Kervegant Chapter XX Rum Consumption in France, England and the United States

Kervegant Chapter XX Rum Consumption in France, England and the United States:

Pages 485-491




Imports of rums to France only became important in the second half of the 19th century. From 1816 to 1845 they were of the order of 1 million liters a year. In the years 1850 to 1853, the total quantity of spirits imported from abroad (colonies and foreigners) only reached an annual average of 1,757,000 liters (in alcohol at 55°).

The disease of powdery mildew, which ravaged French vineyards from 1852 to 1857, considerably reduced production of wine spirits. From 815,000 hl of pure alcohol for the period 1840 to 1850, the quantity of natural spirits (wine, marc, cider and various fruits) produced annually, fell in 1853-57 to 165,000 hl. Since metropolitan spirits became scarce and expensive, imports of spirits rose from 1854 to 1857 to an annual average of 205,698 hl, of which about one-sixth consisted of colonial rums. When, after the crisis, production of natural spirits was restored to its normal level (553,383 hl of pure alcohol for the period 1865-1869), rum, the introduction of which had been facilitated by the exoneration of entry (1), almost retained the place it had conquered on the metropolitan market. Average imports from the French colonies for the period 1864-68 was 3,036,000 liters.

(1) The law of June 7th, 1820 fixed a 10 francs per hectolitre tax on the tafias from the French colonies at 22° Cartier, and stipulating a tax increase of 1 franc for each additional degree and prohibiting foreign rums. The tax was raised to 20 francs by the ordinance of June 29, 1833. An ordinance of October 10, 1835 allowed foreign rums for the very high duty of 200 francs per hectolitre of pure alcohol. The decree of June 26th, 1854 exempted the provenances of the French colonies from customs duties. Some time later, on June 7th, 1861, another decree fixed the tax on foreign spirits at 25 francs per hectolitre of pure alcohol, then raised the tax to 30 francs by the law of May 7, 1881 and 80 francs by that of January 11, 1892. This tax is fixed by the current regulations (decree-law of July 30, 1935) to double the difference between the price of the purchase of out-of-quota spirits and the sale price, by the Alcohol Service, of alcohol intended for the preparation of aperitifs and liqueurs.

The invasion of phylloxera caused even more damage to French vineyards than powdery mildew. After the harvest of 1875, which reached the record figure of 83,836,000 hl, wine production fell as early as 1876 to 42 million hl, so as not to exceed, for a period of 25 years (from 1876 to 1894), the average of 34 million hl. The production of wine spirits fell from 545,904 hl of pure alcohol in 1876, to the average of 30,879 hl of pure alcohol during the period 1880-1890 (minimum: 19,513 hl in 1886). Imports of spirits, which had averaged only 70,000 hl of pure alcohol per annum for the period 1858-77, recovered in importance and rose again to nearly 200,000 hl annually from 1880 to 1890.

Colonial rums accounted for just over 50% of imports. They accounted for about 80% for the period 1891-1900 when introductions following a slight recovery in the production of spirits of wine and marc, were reduced to 135,000 hl of pure alcohol. In 1896, for example, for a total import of 24 million liters of spirits (evaluated in alcohol at 55°), the quantities of rum were:

The disappearance of the industrial rhums of Martinique, following the eruption of Mount Pelee, caused a decline in imports, which fell to 14,476,000 liters per year during the period 1902-1905. But these resumed from 1906 and reached from 1909 to 1913 the following annual averages, by colony of origin:

During the 1914-18 war, the need for alcohol, both for the preparation of explosives and for the supply of armies, greatly increased rum imports, which averaged 1915-1919 per year:

Under the influence of the world crisis which, in 1921, caused a collapse of prices, rhummieres imports fell to 26,855,000 liters. However, the situation quickly recovered as a result of a deficit harvest of grapes and demands for rums for rectification, and in 1922 imports reached a record level of 38,050,000 liters.

