Vicky Matthews, Series Producer December 23, 2011

Behind the Scenes: Bacardi Inspired Rum Tales

I took over as Series Producer on Ultimate Factories early this spring. And to be honest, I was a bit nervous. I'm not a car fanatic... I don't really know the difference between an SUV and a sedan. And, it seemed, most episodes in the series were car stories.

Luckily this year we'd decided to branch out a bit. And one of the ideas was the Bacardi Factory in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

I was excited. Okay, first I admit: location, location, location. I love San Juan. And second? Well, I happen to love British Naval history. And that means I know a lot of stories about rum... whether true or not, I can't tell you.

So for example, rum is the key ingredient in all sorts of famous cocktails - the mojito, cuba libre, and caipirinha. But, for me, the first cocktail was sailor's "grog" - one part rum, two parts water and lime juice.

Its origin goes back to a British Navy admiral trying to get his sailors to hydrate. After days at sea, fresh water starts to stagnate and tastes foul. So, according to some accounts, a certain Vice-Admiral Vernon decided to mix it with the men's daily ration of rum - every mariner got a half pint a day - ensuring they drank a quota of water. And it turns out that by adding lime juice to the mix (also to disguise the stagnant water taste) the Navy inadvertently discovered a cure for scurvy.

There's another version of this story though - namely that Vice-Admiral Vernon ordered the rum mixed with water to reduce drunkenness. Too many of his men were apparently "three sheets to the wind".

FYI, the British Navy served grog right up to 1970 - the day the final rum ration was served is known as "Black Tot Day".

Another gruesome rum tale is the story of Admiral Lord Nelson. The story goes that when he was killed at Trafalgar, his men put him in a coffin and filled it with rum to preserve the body until they got back to land.  Alas, the sailors got at it.  And when the coffin was opened weeks later, it was dry. Some accounts claim it was brandy, not rum!

I also enjoy telling anyone who'll listen the origin of the term "proof." As mentioned, sailors were entitled to a ration of rum a day. Which meant if a Captain was short-changing the crew by watering down the rum too much, he was cheating his men.  SO they had the right to ask him to "prove" the rum. This was done by pouring grog onto gun-powder, then setting a match to it.  If it flared it was good. If it didn't... mutiny!

Have to say as part of the show, I experimented with rum and gunpowder with no success. So this story may also be a bit short on fact!

One final thought for the U.S. audience. I also love this bit of revisionist, and quite possibly apocryphal history: namely, that Paul Revere never meant to go riding through the country shouting out that the British were coming. In fact, it was meant to be a stealth mission, but en route he stopped in Medford, then the rum making capital of America and was treated to hospitality by Captain Isaac Hall, militiaman...and distiller. End result - a very loud and drunken Revere shouting at the top of his lungs at 4:30 a.m.

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