Reader Iñigo writes to ask when it was that Americans stopped drinking rum and started drinking corn whiskey instead. That’s a great question and one I’m not totally sure I can answer. For the fact is that Americans never completely stopped drinking rum. Certainly they drank a lot less of it after the American Revolution, as that war largely ended a once vibrant trade between New England and the Caribbean, whereby the Colonies supplied plantation owners with necessities like building materials and food for slaves and in return got sugar and especially molasses for rum-making. Boston was once the rum distilling capital of North America, don’t you know!
Post-Revolution, that activity slowed to a crawl as relations with Britain remained, er…strained. Britain, a big market for Colonial distillers, banned the importation of rum. In retaliation the newly formed United States of America levied heavy tariffs on British goods from the Caribbean. Combine that with the fact that a lot of Americans — namely abolitionists — were opposed to sugar and rum-based products to begin with and you have a recipe for the decline of rum in the States.
Happily for corn whiskey lovers, all this coincided with American expansion westward to regions like Kentucky where corn grew well. Thanks for the question, Iñigo!