes her own sip and purrs, "Rrrrrrum punch" with much more enthusiasm than is usually shown for alcoholic beverages in movies made for children. You can see the clip here - go to the one minute mark.
I asked a friend who is a Disneyphile, and he thinks this may be the first instance in a Disney film of a woman drinking alcohol. It would also fit very well with the practice of an earlier era - in the early 1800's rum punch was indeed recommended by doctors. So Mary was probably just following her mother's family recipe for taking care of a sudden chill - a modest serving or rum punch for herself and the children.
02 May 2012
Weights and Measures, part two
When you try to accurately recreate historic foods and beverages, some of the difficulties are obvious; a recipe that says to cook something until it "looks right" is not very helpful if you have never seen the finished product before. Measurements calibrated in handfulls are an obvious problem, so the modern cook is grateful when they come across a recipe list that specifies "four eggs," "a cup of milk," or "the juice of five lemons." If you have studied the history of agriculture, you know that your problems are just starting. If the recipe calls for four eggs, you should probably use three - thanks to a hundred years of breeding chickens that lay big eggs, they are about a third larger than they used to be. They taste different, too, thanks to the chickens' diet of vitamin-enhanced commercial feed. The milk we buy now has been homogenized, pasteurized, and has less butterfat - you may want to experiment with a mix of 3/4 milk and 1/4 cream. As for the five lemons, you might get something closer to the original if you use three lemons and a lime - lemons a hundred years ago were smaller and more tart. The liquor is different too - in the case of the Colonial American drinks that were originally made with inferior local spirits, it is now hard to find rum as bad as the best they could get. A book could be written on the differences in the raw ingredients of prior centuries and the ones we use now... I may even write it, despite being warned that the subject is too arcane to interest major publishing houses. I tested all the recipes printed in Rum: A Global History and have verified that they work, and if each is made by someone who follows directions and obtains good ingredients, they are at least close to what was eaten and quaffed in days gone by.
30 April 2012
The Least Convincing Mascot in Advertising
Stroh of Austria has an endearingly odd way of making their commercials memorable. Their original mascot was a stylized bear, and as time has passed the bear has become less and less lifelike. Even when the bear is rendered in a drawing, it looks like a guy wearing a rented bear suit that doesn't fit very well. This first ad is not too bad, with the mascot resembling a bear cub that has been stuffed by an unimaginative taxidermist.
This one looks like he at least enjoys drinking the product he is advertising::
And then we have this awesomely lifelike fellow:
If you are camping and are suddenly face to face with a cuddly looking ursine wth rum on his breath, that is probably him. (Images used by permission of Stroh & Co.)
27 April 2012
Rum in the world's navies
In the book I mention a bit about rum in the British and American navies. Though the elaborate ceremonies aboard British ships inspired the most famous images of grog consumption, rum rations were common in other navies as well. This picture from the 1890’s shows Czarist Russian sailors gathered around the rum pot. If anyone who views this image can read Russian and can make out the Cyrillic characters on the sailors' hats, I'd be interested to now what ship this is.
Rum was also dispensed in the German navy as late as the Second World War. In his book “Without Hindsight,” German naval ensign Gerhard Both recorded a 1944 incident in which a sailor nicknamed Pongo earned the disapproval of his crewmates.
“The standard drink for any festivities on board for the rank and file was tea with rum, which was collected from the galley by means of very large teapots. On one such occasion, at an advanced stage of the party, it was Pongo’s turn to collect another pot full of tea with rum. Even today I can still visualize his return with a well-filled pot, but instead of setting it quietly on the table he started dancing around with it in the middle of the deck in crazy circles, and the tea/rum poured out of the spout and all over the deck. It took four or five men to stop this crazy carousel.”
The picture of the Russian sailors is courtesy of ThePiratesLair.com, which has an extraordinary collection of naval rum memorabilia. Among the pages here is a very well photographed article on naval rum cups, including information on how to detect counterfeits. If you never knew these existed, much less that people are counterfeiting them, there is much to see there.
24 April 2012
What do you call the stuff in that bottle?
One thing that can confuse a rum scholar is the variety of names for the exact same thing. For example, here are three labels from 1945 that Ypioca of Brazil provided a bit too late to get in the book.
As you can see, two are labeled Aguardiente, the third "Delicious National Whiskey." Both were produced in the same facility using the same ingredients, cane juice and water, and both would now be sold as cachaca. The differences in the names were 100% marketing, and depended on where in South America these bottles were to be shipped. (These are from the 1940's, well before there was any attempt to market cachaca outside Brazil.) This problem is not limited to South American brands - as noted in a May 2006 article in a trade magazine called Drinks Buyer Magazine Asia, "In the Philippines, gin is made from molasses. In fact, India and the Philippines could be classed as major rum-drinking nations if some of the "gin" and "whisky" there was properly classified." Though international truth-in-labeling laws have extinguished most of the outright counterfeit products, there are still plenty of bottles that are labeled in ways that make it hard for an unwary patron of poorly lit bar to know what they are imbibing.
