Rhum Agricole is a form of rum popular in the French islands of the Caribbean including Martinique (where this one is from and which has AOC status), La Reunion, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Guadeloupe. It’s made from fermented sugar cane juice and not molasses as all other rums are. The reason for this was the change France made in the early 1900s when the country switched to using cheaper sugar beets for sugar production instead of sugar cane. Because of this, there was no reason for the factories in these countries to process the sugar cane into sugar for export and thus, no molasses was produced.
In an effort to stay afloat financially and to continue producing rum, the French Caribbean producers turned instead to sugar cane juice as the base product for this rum variant. The cane is harvested and transported to the factory where it’s pressed for its juice (this particular example says it’s ‘from natural free run sugar cane). The fibres (‘bagasse’) are used as distillery fuel and then the sugar cane juice is fermented – often with dunder added to the process. Dunder is the sticky, acidic residue left in the still post distillation. When added back to the fermenting liquid, it increases the acidity and creates high numbers of congeners (flavour and aroma compounds) in the resulting spirit. In Jamaica, dunder is stored out in the heat in pots encased in the earth and allowed to fester and become even more acidic.
The alcoholic wash that results is usually 4.5-9% abv and is called ‘vessou’. The vessou is distilled in a single column still, exactly the same as the one used in Armagnac and also in Bourbon. This causes the spirit to be lower in alcohol than many other spirits (65-75% as per AOC Martinique law) and higher in congeners than most. It’s usually bottled at about 40%.
Rhum Agricole is described according to how it has been aged with ‘rhum blancs’ being unaged, water-white and colourless, ‘ambre’ has some vatted age, ‘paille’ has been aged for 18 months in wood and ‘vieux’ may be aged for 3 yrs. There are also vintage Rhum Agricoles available. This one makes no mention of the ageing done on it; it appears to be rhum blanc.
Some of the best Rhum Agricoles around hail from Haiti – the Babancourts. Those ones are usually sipped or enjoyed on the rocks or with a splash of water. However, many also enjoy Rhum Agricole with lime juice and sugar as ‘Ti Punch’.
This spirit is clear and bright, water-white and colourless with legs noted.
It is clean, unaged and has pronounced aroma characteristics of green leaf, sugarcane, green banana and crab apple.
On the palate it is dry with smooth alcohol, medium body and an oily texture. It has pronounced flavour characteristics of vegetal and green leaf, more green banana, green mango and underripe pineapple, vine, slight anise and some floral qualities (violets). It has a medium finish with some complexity and is ‘very good’.