America’s (Formerly) Favorite Drink

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!

5 thoughts on “America’s (Formerly) Favorite Drink”

  1. Don’t forget the little speedbump when Congress passed an excise tax on whiskey in 1791, leading to armed rebellion in the Appalacians.

    Large scale distillers in the east were able to shift input from sugar and molasses to grains and malt (based on annual yields or import prices), while still able to readily obtain both products. Smaller homestead distillers in the west, who consumed little rum to begin with, were hit with preserving and concentrating the value of their surplus grain for sale.

    The rebellion collapsed when President Washington sent the army in to protect tax collectors and put down the militias, but the tax was a sore point for farmers and was repealed after Jefferson was elected in 1800.

    After that, it was clear sailing, and only got better for whiskey distillers after the Mississippi and Gulf of Mexico was opened to Americans with the Louisiana Purchase in 1804.

  2. You, however, live in the area where the highest form of the art is practiced. If you wanted to drink burnt mud Scotland is the place for you, the blended stuff has very little character but Bourbons, pasta blessed be their name, that s the second best use of corn discovered since Plymouth Rock!

    1. So true, Frankly. I thought I was a Scotch fan when I lived in Chicago, then moved here and wondered how I’d managed to miss this stuff all my life!

      Great comment!

      – Joe

  3. Hello Joe, Please I want you to do an exposé on Caribbean Black Cake. Thank you.

    1. Funny, I just got a good recipe for that. Anything in particular you want to know about it?

      – Joe

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