Martinique

Besides Rhum Agricole and the AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée – controlled designation of origin) regulations, Martinique is probably most well-known for the eruption of Mount Pelée in 1902, which destroyed the entire city of Saint-Pierre and up to an estimated 40,000 lifes.
Sugar cane has been introduced by French settlers from 1635 onwards, who, due to the poor sugar extraction techniques at the time, were mostly interested in the more lucrative export crops coffee and cotton however. It was the French priest Père Labat who had the idea to distill the naturally fermented wines of the byproduct of sugar production, molasses, in 1694. The falling sugar prices during the 19th century due to  increased competition from the British colonies and the sugar beet resulted in the bankruptcy of many plantations (and thus distilleries), who couldn’t finance their mortgages anymore. But even the surviving ones had to look for other ways to earn a living and so they started to distill from the fermented wines of the fresh sugar cane juice – the birth of rhum agricole.

A1710

A1710 is Martinique’s most recent brand and distillery and employ a pot still.

Depaz (Depaz, Dillon)
stpierre (2).jpgThe erruption of Mount Pelée in 1902 destroyed the L’Habitation Perrinelle distillery in and almost the entire population of Saint-Pierre. The distillery has been operated by Victor Depaz’ family, who was studying in Bordeaux at that time. It was him, who would be the first to establish a new sugar cane plantation just north of Saint Pierre 15 years later and distillation commenced in 1917. The volcanic soil was extremely fertile, which explains the quick success of Depaz, even making him the Mayor of Saint Pierre at some point. Victor died in 1960 and the distillery is owned by La Martiniquasie today.
The story of Dillon is a bit sketchy and obscure so please don’t blame me if you think that some crucial elements are missing. The Dillon plantation can be traced back to a sugar plantation from 1690. After a gap of no information, the story continues with a certain Arthur Dillon, a colonel fighting in the war of American independence. During a stopover in Martinique around 1779, he gets to know the creole widow Marie-Laure Giradin. As it seems, the estate solely ran a sugar mill until 1928, when the distillery was founded. However, Dillion apparently only became a serious producer of rhum when it was acquired by Bordeaux Bardinet, who collaborate with the La Martiniquaise group, in 1967. The distillery shut down in 2005 and today Dillon is only an ageing and blending facility while the rhum is produced at Depaz.
Depaz produce exclusivley from blue cane and operate a steam-powered mill fueled by bagasse. The rums under the Depaz brand are distilled up to 68-70% by one of their two stainless steel stills, while the Dillon branded rums are distilled in Dillon’s original copper still.

J.M
DSCF5290J.M is Martinique’s oldest remaining distillery and while it is also located in the north of the island, they fortunately survived the erruption of Mount Pelée. In 1790, Antoine Leroux-Préville established a sugar factory in the area and sold it to a certain Jean-Marie Martin in 1845. He would then start distilling and selling molasses-based rums under the J.M label. His children all left the island and the entire equipment of the distillery has been sold by the end of the 19th century. Ownership changed a few times but in 1914, Guastave Crassous, the owner of the nearby Bellevue estate (I wonder how many carried this name back then), started distilling from juice-based wines, producing rhum agricole. They are the only distillery on the island who produce entirely from their own cane plantations and utilise a shifting cultivation with bananas to ensure ideal soil conditions. This means high quality bananas and cane as well as short distances – the freshly cut cane is milled within an hour and then mixed with volcanic spring water to extract the sugars, which is also used for diluting later on. Fermentations takes a short 24 hours, after which the wines are distilled by a single copper column still. A second one has been added in 2016, however.

  • J.M 1998 15YO, 44,2%
  • J.M 1999 15YO, 42,6%
  • J.M 2000 15YO, 41,9%
  • J.M 2001 10YO, 46,6%
  • J.M 2002 10YO, 46,3%
  • J.M 2003 11YO, 46,3%
  • J.M 2003 Japan Single Cask, 51,4%
  • J.M 2004 11YO, 44,3%
  • J.M “Armagnac Finish” 9YO (2005-2015), 41,5%
  • J.M “Calvados Finish” 9YO (2006-2017), 41,4%
  • J.M Blanc, 50%
  • J.M Cuvée du Fontadeur, 48,2%
  • J.M VSOP, 43%
  • J.M XO, 45%
  • J.M XO (old version), 47%

La Favorite
IMG_20180404_105236217 (2)Being the only remaining distillery in Port-de-France, traces of a sugar mill go back as far as 1843. There must have been two sugar refineries with a small distillery with five fermentation vats and a copper pot still. Back then they were called “La Jambette” after the nearby river and still distilled from molasses based wines by the way. This type of set-up worked for about 60 years

