A r(h)um trip to Martinique and Saint Lucia

unnamedOur dear correspondent Johannes went to Martinique, Saint Lucia and Dominica. Here’s a short summary of his journey!

Two months have passed since my wife and I made a trip to the “r(h)um islands” Martinique and Saint Lucia, with the clear goal to visit every distillery that is open for public. I wanted to write individual articles on some of the distilleries, but then work life caught me again. So just one article, focusing more on the journey itself. Flying to Martinique from Europe is relatively easy thanks to multiple flights from France and one return flight cost us just roughly the initial price of an “Employee Caroni 1996” (If it is one of the new ones I certainly know what I would have chosen – SCR). Upon arrival we picked up the rental car at the airport, undoubtedly the best way to explore Martinique. A small tip if you planon going there, get one of the medium-sized automatic cars. Martinique has a very mountainous landscape. The roads are mostly very narrow and steep, crossing through the endless banana plantations. Driving with a small manual gear car can be very frustrating and less fun.

WhatsApp Image 2019-07-14 at 18.36.50We spent the first night in Fort-de-France close to the harbor. The tropical climate was quite pleasant during that time. I planned a tight schedule for the distillery tour, so we headed to the north directly the next day without any time wasted in Fort-de-France. On the way, we made a stop to hike up Mount Pelee as my wife insisted as her wish of the trip. Unfortunately, it was too rainy to reach the top, so we made a U-turn and continued to J.M. Lucky me! Finally, our distillery tour began. And what a picturesque one hidden in a valley surrounded with tropical greenery.
WhatsApp Image 2019-07-14 at 18.37.10We arrived rather late in the afternoon and the production has just stopped. But it didn’t turn down my excitement. Following the clear road mark, we were guided to walk through the fascinating rhum-making journey and from the sugarcane garden to the fermentations all important production stages were shown. The last stop of course, one couldn’t miss it, was a free tasting and rhum shopping. To be honest, I didn’t find any particularly interesting rhums in the shop, but I got some small rhum glasses as a souvenir.

We drove on to Grand Riviere, the most northern part of the island. I highly recommend to spend a day or two there in the quiet village, where time slowed down. Just enjoy a Ti-punch or two, sit on the coast and watch the heavy waves surging and falling.

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WhatsApp Image 2019-07-14 at 18.37.11After a rich breakfast with salty fish, a local specialty, we headed to Distillery Depaz. The vila of the distillery owner is located on a hill with a beautiful panorama view of the sea. That would be an ideal wedding location, we both thought. Production was in full swing and you could hear the summing of the still, the crushing of the cane and the “beep beep beep” of the wheel loader. The grassy, sweet smell of sugar cane juice was all over the air. To my disappointment, the “brut de fut” version of the Depaz was not available for sale, so I left the shop empty-handed.

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WhatsApp Image 2019-07-14 at 18.37.11(2)Nevertheless, I was full of hope heading to the next one, Neisson. I made an appointment there in advance by asking Gregory to have a tour. Though he wasn’t available that day personally, we were warmly welcomed by Christelle, who gave us a great private tour through this amazing distillery. For the first time, we tasted fresh rhum from the still. WOW! Neisson is undoubtedly one of the best distilleries in the world, and of course, I needed to bring some good bottles back. 170€ for a 12YO (2nd batch) and 24 EUR for Profile 107 are great prices, you cannot deny. I really would love to get more bottles, but the rhum journey just started and the shopping list was still long. I refrained.

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Saint James was our next destination. We were late for the distillery tour, what a pity! However, the nearby Saint James museum was, quite to my surprise, a really worthwhile visit. The shop, not so much. I got one bottle of the “Saint James Cuvee Speciale” for 19€ there, but later I found the same in the local Carrefour for just 15€… By the way, look for the fresh sugarcane juices in the supermarkets or get a pack of Jus de Canne to refresh yourself in the tropical weather.

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WhatsApp Image 2019-07-14 at 18.41.42(1)New day, new distillery to discover. This time a defunct one, “Distillery Hardy” at Tartane. It has been defunct since the 1990s and simply kept to its own. It was great to stroll around seeing all the decay. I just hope they will keep it that way forever.
There is a little messy shop next to it with no customers at all. Among the yellowish postcards and magnets and some old bleached shirts, one can still get some Rhum Hardy with the handmade label. The rhum is nowadays produced at Saint James. I bought a bottle of the oldest Rhum (around 16YO) for 53€ and a Rhum Vieux (with a handwritten label) for 7€.

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Afterward, we headed to Le Galion. We couldn’t see the rhum production, but we got the chance to get a tour and see the sugar production next to the distillery. A very worthwhile tour indeed.

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Our next quick stop was at HSE. It’s nice, but nothing special as it’s only an aging house.

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WhatsApp Image 2019-07-14 at 18.41.57.jpegWe moved on to our last stop of the day: La Favourite. It’s a small, family-owned operation with lots and lots of “heart”. This was probably the most charming one of all distilleries in Martinique. I would even say if you can visit only one distillery, visit this one! It absolutely lives up to its name, it’s truly a favorite. To round up the day, I got a bottle of their delicious “Millesime 2010” for 59€ and a “Recolte 2018 Riviere Bel Air” for 16€.