[Great depression]

The importance of these introductions raised serious concerns among metropolitan distillers, who demanded protection from competition of colonial liquors, made particularly dangerous by the low cost and production potential of rums. Parliament passed the law of December 31, 1922, which allowed duty-free entry of colonial rums only within the limits of a certain quota. Quantities coming in excess of the quota had to pay the customs tax imposed on foreign spirits. The quota, fixed at first at 160,000 hl, was raised, following various adjustments, to 201,650 hl of pure alcohol, distributed as follows between the colonies:

The quantities of rum imported since then into France from the various colonies have remained about the same as above. In some years, however, where prices were high and the surtax rather low (1), relatively large quantities of out-of-quota alcohol were able to enter the metropolitan area (2). In addition, some 10,000 hl of rum (valued in pure alcohol), destined for re-export, enter annually under the regime of temporary admission, without payment of the surcharge.

(1) Until 1935, this tax, variable annually, was equal to the difference between the price paid by the State for industrial alcohol and the price on which it was sold for the manufacture of liqueurs and aperitifs. The law of July 30, 1935, doubled this rate and made the surcharge practically prohibitive.

(2) Thus in 1930, when the average rate of surcharge was 1,127 francs per hectolitre of pure alcohol and represented 59% of the value of the quota rums (which reached 1,019 francs per hectolitre at 54°), Martinique has exported alone 23,538 hectoliters of pure rum alcohol surcharges.


Substantial quantities of rum are exported from France to the colonies and abroad, generally in the form of commercial types, after having undergone blending and processing operations in the cellars of the port merchants. Rums transiting through France to be re-exported have to pay a 2% tax on turnover.

[I appears that significant blending and finishing expertise was held by these port merchants and often not known by the rum producers themselves.]

We give below the exports made during the years 1934 to 1936 (in liters of rum at 55°). The overall figure has hardly changed since the beginning of the century, when it was around 2 million liters a year.


Towards the middle of the nineteenth century, colonial rums arrived in the metropolis in oak barrels of 30 to 60 veltes (1 velte = 7.45 l.) Used to transport white wines from France to the colonies. Their degree varied from 50 to 65° G.L.

At present, Martinique rums, on their arrival in the ports of the Metropolis, generally measure 55 to 60° and those of the other colonies between 60 and 64° G.L. For duty-free entry, they must not be more than 65° real. The barrels, American white oak for Caribbean provenances, have a capacity of 250 liters. Imports are mainly by the ports of Le Havre and Bordeaux, occasionally those of Marseille (rums of the Indian Ocean) and Nantes. The quantities of rum entered in Warehouses in the different ports, were the following in 1935 (in liters at 55°):

Importers, who go directly to the producers or to the merchants established in the colony itself, usually make their purchase season in November-December for the rums of the West Indies, and from April to October for those of Reunion and Indochina. Deliveries range from March to October for the West Indies and from October to March for the provenances of the Indian Ocean.

It is rare for rum to be delivered for consumption as supplied from the colonies (1). Most of the time, products of different origins are mixed together in variable proportions, the alcoholic strength is brought back to 40-50° and sometimes sauces are added to obtain regular commercial types which satisfy consumer tastes.

(1) In recent years, certain colonial traders and producers (notably those from Martinique) have been sending vesou or syrup rums aged in cask, which are sold as is for consumption.

Before 1922, legislation in force allowed the sale, under the name of rhum fantaisie or tafia fantaisie, of mixtures of natural rum with wine or industry alcohols, as well as that of imitations of rum, obtained by adding industrial alcohols to coloring and aromatic products (improvers). Currently, it is forbidden to mix rum with industrial alcohol or other spirits (law of December 31, 1922) and even to put on sale, under any name whatsoever, eaux-de-vie having the organoleptic characteristics of original rum or tafia, reduced or not (law of August 16, 1930). Blending of rum with rum remains lawful as well as reduction with water, coloring with caramel and addition of sugar. Traders are obliged to open in their accounts a special “rum” account, mentioning the entries and exits of this spirit, which allows the agents of the Fraud Control to be aware of the fraudulent operations that could be carried out.

