The history of rum in Guadeloupe
Guadeloupe was not always called that... Read more
The history of rum in Guadeloupe
Guadeloupe was not always called that. The Caribbean Indians, its first inhabitants, named it Karukera, which meant "the island of beautiful waters"... Read more
The history of rum in Guadeloupe
Guadeloupe was not always called that. The Caribbean Indians, its first inhabitants, named it Karukera, which meant "the island of beautiful waters". It was Christopher Columbus who renamed it Santa Maria de Guadaloupe when he discovered it on his second voyage in 1493.
It was therefore a Spanish island at the beginning, which remained unoccupied and even unexplored for a century, the settlers being rather on the track of gold deposits.
In 1626, Richelieu decided to colonise the Lesser Antilles, attacking Martinique and Guadeloupe. The extermination of the Caribbean Indians began as early as 1635 and was quickly completed. The kingdom of France then set about turning Guadeloupe into a sugar island by sending in cohorts of slaves. However, the techniques of planting escaped the French colonists. They had to wait for the arrival of the Dutch, who had been driven out of Brazil, to perfect their techniques and cover the island with sugar cane by the end of the 17th century.
The beginnings of rum
It is known that cane brandy or guildive was made fairly quickly. There is a document that forbade its use by slaves, following a bloody revolt in 1656. The first document that speaks of rum itself was written by Father Du Tertre in 1667.
Cane plantations were mainly located on Grande Terre, as its relatively flat terrain was more suitable for agriculture. But the island was relatively devoid of waterways that could be used to turn mills. This led to the construction of many windmills, which can still be seen today.
In the middle of the 18th century, Guadeloupe was colonised by the English, who started the molasses export business. The island remained a small sugar producer compared to its neighbour Santo Domingo. At the turn of the 19th century, the French revolution abolished slavery, before Napoleon quickly reinstated it, which greatly disrupted production. Rum recovered during the 19th century, although the protectionism of old world spirits prevented it from progressing.
A journey fraught with difficulties
At the end of the 19th century, Guadeloupe produced and sold 5 times less rum than Martinique. Rum from the neighbouring island had a much better reputation and sold at a better price, so that sugar factories preferred to sell their molasses there. The eruption of Mount Pelée reversed the trend for a while, but Martinique soon recovered and produced twice as much rum as Guadeloupe only 10 years after the disaster.
Fate was unkind, as a cyclone destroyed a large part of the plantations in 1928. The high price of rum led to a drop in sales in mainland France. More modern fermentation and distillation techniques were introduced to regain some yield, but the quality dropped substantially. The Second World War cut off the West Indies from the mainland and the distilleries were left with large stocks. Many of them also had to close down due to maintenance problems, as spare parts were unobtainable.
The rums of Guadeloupe today
In 1939, there were 55 distilleries. In 1954, there were 37 and only 9 in the early 1970s. The evolution of the sugar and rum industry was the same as in Martinique, but with a time lag. While in the 1960s and 1970s the number of sugar factories dropped considerably in Martinique, it remained stable in Guadeloupe.
But industrial concentration also made its way in the 1980s, helped by cyclone Hugo in 1989 and the droughts of 1991 and 1992. Today, only the Gardel sugar factory is active in Guadeloupe. The quantities of molasses are still important but much less than in the past, and more and more agricultural rum is distilled since the 90's, with 11000 hectares of sugar cane. The number of smoking distilleries is now 7 (6 agricultural and 1 molasses).
The distilleries of Guadeloupe
Bellevue / Damoiseau
The Bellevue distillery was founded in 1914 and produced only molasses rums. In 1942, Roger Damoiseau, Hervé's grandfather, took over the distillery to make it the main producer of agricultural rum in the French West Indies.
The fermentation of the pure cane juice lasts between 24 and 36 hours, then the vesou passes through 2 modern distillation columns to come out at 80-88% alcohol.
Damoiseau has the largest stock of aged rum in Guadeloupe. This enables it to offer, in addition to its classic white rum, VSOP and XO rums, vintages and special editions such as the Subprime vintage.
He is the leader on lowland, even if Damoiseau is in the lead if you look at Guadeloupe as a whole.
