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Rum Runner Facts: 3 Details of History, Legacy, and Fresh Futures

By
Sarah Ward
Table of Contents
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The history of rum runner legacies goes back to the 1920s. When Prohibition took effect on January 17, 1920, it wasn’t long before people’s desire to have alcohol created a demand for bootlegged alcohol. The process of learning how to get a liquor license wasn't even a possibility, so people had to get creative. Of course, alcohol was still being produced all around the world outside America. The question was: how to get that alcohol across the Prohibition lines? One of the answers people found was rum runners. 

It didn’t take hardly any time after Prohibition went into effect before those with the entrepreneurial spirit started up the business of alcohol smuggling. The first rum runners started up a sensation that lives on to this day. Their legacy lives on in bars named after the famed smugglers, and many drinks of the same name. 

binwise inventory management system demo rum runner

What is a Rum Runner?

So, what is a rum runner? The rum runners were people who travelled by sea to get alcohol, bring it to America, and get it across the line of Prohibition. Of course, the U.S. government wasn't happy about this, so rum runners had to figure out how to get alcohol in without getting caught. 

Rum runners would bring alcohol into the U.S. from the Caribbean islands. As Prohibition went on and more people jumped into the practice of being an alcohol smuggler, more than just rum started to be smuggled. The alcohol brought in branched out from rum, but the name rum runner stuck around. As time went on, rum runners smuggled in everything from rum to Canadian whiskey, champagne, gin, and more. 

One of the most infamous rum runners was Bill McCoy. Captain Bill McCoy was one of the first rum runners to start up the business of smuggling rum in from Bimini and the Bahamas. McCoy’s ship, the Tomoka, was fitted for smuggling and defending against anyone who tried to stop him. McCoy was one of the first runners with the idea of bringing his ship to the 3-mile limit of the Prohibition jurisdiction. He then had contact boats come out to him to bring the contraband to shore. Although McCoy was eventually caught in 1923, he has gone down in history as one of the all-time greats. His reliability as a rum runner who didn’t mix his alcohol with anything granted him the nickname "The Real McCoy." This nickname carries on as a phrase to this day. 

Bootleg Alcohol 

The practice of moving bootleg alcohol didn’t start with Prohibition. In fact, the practice of alcohol smuggling is suggested to have gotten its start around the U.S. Civil War. To this day, there are still alcohols that aren’t legal everywhere, and there will always be a market for those rare, bootlegged products. Alcohol smuggling is something that probably won’t ever die out. The rum runners of the 1900s around Prohibition, however, will always remain some of the most famous bootleg alcohol suppliers. 

Rum Runner Drink

Although rum runners are no longer needed for the U.S. to get alcohol into the country, the legacy of those entrepreneurs lives on. Many bars have taken on the name of the rum runners in some form to keep the spirit alive. From Rum Runners Bar in Florida to Rum Runner Lounge in Las Vegas, there are places where you can taste this fascinating history. There was even a place called Rumrunners Old Towne Bar and Grill in Anchorage, Alaska. It closed down after a lot of less than savory behavior went down. Although we don’t condone bars behaving unlawfully, it’s fitting that a place with the rum runners’ name would be involved in less-than-legal activities. 

These bars and many others have carried on the traditions of the rum runners with their names and drinks they serve. One of the drinks that really brings back the old rum runner days is the rum runner drink itself. The rum runner was first introduced sometime in the 1950s, where it was created at Holiday Isle, a Tiki bar in Florida. While many variations have been created through the years, the rum runner name and legacy remain constant through all the mixes. 

What is in a Rum Runner Drink?

If you want to tap into this rich rum history, one question you’ll need an answer to is: what’s in a rum runner? The rum runner cocktail recipe can vary quite a bit depending on personal preference and what you have available. Generally speaking, the rum runner drink includes rum, banana liqueur, and grenadine. 

Other common ingredients include coconut rum, blackberry liquor, pineapple juice, and orange juice. So many different restaurants and bars have their own version. The variety of what you may find in a rum runner drink is endless. 

How to Make a Rum Runner

If you want to learn how to make a rum runner, there’s a great recipe from Liquor.com. First, you’ll need to get:

  • 1 ounce of light rum
  • 1 ounce of navy-strength rum
  • ½ ounce of blackberry liqueur
  • 1 ounce of banana liqueur
  • 2 ounces of pineapple juice
  • 1 ounce of lime juice
  • ½ ounce of grenadine
  • Brandied cherries and a pineapple wedge for the garnish

Mix up all the ingredients in a shaker or mason jar with ice. Once it’s shaken well and chilled, strain it into a hurricane glass, or any glassware filled with crushed ice. As a final step, skewer the cherries and pineapple wedge together for the garnish. This simple recipe will be a great introduction to the rum runner drink. 

binwise inventory management system demo rum runner

What is a Rum Runner: From Bootlegging to Bartending

The answer to the question of what is a rum runner depends on exactly what you're talking about. This long history started with bootleggers finding ways around Prohibition in the 1900s, and carries on today in bars and great rum runner drinks. While the rum runners of old are long gone, their legacy will live on as we celebrate through great rum drinks.