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Rum, a Spirit Founded in the Caribbean, Has Found a New Home in South Carolina

Bob Gillespie Bob Gillespie
Bob is a former sports writer at Columbia’s The State newspaper. He enjoys golf at South Carolina’s 350-plus courses, and after a round, sampling craft beers from the Palmetto State’s breweries.
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Pusser's Rum, which traces its roots to the British Royal Navy, comes in a variety of flavors. Photo courtesy Pusser's Rum.

The history of Great Britain's Royal Navy is replete with references to rum. For hundreds of years up until July 1, 1970, enlisted seamen serving Her Majesty drew a daily ration of rum, or a "tot," and the discontinuation of that practice is known as "Black Tot Day" at pubs across the United Kingdom.

That tradition is an important part of the history of Pusser's Rum Ltd., a company founded in the British Virgin Islands, whose corporate headquarters and retail warehouse have been located in Charleston since 2013.

Premium British Navy Pusser's Rum is a blend of five stills located in Guyana and Trinidad, which have produced the sugar cane used in distilling rum for the British Navy since 1655. The company continues to blend its product to the Navy's specifications under a charter from the Royal Admiralty before discontinuation of the seaman's "grog" portion.

Pusser's Rum traces its roots to the Royal Navy. Photo courtesy Pusser's Rum.

Company spokesperson Dean Cowart says what makes Pusser's special is its traditional wooden pot-still distillation process, which imparts a depth of flavor different from modern metal stills. Even the rum's name - Pusser's - is corrupted from the word "purser," the title for Royal Navy supply officers who were in charge of dispersing rum.

Pusser's Rum has been named "one of the world's 10 best rums" by Forbes Magazine, with varieties including a 15-year-old, a Gunpowder Proof and an Admiralty Blend. Fortune Magazine has dubbed Pusser's "the single malt of rum."

In Charleston, Pusser's is an official sponsor of the Charleston Battery professional soccer team along with other local activities. True to its British roots, the company also is the largest contributor to the Royal Navy Sailors' Fund. "We plan to source projects locally whenever possible," Cowart says.

Lovers of rum likely know the "Pusser's Painkiller," a Caribbean cocktail that originated at the Soggy Dollar Bar in Jost Van Dyke, BVI, and has become famous in Pusser's outposts and restaurants across the US and the British Virgin Islands. The drink is a combination of pineapple and orange juices with a few other tropical ingredients.

Daufuskie Island Rum Company hosts tastings on the sea island near Hilton Head.

Pusser's is hardly the only South Carolina-produced rum, though, as more than a dozen state-based distilleries produce various rums.

The Daufuskie Island Rum Company, founded as a handcrafted distillery in 2015 and producing up to 150,000 bottles a year, takes pride in being "100 percent American made." Thus, the company's stills and fermentation tanks are made in Alabama; the bottles come from Waterloo Bottle Company in New York; yeast strains are from California; and even the rum's sugar is grown in Florida.

Carolina Moon Distillery in Edgefield - a town that proclaims itself the "Peach Capital of the World" - ages its May Lady Aged Rum in charred peach wood from local orchards. That imparts hints of the fruit to the rum's aroma, even though no peach fruit is used in the production.

Firefly Distillery, best known for its Sweet Tea Vodka, has branched out with its Sea Island Rums: Gold, Spice and Java. Located on in North Charleston, Firefly ages its rum in bourbon barrels, and much of the sugar cane used to make the rum comes from nearby Johns Island's Rosebanks Farms.

Firefly Distillery in North Charleston is best known for its Sweet Tea Vodka.

Check out all these SC distilleries:

Carolina Moon Distillery - Blockade Runner 80 Proof Rum
116 Court House Square, Edgefield

Crouch Distilling - Cane Juice Rum
947 S. Stadium Road, Columbia 

Daufuskie Island Rum Company - Gold Rum, Spice Rum, Java Rum
270 Haig Point Road, Daufuskie Island 

Firefly Distillery - Sea Island Rums
4201 Sprull Ave., North Charleston

Gorget Distilling Co. - Silver Rum
1974 Whiting Way, Lugoff

High Wire Distilling - Various rums
652 King St., Charleston 

Pusser's Rum Ltd. - 15-Year Aged Rum, Gunpowder Proof Rum, Admiralty Blend Rum
2233 Technical Parkway, Charleston 

Striped Pig Distillery- Striped Rum, Striped Spiced Rum
2225 Old School Drive A, Charleston

Bob Gillespie
Bob is a former sports writer at Columbia’s The State newspaper. He enjoys golf at South Carolina’s 350-plus courses, and after a round, sampling craft beers from the Palmetto State’s breweries.