[So you can blend a grand arôme rum with a continuous column still rum but not with overly neutral spirit.]

France being a country that produces among the most eaux-de-vie and offers the most variety, it is hardly surprising if it is at the same time a place where consumption of spirits reaches a particularly high level. From 365,182 hl of pure alcohol in 1830, or 1.12 liters per capita, consumption rose gradually until 1898, when it reached a maximum of 1,799,665 hl, corresponding to 4.70 liters per inhabitant.

Up to that time, consumption taxes had not been very important: from 20 francs per hectolitre of pure alcohol in 1824, they rose to 60 francs in 1855, to 90 francs in 1860 and 150 francs in 1871. The law of December 29, 1900 having raised the tax to 220 francs, consumption fell in 1901 to 1,346,635 hl, or 3.5 liters per inhabitant, and remained about that rate until the 1914-18 war. During the period 1919-1935, it fluctuated between 800,000 and 1,000,000,000 as a result of various increases in consumption taxes, raised to 1,000 frs per hl in 1920, 1,150 frs in 1924, 1,250 frs in 1926.

At the beginning of the century, rum accounted for about 10% of all spirits consumed in France. The proportion is currently 20 to 25%, depending on the year. This increase is due not only to the increase in rum imports, but also to the fact that, from 1921 onwards, industrial and colonial beverage alcohols were practically eliminated from the market. The law of June 30, 1916 gave the state the purchase monopoly of industrial spirits and their sale for industrial and medical uses.

Rum is an essentially democratic drink, used mainly in the preparation of grogs and for flavoring infusions (coffee). Exceptionally, certain types of old rum or grappe blanche are used as “fines”, after a meal, or go into the preparation of cocktails. At certain times, large quantities of rum have also been sent for rectification, for the production of neutral alcohol used in the preparation of liqueurs, aperitifs and preserved fruit.

In the early nineteenth century, the selling price of rum in France was much higher than that of native spirits. We read in the “Dictionary of Commerce and Goods” Guillaumin (Paris, 1837) “The large import duties give this product (rum) a high price. It is sometimes sold, in fact, in good quality, twice the eau-de-vie of Cognac. So it is consumed only as liquor.” At the end of the century, rums, on the other hand, were among the lowest-priced natural spirits, and this has only increased since then.

[SOS this needs some attention to make sure the logic is correct. Kervegant is making an incredible point that needs a lot of unpacking. One reason rums of the mid 19th century were higher value is because they were pot distilled and featured longer ferments than the trend toward faster ferments and continuous column stills. These higher value rums were also more likely to be connected to sugar houses and therefore feature ingredients like skimmings to boost there value. In many cases, the highest value rums also featured pombe fission yeast ferments.]


A century ago, rum played a much larger commercial role in England than in France. It was an important export and local consumption item, due to the rather poor quality of the whiskey produced in England at that time.

During the period 1799-1802, consumption of rum reached 14,200,000 liters. The duties having been raised from 9s to 13s 11d per gallon, it fell in 1820-23 to 10,474,000 liters. After the tax had been reduced to 9 s, the quantity of rum imported for domestic consumption rose to 15,953,000 liters in 1832. That same year, 10,593,000 liters of this spirit was exported to the various regions of the globe.

From 1855 to 1859, the annual average of imports was 33,405,000 liters. In 1859 out of the 32,136,000 liters introduced, 13,720,000 liters came from Demerara, 13,128,000 liters from the British West Indies, 2,170,000 liters from Mauritius and 1,234,000 liters from the Spanish West Indies. In the same year, 8,746,000 liters were re-exported, half of them to Australia, and the remainder to the Hanseatic cities of Italy and the African Coast. At that time, consumption fees were 8s 2d per gallon.

