Long before any Canadian liquor board was created, the Jamaican rum that was eventually to be known as Screech was a mainstay of the traditional Newfoundland diet.
At this time, salt fish was being shipped to the West Indies in exchange for rum. This resulted in fish becoming the national dish for Jamaicans and rum becoming the traditional drink for Newfoundlanders.
Not being overly concerned with alcohol content, the early fishermen tended to drink the rum at incredibly high strength with no attempt made to temper the taste.
When the government took control of the alcohol trade in the early 20th century they put the rum in a sophisticated, unlabeled bottle and fortunately did not alter the rum itself.
This delightful product may have continued indefinitely as a nameless rum except for the influx of American servicemen to Newfoundland during World War II.
As the story goes, a visiting American WWII serviceman downed the rum in one quick toss. His howls of distress caused a bystander to rush to his aid, roaring “What the cripes was that ungodly screech?” The taciturn Newf simply replied, “The screech?” ‘Tis the rum, me son.” As word of the incident spread more soldiers began trying this mysterious rum, adopting it as their favorite. Thus a legend was born.
The funny name stuck, and today the rum and its place in Newfoundland’s culture have become legendary.