Going for Gold in Panama!

Going for Gold in Panama!

Serum Gorgas Rum

Sérum Gorgas Gran Reserva, is an exceptional offering from the Rum Sérum range, made with a super-premium blend of rums that are aged up to 8 years in ex-bourbon casks. It’s internationally awarded, scooping the Gold Medal in category of ‘Rums from 6-10 years, column still’ and ‘Best rum 2020’ trophy at the Cathay-Pacific Hong Kong International Wine and Spirit Competition.

The rum takes its name from a William Crawford Gorgas, a US Army surgeon that saved the lives of thousands of workmen as he eliminated yellow fever and malaria around construction sites.

Panama Canal

One of the many (and more humble) techniques William Crawford Gorgas used, was a maceration of local fruits and herbs
in aged molasses rum. Legend has it that during the construction of the Panama Canal between 1880 and 1914, the hard labouring men used a blend of rum and dried fruit to cure everything, from a tired soul to insect bites and everything in- between. Believing in its miraculous effects, they called his potion serum. Back then, they used serum to cure all ills, today we use it to fight tough Mondays!

Gorgas was born on 3rd October 1854 and lived until 3rd July 1920. He studied at the University of the South and Bellevue Hospital Medical College. After this he joined the US Army Medical Corps in June of 1880.

He was assigned to three different posts, Fort Clark, Fort Duncan and Fort Brown which was in Texas. Whilst at Fort Brown he thankfully survived an episode of yellow fever. He also met the lovely Marie Cook Doughty, who had also contracted the disease there.

Despite the fact coffins had been designated for them, they both recovered together and connecting over the experience they then went on to get married. What a story!

In 1898, not long after the end of the Spanish-American War, he was appointed Chief Sanitary Officer in Havana, where
he worked with Robert Ernest Noble to eradicate yellow fever and malaria. He wasn’t starting from scratch with his ideas, and a lot of his work was built on that of another Army doctor, a Major Walter Reed. Reed had himself built his work on the work of a Cuban doctor called Carlos Finlay. This work had proven the mosquito transmission of yellow fever, which was a fundamental in Gorgas’ approach.

Gorgas and Noble worked tirelessly, draining both the Aedes mosquito vector breeding ponds and quarantining yellow fever patients in screened service rooms. The result? Cases in Havana dropped for 784 to zero within a year, what a success! These efforts won him international fame for battling the illness, which at the time was the scourge of tropical and sub-tropical climates. After Havana, he moved on to Panama in 1904, and to the construction site for the Panama Canal.

Building on the work of Dr Carlos Finlay and Dr Walter Reed, Gorgas realised to reduce the spread of the disease, he had to reduce the mosquitoes, so he looked to control the carriers. His strategy didn’t go down very well, it was generally met with much scepticism and opposition. However, he persisted and the measures he put into place when he was head of the Panama Canal Zone Sanitation Commission, saved thousands of lives and contributed to the overall success of the Canal’s construction. This was a real victory for him and teaches us the valuable lesson that sometimes it’s important to believe in yourself, stand up and carry on even when people are against you.


How did he do it? Well, when Gorgas was the chief sanitary officer on the canal project, he implemented some far-reaching sanitary programmes. Investment was made in extensive sanitation projects, including city water systems, fumigation of buildings, spraying of insect-breeding areas with oil and larvicide, installation of mosquito netting and window screens, and elimination of stagnant water. Despite the opposition from the commission, Gorgas persisted, and when he gained a little more support, he threw his weight behind the project. After two years of extensive work, the mosquito- spread diseases were nearly eliminated.

It should be said, that despite the effort, and despite its great success and the
lives it saved, about 5,600 workers died
of disease and accidents during the US construction phase of the canal. It was such a huge operation that some couldn’t be avoided and although sad, it would have been a whole lot worse without William Crawford Gorgas, and for that he should be celebrated.


A man who achieved so much, certainly deserves a suitable ode, and Sérum Gorgas Gran Reserva is just the thing, the rum has rich marzipan on a spicy aroma with hints of honey, orange zest and oak. On the palate it’s round, mellow and full bodied with a robust flavour of fruits and spices. The finish is delightful, elegant, and dry. Delicious and made to be sipped as well as mixed.

So the only thing left is to pour yourself a drink, and when you do, make sure you raise a toast to William, and to all the workers who built the Panama Canal.

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Bernadette Pamplin

Bernadette loves rum. She set up a gin focused blog Under The Ginfluence eight years ago. Since then, her passion has naturally spread from gin, to rum and other spirits too. You can find work from her on Gin Magazine, Distiller Magazine, and Spirits Beacon, as well as content for  The Gin Guide.

She’s also the editor of Rum’s the Word, writing articles on rums featured in the box, as well as other rum related topics. Bernadette has built up six years experience in judging for events like Gin of the Year, World Gin Awards, Spirits Business Awards, Gin Guide Awards, IWSC and the American Distilling Institute Judging of Craft Spirits and works behind the scenes, assisting with organising and participating in panels for the Craft Distilling Expo.