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 was twisted around a bit. I think “highball” for the drink derives from the Irish “ball of malt”, meaning a whiskey drink as discussed here earlier.

What, then, of egg-nog, an evergreen of the North American Christmas season? I am saved from the trouble to unearth its etymology and history, or most of them, due to Wikipedia’s learned exposition and references, see here.

As you see, one way or another the drink derives from the possets known earlier in parts of Great Britain. A posset is a mixture of egg, cream or milk, sugar, spices, and wine or ale. This seems clearly correct, but some have thought “egg-nog” (or eggnog), two words obviously of English origin, 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, at least, can be found for the name of a food or drink of evidently British origin.

I confess I had some trouble with egg-nog. I could not find a single U.K. reference to it, or a recognizably similar term, until this example appeared, from the (1894) Dictionary of Phrase and Fable by E. Cobham Brewer.



As the charming introduction states, printed in hand-lettered form, 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 connection to America, yet he includes egg-nog in a series 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 any dairy. See for example here, in The Modern Bartenders Guide (1884) by O.H. Byron.

“Nog” in a beer sense is known in the old term “Norfolk nog”, which I discussed in these notes and linked moreover to early London porter development and the beer mixture “three threads”.

Being a Norfolk man, Brewer’s inclusion of the term egg-nog for a warmed, spiced ale or wine quite possibly reflected local lore, so a term alternate therefore to the more usual egg flip and egg hot. He may have drawn on other regional usage in Britain, but the fact that “nog” already has a Norfolk association to beer suggests to me egg-nog was a Norfolk regionalism that explains the American drink and its name.

Of course in America spirits only were used and remain usual in the drink: rum, brandy, or whiskey, but that reflects simply the importance of spirits in early American history.

Finally, Norfolk is not, for the purposes of this discussion, just any part of England. It is in East Anglia, a region of significant early emigration to America. This is known by anyone who has studied in-depth the early American settlement pattern. See in particular the landmark study of British social and cultural impact on America, Albion’s Seed, by David Hackett Fischer (1989).

A convenient statement of Norfolk’s influence on American culture appears 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 the naming of Norfolk in Connecticut, etc. For confirmation of Norfolk’s influence on American English, see here, in John Bartlett’s 19th century Dictionary of Americanisms, albeit he does not elucidate egg-nog.

Glossaries of Norfolk and other regional English I have found similarly do not mention egg-nog, yet at least one attributes “nog”, see William Holloway, to Norfolk usage for an ale-based drink.

Therefore for egg-nog’s literal origin, vs. just the type of drink, arguably it came on the Mayflower, as the hallowed phrase goes. At least I think so.

Note re image: the image above was sourced from Pixabay, here. Used here for educational and research purposes. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. All feedback welcomed.