If you can find sugar cane somewhere, you will probably find rum there too!
While the Caribbean is considered the epicenter of rum production and cultivation, rum is also found in almost all countries of Latin America and Central America, on a small or large scale.
Further away from the American continent, the rum culture is also strongly anchored in certain islands of the Indian Ocean such as Reunion Island, Madagascar and Mauritius. Finally, it is produced in several other countries here and there, whenever the climate is favorable to sugar cane growth: in India, in the State of Louisiana in the United States, in Spain, in Portugal or in Australia, where rum is even the second most popular drink after beer.
If we exclude Madagascar, the African continent would be the only one not to have been touched by rum madness!
In most regions where rum is produced, the style of rum created is influenced by the style of the country that colonized them, but the techniques of rum production evolved differently according to each region. This has given birth to a very wide range of rums with different flavors and aromas, for almost infinite tasting possibilities!
DOM (Overseas Department and Regions) Rum, one of the favorites in Mainland France
From Martinique to Reunion Island, passing through Guadeloupe and Guyana, rum is strongly anchored in the culture of the French overseas departments. Unlike the vast majority of rum-producing countries, DOMs have often neglected industrial rum to produce almost only agricultural rum.
Legal protection and controlled nomenclature
Although these represent only a small percentage of the world’s rum production, these rums are the most consumed type in Mainland France. This country, with the support of the European Union, is doing everything in its power to protect and support its island-flavored alcoholic beverage. Since 2007, the agricultural rum of the DOM benefits from legal protection and even has its own name: “Rum of the French overseas departments”.
This appellation, in addition to recognizing French agricultural rum as a high-quality beverage, establishes several criteria to be respected. These include all stages of production, from the origin of sugar cane, which must have been grown and processed on DOM territories, to the specific characteristics of the final product.
However, it would be wrong to believe that this regulation pushes each distillery to produce the same rum. Depending on the region and the distilleries, there is a wide variety of rums with different characteristics and profiles.
Guadeloupe : Rum from the “Sugar Island “
Guadeloupe is one of the biggest rum producers in the French overseas departments. In Guadeloupe, rum creates a culture of its own.
The love story between Guadeloupe and sugar cane began as soon as the plant arrived on the island. From the 17th century, Guadeloupe even received the nickname the “sugar island”.
It is therefore not surprising that rum distilleries quickly multiplied in Guadeloupe. At the beginning of the 20th century, there were more than 50 distilleries on the island. However, just like everywhere else, these factories were affected by the sugar crisis and today, less than a dozen factories survived. Among the best known is the Damoiseau distillery, the largest rum producer in Guadeloupe, and the Bologna and Longueteau distilleries.
Guadeloupe and Martinique, similar yet different
Although these two big rum producers are often compared, their rum is very different. Guadeloupe rum is generally described as being “sweeter and rawer” than that of Martinique.
At the production level, the two islands are also different in several areas. First, Guadeloupe, which continues to produce large quantities of sugar, also continues to produce industrial rums, which Martinique has stopped producing since the sugar crisis. Secondly, the majority of its producers remain independent of large spirits groups. Finally, Guadeloupe does not have an AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée), which would regulate its production.
Guyana : A Nearly Extinguished Heritage
While there were still 17 distilleries in French Guyana in 1930, a few years later, we could only account for a few. Many factors that contributed to the fall of rum distilleries in Guyana: a decrease in the sugar cane production by farmers, as well as campaigns against alcoholism that have put rum survival at risk.
The only remaining distillery is Saint-Maurice distillery (or Prévot distillery), whose rum production was relaunched in the second half of the 20th century. Nowadays, the distillery is a lot more modern, though it still produces rum in a traditional Guyana style. It produces several rums, all of agricultural type.
The only living legacy of a very active rum tradition in centuries past, Saint Maurice rum, is considered by many to be part of the French Guyana heritage.
Not to be confused with the other Guyana islands
At the time of colonization, several countries had their own Guyana island, all located on the Guyana Shield. Among them was British Guyana, now called Guyana. Until the 1970s, the latter had about 200 distilleries, proof of a culture heavily skewed towards rum. But the country has suffered the same fate as French Guyana and only has one rum distillery today, the Diamond Distillery.
Martinique : The pride of a “rum z’habitant”
Martinique is the great bastion of agricultural rum, which the population of the island also calls “rhum z’habitant”. Martinique rum is the only one to benefit from an Appelation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC), which governs its production since 1996.
The island still has about 10 distilleries and 2 agricultural estates answering called “rum houses” (regrouping plantations and buildings of exploitation around a main house). All operate under the rules of the AOC. Among the best known are the Clément house, the Préville Fonds distillery, which produces the famous JM rums, and the Saint-James distillery, one of the main actors in the white rum market in mainland France.