Originally, there was a sugar factory founded in 1664 and transformed into a distillery during the 18th century.
This distillery uses its own variety of cane. It is a low-yielding variety with a high aromatic potential, which covers 60% of its needs.
The vesou is fermented for 48 hours using selected yeasts from the sugar cane. The distillation is done on an old Savalle column and on 2 other more modern columns. The rum flows out between 75 and 80%, before being reduced with spring water from La Soufrière.
The famous Maillot Jaune is a must, and the Black Cane is a very interesting single-varietal. The practice of ageing is recent, but Bologna has distinguished itself with remarkable old rums, such as the VSOP or the XO.
Founded in 1930, it is a rather young distillery. It is owned by the Marsolle family since 1968. It does not grow its own sugar cane but buys from local growers. It is the green cane which is favoured and which has given rise to the vintage white rums of the Winch collection.
Fermentation with selected yeasts takes a little over 24 hours. The distillation is done on two columns, an old Savalle and a slightly more modern SOFAG, made of steel. Montebello has the specificity to place the oak casks in metal containers to accelerate the ageing process, where other distilleries try to reduce the share of angels.
Its white rums are appreciated on the island in Ti'punchs, and its very tasty old rums are a delight to connoisseurs. Its 6 year old is recognised as a fine representative of Guadeloupe's old rums.
It was Monsieur Séverin who gave his name to a small distillery in the 19th century. Bought by the Marsolle family in 1928, the latter modernised and developed it until it was bought and moved in 2019. The distillation column replaced the traditional still in 1966. The distillery became famous in the 1970s with the creation of a renowned range of punches.
The distillery has 7 hectares of cane. The pure pressed juice is fermented for 48 hours using brewer's yeast. The vesou is then distilled on a small traditional Creole column from which it runs off at 68-70%, producing very aromatic white rums.
The 55% white Séverin is a must for Guadeloupean ti'punchs, and the VSOP or XO aged rums are known for their richness and deliciousness.
The distillery was set up in 1914 and has been run by Léopold Reimonenq since 1958. After a renovation in 1960, this Guadeloupean figure also planted 100 hectares of cane to ensure a good supply. In 1970, a fire destroyed the facilities, but reconstruction was quickly carried out. The distillery was equipped with electric mills and the column was improved.
A rum museum was built on the site of the distillery, but to make matters worse, it was immediately destroyed by hurricane Hugo. The building was rebuilt in 1990 and the Reimonenq rums, which were distributed under the Corsaire brand until then, took the name of "Musée du Rhum". In 2002, Léopold Reimonenq developed a unique double distillation column with the help of a French engineer.
The cane juice comes from classic varieties from Reunion Island. It is fermented for 20 hours using a baker's leaven. The rum flows out of the column at 80% alcohol.
The " cœur de chauffe " is a very round and aromatic white rum, and foreshadows a series of old rums that are just as aromatic. While the JR special vintage emphasises the bourbon cask, the 9 year old and the mythical cuvées hors d'âge or RQL call for a recognisable and ultra-gourmand woodiness.
Longueteau is the smallest distillery in Guadeloupe, but also one of the most remarkable. Its history began in 1895 when the family bought the dwelling Espérance to turn it into a distillery. Since François Longueteau took over the family business in 2005, it has experienced a new lease of life and growing success. François is the owner, farmer and distiller all in one. He has spent his energy without counting the cost, which has earned his rum considerable recognition.
The blue and red canes are planted on the estate and the distillery is completely autonomous in sugar cane. It is important to note that Mr Longueteau is also the owner of his machines, which means that he harvests when he wants to, when the cane is perfectly ripe.
The cane juice is fermented for 48 hours with brewer's yeast, without being acidified. It is then distilled on a Savalle column from which 70-80% of the juice is distilled.
The distillery has been a resounding success with its mono-parcel rums, such as the famous n°9 red cane parcel or the delicious n°4 blue cane parcel. Its white rums are recognised as being the best in Guadeloupe, such as the 62% white rum or the Genesis brut de colonne. Its aged rums, such as the XO or the 120 year old carafe, have become legendary.