top of page

Style in the spotlight: French Style

Updated: Apr 21, 2022

The French have always had a love-hate relationship with their overseas territories. They have also always had a love-hate relationship with the English. These two facts and Napoleon's intervention led to the French style Rum, or as they say: Rhum.


A little bit of pre-history


The French, like the English and the Spaniards, produced rum from molasses on their islands in the Caribbean according to the traditional methods: high fermentation, pot still distillate and bottling. Sometimes it was also aged in barrels. We know this method today as the English style Rum. The French initially traded their Rum with the European mainland, but that quickly changed when the demand for Rum in the overseas territories started to pick up. The French islands such as Martinique, Guadeloupe and Marie-Galante were only too happy to trade their Rum, sugar and molasses with anyone who asked. So it's not surprising that this caused some frustration among the superpowers on the other side of the ocean...


Je t’aime, moi non plus

The French ariived quite late to the colonial checkerboard, but they still managed to aquire some islands. Because of the effort it took to conquer these islands, the French felt obliged to hold on to their overseas territories because giving up the islands would be a sign of weakness, and they can miss that sign like a toothache. Both the English and Spanish armies lie in wait to take advantage of every opportunity. The world is still in full expansion and every piece of land that is discovered or unmanned is taken in no time in the hope of gaining an economic and strategic advantage. Yet all the great powers come to the same sobering conclusion: in many cases the economic advantage does not outweigh the military cost of protecting that economy. French on the islands were regarded by the French in the old world as profiteers and lazy people, while life on the islands was anything but simple. Illnesses, storms and poor logistics often cost settlers their lives. The French government therefore often has to compromise between preserving the colonies and justifying its cost to the general public. For France there is an additional problem: Rhum! The French have a rich tradition of distillation and the French producers of spirits more than once demanded that the French king ban the production of rhum in order to protect their own production and sales. Several times they will also be successful. This protectionism will also show up later when the Swiss Absinthe floods the French market.

The islands were treated very stepmotherly, but the settlers never gave up.


Revolution!


The French Revolution brought a new France to the surface. A pragmatic France under the leadership of Napoleon Bonaparte grew into an even more important player on the world map, but Napoleon took the Romans as an example and attached much less importance to the overseas territories. Sea blockades and the expensive logistics meant that Napoleon would look for solutions to reduce the dependence of the West Indies for certain products. The biggest casualty: sugar.

During revolutions, there are two kinds of people: those who make them and those who benefit from them. - Napoleon Bonaparte-

In the early 1800s, sugar production from beets began to attract attention and Napoleon had a pilot project set up in 1812 to supply France with sugar that way. The project is proving successful and sugar will no longer be imported. The plantations in the colonies see this with dismay and urgently need to decide how to solve this problem, because they are losing not only the sugar trade, but also the molasses trade with North America.


Fermenting sugarcane juice

The solution comes through a new process: instead of boiling the sugar cane juice to produce sugar, it is fermented and distilled as one would with molasses. Result: a Rum made from pure sugar cane juice, without additives, without wastage and with a very fresh taste: Rhum French style!





Rhum production at Longueteau

The French not only changed the basis on which Rum was made, but the method of distillation was also adapted: the traditional pot still made way for the more modern coffee still, also called column or continuous still. This increased efficiency to enormous heights and a very pure product was obtained.





French style or Rhum Agricole?


Whoever hears French style Rum naturally thinks of Rhum Agricole, but the two are not always the same. The style is about the production method based on sugar cane juice and in a column still, Rhum Agricole, on the other hand, is a label that is awarded if certain procedures imposed by the French state are complied with. For example, Rhum Agricole is always produced and bottled on its own estate (terroir) with self-cultivated sugar cane and locally sourced spring water. So every Rhum Agricole is a French Style Rhum, but not every French Style Rum is a Rhum Agricole.

The name Rhum Agricole means as much as 'Rural Rum'. The name must show the difference with the other Rums known in France as 'Rhum traditionel', or worse: 'Rhum Industriel'. The conditions that French Rums must meet in order to receive the label are strict enough to justify this kind of chauvinism.

It is important to know that this pride is enormous: Rhum Agricole is fervently defended by an army of fans who, as true supporters, seize every opportunity to defend their Rhums. Some even swear to consider only Rhum Agricole as a real Rum.


Where can you find this style?


French style Rum in most cases comes from French or ex-French islands. Martinique, Guadeloupe and Marie-Galante are the most important of these, but you can also find this style in Haiti, La Réunion and Mauritius. Mauritius is also one of the few places where French, English and Spanish style Rum are produced side by side. Today there is also French style Rum from the African mainland. The style is gaining popularity due to the aforementioned army of supporters, and other brands also venture into experiments with this rum. Chairman's Reserve is working on a special edition based on French style Rum.


Famous brands

The best-known brands are of course Trois Rivières, Saint-James and Clément. Some other well-known brands are Longueteau, Karukera, Habitation Saint-Etienne, Damoiseau, A1710 and Rhum Bologne. Less known, but no less loved are Rom Club, Beach House, Boukman, Arcane, and Barbancourt.




Almost the same, but no Rum


Cachaça

Cachaça is a Brazilian sugar cane juice-based drink that is produced in much the same way as French-style Rum, except that the alcohol content is lower, so technically this drink can never be Rum. The producers themselves do not try to market the drink as a Rum, the pride is too great for that.

Clairin

Clairin is a Haitian spirit that is distilled from sugar cane juice like French-style Rum, but on a very small scale and using a pot still rather than a column still. In many cases this drink will have a very high alcohol content. Think of 50 to 70% volume. Not a drink for the inexperienced drinker, but with a taste experience you will talk about for a long time to come. The combination of the taste of sugar cane juice, the little loss of taste during distillation and the high alcohol content is a wonderful combination, but here too the pride of the producers is important enough not to claim the Rum label.


Conclusion


The French are often rebellious, but also chauvinistic, and that sometimes offers surprising results. Their will to preserve the plantations allows us to enjoy one of the tastiest Rums in production today. These Rums do have a distinct taste and are not for everyone. The aged Rums may be softer in taste and often approach a Spanish-style Rum on the one hand, or a Cognac on the other, but the unripened variety will leave you frowning for a while with its strong scent of grass clippings and sugar, but once you get the hang of it, you will always go back to these on those warm summer evenings when you want to drink something fresh.

Also try the typical and deliciously simple cocktail Ti-punch:

- 5cl white Rhum Agricole

- 2cl cane sugar syrup

- 1 lemon wedge

Recipe: take a tumbler type glass, put the lime and sugar syrup in the glass and crush with a muddler or the back of a spoon. Add ice and the white rum and stir until the glass is ice cold. Santé!



77 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Comments


bottom of page