Recently, we were out at a bar that offered a…
There is rum and then there is rhum – rhum agricole, to be precise. Rhum agricole is made from fresh sugar cane juice, rather than from molasses. This style of rum originated in the French Caribbean around the turn of the 19th century. Around this time, France switched a lot of its sugar consumption from cane sugar to beet sugar. Molasses is a byproduct of sugar production, and when the estate owners were left with a lot of sugar can and no reason to turn it to sugar, they opted to ferment the juice directly into rum. Rhum agricole has a velvety texture and a smooth, vegetal flavor that is quite different from molasses-based rums.
Rhum agricole is produced in many islands in the Caribbean, including Haiti, Martinique, and on the Guadeloupe Islands. It is also produced in Trinidad, Panama, the Dominican Republic and Grenada, as well as the far away island of Mauritius. The best known rhums agricole come from Martinique and are labeled “AOC Rhum Agricole Martinique,” which means that there are certain defined standards for production of rhum on the island’s dozen or so distilleries. Although the rhums produced on Martinique vary from distillery to distillery – much like wines vary even when they are produced in one particular region – rhums from Martinique are distinctive and always stand out. Rhum produced away from Martinique is not necessarily distilled by the same guidelines, though they will be made in a similar manner and yield spirits that are similar in nature.
All rhum can be aged and you’ll find a wide variety of ages, from as little as four years to fifty+ years at some of the older distilleries (Clement produces a blend featuring rhums that are over 50 years old). Rhum is typically aged in American oak barrels and loses some of the vegetal flavor that is characteristic of unaged white rhum. Instead, it takes on a bourbon-like quality, complete with strong notes of oak, vanilla and caramel, that make it excellent for sipping, just as you might sip scotch or other whiskeys.