Rum in Canada’s Maritimes

“A Standing Institution”*

Nova Scotia is still very much rum country, as are all the Maritime provinces to this day, disproportionately viz. the rest of Canada. These are the latest figures from Statistics Canada:

At the national level, whisky (30.2%), vodka (24.9%) and rum (16.3%) were the most popular spirits sold in Canada in 2017/2018, accounting for 71.4% of total spirit sales. At the provincial/territorial level, whisky had the largest market share of spirit sales in Manitoba (37.2%) and the lowest in the Northwest Territories (15.1%). Vodka had the largest proportion of spirit sales in Nunavut (58.0%) and the lowest in Newfoundland and Labrador (16.0%). Rum was the top choice for spirits in Newfoundland and Labrador (44.4% of spirit sales), while the lowest proportion sold was in the Northwest Territories (12.0%).

While Newfoundland and Labrador has the highest market share among the Provinces for rum, the other Maritime Provinces, sharing the regional taste, are not far behind.

Rum played a vital role in early settlement days, even in a locality called Temperance. Rev. John R. Campbell explained the background in his 1875 A History of the County of Yarmouth:



The story parallels that of early New England, and pioneer days Upper Canada, when the rum jug was indispensable to socializing and manual occupations. “Bees” to clear land, scythe crops, and build homes or barns, all required rum, as did many social occasions.



The old-established ties between our East Coast provinces and New England are ethnic and cultural, via the Loyalist influx, and also seagoing/commercial. A friend of Newfoundland background told me that at one time Newfoundlanders felt more at home in New England than Canada, which Newfoundland only joined in 1949.

Nova Scotians worked in 19th-century Boston brickyards, for example, among other occupations in New England. Naturally, they required rum to finish the job, in tune with the old work gang tradition. Dee Morris’ Medford: A Short History gives the details. Rum was a cultural predilection on a trans-frontier basis, in other words.

Another likely factor for rum in Nova Scotia was the early, general appreciation of rum in Scotland – indeed before whisky – as I discussed here. Given the Scottish influx to Nova Scotia, the taste naturally allied with the Loyalist one to solidify a tradition of rum-drinking.

I discussed earlier how rum manufacture declined in New England from the mid-1800s until WW I. The manufacture in Nova Scotia withered in parallel, by the early 1890s.

Testimony in the House of Commons in the 1890s Royal Inquiry on the Liquor Traffic shows that only one distillery was still operating in Nova Scotia (see pp 80-82). Indeed, the majority of counties in the Province was dry under “local option” and the Scott Act. But the law was not always enforced, and contraband rum continued to flow.

The testimony of distiller C.B. McDougall (see pg. 89) is that he distilled only rye whisky and a Scotch-type whisky, and imported rum for sale. He confirms a great deal of contraband, or “common rum”, was brought in from the West Indies.

So, by the early 1890s there is no functioning rum production in Nova Scotia yet rum is still available, enough to worry the sole legal distiller McDougall. He said, “too much” was circulating.

It was rising Prohibition sentiment that caused the de-legitimizing of rum distilling in both the U.S. and Canada. But liquor, rum included, never lost its appeal to the populace. If necessary, they drank it sub rosa.

Today, rum both imported and Canadian-made has a Canadian market approaching $900 M. Rum’s importance in the Maritimes of 2019 can be gauged by the fact that the original-formulation, green-tinged Captain Morgan white rum is still sold there, and nowhere else.  gives the background to this unique situation.

With the rise of modern craft distilling, rum is again being made locally. Ironworks, and other craft distillers, are giving new life to an old tradition. It’s a similar story in New England. Boston itself has a number of rum distilleries, Bully Boy is one.

Stephen Beaumont and Christine Sismondo’s excellent new Canadian Spirits describes Ironwork distillery’s Bluenose Rum in enticing terms. In part they state:

Deep and dark, with coffee and sassafras on the nose and a very rich body that combines hints of espresso with a robust but not overly sweet molasses flavour.

New England rum in its heyday was known to have a heavy body, as Harold Grossman explained in his learned introduction to a gala 1941 rum tasting by the New York Wine and Food Society. Ironwork’s crafted rum revives an old heritage, “Maritime” in the broadest sense.

