Bottle #72: Myers’s Original Dark Rum

Jul 9, 2024

Bottle #72 is Myers’s Original Dark Rum. I talked about this storied brand a little bit in my episode about its cream liqueur spinoff, Bottle #45: Myers’s Original Rum Cream, or MORC for short.

Even though it’s one of the most iconic Jamaican rum brands, there’s not a lot of information out there about the early days of Myers’s. We know it was founded in 1879 by Fred Myer and his sons, who were merchants in Kingston, Jamaica. The company stayed family owned for two generations before being sold to our old friend Seagram’s in 1954 and then on to modern giant Diageo in 2000. We don’t know much more.

But if there’s one thing we do know about Myers’s Rum, it’s that they were largely responsible for popularizing a drink called Planter’s Punch.

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The drink had been around well before then – more on that in a minute – but in the 1920s they began marketing a Planter’s Punch Rum specifically for that purpose. This included sending a Jamaican bartender to England to make Planter’s Punches for the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley, London, where the guests included such noble personages as the Duke and Duchess of York. Their marketing prowess cemented Myers’s Rum as the rum to use in a Planter’s Punch.

So what was Planter’s Punch? To answer that question, we have to first answer the question “what is punch?” Punches are very old, with the first references in the 1600s, although they reached their peak of popularity in 18th Century England. Cocktail historian David Wondrich thinks they were probably originally invented by sailors as a way of turning the distilled spirits they could get in their ports of call into something that was relatively ship stable and more like wine in its alcohol content and character.

Traditionally punch was thought to be composed of four to five ingredients. Sour, sweet, strong, weak, and sometimes spice. Strong referred to the spirit or alcohol. Sour was citrus. Sweet was sugar or another sweetener. Weak was water and/or ice or sometimes tea. Spice was a frequent fifth ingredient, commonly as a nutmeg garnish, but it could also mean a spiced element right in the punch.

During their centuries of empire and conquest, British sailors brought punch with them around the world, which of course included the Caribbean islands. And that’s where it became Planter’s Punch, as served by the Plantation owners there.

From as early as the 1700s the recipe for Planter’s Punch was recorded as a sort of poem or jingle:

“One of sour, two of sweet, three of strong and four of weak.”

A whole bunch of recipe poems would follow, like this one from 1878, published in an English magazine called Fun:

A wine-glass with lemon juice fill,
Of sugar the same glass fill twice
Then rub them together until
The mixture looks smooth, soft, and nice.

Of rum then three wine glassfuls add,
And four of cold water please take. A
Drink then you’ll have that’s not bad –
At least so they say in Jamaica.

The version that comes closest to my own preference for Planter’s Punch is this one from the New York Times in 1908. (Although I was amazed to learn that the poem continues for two more stanzas – I’d only ever seen the recipe part before!)

This recipe I give to thee,
Dear brother in the heat.
Take two of sour (lime let it be)
To one and a half of sweet,
Of Old Jamaica pour three strong,
And add four parts of weak.
Then mix and drink. I do no wrong —
I know whereof I speak.

  

In 1939 Myers’s updated the original recipe to “One of sweet, two of sour, three of weak, four of strong” which does not rhyme, but would sell more rum — and which some cocktail fans think is a superior recipe. But as you might have guessed by now, exact proportions are not required to make a perfectly delicious drink you can call Planter’s Punch. (Patreon supporters will find my tiny-bottles-inspired version of Planter’s Punch as the cocktail recipe of the month there!)

Now, my bottle is labeled Original Dark, not Planter’s Punch, although “the Planter’s Punch brand” does appear in tiny letters under the words Original Dark. That switch appears to have happened in 1979, which is also when Myers’s launched white and gold versions from Puerto Rico. Dark rums and Planter’s Punch were well out of fashion by then!

My bottle is plastic, with metric measurements and alcohol by volume as well as proof. So it’s likely a product of the 1980s or 1990s. And because it’s plastic, it’s also half empty. This was well past the period when it was known as a rich and flavorful pot-stilled rum, so I’m going to tell myself that I’m probably not missing out on that much by not getting to drink it pre-evaporation!

