Mikko Macchione

Mikko Macchione is a longtime performer and author who now spends his time writing and educating people about New Orleans’ culture and history. In April, he released a book about New Orleans and its history with rum. He signs “New Orleans Rum: A Decadent History” and demonstrates making a cocktail at the Southern Food & Beverage Museum at 1 p.m. Saturday, July 27.

Gambit: New Orleans history plays a large part in the book. What’s something people don’t know about rum in New Orleans?

Macchione: By the end of the Battle of New Orleans, the British lost three or four generals, including (Maj. Gen. Sir Edward) Pakenham, who was the head guy. It was actually accepted procedure that they would put the dead body in a barrel of rum — which was a preservative — to send it back to England, which was a two-month ocean crossing. It was a military thing. They didn’t do this for regular soldiers, but he was a general. They literally pickled the dead body for the trip. The legend is that in England they made a mistake and put that barrel on another ship and it went back out to sea, but I don’t know if that’s true.

G: Was rum made in Louisiana in colonial times?

M: Yes. Rum is distillation of a fermentation of molasses. In the old days, they would make a liquor out of the sugarcane juice, not molasses. The French word for it was “tafia,” and they made that like crazy. A sugar plantation might distill that for their own use. The Jesuits owned the land that is the CBD now and they made tafia and sold it.

As people in Louisiana became wealthy before the Civil War, many people had connections to a rum supply and distillers from the Caribbean. After the war, you’d see all these advertisements of people selling off (distilling) supplies.

But now, Old New Orleans Rum is the oldest rum distillery in the country, and it's only 22 years old. The book came out a few months ago and it’s already outdated. There are four or five new distilleries and another one is opening next month.

Distillers all want to make their own statement. Some people spice their rums — Old New Orleans Rum puts cayenne in a rum. Some companies age it in bourbon barrels. Some companies use Madeira (wine) barrels. Some companies infuse the mash. There are high-alcohol rums. It used to be that bars had two bottles of rum, a light one and a dark one. Now, there are three rows of rum. Some rums are sweet, some are heavy, some have a vinegary side note.

G: Outside of New Orleans, is the city associated with rum?

M: The hurricane is the New Orleans drink associated with rum. Bananas Foster uses rum. The daiquiri machine comes from Louisiana. That’s not the original, true daiquiri, but the Styrofoam cup daiquiri comes from here.

It used to be that the French drank brandy and Americans drank whiskey, but everyone drank rum. 

Email Gambit arts & entertainment editor Will Coviello at: willc@gambitweekly.com.