Amongst those that commit too many hours prying out rum’s historical past from dusty archives, a set of innocent-sounding questions seemingly defy simple solutions. Amongst them: Why did 151 rum change into a factor?
The 151 right here refers back to the alcoholic power of a rum; 75.5 % ABV, or 151-proof within the American system. It’s an odd power, not like extra frequent strengths like 40-, 43-, and 57-percent ABV.
If just one or two 151-proof rums have been available on the market, this query can be of little curiosity. However after Hudson’s Bay 151 got here out circa 1934, 151-proof rums unfold quickly to different manufacturers, most notably Bacardi and Lemon Hart. And whereas Bacardi stopped making their 151 a number of years in the past, there are nonetheless many alternative 151-proof rums available on the market. Simply don’t make the error of considering they’re interchangeable.
A number of author/historians with notable credentials have put their shoulder into figuring out why precisely 151 was chosen, amongst them, David Wondrich and The Lone Caner in his well-researched article. I’ve additionally spent many an hour on this quixotic quest. Nonetheless, I’ve but to come back throughout a strongly believable clarification backed up by written data modern to the primary 151 rum’s arrival.
Whereas not too long ago procrastinating from doing “actual work,” I discovered myself revisiting Google Books searches I’d beforehand made. In idly flipping via Charles H. Baker Jr.’s 1951 guide, The South American Gentleman’s Companion, this passage introduced me to excessive alert:
This isn’t to say that Baker’s evaluation is undeniably true. Nevertheless, it definitely appears believable. Equally essential, it was written lower than twenty years after the primary 151 rum appeared.
To be truthful, Wayne Curtis quoted Stephen Remsberg with this attainable clarification in a 2017 PUNCH article on overproof rums:
The legend is that the previous Hudson’s Bay Firm discovered that Demerara rum, even at navy power, would freeze above the Arctic Circle.
Nevertheless, it’s Baker’s 1951 guide that offers citable gravitas to what Remsburg known as a legend. Additionally, whereas Remsburg’s quote references the Arctic Circle, Baker’s textual content particularly refers to Hudson Bay, Canada. As you’ll recall from above, the primary 151 rum was offered by Hudson’s Bay Firm. Certainly, the dots actually do line up.
Once more, Baker’s declare isn’t incontrovertible proof of the actual origin of 151-proof rum. There could also be different causes, and extra modern information factors can be useful. Nonetheless, it does provide a compelling idea that we should always take into account believable.
Replace: For extra definitive proof in regards to the above idea, see my Rum Wonk article: O Canada: Snowshoe Sam and the Prehistory of 151 Rum (rumwonk.com).