The beginning of the United States sugar industry started in New Orleans in 1795, but citizens of New Orleans were drinking its distilled nectar decades before the sugar rush began. Tafia, a low-quality rum using basic French methods, was drank with relish since sugarcane was first brought over from Saint-Domingue in the 1750s. Once new, frost-resistant varieties of sugarcane were introduced to Louisiana, along with the invention of the multiple-effect evaporator, sugar production exploded in the state like never before. The evaporator, invented by a Creole named Norbert Rillieux made sugar production incredibly efficient. So efficient in fact, that there was more sugar and rum than Louisiana knew what to do with. However, the real culprit in the growth of Louisiana sugar was the use of slaves, which were forced to work in appalling conditions that some scholars consider the worst in United States history.
Rum inevitably became the drink of choice for those who could not afford imported brandy, and it was drunk with gusto. Pirates and sailors, of whom there were plenty in the 1800s, found themselves at home in the dive bars they were offered, many of which were familiar with the drink from travels across the Caribbean. Once prohibition crept into the French Quarter, locals and visitors alike, including William Faulkner, bought rum snuck in from Cuba or elsewhere. Rum-runners would often take the rum and doctor it up to resemble all sorts of illegal spirits at the time, from Absinthe to gin. The results as you can imagine were not very palatable for the generations used to quality bourbons and cognacs.
Today many of New Orleans signature cocktails are made using rum. The most famous cocktail, the daiquiri, was imported from Cuba where it found little difficulty finding its way onto every cocktail menu in the city. The original, as opposed the sugar-forward slushy found on Bourbon Street, is simply rum, lime and sugar. Ernest Hemingway, a connoisseur of all things containing alcohol, skipped on the sugar, but doubled the rum and dropped a little maraschino liquor in for good measure. Stop in at Tiki Tolteca on Decatur Street to give one a try, as well as dozens of others rum-based concoctions that bring a little island life to the Isle of Orleans.
On our Historic Cocktail Tour, we spend part of the tour discussing New Orleans’ famous cocktails that are made with rum. The Historic Cocktail Tour is an incredibly interesting, and fun way to explore the history of the cocktail, and rum, in New Orleans.