One spirit, Ten cocktails, and Four Centuries of American History
And a Bottle of Rum tells the raucously entertaining story of America as seen through the bottom of a drinking glass. With a chapter for each of ten cocktails—from the grog sailors drank on the high seas in the 1700s to the mojitos of modern club hoppers—Wayne Curtis reveals that the homely spirit once distilled from the industrial waste of the exploding sugar trade has managed to infiltrate every stratum of New World society.
Curtis takes us from the taverns of the American colonies, where rum delivered both a cheap wallop and cash for the Revolution, to the plundering pirate ships off the coast of Central America, to the watering holes of pre-Castro Cuba, and to the kitsch-laden tiki bars of 1950s America. Here are sugar barons and their armies conquering the Caribbean, Paul Revere stopping for a nip during his famous ride, Prohibitionists marching against “demon rum,” Hemingway fattening his liver with Havana daiquiris, and today’s bartenders reviving old favorites like Planter’s Punch. In an age of microbrewed beer and single-malt whiskeys, rum—once the swill of the common man—has found its way into the tasting rooms of the most discriminating drinkers.
Awash with local color and wry humor, And a Bottle of Rum is an affectionate toast to this most American of liquors, a chameleon spirit that has been constantly reinvented over the centuries by tavern keepers, bootleggers, lounge lizards, and marketing gurus. Complete with cocktail recipes for would-be epicurean time-travelers, this is history at its most intoxicating.
yo ho ho...
By Mr. Richard K. Weems on Nov 13, 2006
I am not so much a sucker for history books as I am a sucker for very focused, almsot gimmicky, history books. Andrew Carr's _Drink: A Social History of America_ is a similarly gimmicky history book that I (pun coming) ate and drank up furiously, and Wayne Curtis has provided an equally capturing read with _And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails_. This book comes from the level perspective of a connoseur of rum, one who enjoys the depth of the drink, which includes the history of it and the stories behind it. Besides the unsolveable questions of who ever first invented something like the mai tai or who even first made the first batch of the molasses-based spirit, Wayne Curtis delves through a liquor that has been both a savior and a demon for America. And that is the main point of this book that I truly treasure--for nowadays, rum is considered a very tropical drink, something more at home in a pina colada or a tiki bar than something attached to the dirty farmland of the New World, but Curtis reattaches rum to its colonial identity and heritage, along with solid associations with pirates and seafarers. Rather than being a light, sit-back-on-the-beach drink, Curtis attaches rum back to flogging and piracy and the Revolutionary War. And he does this in each chapter through identifying a particular way of serving rum (the mojito, the flip, or just plain grog) to examine how that drink played its role in history. Though rum is a liquor that can take many, many forms, Curtis looks at how all spirits were lumped into the term 'rum' for Prohibition, and also how rum came into grace, then fell out of it, and almost seemed to fall off the face of the Earth altogether, only to soar back, though in a new way that Curtis bashes thoroughly in the final chapter, which examines the industrialization of rum. This is a very fascinating and readable book that is filled with humor and appropiate snobbery for a liquor that may not have the high rep of things like cognac and scotch, but certainly has the street cred to kick any other liquor's rear.
By Mw on Aug 04, 2006
If you, like me, feel your eyelids droop at the words "history book," you, like me, are probably remembering the tepid tomes the nuns made you read in seventh grade. Well, this is NOT your grade-school teacher's history book. This is a lively, slightly drunken account that begins with the madness and mayhem that accompanied the settling of the New World, and from there roams far and wide through many lives and times. And it goes down real smooooth. It's full of stories, stories, stories, and boy, can this guy WRITE. Thank you, Wayne Curtis, for making me love history again.
An Inspired Pub Crawl
By Hannah Holmes on Aug 04, 2006
What a pleasure to roam the shipping lanes of history with this wry storyteller! From rum's inception, when an industrial waste (molasses) trysted with the human desire to be wasted, this spirit has led an adventurer's life. In the beginning, in a Caribbean fouled with pirates, sugar and slavery, rum's fermentation was sometimes jump-started with a bolus of manure or an animal carcass. In the end, Guatemala is turning out a 23-year-old rum that tastes like moonlit waves and rolls you for $50. In between, rum enjoyed a bizarre and frequently hilarious career involving the English Navy, an astronomical number of limes, Paul Revere, hot pokers, Newfoundland salt cod, Earnest Hemingway and Fidel Castro, and the geographically-challenged Tiki-bar phenomenon. For a surprising night-cap, rum finds its way back to... well, some place it was before, which I also found surprising. To my even-further surprise, the ten cocktails mentioned in the subtitle really do chart the course of rum's New World bender. The additional cocktails in the appendix have me scribbling a shopping list: Jamaican dark, a Cuban light, and a Barbados medium, seventy-five limes, falernum, Thai basil, a bottle of that $50 Zacapa...