The ideal place to discover rum culture
Just like in Guadeloupe, in Martinique, rum is more than just an alcoholic beverage. It is a real institution that is based on a strong tradition. In fact, sightseeing activities include visiting several distilleries and rum houses. Some have even become real museums, story-tellers of a rum tradition that the island is not ready to let go of.
A great producer of rum, Martinique is also a major exporter. Its rum is widely consumed both on and off island. Much of the exported rum is sold in France, so it is really easy to get!
Reunion Island : between agricultural and industrial rum
Though thousands of miles away, Reunion Island follows similar traditions. At the beginning of the 18th century, there was already a drink which was none other than the ancestor of rum, obtained by fermentation and distillation of cane juice. But it was in the 19th century that the island experienced a real bloom of its sugar industry, which inevitably led to the creation of a large number of distilleries.
Progress and partnerships, for a continuously improved rum
Over time, the majority of these distilleries disappeared. There are only three left today: the Rivière du Mât, Isautier and Savanna distilleries. Each of them makes it a point of honor to improve its techniques of production and its mixtures, in order to continuously offer better quality rums. In addition to each producing their own rums, they have teamed up to create a brand of white rum that is very successful in metropolitan France: The Charrette rum.
Unlike the other overseas departments, Reunion island does not solely focus on agricultural rum but also produces industrial rum, which is their largest produced rum type.
Reunion island rum is largely consumed locally. The vast majority of their exported rum is destined for France.
Mauritius: Success after a difficult start
The rum flame will never die, and Mauritius history with rum perfectly depicts that!
Sugar cane was introduced to Mauritius in the first half of the 17thcentury by the Dutch. However, it is only a century later that sugar factories and rum distilleries really started to bloom on the island. But the island went through a lot of challenges: the sugar cane fields were infected by diseases, which hindered sugar production, and forced the Dutch to leave the island. Nonetheless, all was not lost, as they were quickly replaced by the French.
It was therefore under the French regime that Mauritius started producing rum, and they continued under the British influence. Today, Mauritius produces both agricultural rum and traditional rum.
The second birth of rum
After having being the home of nearly forty distilleries in the 19th century, the island now only has a few. The Medine and Grays & Co distilleries are the only two surviving distilleries of the past century. Other facilities were added in the early 2000s alone, after the repeal of a regulation that made rum production almost impossible. This includes the Chamarel distillery, which has quickly become an iconic brand of the island.
To summarize, rum production in Mauritius has resumed and has seen an incredible increase in recent years.
Latin America: A whole continent under the sign of rum
All Latin American countries, with the notable exception of Chile, produce rum. Venezuela and Brazil are among the biggest producers in the region.
Venezuela and its rules
Venezuela is one of the few countries with legislation that has established criteria for rum definition. Objective: to distinguish it from the simple eau-de-vie made from sugar cane, which is called “aguardiente de cana”.
There is still a large number of distilleries in the country. Some of them are linked to major global brands, such as the Pampero distillery. But others are still independent, such as the Distilerias Unidas and Santa Teresa distilleries.
The case of the brasilian cachaça
Brazil produces a rum called “cachaça”. While some cachaças are produced like rum, others are based on a traditional method that involves mixing cane juice with corn. These are controversial because in some countries they do not fit into any official rum classification.
Unlike most countries, Brazil still has countless rum distilleries, averaging the hundreds! Among the best known are the Ypióca distillery, the oldest yet still active, and the Leblon distillery, which produces premium cachaça.
Jamaica: a rum with many secrets
It would be wrong to think that Jamaica is limited to reggae music! The island is also well known for its sugar and rum, which have been part of its history for several centuries.
A rum that that is uique to the world
Jamaican rum has always had an unparalleled reputation resulting from its exceptional quality. While they rely on know-how that has been preciously and secretly kept from generation to generation, Jamaican distilleries have continuously modernized their rum process, to improve the quality of their rum.
Jamaican rum has a very particular taste that rum connoisseurs can easily recognize. Unlike the vast majority of rum producers, Jamaican producers have never abandoned the “pot still” distillation method, which gives an extremely concentrated and aromatic rum.
Century old distilleries
However, this did not prevent Jamaica from also experiencing a dramatic decline in the number of distilleries in the 19th century. While the island was home to more than 600 distilleries in the first half of the 19th century, today, there are only 5 left. Among them is the Appleton distillery, the oldest on the island, which opened its doors in 1749. The Myers distillery, opened in 1879, is another great name for Jamaica.