With 65% of the production consumed locally, rum is the drink of the West Indies par excellence, a true national drink, part of the West Indian identity. The rum produced in Guadeloupe is among the best in the world.
In the years following 1638, the year when sugar canes were first introduced to the West Indies, Guadeloupe became dedicated to sugar production. The expertise of the French regarding brandy is soon to show in the first cane alcohols, of which Father Labat, a Dominican monk in the West Indies, perfected the procedure of brewing and distilling with stills. Guildive or tafia were born and from then onward they went to conquest new horizons and witnessed the expansion of the rum industry which shined in the second half of the 19th century. During the first world war , rum from the West Indies came to warm up the hearts and bodies of the "poilus" (French soldiers) in the trenches and saw the consumption rise sky high and settle so much so that Guadeloupe then could count for over fifty distilleries compared to only nine today.
As a drink created using sugar canes, rum is obtained by directly fermenting fresh cane juice. Cane picking between January and July, must be quick so as not to lose the sugar concentration. This is the opportunity for tourists to attend folk scenes of carriages loaded with canes being pulled by oxen to the distilleries. Around 10kg of canes are needed to obtain one liter of rum. Once at the distillery, the cane will be washed several times to be clean of its impurities, then grinded and finally slowly pressed. The fibrous residue of the grinding or bagasse is used to feed the boilers of the distillery. The fresh cane juice or vesou is carefully filtered then stored in inox vats in which with the help of eating yeast it ferments. Afterwards, the cane juice which is fermented or the cane wine is only at 4 to 5°. It is then introduced into the distilling columns and is heated up. At the end of the still, the« white grape » is then over 70°. You must then add distilled water or spring water to lower the titration. The blend is then stirred and bottled. Some white rum presents titrations between 50° and 59°.
In this manufacturing process, it is clear that yeast, water and the mastering of the still are essential parameters for making rum successfully and that any variations cause these different tastes which are the character of rum from Guadeloupe.
Part of the production is then put into used oak barrels to ripen (bourbon, cognac or whisky) and heated to crack the wood and to better soak the rum and celebrate the alliance of the freshness of the cane and the wood. This stage gives the old rum its tannin and its pretty caramel colour lasts less than three years as far as straw rum and ambered rum is concerned, and between three and six years for old rum and up to 15 for vintage wine and the past aging wine.
As opposed to agricultural cane based rum, the other variety of rum, industrial rum, mainly used in baking, is made in metropolitan France with a treacle base. But it is losing ground currently in favor of white rum which has permanently acquired pedigree with the attribution of appellation contrôlée (label guaranteeing the origin of wine) " rhum agricole" which gives it fame and acknowledgement.
It must be remarked that rum from the French West Indies is nothing like rum from the other Caribbean islands which is made out of treacle and which offers no subtle aroma and can only be consumed if mixed with fruit juice.
Today, distilleries are popular tourist places in the West Indies. Witnesses of the colonial past of the islands and symbols of those days gone by, they have made a lot of effort to restore the old houses and windmills, by making the domains look nice to welcome visitors in well tended surroundings, giving more than its due to the heritage of history. Visits enable you to understand the different stages of rum making, to be introduced to the history of rum and its secrets but also you can taste it and buy cartons of 3 to 6 bottles wrapped up specially for transport by plane.
Which is the best rum you say? well it's all down to personal taste : you can make up your own mind by tasting different rums on site. Nevertheless, among the 12 distilleries on the island, 3 brands share the top rankings. In Guadeloupe, amongst the diversity of the brands, Damoiseau rum is particularly popular in Grande Terre whereas in Basse Terre, tastes are more oriented towards Bologne rum.
Rum has a social vocation in the West Indies : it gathers friends together, reconciles ennemies, peps up the weak, uninhibits the shy and accompanies all local celebrations from the ball to the funeral vigil. It punctuates the day with evocative names for a break such as the classic "wake-up call" in the morning, the "ti-lagoutte" at 11 am, the famous ti-punch for the apéritif or finally the "pété-pié", the last glass of the evening.
But there are also curative virtues because it helps to heal especially insect bites or disinfects wounds. Embellished with roots and other macerated plants, it heals rhumatisms, headaches, stomach pains,… Including the famous "bandaged wood" with a mabri bark base whose stimulating virtues contribute to wake the vigueur of lovers.
Rum can be consumed in various places. In bars prepared ti-punch is served and are often expensive and designed for tourists.To appreciate it the way the locals serve it it is best to go to the many small cafes and other grocer's where you will be brought the bottle of your choice to your table, sugar, pieces of lime on a saucer and a jug of water the put out the fire. You only pay for what you consume. At home, preferably on a terrace or under a veranda, rum is prepared and served by the master of the house to each person's taste, with old rum or white rum, with sugar, with or without ice, fruit or lime.
There are several different ways to consume rum. Regular drinkers or workers drink it "sec-sec" (neat) or drink a glass of water afterwards : this is called a "ti-sec" (little neat). Most often it is drunk as a " ti-punch" that is to say accompanied with sirop or sugar cane with lime. Fruit punch is obtained by macerating the pulp or the skin or tropical fruit and is consumed accompanied by cane syrup. Finally rum can also be drunk with orange juice or fruit juice such as a planter's punch but also as cocktails like daîquiris and pina coladas.