Now this is rum!
By Justin Gifford on May 27, 2008
And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails is really all about rum. Should be obvious from the title, but some of these narrow-focus histories are all about social context and compelling commentary. And a Bottle of Rum has these things, but when all is said and done, reading this book is more like drinking a fine rum than reading an ordinary history. Curtis writes with the practiced ease of someone who's thoroughly familiar with his subject, and who doesn't have anything to prove, although at one point it seemed clear to me that he was aiming to undo some of the exaggeration Ian Williams presented in his earlier book. But there is no pervasive attitude of having to prove that rum was one thing or another; Curtis tells it like it is. For such a short book, the reader never feels like he's missing something; if I only had this book about rum, I think that'd be enough. The title is misleading; Curtis doesn't stop at ten simple cocktails - he gives you the whole run that rum has made from its haziest origins to present upscale rum bars. The author appends a modest list of easy-to-find and enjoyable rums; the list is not comprehensive, but would serve as a good jumping point for those wishing to try different styles. He also includes some of his favorite recipes besides the ten featured in the core chapters. Technically, if you don't consider punch or grog to be a cocktail, it's only six, since Chapter 6 is about Prohibition and features a recipe for the nonalcoholic Prune Water, and the first chapter is simply entitled Kill-Devil. This is not a nitpick; no chapter is out of place here. If I had to nitpick, I would only point out the lack of in-text citations; Curtis has included a bibliography, and the overall feel of the book is very casual, but those wishing to cross-reference facts may have to do some wading. That said, Curtis is not given to hyperbole, and his critical analysis is of excellent caliber. You get a good sense of the real global context of rum while reading this. Indeed, because of the friendly journalistic style, you tend to feel as though you're scheming in a colonial tavern, sailing aboard a naval galleon, sitting right next to Hemingway, or swapping surf stories in a tiki bar. In all, this is a highly enjoyable read; if rum is your drink, And a Bottle of Rum should be your book. Wayne Curtis has the field experience of a real rum connoisseur, and his warm writing style really reflects his encompassing love for the stuff. Reviewers tend to overuse phrases like "I couldn't put it down," but in this case the book flowed so neatly I did find myself suffering from a strong case of the Just-One-More-Chapters. I'd give it 4.5 stars, but I'll bump it up to 5 for Amazon.
Entertaining and informative, a great read!
By Amanda on Dec 11, 2013
"And a Bottle of Rum" is an incredibly entertaining book. Like the title implies the book takes the reader on a journey through American history using rum. While the book is definitely not a scientific history of rum, it is an excellent social history of rum. Beginning with the production of sugar and ending with today's rum, this book highlights the different personas of rum and how history at the time shaped each persona. In high school I always found history to be one of my least favorite subjects, so I would never think that I would want to read a history book. The initial appeal of "And a Bottle of Rum" was my ongoing fascination with how and why different alcoholic drinks were created and the science behind them. If you are looking for a scientific history of how and why different drinks were made, this is unfortunately not the book to read. The most scientific discussion of rum is a brief explanation of how batch distillation was used to create rum and a short discussion of the evolution of distillation technology. However, what this book lacks in scientific information it surely makes up for in historic information. As the title suggests, a significant portion of the book discusses history. However if my history textbooks read like this book, I would have read my textbooks cover to cover. Wayne Curtis has a delightful, light-hearted writing style that makes history come to life. His passion for rum and its history is evident in the care he took to research the book. The pairing of historical time periods with cocktails provided a theme for each chapter and was a great context in which to learn about history. From rum's role in Paul Revere's ride to Cuba's role in providing rum to Americans during prohibition, the book highlights various odd historical facts along with giving an overview of well-known history. Curtis provided a prefect blend of general historical context, specific historical facts, and common drinks and drinking practices at that time in history. Perhaps my favorite part of the book was the cocktail recipe preceding each chapter. The recipes range from common to antiquated. The recipes provide insight into the following chapter. The mixing method and ingredients offer an indication of the era, while the tone of the recipe begins to indicate the historical climate at the time when the recipe was written. Throughout each chapter, attitudes toward rum are discussed. Over the course of the book it is evident that rum has gone through numerous reinventions and has been held as everything from one of the most prestigious drinks to a product of the devil. In addition to being informative "And a Bottle of Rum" is hilarious and entertaining. I cannot explain how Curtis does it, but he puts a little bit of his spirit and humor into the book. The book at times reads like a fiction novel, keeping the reader engaged and wondering what will happen next. For anyone interested in history, curious about rum or simply looking for a good book to read, I highly recommend "And a Bottle of Rum".
