La Réunion

The first permanent settlement of the island (formerly Ile Bourbon) dates back to 1665 but sugar has been planted immediately as a crop under Etienne Regnault, its first governor. Less they forty years later, they acquired the first stills to distill rum. However, the first modern distillery has not been set up before 1815, when the production of sugar picked up. In 1842, the number of sugar-processing plants and distilleries increased to twelve and six, respectively. Demand for their products should increase further with World War I, when it was used in the manufacture of explosives and pharmaceuticals by the colonial ruler. Subsequently, the number of distilleries increased to 31, 16 of which were independent of sugar-processing plants. Things should change with World War II: France has been occupied and could not receive further shipments of rum from it overseas colonies, resulting in the closure of all but one distillery, Isautier. In 1972, the GIE (Economic Interest Group) started to organise the production of rum by three distilleries, Savanna, Rivière du Mât and Isautier, who should sell under the name Charette. A 200ml bottle of Charette has been introduced in 1988 with the purpose to counter the sales of small doses of rum by small shops, which in turn led to a relatively high alcohol dependency on La Réunion. To counter this in turn, the abv of Charette has been brought down from 49% to only 40%. Today only three distilleries are left and running, distilling both, agricole and traditional rum.

Isautier
The Isautier Distillery has been founded in 1845 by the Isautier brothers Charles and Louis, who landed on La Réunion in 1832. After they died, Charles’ wife Antoinette Isautier (born Orré) , took over the charge of the distillery in 1865 and renamed it in “Widow of Ch. Isautier & Sons”. Around that time Isautier also got its signature stoneware bottle. In 1878, they presented their rum for the first time outside of La Réunion at the third Universal Exhibition in Paris and were even awarded a medal but real success didn’t kick in until Antoinette’s grandson Alfred Isautier (born in 1881) bought up his brother’s shares in 1910 to found the ‘Etablissements Isautier’. He increased the product range by adding punches, added a column still and started to distribute Isautier rums around the world. The next step of innovations started in the 1960s and 70s, when Alfred used the sugar industry’s by-products to process them in goods such as chocolate, jam, vinegar, prefumes, wax polish, candles, mattresses cattle food and more, which opened the way for more than sixty new companies and economic development on the island. In 2011, the distillery has been closed and was moved to a new site in Saint-Pierre, where it was rebuilt in a more sustainable way, including France’s first solar air conditioning system. Today they produce both, traditionnel and agricole rums as well es Rhum Arrangés and the flavoured punches mentioned above.

Rivière du Mât

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Rivière du Mât Distillery.

Not too much is known about Rivière du Mât but the distillery dates back to the 19th centuary, when it has been founded in the town of, yes, Rivière du Mât. In 1984 it was transferred to St. Benoît. It’s the biggest distillery in terms of output on La Réunion and about 85% of its rum is produced for export. Like the other distilleries on the island, they produce from both, fresh sugar cane juice and molasses, which they got from the sugar factories Gol and Bois Rouge.

  • Rivière du Mât 6YO, 42%
  • Rivière du Mât XO, 42%

Savanna

savasava (3)
French Savalle Still at Savanna Distillery.

Founded in 1870 in Saint Paul on the west of Réunion, Savanna more or less always distilled from both, molasses- and cane juice wines. After several ownership changes, the distillery has been moved to Bois-Rouge in 1992, with the ageing cellars following three years later. At least today, the entire supply- and production chain is fully integrated, from the sugar cane to final bottling. Somewhat surprisingly, all of Savanna’s r(h)ums are produced by a column still established in 1964. Solely based on tasting I probably would not have believed this! There is one exception however: The HERR, which has secretly been distilled by an alambic pot still. I hope there is more to come. Anyways, I have no idea where Savanna has been hiding all the time but even for many articulate rum nerds, at least outside of France, it has been a somewhat ‘recent’ discovery. My guess is that Tereos’ (a global conglomerate dealing with sugar, beets and their derivatives) acquisition of the previous owners in 2010 has a lot to do with it.

Charette (Not a Distillery)

Other/ unknown

  • Barrique Île de la Réunion 9YO (2008-2017), 43%
  • Liberté White Rum, 37,5%
  • Mascarin Grand Rivière Saint-Jean 10YO, 49%