Rum of Guadeloupe : Art & Culture
Art & Culture : Rum of Guadeloupe
Everything about rum
Rum is more than just a drink, it is a culture in itself. Rum-tasting is a ritual that requires long initiation: to savour its divine flavour, to distinguish between its myriad of varieties and to delight in a particularly fine bottle you need to be taught with expertise. Connoisseurs of this drink are as dainty as specialists of cognac or armagnac, which is sound proof of the fact that there’s more to rum than that reddish alcohol on our banana flambee. It is the islands’ national drink without doubt, heaven itself for users and hell for abusers. Two different types of rum coexist: industrial rum, manufactured all over the world, obtained by distilling the residue of sugar production (molasses) and agricultural rum, manufactured in the French West Indies (Martinique, Guadeloupe, Marie-Galante), obtained by distilling the fermentation of fresh sugarcane juice.
The first name that comes to our mind concerning the history of rum is the famous reverend Father Labat. As soon as he arrived on the island in 1694, he broke down with a terrible fever, and would certainly have passed away had it not been for a decoction composed of a mysterious alcohol unknown at the time: most probably the ancestor of what we call rum today. As he writes in his journal: “The spirit drawn from sugarcane is called guildive, though savages and negroes call it taffia. It is extremely strong, has a disagreeable odour and it is as bitter as our grain spirits. It is prepared in a place similar to a vinegar factory…” Jean-Baptiste Labat, New Voyage to the American Islands (1722). In fact, this drink was obtained by the fermentation of different waste products of the process of sugar manufacturing. This fermented fluid was then distilled, resulting in a transparent liquid called taffia. As distillery apparatus was rather rudimentary at the time, the quality of the drink was quite mediocre. Today’s rum was to evolve out of taffia.
MANUFACTURING PROCEDURE AND VARIOUS CATEGORIES OF RUM
Method of preparation: Sugarcane is crushed through a press, as a result of which a compact biomass referred to as “bagasse” is obtained. This is later placed in a grinder composed of three cylinders in order to ensure a tough grinding to extract a maximum of juice (vesou). The remaining bagasse is used for fuel and ensures the necessary energy for the process of fabrication. Sugarcane must be ground maximum 36 hours after it has been cut. Agricultural rum derives from the direct and continuous distillery of this vesou in so called “column stills”, during which process its sugar is transformed into alcohol. Vesou is placed into fermentation tanks for a period of 36 to 48 hours, which results in a kind of wine called “grappe” with 5-6 degrees of alcohol. A ton of sugarcane is enough to produce approximately 100 litres of 55° agricultural rum.
Various qualities of agricultural rum: White rum, the basis of ti-punch, reveals all the flavour of freshly cut sugarcane. Its alcohol content is reduced to 50 and 55 degrees on Guadeloupe and 59 degrees on Marie-Galante by the addition of distilled or spring water. Aged rum (rhum vieux) is white rum conserved in oak barrels for three years or more, depending on the quality. “Three-year-old” rums are of 45 degrees approximately, “5 to 40-year old” rums are a rival to any premium spirit and are to be consumed accordingly. Straw rum (rhum paille) is a type of rum which has remained in an oak cask for a period of between 12 and 18 months and has thus been slightly discoloured. It is generally around 50 degrees. Amber rum (rhum ambree) is obtained by mixing aged rum and straw rum, resulting in a taste with the force of the latter and the perfume of the former. This rum is extremely strong and is often used for pastries, cocktails and crepes.
Method of preparation: Industrial rum is manufactured by distilleries directly attached to cane-sugar factories. Molasses is fermented with the help of yeast, which gives an alcoholic liquid of around 5 to 6 degrees. Distillery is then continued in similar column stills as for agricultural rum, until the alcohol content reaches 65 to 75 degrees, though legislation does not allow the sale of alcohol of more than 65 degrees. This is compensated for by the addition of water.
Various qualities of industrial rum: Traditional rum is the most typical of rums of consumption, containing 40 % of alcohol and a rather strong flavour, most typically used for confectionary, pastry and cooking. Grand aroma rum has a unique flavour due to its long fermentation period of 8 to 10 days. It is a mixture of molasses and wine blended in wooden casks, used essentially for cocktails, cooking and pastries. This rum is almost solely for export, so it is not well-known by Antilleans, even though it is manufactured in Jamaica and Martinique (Galion factory).
RUM DISTILLERIES IN GUADELOUPE
Guadeloupe counted 55 distilleries in 1939, of which only 37 remained up to the year 1954, and not more than 9 in 1970. Guadeloupe’s rum is different from its Martiniquan counterpart as it does not have “appellation d’origine contrôlée” (term of controlled origin), even though the sugar industry remains extremely important in this region and agricultural as well as industrial rums are equally produced. Rums here are sweeter, more brut and unrefined than the ones on Martinique. As for Marie-Galante, rums on this island are manufactured on a small scale and their alcohol levels rise to up to 59 degrees. The only distillery which can really be considered a rival of Martinique and Guadeloupe is the distillery Poisson, dating back to 1860 and producing exceptional quality.
On Guadeloupe, we distinguish between “steaming” and “non-steaming”
A few rum recipes
It’s cocktail time, so here are a couple of recipes you can try at home. Don’t forget to consume the cocktails with moderation, though, as rum has the special feature of making you drunk faster than any other alcohol.
Ti-Punch. White rum, sugarcane syrup, lime. This is definitely the most well-known and beloved of all Antillean cocktails. Dosage of ingredients depends on individual taste, if you are a fan, you will soon find the mixture that suits you best. Ti-punch tasting differs according to the hour: the day’s first ti-punch is called “take-off” or “petepied”. A light and modest one is referred to as a “ti-bete”, a “punch-fillette” (girl punch) or a “ti-feu”. If you are invited for a ti-punch, you will often hear the phrase “you shouldn’t stand on one leg” after the first glass, indicating that if you don’t want to lose your balance, you will need to drink a second one.
Planteur. Rum, fruit juice, sugarcane syrup, spices. The preparation of this cocktail depends on the place where you are drinking it, especially concerning the choice of fruit juice and spices.
Blue Lady. ¼ of rum, ¾ of tonic or soda and a hint of curacao served on ice in a tall champagne glass.
Daïquiri. For one glass: 3 centilitres of lemon juice, 2 teaspoonfuls of sugarcane syrup, 5 centilitres of rum. Place it in the freezer. Before serving, add 10 centilitres of sparkling water and fresh mint leaves (2 to 5 branches crushed by a spoon). Serve chilled on ice.
A piece of advice for « Mojito » lovers: this famous Cuban cocktail is not the best from Guadeloupean or Martiniquan rum, as their flavour is too strong and the result is not what it should be.