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Bottle #72: Myers’s Original Dark Rum

Jul 9, 2024 |

Bottle #72 is Myers’s Original Dark Rum. I talked about this storied brand a little bit in my episode about its cream liqueur spinoff, Bottle #45: Myers’s Original Rum Cream, or MORC for short.

Even though it’s one of the most iconic Jamaican rum brands, there’s not a lot of information out there about the early days of Myers’s. We know it was founded in 1879 by Fred Myer and his sons, who were merchants in Kingston, Jamaica. The company stayed family owned for two generations before being sold to our old friend Seagram’s in 1954 and then on to modern giant Diageo in 2000. We don’t know much more.

But if there’s one thing we do know about Myers’s Rum, it’s that they were largely responsible for popularizing a drink called Planter’s Punch. The drink had been around well before then – more on that in a minute – but in the 1920s they began marketing a Planter’s Punch Rum specifically for that purpose. This included sending a Jamaican bartender to England to make Planter’s Punches for the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley, London, where the guests included such noble personages as the Duke and Duchess of York. Their marketing prowess cemented Myers’s Rum as the rum to use in a Planter’s Punch.

So what was Planter’s Punch? To answer that question, we have to first answer the question “what is punch?” Punches are very old, with the first references in the 1600s, although they reached their peak of popularity in 18th Century England. Cocktail historian David Wondrich thinks they were probably originally invented by sailors as a way of turning the distilled spirits they could get in their ports of call into something that was relatively ship stable and more like wine in its alcohol content and character.

Traditionally punch was thought to be composed of four to five ingredients. Sour, sweet, strong, weak, and sometimes spice. Strong referred to the spirit or alcohol. Sour was citrus. Sweet was sugar or another sweetener. Weak was water and/or ice or sometimes tea. Spice was a frequent fifth ingredient, commonly as a nutmeg garnish, but it could also mean a spiced element right in the punch.

During their centuries of empire and conquest, British sailors brought punch with them around the world, which of course included the Caribbean islands. And that’s where it became Planter’s Punch, as served by the Plantation owners there.

From as early as the 1700s the recipe for Planter’s Punch was recorded as a sort of poem or jingle:

“One of sour, two of sweet, three of strong and four of weak.”

A whole bunch of recipe poems would follow, like this one from 1878, published in an English magazine called Fun:

A wine-glass with lemon juice fill,
Of sugar the same glass fill twice
Then rub them together until
The mixture looks smooth, soft, and nice.

Of rum then three wine glassfuls add,
And four of cold water please take. A
Drink then you’ll have that’s not bad –
At least so they say in Jamaica.

The version that comes closest to my own preference for Planter’s Punch is this one from the New York Times in 1908. (Although I was amazed to learn that the poem continues for two more stanzas – I’d only ever seen the recipe part before!)

This recipe I give to thee,
Dear brother in the heat.
Take two of sour (lime let it be)
To one and a half of sweet,
Of Old Jamaica pour three strong,
And add four parts of weak.
Then mix and drink. I do no wrong —
I know whereof I speak.

  

In 1939 Myers’s updated the original recipe to “One of sweet, two of sour, three of weak, four of strong” which does not rhyme, but would sell more rum — and which some cocktail fans think is a superior recipe. But as you might have guessed by now, exact proportions are not required to make a perfectly delicious drink you can call Planter’s Punch. (Patreon supporters will find my tiny-bottles-inspired version of Planter’s Punch as the cocktail recipe of the month there!)

Now, my bottle is labeled Original Dark, not Planter’s Punch, although “the Planter’s Punch brand” does appear in tiny letters under the words Original Dark. That switch appears to have happened in 1979, which is also when Myers’s launched white and gold versions from Puerto Rico. Dark rums and Planter’s Punch were well out of fashion by then!

My bottle is plastic, with metric measurements and alcohol by volume as well as proof. So it’s likely a product of the 1980s or 1990s. And because it’s plastic, it’s also half empty. This was well past the period when it was known as a rich and flavorful pot-stilled rum, so I’m going to tell myself that I’m probably not missing out on that much by not getting to drink it pre-evaporation!

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