In Florida, one of the most popular alcoholic drinks in the state is the Rum Runner. Most people do not know the cocktail’s origin, and if not for the Prohibition era, which Herbert Hoover described as a great social and economic experiment, the cocktail would probably never exist. For this reason, let’s give you a detailed insight into how the Rum Runner got its name.
It All Started with the Prohibition Era
In 1846, Maine became the first state to pass the prohibition law. The legislation resulted in social reformers gaining a new perspective on the consumption of alcohol. The reformers believed it was the main cause of poverty, broken families, political corruption, industrial accidents, and increased criminality. Therefore, even religious movements advocated for the prohibition law, with 26 of the then-48 states passing the prohibition laws. Consequently, on January 16, 1919, the states ratified the law, and it went into effect on January 17, 1920. Unfortunately, prohibiting the sale, production, importation, and distribution of alcohol could not stop alcohol lovers from taking their believed beverage. Thus, a business opportunity arose – an illegal way to obtain alcohol to sell and distribute. Those who decided to break the law by finding ways to distribute alcohol were labeled “rum runners.” History daily helps us distinguish rum runners from bootleggers: rum runners delivered alcohol, while bootleggers manufactured alcohol. However, rum runners referred to those who smuggled the illegal drink via water. The rum runners preferred smuggling the alcohol from Canada or the Bahamas. Consequently, illegal bars continued flourishing since there was a steady supply of alcohol. The police began a crackdown on smugglers, but the rum runners were creative. They would outfit their boats with hidden chambers and false bottoms. The smugglers went a step further and hid the alcohol in toys, Bibles, groceries, and other goods that would avert suspicion. They also had look-outs who used secret communication signals.
The Pioneer of Rum Runners
While there were many rum runners, with 7,000 arrests being made in the first six months after the passing of the 18th Amendment, one smuggler gained a reputation of being the most notorious rum runner in the United States. Bill McCoy, a teetotaler, operated a freight business with Ben, his younger brother. The business was on the verge of collapsing until a rum runner approached them. The rum runner was willing to pay the siblings $100 to sail a shipment of liquor across the Rum Line. The Rum Line was a three-mile limit of U.S. jurisdiction. According to Drinking Cup, McCoy turned down the offer but saw the lucrative opportunity that lay in smuggling alcohol. Therefore, he used his savings to buy a 90-foot schooner named Henry L. Marshall. He sailed to Nassau and filled the boat with 1,500 cases of whisky, becoming the first rum runner to stock a boat with alcohol in the Caribbean, and sail to New York City. McCoy then set up a floating liquor store offshore. As Real McCoy Spirits enlightens us, McCoy was ever careful not to cross the three-mile limit. He sold the case of whisky for $15,000, making a substantial profit that got him addicted to the business because the money was tax-free.
He was a shrewd businessman who sold the alcohol to contact boats, fishermen, and small boat captains. Since the waters were under the close watch of Coast Guards, McCoy preferred selling his product to small boats because they would sail faster than the Coast Guard ships and dock in a small river waiting to transfer the goods to trucks. Besides this clever way of doing business, McCoy’s reputation of being a self-titled “honest lawbreaker” preceded him. Other rum runners adulterated the alcohol with water to increase their profits and re-labeled the products to trick buyers into thinking they were buying more expensive alcohol. On the other hand, McCoy stuck to selling high-quality alcohol and never adulterated it. As a result, his products became known as “The Real McCoy,” meaning they were authentic. Unfortunately, his smuggling days came to an end as fast as they had started when in early 1923, Seneca, the U.S. Coast Guard ship, seized McCoy’s boat six and a half miles off the Sea Bright coast. He tried outrunning the guards but was caught. McCoy served nine months in jail after pleading guilty to all counts of illegal smuggling.
Rum Runner Invention
While McCoy and the other rum runners had short-lived rum-running careers that came to an abrupt halt when Prohibition ended in 1933, their efforts in keeping beer lovers quenched were never forgotten. Therefore, as the story goes, one bar manager created a cocktail recipe and named it Rum Runner. Some say that the cocktail was invented in late 1972 when John Elber, an employee at the Tiki Bar in Islamorada, wanted to clear the dead stock. He mixed random stuff in a blender, and the resulting drink was baptized “Rum Runner. Others say that the cocktail was invented when Elber went to Tiki Bar looking for a job. The bar owner told him to make a new drink, and Elber used whatever was on the shelves resulting in “Rum Runner.” However, as Got Rum published, before the 1972 Rum Runner was invented, there was another cocktail Stanley Arthur wrote in his book, “Famous New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix ‘Em.” The 1937 Rum Runner ingredients are 2 ounces of Rum, ¾ ounces of lime juice, an ounce of pineapple juice, ¾ ounces of simple syrup, and two dashes of Peychaud’s bitters. Elber’s recipe ingredients are an ounce each of pineapple juice, orange juice, banana liqueur, light rum, blackberry liqueur, and dark rum. You also need a splash of Grenadine and two cups of ice. Mix all the ingredients in a blender and when smooth, serve in a hurricane glass. Finally, garnish with a fruit of your choice.
Written by Lily Wordsmith
Read more posts by Lily Wordsmith