Knowledge of geography optional…

Originally posted 01 June 2012

I have another example of how historical research can lead you down all sorts of unexpected avenues. In my first post about the mysterious initials on First World War rum jugs, I mentioned the supposition that they stood for Special Red Demerara. As far as I can tell, this theory was first proposed in an article in a Toronto’s National Post that was published on March 17, 2000. On a second reading of the original story, something about the quote caught my attention.

“It was a potent weapon of the First World War, and for Canadian soldiers entrenched on the Western Front it arrived each week in gallon jars marked with the letters S.R.D.-Special Red Demerara, 86-proof Jamaican rum.”

Demerara rum comes from Guyana, not Jamaica, so the author seems to have a rather hazy idea of geography. Another aspect of the article also seemed suspect; if this rum was made in such vast quantities that it could supply an entire army, why hadn’t I come across any other reference to it? I decided to contact Demerara Distillers of Guyana to find out whether such any rum from the region was ever designated “Special Red,” Mr. Ian Lye responded to my inquiry, and said that as far as the home office could determine, no rum has been made under that marque. Their research continues, and if they do find any record of such a brand, I will report it here.

There is a rum from Demerara that does have those S.R.D. initials, the Special Reserve Demerara, but that very fine beverage is produced in tiny quantities and would better fit an officer’s table than that of a common serviceman. I would raise a haughty eyebrow at the shoddy standards of journalism had I not been a member of the profession myself for many years – I have been caught in an error once or twice too, and have compassion for anyone who tries to give historical context while on a deadline.