  • La Favorite 1995 “La Confrérie du Rhum” N°26, 45,3%
  • La Favorite 2009 8YO (2009-2017), 48%
  • La Favorite 2010 8YO (2010-2018), 52,8%
  • La Favorite Couer de Canne, 50%
  • La Favorite “La Reserve du Chateau” 14YO (2000-2015), 43%

La Mauny (La Mauny, Trois Rivières, Duquesne)
IMG_20180405_134817538-01In 1749, Ferdinand Poulin, Councilor of the Court of Appeal of the King of France, arrives in Martinique, where he married the daughter of a planter who owned a sugar estate at the current site of La Mauny in Rivière Pilote in the south of Martinique. There they produced sugar and Tafia, a precursor to rum. With the downfall of the sugar business in the 1820s, they shifted their focus to distilling rhum agricole instead. This is pretty much your standard story of sugar and rhum in the French overseas depertments. A bit later they sold their windmill to the Codé family, who installed the island’s first pot still in 1891 to produce rhum. In 1923, the distillery has been passed on to the Bellonnie brothers, experienced rhum makers who, among other modernizations, also installed a modern column still. In 1994, La Mauny acquired Trois Rivières from Martini & Rossi, before their still has been moved to the distillery between 2002 and 2004. Part of the deal with Martini & Rossi was also the Duquesne brand, which now also belongs to La Mauny. Today they belong to the Chervillon Group, after La Martiniquaise was forced to sell them because of their monopoly status. Trois Rivières and Duquesne are still produced with the distillery’s original stills.

Le Simon (Clément, HSE) & A1710

IMG_20180406_134350565 (2)
Warehouse at HSE.

Le Simon dates back to 1862 and has been dubbed the “ghostwriter distillery” by several people since they a) are not open to the public and b) do not produce rhum under their own name. Build by the architect Emile Bougenot who owned nine different refineries and Le Galion (Martinique’s last operating sugar mill), Le Simon ditilled Rhum Industriel for the first seventy years next to producting sugar (and candies). In 1971, they were bought by the Groupement d’Intérét Economique headed by Yves Hayot, who rescued Habitation Clément in 1986 and moved their production to Le Simon. Similarily, Habitation Saint-Étienne (HSE), who had to shut down in 1988, moved their still to La Favorite and were acquired by Le Simon in 1994. Today, fermentation and distillation of both brands takes place at Le Simon, but the rhums are then transported to the brands’ original sites for ageing and blending. In total, Le Simon has four column stills, the two original stills of Clément and HSE, respectively and two for the production of rhums for the domestic market.

Neisson
neisson (2)The plantation of the Neisson family dates back to 1922, their distillery to 1931. Today it is run by the founders’ children, who control about 9000 acres of sugar cane. It is thus one of the few remaining distilleries on Martinique that is still family owned. They pride themselves on being the first rum distillery using yeast from its terroir. Fermentation typically last for about three days, after which the wines are distilled in a single column coppper savalle still to 65-70%. The raw distillate is then stored for about three months in stainless steel vats and subsequently, if intended for further ageing, in french or american oak barrels for a minimum of four years.

St. James (St. James, J. Bally)
St. James might be the largest distillery on Martinique. Founded in 1765 by the alchemist Reverend Father Edmund Lefébure in Saint-Pierre, he named his rum Saint Jacques, in tribute to Jacques Dyel du Parquet, the French governor of Martinique who has bought Grenada from a French company in 1650 to establish a settlement. Eventually the brand has been renamed Saint James, to be more English-sounding and to ease exports to North America. Following the eruption of Mount Pelée (1902) and the destruction of the original plantation, St. James moved to Saint-Marie where it is still producing today. About 3,5 million 0,7 litre bottles can be filled yearly and it is said that St. James is home to the largest stock of old agricole in the French Antilles. In 1890, it has been bought by Paulin Lambert, the French importer of St. James at that time. He was the first who tried to patent the square bottle design (even though he failed) and one of the forerunners of product marketing for rhum. In 1947, the company has been passed on to his son and nephew, Pierre and Ernest, who increased production to the point of over-production. Combined with plummeting demand, St. James had to file for bankruptcy in 1958. After a couple of years, it found new investors in Picon, who later sold it to Rémy Cointreau, who again sold it to La Martiniquaise, one of the major players in the spirit business and owner of Depaz and Dillion, among others.
Since 1998 J.Bally is produced here.

Other, former & unknown

The pictures of the on this page were kindly provided by Laurent and Sascha.