The history of rum from Martinique

From the time of the French settlement in the early 17th century, the island of Martinique became a giant in sugar production... Read more

The history of rum from Martinique

From the time of the French settlement in the early 17th century, the island of Martinique became a giant in sugar production... Read more

The history of rum from Martinique

From the time of the French settlement in the early 17th century, the island of Martinique became a giant in sugar production. From the residues of this sugar production, the ancestor of rum was also made, an alcoholic drink called guildive or tafia, which was not comparable to a grand cru, to say the least. The improvement of distillation techniques by Father Labat at the end of this century led to the widespread use of stills on the sugar cane plantations.

The island did not immediately become the West Indian reference for agricultural rum that it is today. Molasses rum was then, as everywhere else, the main type of rum produced. Only a few small distillations of pure juice were carried out very locally.

Rum from the French West Indies has been through many ups and downs over the centuries: often in competition with spirits from France, whose protectionist policies it has undergone, it has always been there when France was short of wine spirits (Cognac, Armagnac, etc.), such as during the Phylloxera crisis that ravaged the vineyards in the 1880s.

At the same time, competition from sugar beet led to a regrouping of the activity in large factories, particularly around Saint-Pierre, which was then a world capital of rum. The small isolated planters, left aside, started to use their cane exclusively for rum, without going through the molasses process. Agricultural rum as we know it today was born.

After the eruption of Mount Pelée in 1902, which destroyed Saint-Pierre and took the lives of 30,000 Martiniquans, it was these small planters who took over, and agricultural rum then accounted for a third of the island's production.

In the 20th century, rum from Martinique once again enjoyed periods of great success, such as when it was taken to the front by soldiers in the First World War. This success was immediately followed by the wrath and pressure of the producers of eaux-de-vie in mainland France, who once again obtained quotas.

The number of distilleries dropped again and the activity was concentrated on agricultural rum. Quality continued to improve, until an AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée) was obtained in 1996. This appellation, with its extremely demanding criteria, enshrines the know-how of the Martinique people in the field of agricultural rum.

The Concours Général Agricole awarded a number of gold medals to the heavyweight bottlings Clément, Dillon, HSE etc.

The production of Martinique's agricultural rum

Martinique's agricultural rum is obtained exclusively from pure cane juice (vesou), the fermentation of which does not exceed 72 hours.

The distillation is carried out in a Creole copper column, from which the rum flows at an alcoholic degree of between 65 and 75%.

The white rum is left to rest in a stainless steel tank before being brought to the desired alcohol level with spring water.

For the maturation of rums aged in wood (amber), oak tuns (large wooden vats) are used for at least 18 months, and for old or very old rums, oak barrels (mainly ex-Bourbon barrels) for at least 3 years.

Read our article on the different types of rum and how they are made.

The different distilleries in Martinique

Today there are 9 distilleries still "smoking" in Martinique, including one sugar factory which produces industrial molasses rum. The concentration of production and the acquisition of brands by different groups have led to some rums being grouped together in the same distillery, such as La Mauny and Trois Rivières.


Initiated by an old family from Martinique, this very young distillery is located on the Habitation du Simon, near the distillery of the same name, located in the commune of Le François. It produces non-AOC white rums (some of which are organic), as it uses traditional stills and long fermentation processes. It is also a brand that offers blends of rums from various distilleries in Martinique and Guadeloupe.

The Simon

This former sugar factory ceased its industrial activity in 1938 to devote itself to the production of agricultural rum. Located in Le François, in the east of the island, it has four Creole columns with which it distils vesou for Rhum Clément and HSE. The brands transfer the rum to their home where they bottle it or age it.

Clément rums have a large reserve of old rum. They were the first to introduce single-varietal white rums and are now conquering new territories.

HSE rums are dynamic and modern. After the brand's complete makeover from Habitation Saint Etienne to Rhum HSE, they have innovated by offering vintage white rums and finishes in different types of casks, having previously housed great wines for example.


After being completely destroyed in 1902 during the eruption of Mount Pelée, the Habitation La Montagne was restored by Victor Depaz, the only survivor of his family (he was studying in Bordeaux at the time). The rum produced there now bears his name. The distillery uses cane from its own plantation and produces a full range of rums, from 50% white to XO old rums and vintages.

Since 2006, the distillery also houses the column for rums Dillon. The brand still ages its rums on its historic site in Fort de France, and they are among the best value for money on the market.

Saint James

The Saint James brand was created in 1882 by a trader from Marseilles who used four different distilleries in Martinique. The distillation is now entirely grouped on the Sainte-Marie site, which is currently the largest supplier of rum in Martinique. Its huge plantations are almost able to cover its sugar cane needs, which are all the more important as Saint James also distills for Bally, Madkaud and Hardy.

Jacques Bally is a pioneer and visionary in the world of agricultural rum. This engineer built his own distillation column, and above all, after meeting Cognac and Armagnac manufacturers during a trip to Paris for the Universal Exhibition, he was the first to import the notion of vintage and to work with rums in the same way as the more prestigious eaux-de-vie of the time.

Madkaud rum was created in 1895 by a slave's son. It was very successful in the 1950s and 1960s, before disappearing and undergoing a real renaissance under the impetus of Stéphane Madkaud. The original distillation column is no longer in use, but the Sainte-Marie distillery makes special adjustments specific to the brand's style.