At the end of the century, quantities of imported rum had already significantly decreased: they were only 21,444,000 liters (in alcohol at 57°) in 1898 and 23,506,000 liters in 1899. Of 28,306,000 liters in 1900, of which 4,468,000 liters were re-exported, they fell in 1910 to about 14 million liters, of which 2/3 came from Demerara and 1/4 from Jamaica. During the war of 1914-18, there was a considerable increase in imports, which increased to 45 million liters in 1915 and 1916. But it was followed by a rapid fall: in 1922, only 6,800 000 liters was imported, of which about 50% from Jamaica, 25% from Demerara and 25% from South Africa.

Quantities of rum delivered for local consumption have steadily declined since then. In 1930, they were only 2,985,000 liters, in 1933 2,462,000 liters and in 1938 2,500,000 liters (57°). Rum consumption, 0.5 liter per capita in 1900, fell to 0.22 liter in 1910 and 0.18 liter in 1923.

This reduction, which has affected other spirits in a similar manner, is due to the high taxes on spirits in England.

From 10 s per proof-gallon (2.60 liters of pure alcohol), excise duties (internal tax) were raised to 10 s 6 d in 1890, to 11 s in 1900, to 14 s 6 d in 1910, finally at the prohibitive rate of 72 s 6 d, in 1920.

It should be pointed out, however, that quantities of rum consumed in England are much lower than those of whiskey and grape eau-de-vie. Consumption of these last spirits reached, in 1938, 41,249,000 liters, evaluated in alcohol to the degree of proof.

Under free trade principles, which have long dominated in England, imported alcohol is subject to the same rights as native alcohol, except for a slight increase for the first of 4 d per proof-gallon (import tax).

The rum imports in Great Britain were as follows during the years 1931 to 1935 (in liters of pure alcohol):

The re-exports were:

United States.

We have already indicated previously that from the beginning of European colonization in America, New England (Massachusetts) produced large quantities of rum from molasses from the British and French West Indies. In modern times, cereals (rye, barley and especially maize) have taken much more importance in the United States than molasses as a raw material in the manufacture of alcohols. Thus, in 1899, production was as follows (in liters of alcohol at 50°):

[Seigle = rye]

Before the prohibition, the United States exported 4 to 5 million liters of rum (at 50 °) a year, mainly to England and British West Africa, and in small quantities to Germany, the Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, China and Japan. Since 1935, some millions of liters have been imported annually from American possessions (Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands), Cuba, Jamaica and various other foreign countries. It is likely that in the future, imports will be limited more and more to rums from American colonies.

The consumption of rum in the United States is, in fact, very low compared to that of other spirits (whiskey, gin, brandy): about 0.5%. It was in 1938 and 1939 (in tax-gallons):

However, in recent years, as a result of restrictions imposed by the war on production of grain spirits and importation of spirits, rum consumption has increased considerably. It reached the following figures, from 1941 to 1944 (in tax-liters):

Foreign spirits are knocked at the entrance to America (1) for a fee of $ 2.50 per proof-gallon (1.89 liter of pure alcohol), when imported in bottled containers with a maximum capacity of 1 gallon (3.78 liters); and $ 5 when they are in cask. However, Cuba’s products benefit from a 20% tariff reduction. Spirits still have to bear a federal excise duty of $ 2 and a state tax, varying according to the states (for that of New York, $ 1.50 per proof-gallon). In addition, imitations of foreign rums prepared in the United States bear an additional tax of 30 cents per gallon, because of the ingredients that are added to the product after distillation.

(1) Formerly free-traders, the United States became, in 1861, protectionist outright, to amortize the debt they had incurred to meet the expenses of the American Civil War. Since that time, tariffs, often modified, have always been accentuating this trend. From $ 2.25 (general tariff) or $ 1.75 (minimum price) per gallon-proof, the import duty on foreign spirits was raised to $ 2.60 in 1909 and $ 5.00 (spirits in cask) in 1922.

Less prohibitive than the one used in England, the US tariff, however, has a heavy impact on the selling price of eau-de-vie.

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