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On our way back to Fort-de-France, we made a stop at “Rhum Dillon”. However we were greeted by an employee who claimed “no shop, no museum”, but it didn’t matter since no rhum is produced there anymore.

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WhatsApp Image 2019-07-14 at 18.41.57(2)Mission complete! After seeing all the distilleries in the north of Martinique, it was time for us to go to Saint Lucia to get my wife some retreat. Saint Lucia can be easily reached with a speed ferry from Fort-de-France. After a 1,5 hours boat ride we arrived in Castries with an upset stomach. We were directly picked up by our hotel taxi and brought to Soufriere. After another hour drive up to the mountains, the stunningly beautiful Mount Piton took our breath away.

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WhatsApp Image 2019-07-14 at 18.41.58(3).jpegWhatsApp Image 2019-07-14 at 18.41.59(1)The next day I had arranged a meeting with Michael Speakman from Saint Lucia distillery. I didn’t expect much, maybe a small guided tour as we have got at Neisson, but instead we were able to get an in-depth tour by the chief distiller. We were even able to see their quasi-organic sugar cane field. The cane is used to produce their sugarcane rum (their version of rhum agricole). After the tour we were even able to try an 18YO old rum destilled by their Vendome still. WhatsApp Image 2019-07-14 at 18.42.00Wonderful stuff indeed. It made us wonder what treasures Saint Lucia Distillers still have in their cellars.  WhatsApp Image 2019-07-14 at 18.41.59Michael told us later that they are planning to release a cask strength rum later that year. That is definitely a bottle to look forward to. Matt from “The Cocktail Wonk” visited the distillery a day before us. I am sure he will describe all the technical details of the rum production in his article. WhatsApp Image 2019-07-14 at 18.42.00(1)Of course I had to buy two bottles of the Saint Lucia Distillery 1979 Ruby Reserve in the distillery store for 39€ each. One for sharing with my fellow rum friends, and one for my personal collection. If you want to know more on this rum, check out the excellent review by Steve from  “Rum diaries blog”.
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WhatsApp Image 2019-07-14 at 18.42.01After Saint Lucia, we took a ferry to the wonderful island of Dominica and had a great time on this beautiful nature island. The only rum related thing we did was trying to visit the Macoucherie distillery. Unfortunately, we were turned away at the door. The distillery has been hit strongly by hurricane Maria and was still under construction, therefore they didn’t allow any visitors.

After returning to Martinique, our goal was seeing all the distilleries in the southern part of the island. We started with Clement. WhatsApp Image 2019-07-14 at 18.53.32.jpegIt’s the first distillery where we actually had to pay an entrance fee (13€). For a moment we thought on not bothering, as it’s not a functional distillery anymore. Good that we decided otherwise – it’s worth the money in my opinion. There is of cause the iconic house of Homere Clement, which has been turned into a museum, the aging cellars and even an art exhibition that is well worth the visit.

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WhatsApp Image 2019-07-14 at 18.52.27.jpegI didn’t buy anything at their store, but I noticed that they had the Clement 1976 for 190€ for sale. As I have tried that particular rhum, and knowing that it’s not really to my liking I refrained from buying it.

WhatsApp Image 2019-07-14 at 18.52.42.jpegNext morning we tried to visit the source of the Clements & HSE rhums, distillery Simon. We were greeted by a very friendly lady, but unfortunately Simon does not have insurance for visitors, therefore we couldn’t visit the distillery. One interesting fact however she told us was that 2019 was a particularly dry year, WhatsApp Image 2019-07-14 at 18.52.39so the sugar cane was very rich in sugar, but the yield wasn’t particular high. She assumed the production will finish by the end of May due to the small yield, while in other years the productions last until June or even July. But 2019 will be an excellent “Millesime”. Next on our list was La Mauny. Here we boarded a small kitschy tourist train and got a tour by a friendly and joyful guide. It was all good and nice, but nothing in particular stuck out. Still worth the visit, as one can see the stills of La Mauny, Trois Rivieres and Duquesne.

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WhatsApp Image 2019-07-14 at 18.52.45.jpegFrom there we drove on to the place where the Trois Rivieres distillery used to be and where one can still visit the old stills. One noticeable thing was that the Millesime editions in the shop basically cost the same as in some online shops in Europe. Usually, rhums are way cheaper in Martinique. By the way, if you plan to buy rhum in Martinique, also check out the local supermarket chains. One can find some really cheaply priced rhums there.

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On our last day we visited the smallest of all distilleries in Martinique, A 1710. I made arrangements before so we were greeted by Terence, a very knowledgeable and fun person who showed us all corners of the distillery and explained to us every step of the rhum production there. It was such a memorable and excellent tour so that I will write an article on it. By the way, A 1710 produces rhum all year long and starting in July, one can stay at their beautiful premise and make his very own handmade rhum there. So if you planon coming to Martinique, definitely take that into consideration.

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If one is into rhum/rums, I can highly recommend flying to this beautiful corner of the world. I am very sure I will return one day. By the way, at the end I brought 12 bottles of rhum/rum home with me.

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