The Rum Files: Bootleggers and Mythical Beasts


Rum is a fascinating and diverse category of spirits. It goes by many nicknames—kill-devil, screech, and Nelson’s blood (to name a few). The rum brands are just as interesting—Skinny Pirate, Flipflop, Bumbu, Cargo Cult, and Dead Man’s Fingers all caught my eye.

Among the funny, irreverent, and outlandish rum brands, several are named for bootleggers or mythical beasts. Here are a few to watch out for:

The Rougaroux: The rougaroux is a big, scary, creature somewhat akin to a werewolf. The legend of the rougaroux centers around French Louisiana/Cajun Country.  The name rougaroux is thought to be a localized variation of the French words loup (“wolf”) and garou (“man”)—or loup-garou (“wolf-man”). The rougaroux is a shape-shifting beast with the body of a man and the head of a wolf. He prowls the swamps of Louisiana and preys on children who misbehave, and—as some like to believe—Catholics who forget their Lenten vows. Thankfully, well-behaved youngsters (and devoted Catholics) are of no interest to him. Click here to visit the website of Rougaroux Full Moon Dark Rum.

Bill McCoy in 1921 (Public Domain)

The Real McCoy: The term “the real McCoy” is typically used to mean  “the real thing” or “the genuine article.” The saying has a plethora of backstories and possible meanings. These date as far back as 1856, when the Scottish poet Robert Louis Stevenson wrote a letter that contained the phrase a drappie o’ the real MacKay. However, when it comes to the Real McCoy Rum, it’s all about Bill.

William “Bill” McCoy (1877–1948) was an American bootlegger, famous for being one of the first—and best—sea captains to sail to the Caribbean and return to the east coast of America with a hull full of whiskey, rum, and all other sorts of alcohol. Bill was an experienced, savvy businessman and the owner of several boats. Bill and his crew would sail to the Bahamas, load up  with liquor, and return to the east coast—always careful to stay three miles off shore, which at the time represented the international boundary. Unlike many of the other rum runners of the time, Bill was known to never dilute his spirits with juice, water, sugar, or other additives. As such, his products became known for their quality and purity, and were referred to as “the Real McCoy.” Click here to visit the website of The Real McCoy Rum.

Photo by Rama via Wikimedia Commons

The Lugger: The term lugger represents the type of boat that the legendary Jack “Ratt” Rattenbury (1778–1844) would have used in his many years as a smuggler. Jack smuggled a range of goods between France and England. His modus operandi was to sink tubs of contraband—including brandy, tea, tobacco and silk—off the English coast for later collection.

lugger is equipped with one or more four-cornered sails, known as lug sails. Luggers were widely used by bootleggers and other smugglers in the waters around England, Ireland, Scotland, and France from the mid-18th century onward. Luggers were prized for their speed and power—which often made them able to evade and outrun the authorities. Click here to visit the website of Jack Ratt Lugger Rum. 

Colossal octopus drawing by Pierre Denys de Montfort (via Wikimedia Commons)

The Kraken: The Kraken is a legendary creature of Norse mythology. The scariest thing about the kraken—often described as a giant squid- or octopus-like creature—is that it may well be based on real-life giant squid, which can grow to lengths of 40 feet or longer (ouch). This ocean-dwelling monster is reported to dwell off the coast of Greenland, Norway, Sweden, and other parts of the North Atlantic, often terrorizing ships and sailors. The kraken is often described in literature and lore—Alfred Tennyson wrote a poem called “the Kraken,” and kraken-like creatures appearance in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick as well as Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas. Click here to visit the website of Kraken Rum.

Here are a few more rum names I’d like to investigate in the future: La Hechicera, Admiral Rodney, Dead Man’s Fingers, and Holey Dollar. Any other suggestions?

References/for more information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…

Creature Feature: The Glassy-winged Sharpshooter

This is NOT a picture of the glass winged sharpshooter. Glassy winged sharpshooters are NOT cute. There is a link to a picture of a real glassy winged sharpshooter at the end of this post.

This is NOT a picture of the glassy winged sharpshooter. Glassy winged sharpshooters are NOT cute. There is a link to a picture of a real glassy winged sharpshooter at the end of this post.

Every good wine student knows this: The glassy winged sharpshooter is a vector responsible for spreading Pierce’s Disease, and as such, is a known threat to commercial viticulture.

I’m right, aren’t I? You knew that? You have probably answered that question correctly on an exam, or even discussed the little guy fairly intelligently amongst your wine-loving friends.

But do you even understand what a vector is? (Hint: a vector is an insect that spreads disease.) And how well do you really know our friend with the glassy wings? Read on for a little insect insight!

The glassy winged sharpshooter is a common type of insect known as a leafhopper. There are over 20,000 different species of leafhopper, and they reach all over the world. Leafhoppers are closely related to, and share their insect family name – Cicadellidae – with cicadas and treehoppers, but are only distantly related to grasshoppers.

All members of the leafhopper family – who go by the nickname of “hoppers” – are plant feeders that feast on the sap of grass, shrubs, or trees. Their hind legs are built for jumping and they do just that – hopping from leaf to leaf, blade to blade, or tree to tree, inserting their needle-like mouths into the plants to lap up the juice. Hoppers are considered pests in many places as they can dehydrate the plants they feed on, causing havoc not just to grapes but to over 100 different plants all over the world, including oak trees, citrus trees, apple trees, and even coffee plants.

The name “sharpshooter” is used to refer to a group of large leafhoppers in the Proconiini branch of the family tree. In order to get enough nutrients, these insects filter a large volume of liquid sap through their digestive systems. Much of the excess water is then “squirted” forcibly away from the insect’s body in a fine stream – thus, the nickname “sharpshooter.” (I was hoping it was something a bit less gross, but there you have it.)

The glassy-winged sharpshooter is about ½ inch (12mm) long and has large, translucent (“glassy”) smoky-brown wings with red veins.  They are native to the South America, and migrated to California from the southeastern United States. They were not always considered a serious pest in the past; but once introduced to Southern California it became a serious threat to viticulture due to the ease and rapidity with which it can spread the bacteria that causes Pierce’s disease. Once the sharpshooter has acquired the bacteria, it will remain infectious for the rest of its life.

There are NO glassy winged sharpshooters in the pictures. These bugs are cute. Glassy winged sharpshooters are NOT.

There are NO glassy winged sharpshooters in this picture. These bugs are cute. Glassy winged sharpshooters are NOT CUTE.

The glassy winged sharpshooter remains a serious threat to viticulture in California and beyond. Due to its coloration, it is difficult to see in nature, despite its size. “Bug spotting” programs are underway in parts of California to help identify and prevent further infestations. Plant nurseries must confirm that their plants are “sharpshooter-free” and everyone is on the lookout. School children are taught to spot “sharpshooter rain” and many Californians are encouraged to have yellow sticky traps in their yards. Anyone who thinks they spot a sharpshooter is encouraged to call a hotline.

In the case of minor infestations, biological controls are used, including the introduction of various bugs – such as small wasps, spiders, and the praying mantis – that feed on the eggs. Chemicals (pesticides) are used in more extreme cases, but some of the more effective chemicals are also damaging to the wasps that help control the sharpshooters.

In other parts of the world, the glassy winged sharpshooter causes havoc by spreading phoney peach disease, oleander leaf scorch, and citrus X disease. The danged little glassy winged sharpshooter, it seems, remains a serious pest.

To learn more, and to see a picture of the glassy winged sharpshooter, visit the website of the Applied Biological Control Research Department at UC Riverside.

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…