Rhum agricole, or agricultural rum, is the result of a
nineteenth-century molasses shortage and the imagination of Homere
Clement. Molasses is the primary ingredient of industrial rum.
molasses, Clement, owner of an estate on Martinique, was
forced to improvise. He analyzed the Grand Cru wine producers in
France and the distillers of France’s great Armagnacs and Cognacs to
perfect his method of rum production known today as rhum agricole.
He treated the sugar cane like fruit and pressed it like a grape to
extract the fresh natural juice. He then fermented a wine to distill
and produced an eau de vie from sugar cane.
The Sugar Cane
Rhum Clement is still produced and estate bottled at
Habitation Clement in Le Francois, Martinique.
The island’s sugar cane is thought to be superior to other
sugar cane in the Caribbean because of the Martinique’s volcanic
soil and tropical climate.
Rhum agricole begins with only freshly-squeezed sugar cane juice,
which can only be made when the sugar cane is at its peak of
maturity, limiting production to a short season
The sugar cane is planted in February and grows through the end in
June. When the cane is fully matured, the field is set on fire in
order to clear the weakest sugarcane. Then the canes are chopped as
low to the ground as possible to get the highest concentration of
sucrose. The cane juice is immediately distilled to make rhum
Common (baker’s) yeast is used for the initial fermentation,
although the process continues using the natural field yeast from
the cane. The fermentation period can be anywhere from twenty-four
hours to as long as seventy-two hours, resulting in Vesou, or sugar
wine, of anywhere between 4.5 and nine percent ABV. Fermentation
into this sugary wine is what develops the full-bodied flavors and
aromas. The longer the fermentation process, the higher the
concentration of the aroma.
Rhum agricole is distilled in single-column copper stills, which
keep the strength of the spirit low. The length of the distillation,
as well as the strength of the Vesou, plays an important part in
this process, as does the physical makeup of the still. Small
stills produce a heavy and low strength spirit. The tall still
yields a higher strength spirit.
Preparation for Aging
After distillation, the fresh cane spirit is placed in stainless
steel tanks to mellow. Each tank has a small perforated pipe and a
release valve at the top. A stream of filtered air flows gently
through the pipe, creating tiny bubbles which pass through the rum.
This removes any unpleasant esters, which could take away from the
full-bodied flavor of the rum. Over a period of nine to ten months,
the rum is reduced gently with slow agitations in preparation for
aging or bottling.
A complex mix of Limousin and American oak barrels are used to age
the rum. The alchemy of rum and wood orchestrated by the cellar
master is what gives Rhum Clement its distinctive character.
The two woods impart their characteristically intense fragrance and
complex aromas as well as their lively persisting flavors. The
tannin in the barrels lends its amber color to the rum. The rum is
placed in the barrels and stored in cellars, where it is aged by the
same method pioneered by Clement. In the intense tropical climate of
Martinique, there is a rapid loss of rum from evaporation through
the barrel. This is commonly known as the ‘Angel’s Share’. Each
barrel is topped off continually with rum from the same vintage.
About Rhum Agricole
Since 1996, the agricultural rums from Martinique are the
only rums granted a French Appellation d’Origine Controlée (A.O.C.).
A.O.C rums are at the top of the official French quality scale and
must comply with legal restrictions on cane varieties, yield,
distillation, aging and production zone. Rhum Clement is one of the
leading producers of rhum agricole in Martinique. The Rhum Clement
portfolio in the U.S. consists of Rhum Clement Première Canne, Rhum
Clement V.S.O.P. Rum and Rhum Clement Liqueur Créole Shrubb.
See eleven cocktail recipes using Rhum Clement.