23 April 2012
The Privateer becomes a brand...
Rum was often used as a basis for medicinal tonics, and a pair of pharmacists in Kingston, Jamaica had a particularly tasty recipe that they brewed up using local Long Pond rum. The popular drink caught the eye of a major liquor company in 1944, but since Levy Brothers Pharmacy Spiced Rum wasn’t catchy enough, they named it after a Caribbean celebrity: Captain Morgan. Henry Morgan was a colorful character, a pirate and privateer who was briefly the Governor of Jamaica. He was notable for ingenious military strategies, personal courage, heavy imbibing, flagrant disregard of orders from London, and an incident in which his crew was so drunk on rum that they set his flagship on fire. Though the beverage named after Morgan wasn’t the first spiced rum ever made, it was the first to be mass marketed, and the image of the gaudily dressed Welsh privateer was a potent marketing tool. His portrayal has changed over the years – this ad is from 1950.
I like this depiction of the Captain better than the modern version - he looks less like a cartoon character and more like someone I'd actually hoist a glass with. (Images courtesy of Diageo)
22 April 2012
Roll the dice and seize the rum...
What better way could there be for the family to spend an evening than pretend to be pirates? The British board game Buccaneer premiered in the 1930s, and allowed players to compete for diamonds, rubies, gold, pearls, and barrels of rum.
One wonders whether a game that encourages children to fight over barrels of alcohol would be accepted in current society. The game was sold until the 1980's in Britain but never caught on elsewhere, and early sets in good condition fetch a substantial amount among collectors.
21 April 2012
Some thoughts on weights and measures, part one
One of the challenges in writing this book was a problem faced by culinary historians and historical recreationists everywhere – when you see a common measurement, is it really what you think it is? For instance, when you see the word “Gallon” in an old British or Colonial American manuscript, it might be one of three different measures. There was a dry gallon, used for wheat and other grains, and two wet gallons, the wine gallon (3.75 liters) and the ale gallon (4.62 liters). There were also standardized measures for larger containers – the wine barrel contained 31.5 gallons, the beer barrel 36 gallons. When the question arose of which gallon was used for rum, I contacted historian Steve Bashore, who is restoring George Washington’s distillery at Mount Vernon. Steve contacted the cooper at Colonial Williamsburg, who confirmed that since spirits were usually aged in old wine barrels, when a gallon of rum is mentioned in a recipe, it is probably a wine gallon.
Handily for Americans who are recreating old rum recipes, the modern American gallon is based on the wine gallon, while the British Imperial Gallon is based on the old beer gallon. (In case you are interested, the two countries standardized their respective gallons in 1824.) Americans and others who use US measurements, your standard measuring cups and jugs may be your guide. For the rest of you, there are conversion tables aplenty on the web...
20 April 2012
Can you help identify this image?
Many articles about the alcohol trade with Native Americans use the same image, of a sharply dressed Yankee brandishing a bottle of liquor to a tribal chief.
Oddly, none of the individuals or institutions I contacted could give a date or origin for this image, which appears to be an engraving of the type used in books and newspapers in the early 1800's. The Yankee is often identified as a fur trader, but the reason for that is unclear - perhaps those are furs on the wagon in the background, but I have not found a version in high enough resolution to make it out. Does anybody out there have any idea where and when this might have first appeared?
19 April 2012
Evidence for the earliest distillation of sugar?
There is a lively debate about the earliest evidence for distilling. In his excellent book Uncorking The Past, Dr. Patrick McGovern makes a good case for the technology of distilling in China around two thousand years ago. There is another civilization that apparently had the same technology five hundred years earlier, though it is an open question as to how they used it. At the museum in Taxila, Pakistan, there is a complete alembic still that could have been used to extract alcohol, and it has been estimated to be 2500 years old.
The elements of the alembic still are obvious - a pot to boil the wort, chamber to capture the steam, with a tube to another chamber where the steam will condense to a concentrated liquid. It is all made from terracota clay, and it looks very much like distilling equipment used in Indian and Pakistani villages today. Unfortunately, without testing the inside of the boiler to see what kind of residue was left behind, it is impossible to determine whether it was used to make alcohol or to extract oil from plant materials to make perfume or medicine. The same equipment could serve either purpose. The dating of this still is also open to queston, since the display in the museum states the age of everything in this case wthout saying how the era was determined. I have sent numerous messages to the museum, but this display is apparently not one they are eager to discuss or investigate. It seems likely that an institution managed by a strict Muslim government is not interested in conducting an experiment that could confirm that alcohol was first distilled in what is now Pakistan. Certainly the people of the Indian Subcontinent during the Vedic period knew how to make a cane sugar based beer, but did they distill it into the world's first rum? Lacking the proof that could only be obtained by chemical testing, it can only be said that the technology of distilling, the cultivation of sugar cane, and the knowledge of the art of making alcoholic beverages existed at the same place and time. Whether the people of the Indian subcontinent put those skills together, and whether they used the result as a recreational beverage, medicine, or for some other purpose, is a question that can not be answered with certainty at the present time.
2012, April 17