Many years ago, London was the hub of rum and its streets were full of rum blending houses. The rum merchants were not actually distilling the rum but sourcing it from the Caribbean and skilfully blending it here in London. The rum was then shipped and enjoyed all over the world.
During this era, the rum would be shipped from the Caribbean and then make its way along the lifeblood of London – the River Thames. From there, the rum would be stored in the West India Docks, where the largest rum warehouse was built in Rum Quay in 1806.
After spending time in the West India Docks, the rum would be taken further up the River Thames to the individual rum merchants, located in the merchant houses just a few metres from the river. The rum merchants would then blend the different rums and rest them for a few months to allow them to ‘marry’, before they were sold for consumption. This early form of artisan rum was made in small batches with no artificial colouring nor sugar added. It was the finest of rums, with just a natural golden colour from the wood of the barrels.
Rum (as well as gin), was extremely popular during this time and was initially sold in jugs from a barrel. However, by the early twentieth century there was demand for sophisticated cocktails and long drinks and the simple-to-make Rum Fizz – Rum & Ginger – had become popular. Another noted cocktail of this time was the Palmetto – which includes Italian Vermouth mixed with London Rum and a dash of bitters.
So, what did happen to London Rum merchants? In 1933 the West India Docks were engulfed in fire with approximately half of Rum Quay being destroyed along with the loss of much rum. The area was further damaged in the 1940s during the Second World War. This also coincided with newer ships being unable to use London’s shallow docks and rum being sold in bottles rather than in casks. By the summer of 1970, London’s rum blending had completely ceased.