There are many rum books out in the market and in private collections. Some are written by journalists, others by mixologists, others by bloggers. In most cases, the authors rely on second or third-hand knowledge, rarely taking the time to research the sources and to internalize and dissect the information.
On a recent trip to Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, we had the honor to meet with Mr. Federico Cedó Alzamora, author of La Industria Licorera en Mayagüez, Antigua Capital Mundial del Ron (“The Liquor Industry in Mayagüez, Old Rum Capital of the World”), a book published in 2013. What sets Mr. Cedó apart from other authors is his credentials: in addition to being a writer, a poet and a professor, he is also the official historian of the city of Mayagüez.
As historian, he is charged with rigorously researching and documenting material, prior to its approval for publication. Therefore, the book is not only filled with bits of history, lore and imagery, but these elements are accompanied by copious bibliographical and other references.
The book guides the reader through a brief introduction to the origins of the name “rum”. It then enters into the realm of sugarcane cultivation, describing the arrival of the sweet grass and who and how developed it as a profitable agricultural enterprise.
There is a nice collection of old photographs and accounts of old sugar mills and the families who owned and operated them.
The following section is the biggest and perhaps the most interesting for rum aficionados, as it describes in great detail the rum producers and brands that once called Mayagüez their home.
Mr. Cedó’s claim that Mayagüez was once the “Rum Capital of the World” is substantiated as one is made aware of at least 33 different brands that were produced in the city at one point! Clearly a result of the economic and political conditions of a different era.
The book then covers the unpleasant but necessary subject of American Prohibition and the devastating effect it had on the island’s economy.
It is clear that the author is both passionate and informed, when it comes to rum and its illustrious history in Mayagüez. I can only wish that more cities or countries tasked their historians with similar endeavors, so their rum past could be accurately recorded for future generations to embrace and, hopefully someday, be brought back to life.
The book is a delight to hold and read, but its value goes well beyond the words and the pictures contained therein: it represents a cultural legacy from a time when Puerto Rico ruled the rum world through its diversity and quality, not through quantity alone.
I toast to the old rum producers from Mayagüez: may your legacy live forever through this book and may the taste of your rums be re-born someday, so new generations may fall in love with them...again.
Margaret Ayala, Publisher