Fascinating, funny, and informative
By Geoff Puterbaugh on Jul 07, 2010
It's not often that one book can manage to be all three: funny, fascinating, and informative. In fact, this book makes me think that we really don't understand early American history all that well, although our knowledge is growing daily. For example, why did Columbus wind up in the Caribbean, not in Virginia? Columbus was, of course, the pioneer, but the trans-Atlantic route became a Known Thing in short order: leave Europe and sail SOUTH to African waters, then cross the Atlantic in the tropical latitudes (winding up in the Caribbean). For the trip home, sail your loaded boat north to the area of Virginia, and then cross back to Europe. It was a rectangular journey. As the trade developed, ships would load up with goodies for the New World, head south to Africa (and maybe load some slaves, alas!), sail over to the Caribbean, unload slaves, load rum, and then sell the rum in North America (probably for tobacco), and then home, loaded to the gills with lumber and tobacco. Follow the Gulf Stream, and stray no more! But we mustn't overlook that one tiny detail: load up with rum in the Caribbean, and carry it north to the future USA. Rum quickly became America's favorite drink: cheap, and intoxicating. But where did it come from? Well, rum was the unlooked-for child of the sugar industry, which created some of the largest fortunes of its times. This book recounts an amazing, funny story of King George III, out for a ride in his gorgeous carriage with its glorious outriders --- who was almost run off the road by a much larger and more splendid carriage. "Who was that man?!" spluttered the King, only to be informed that it was a multi-millionaire sugar trader. The King whirled around to his Minister, and said, "Take a note! Investigate taxes on sugar!" These ultra-rich Englishmen finally convinced Parliament to pass the Sugar Act --- to protect their massive incomes --- and this was the first time Americans actually got the British Government to change something. Massive cheating and smuggling forced the British to lower the tax to a mere penny --- and Americans learned that they had some power in the world. When Parliament passed the noxious Stamp Act, the result was the Boston Tea Party, and we all know where THAT led! But who woulda guessed that rum (?!) played such an important role in American independence? That's just a taste of the stuff in this wonderful book. If you're interested in history, I can't recommend anything higher (no that's not a pun!) Cheers!
Wish it had more scientific detail, but great read over all!
By Alexandria H on Dec 11, 2013
And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails Paperback by Wayne Curtis takes the reader on a quirky and entertaining through the history of rum. Curtis does an excellent job of taking the reader through each drink and what it implied for the technology of the era and what is showed for the people of the era. In the very first chapter, Curtis breaks down the complex process of distillation to an understandable technique for the average person. The technological/ scientific approach in
Great book and gift, rum drinker or not!
By Avidreader1497 on Aug 16, 2007
If history were always this well written, I would have been a history rather than literature major. I actually laughed out loud in a number of places, at the same time that I learned facts about 17th-21st century history and popular culture that were frequently from an intriguing perspective and always interesting. If you like rum, the recipes-through-history are a bonus. If you don't, you will still find much, much of value in this volume. Although rum is the focus, the social, political, military and historical dynamics affected by this and other liquors are the actual "plot." It is a legitimate and fascinating lens through which to view history--particularly when written by an academic who throws out the dry and dusty academic voice in favor of a learned, no-nonsense and yet often humorous one. Liberal quotations bring contemporary voices to light, while duly considered authorial commentary places them in a reasonable context. I am not a historian, but the bibliography is sufficiently substantial to assure me of grounded research and neither the tone, factual content nor voice ever seems to be stretched to fit the "drink-by-drink" historical structure. This paragraph makes it seem dry (all puns aside, LOL), but this book most assuredly is not. If you liked "Salt" or "Coal" or "Cod," you'll like this. More significantly, if you're feeling burned out on this kind of recently popular "slice" history, do *not* pass up this one. A must read for you, whether or not you like rum, and a great gift for others, particularly if they do like rum.
Fun book, if somewhat mis-titled
By New England Yankee on Feb 15, 2009
It makes for a nice title, but although there are 10 main chapters, only seven of them are actually cocktails, including chapters named Grog, Flip, Planter's Punch, Daiquiri, Rum and Coca-Cola, Mai Tai, and Mojito. The other three - Kill-devil, Medford Rum, and Demon Rum are actually phrases referring to rum itself. There's also a cocktail recipes section at the end of the book. This is really an interesting little history book, focusing on the development of rum, some of the sociological aspects of rum, and even the geopolitical role that rum has played over the centuries. Turns out that the last has been considerable. All of it is fun reading. Topics touched on include politics, shipping, entertainment, the arts, commerce, the military and war, prohibition and temperance, medicine, slavery, and more. Part of the fun is that you can read it for coverage of such topics, or just the content devoted specifically to the various cocktails themselves. After all, how many drinks are made by plunging red-hot pokers into them? Try -that- at your next holiday party! This is a thoroughly enjoyable book for the rum enthusiast, of course, but is also a serious look at a major trade item that influenced the course of history.