Hardy Rum, whose home is in Tartane, at the entrance to the Caravelle peninsula, is a modest brand but one that occupies a large place in the hearts of Martinique enthusiasts. His range is only sold locally.

You can find here some pictures of the Saint James distillery.


The JM distillery is located in the north of the island, in Macouba. It is on this magnificent site that one of the most renowned and prized old rums has been produced since 1845. It has passed through the hands of various families and groups, and has been constantly modernised. The estate is self-sufficient in sugar cane and benefits from an exceptional terroir, on the slopes of Mont Pelée and near the ocean. The range of JM Rum extends from white to very old rums of 15 years of age, including some prestigious decanters.

La Favorite

It is one of the two independent family houses in Martinique. Located between Fort-de-France and Le Lamentin, it has kept its steam engine from the early 20th century. It is therefore self-sufficient in energy, this machine being powered by the bagasse (what remains after the crushing of the cane). It produces two types of rums, one in a copper column and the other in a half-steel, half-copper column. Particularly well known for its prestigious La Flibuste vintage, it has diversified enormously in recent years by offering various exceptional vintages, bottled as both white and old.

La Mauny

The distillery is located in the commune of Rivière Pilote, in the south of the island. The Count of La Mauny bought it in 1749. It is one of the distilleries that converted to the production of agricultural rum during the sugar crisis. In spite of a large sugarcane plantation, its needs in raw material are important and it calls upon several small local farmers. It is also part of a major modernisation process, and its range is regularly enriched with new references and original products. It also houses the distillation column of another giant: Trois Rivières, as well as that of Duquesne, a brand reserved for the local market.

Rum Three Rivers is a must in Martinique. Its plantation is one of the oldest on the island. Its original distillery ceased to operate in 2004, but its equipment is still in operation at the La Mauny site. The brand is at the origin of the most prestigious agricultural rums.

Duquesne is a brand distributed exclusively in Martinique. This rum is produced on a modern distillation column dating from 1992. Bought by Trois-Rivières in 1953, it was the brand under which Trois Rivières rums were distributed until 1972. Its distillation facilities also moved to Rivière Pilote in 2004.


It is the other independent distillery in Martinique, but also the smallest. This does not prevent it from being the most recognised locally, with its famous " Zepol'Karé " bottle being invited to the table to entertain the most esteemed friends. Located on the western seaside, it was the first to gradually convert its cane plots to organic and it works with its own yeasts. Its Savalle column alone is a monument to Martinique and it has become a master in the maturing of its old rums. It is her high standards which today delight connoisseurs and make her name shine far beyond the Caribbean.

The Galleon

Martinique's last remaining sugar refinery produces a white molasses rum called Grand Fond Galion, and supplies quantities of bulk rum to the mass market. But also and above all, it jealously guards the secret of its Grand Arôme, a long fermentation molasses rum with exotic fruit aromas, which is used in various applications (rum blending, food processing, perfumery...) for its extraordinary aromatic power.

Read about Laura's world tour of rums and her visit to Martinique on our blog.

How to drink rum from Martinique?

Martinique's agricultural rum is a rather dry rum. No sugar is added, and the freshness of the vesou comes through in the final product. White rum is usually drunk as a Ti punch, but some white tasting rums have been appearing for a while.

Amber rums can also be enjoyed in Ti'punch or in various cocktails, while aged rums are more reserved for pure tasting, although Ti'vieux is widely tolerated!

Not to be missed: the delicacy of the liqueur ShrubbA low-alcohol liqueur made from orange peel, which is prepared at the end of the year.

To taste it

You will appreciate the beautiful colour of the old rums, the result of the art of mastering the ageing process.

The nose is often rather woody, with mellow tannins and nuances that range from spices to undergrowth and dried fruit. Take time to appreciate their complexity.

On the palate, these rums are quite dry and woody, with a slight bitterness of lime zest and pepper. Of course, these are the most common aromas, but their diversity is infinite, depending on the work done on the rum and the palate of each taster.

Cocktail recipes based on rum from Martinique

The Ti-Punch

More than a cocktail, it is one of the bases of the West Indian art of living. You should choose a minimum of 50% white rum to get the most out of its intensity.

The ingredients are simple:

  • 4 cl of white rum
  • A few grains of cane sugar
  • Lime peel with more or less pulp

As for the making of this, and as they say in the West Indies: " Everyone prepares his own death ". In general, the better the rum, the less sugar and lemon you use.

Here is the Ti'punch my way:

½ level teaspoon of sugar, then I squeeze a lime cheek with little pulp. I dissolve the sugar with the lemon, pour in the rum and mix more or less as I taste (this is the advantage of sugar grains over cane syrup).

The Punch Planteur

There are as many planter recipes as there are families, and all claim to be the real thing. But there is one basis on which everyone will agree:

  • 70 cl of white rum
  • 30 cl of amber or aged rum
  • 3 Litres of various exotic fruit juices
  • The juice of 3 limes
  • Spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, etc.)
  • Cane sugar syrup (optional)

Mix all these ingredients and leave to macerate in the fridge for 1 or 2 days. Serve with or without ice. Read less

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