The history of rum from Reunion Island

The cultivation of sugar cane began in the 17th century on what was then called Bourbon Island... Read more

The history of rum from Reunion Island

The cultivation of sugar cane began in the 17th century on what was then called Bourbon Island... Read more

The history of rum from Reunion Island

The cultivation of sugar cane began in the 17th century on what was then called Bourbon Island. The first stills appeared in 1704.Arack, a rum made from pure sugarcane juice, was distilled here, similar to the tafia of the West Indies.

In 1807, Napoleon ordered the cessation of arack production. He decided to separate the production of his two possessions in the region: Isle de France(Mauritius) and Bourbon Island(Reunion). The former would produce rum and sugar, the latter coffee and spices.

The British conquered Bourbon Island in 1812, and re-established the production of arack there. In this period of fierce war, France recovered Bourbon in 1815 but lost the Isle de France at the same time.

It was then decided to develop the cane plantations again and to concentrate on sugar production.

Sugar and rum go modern

In 1815, the first "real" distillery was created with the development of the sugar industry. Pure sugarcane juice was no longer used, but molasses, which became the main product of the industrialization. However, a quality problem soon arose, as well as a general disorder caused by fraud and alcohol abuse.

The decision was then taken to reduce production and control prices to curb the phenomenon. Surprisingly, it was also decided to ban the distillation of pure cane juice (arack) in favour of molasses (rum), which was considered healthier.

These measures have not been very effective from a law enforcement perspective. But the modernisation and improvement of sugar production did help the industry. In the rum business, there was still a lot of disorder, so a new solution was found. This was to limit the number ofstills and access to their ownership. This was done by means of taxes and high prices for equipment.

The abolition of slavery in 1848 did not affect the production very much, as the settlers quickly reorganised. By abandoning the reinforced control of distillation, the authorities again let the distilleries develop and the level of production was maintained.

Rum and war

In 1854, in order to supply the soldiers of the Crimean War en masse, customs duties on rum were abolished. Although production volumes were high, quality was still not a priority. This quality deficit was clearly expressed at the Universal Exhibition of 1855. West Indian rums were able to show the extent of their know-how.

After the Crimean War, exports fell dramatically, but consumption remained fairly stable. In the meantime, a major health problem had arisen on Bourbon Island. Consumption had tripled in 10 years between 1848 and 1858!

In 1860, there were 40 distilleries. Once again, the rum situation, the distilleries and the alcohol problems were out of control. The problem continued until the 1870s. Cyclones, diseases and a lack of manpower put a big brake on the rum boom.

The search for quality

After this complicated period, the level of production having become reasonable again, the world of Reunion rum is now working on quality. This worked, and in 1884 the first exports (apart from soldiers' rations) began to take place. However, the majority of these exports went to Madagascar, and very few reached the metropolis.

Trade with Madagascar led to the widespread use of arranged rum. It quickly became an important part of the island's culture.

In 1914, war was raging again in Europe, and all the rum from Reunion was requisitioned. It was used in turn as a tonic and as medicine for the troops. At the end of the First World War, rum stocks were enormous and were sold at sacrificial prices. The brandy producers of the old continent were very unhappy about this. They obtained a quota for overseas rums.

This is how the concentration of the production started. There were 31 distilleries in 1928. Then Reunion was cut off from the mainland with the Second World War. The rum industry took a big hit. A large part of the sugar cane fields were quickly converted to food crops. The island's isolated population also had to be fed.

After the war, in 1945, there were only 14 distilleries and sugar factories left.

Today, Reunion has 2 sugar factories(Le Gol and Bois Rouge) and 3 distilleries(Savanna, Isautier and Rivière du Mât). 1972 saw the creation of the Charrette brand, a blend of rums from these three distilleries which helped to popularise the island's rums.

Arranged rum

How can we talk about rum in Reunion without talking about rhum arrangé ? It was undoubtedly the Indian population of Madagascar that imported this part of the culture to Réunion.

Initially used as a remedy, this maceration of herbs, spices and fruits was later consumed in a more festive manner.

Sailors on the India route discovered and adopted it, and it spread beyond the Indian Ocean, particularly to the Caribbean.

Reunion Island rums

Reunion Island's rums offer a most pleasing variety! Traditional sugar rum, light rum, agricultural rum, and even grand aroma are distilled here. Some distilleries, such as Savanna, are even able to produce all these styles at the same time.


Savanna is a distillery which was founded in 1870, in the Saint Paul region. It takes its name from the house of Savanna, also called Maison Blanche. The activity developed in the 1930's when Mr Hugot, president of the Bourbon sugar refineries, took it over. It was further expanded in the 1980s, before moving near the Bois Rouge sugar factory in 1992.

The distillery is able to produce light rums for other rum brands, but also a multitude of other expressions under its own brand. The Créol range is dedicated to agricultural rum, the Intense range to molasses rum, and the Lontan range to grand aroma rum. Numerous limited editions are released each year, with brut de fûts, single casks, etc. All of these are always aged in ex-cognac casks and are often finished in other casks. HERR rum is a unique rum, a great and extremely advanced aroma that only the Savanna distillery has the secret to.


The Isautier brothers set up the first large distillery on the island in 1845. At a time when molasses was flowing by the ton, they knew how to give themselves the means to achieve their ambitions and quickly became very successful. Their stoneware bottles were then known beyond the borders of Reunion Island.

The distillery modernised and diversified during the 20th century, before specialising in rums and punches in the 1990s, and finally moving into blended rums in 2010.

Isautier is much talked about for its sweet, gourmet arranged rums, but also for its traditional white, agricultural and industrial rums. It is also experimenting with ageing, with the young Barrick, and excels with its 10 year old.

River of the Mast

The "modern" Rivière du mât distillery was established in 1984 in Saint-Benoît. It produces mainly traditional molasses rums, but also light rums for other brands. It is also capable, like its colleagues, of distilling pure cane juice. It is this versatility that places it in the pure tradition of Reunion's distilleries.

It is renowned for the balance of its blends, obtained by a dynamic maturing process where the rum passes through several barrels, both new and old. Examples include the Grande Réserve, the 2004 vintage or the Opus 5, an exceptional agricultural rum.


Charrette is probably the best known rum brand on Reunion Island, although it does not have a distillery itself. It was created in the 1970s and obtains its traditional and light rum from the island's three distilleries.

Its traditional 49% white rum is a great classic of Réunion's arranged rums and is one of the best-selling rums in mainland France. It has diversified in the 2010s with the arrival of a very gourmet vanilla rum.


Chatel is a family business that dates back to the beginning of the 20th century. Jean Chatel, who was destined to be a pharmacist, preferred to leave the well-trodden path and set up a distillery. It developed throughout the 20th century, until it became one of the leading distilleries in Réunion at the end of the same century. It is best known today for its range of arranged rums made from rum from Savanna. Read less

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