Note re image: Second image above was sourced from the Chronicle Herald in Halifax, N.S., see here. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to its lawful owner. Image used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*This post expands and replaces a post from 2017, Oh Rum of Canada.


Egg-Nog’s Norfolk Bloodline

Some American foods or spices are known to have an indigenous, African, or Caribbean orgin. The term barbecue, for example, seems to derive from the Taino-Arawak barbacoa.

But most early American foods and drinks derive from a British, or other European, source, not surprising considering the pattern of settlement from the 16th century through to the 1800s. Chowder, as I discussed recently, is probably of French origin, via chaudière and modern French dishes like caudière.

Terms like ale, beer, cake, cocktail, burgoo, sea pie (in French Canada, cipaille), pot pie, cobbler, and countless others hail from Britain or Ireland. Sometimes a term got twisted around a bit. We are fairly certain the term highball, for example, derives from the Irish ball of malt for a whiskey drink as discussed a while ago here.

What of egg-nog, a drink of the North American Christmas season? I am saved from unearthing its etymology and history, or most of it, due to Wikipedia’s learned exposition and references, see here.

As you see, the author(s) consider that one way or another, the drink derives from the possets known much earlier in parts of Great Britain – mixtures of egg, cream or milk, sugar, spices, and wine or ale. This seems correct, but many have thought the term egg-nog (or eggnog), being two words obviously of English origin, is an Americanism albeit with conflicting explanations of origin (see Wikipedia again).

Usually if one digs deep enough, an English or other British source or cognate can be found, but I confess I had some trouble with egg-nog. I could not find a single U.K. reference to it, until this one popped up, in the 1894 Dictionary of Phrase and Fable by E. Cobham Brewer.

As the charming, hand-lettered introduction states, the book was first published in 1870. Brewer was a Norwich-born teacher, author, and lawyer who wrote numerous popular guides to knowledge. He enjoyed good success through a 60-year career. It appears he spent most of his career in Norwich, part of the old county of Norfolk in East Anglia. Later in life he lived in Nottinghamshire with relatives.

Brewer and the book have no evident or even implied connections to America, but he includes egg-nog in a listing of terms for a drink made with sweetened ale or wine and eggs. There is no reference to milk or cream, but some American egg-nog of the 19th century omitted the dairy. See e.g., here in the 1884 The Modern Bartenders Guide by O.H. Byron.

“Nog” is known in the old beer type Norfolk nog, which we discussed in this essay and linked moreover to early London porter development and its predecessor three threads.

Being a Norfolk man, Brewer’s inclusion of the term egg-nog quite possibly reflected local lore, a term alternate that is to the more usual egg flip and egg hot. He may have drawn on knowledge of other regional usage in Britain, but the fact that “nog” has a Norfolk association, as noted, suggests to me egg-nog was a Norfolk regionalism.

Norfolk is not, for the purposes of this discussion, any old part of England. It is in East Anglia, a region of significant early emigration to America. This is known to anyone who has studied in-depth early American settlement. It is addressed with point in the landmark study of British social and cultural influence in America, David H. Fischer’s (1989) Albion’s Seed.

For confirmation of Norfolk influence on American speech, see here in Russell Bartlett’s 19th century Dictionary of Americanisms albeit he does not elucidate egg-nog, for its part. Other glossaries of Norfolk or provincial speech I have been able to locate similarly do not discuss egg-nog, yet “nog” is attributed in at least one of them (William Holloway’s) to Norfolk usage for an ale drink.

A convenient statement of Norfolk’s influence on American culture is offered in the Norfolk official visitors website, “Visit Norfolk”:

Like so many coastal English counties, Norfolk could be relied upon to supply many of the original colonists to North America – Norfolk was the county that had the largest percentage of known passengers on The Mayflower. The county’s motto is ‘Do Different’ – and in the past so many Norfolk people wanted to do just that … An exploration of Norfolk’s towns and villages will unearth many links between the USA and ‘Nelson’s County’.

Hence Norfolk, Connecticut, need I say, and so much more.

As the hallowed phrase goes, “it came on the Mayflower”. It was probably true of egg-nog, not just the genus of drink, but the very term.

Note re image: the image above was sourced from Pixabay, here, and is indicated as available for public use without restriction. Used here for educational and historical purposes. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. All feedback welcomed.