The island of Guadalupe is famous for producing rhum agricole – which is rhum (with an h) produced from the juice of sugar cane, as opposed to rum (without an h) made from molasses. It’s famous around the world, and extremely popular in its parent country of France. So when Capt Mike and I rented a car from the marina in Point-a-Pitre, the first stops on our island tour were at distilleries. Literally our first stops! All the rhum distilleries are only open until lunch time, so you have to be willing to stiffen your spine and go rhum tasting in the morning.
First stop was the boutique family-owned distillery Montebello. Unfortunately, there were no tours being offered the day we visited, because all of the machines were up and running, making rhum, and it wasn’t considered safe for visitors inside the factory. Drat! But we were encouraged to pour our own samples of several young (white) rhums and vieux (aged) rhums, as well as fun fruit flavored rhum punches. We got chatting with the young man working the shop and learned he’s a member of the only punk rock band in Guadeloupe, The Bolokos. They filmed a video in the distillery and released a special commorative rhum bottle with cute little cartoon punk rockers on the lable 🤪 He called up the video on the shop’s computer and let us watch their signature anthem “We drink white rhum”. Super fun – and if we’d still been in the area on Friday night, we’d definitely have attended their gig in the next town over. But as it was, we just bought a bottle of 4-year aged rhum and continued on our tour.
Next stop: the larger and more commercial Distillery Longeuteau. The man in the shop said he speaks a little English, but the tour would only be in French. When I said that I didn’t think I wanted to pay 8€ for the tour in French, he put a finger to his lips to show it was our little secret, and handed me two tour entry tickets for free. I’m so glad we did it! Here, the machinery was also running, but apparently Longeuteau doesn’t consider it dangerous to give tours – at least not if they’d lose 8€ per person, lol. Mike kept saying, “they’d never let us get this close in the US!” A very nice gentleman from Toulouse France offered to help translate for us, and really made the whole tour more enjoyable.
Step 1: Juicing the sugar cane – A big front end bucket loader scoops up a massive amount of red sugar cane chunks and dumps it into a hopper that starts a series of conveyor belts, crushers, and presses. The end result is a gush of cloudy yellowish liquid. This part really didn’t seem Heath and Safety endorsed. In fact, a French couple finished taking their photos and stepped side just before – plop – a small avalanche of spent sugar cane fiber landed right where they’d been standing 😁
Step 2 – Fermentation – The cane juice spends several days in big open fermentation tanks building a thick froth of bubbles. It doesn’t even need to be stirred; the fermentation is so active, that the cane juice bubbles and mixes and churns automatically.
Step 3 – Distillation – Fermented cane juice is pumped to the still where the vapor from the distillation process is now high in alcohol content. The distilled alcohol exits the still at about 80% alcohol – which is not as delightful as it sounds. Our guide poured a generous dose of pure cane distillate into our cupped palms and urged us to breathe the fumes in though our noses and to sort of huff the fumes by breathing into our mouths. I definitely felt it in the back of my throat! Then he gave us a smaller pour to taste. Nothing even slightly resembling the sweet delicious aged rhum it could eventually turn into! He urged us to rub our palms back and forth to dry our hands until hardly a trace of smell or stickiness remained. If I run out of hand sanitizer, a bottle of pure sugar cane alcohol would certainly do in a pinch!
Step 4 – Aging – The pure distillate is diluted to about XXX proof and then aged briefly in steel tanks for white rhum, or at least 4 years in oak barrels for vieux (aged) golden brown rhum. Punch is also very popular. You can buy a bottle of fruit flavors, spices, and rhum that’s ready to pour over ice and enjoy. My favorite punches are coconut or passion fruit. (I’m kookoo for coco punch 🤣)
Speaking of punch, I wanted to thank the French gentleman for translating for us and making our tour so much more enjoyable. So I practiced in my head how to tell him (in French) that I wanted to give him a thank you gift and to ask which kind of punch he preferred. He really seemed to appreciate the gesture – and the bottle of Planteur Punch. I thought I’d end this post by leaving you with the recipe for a ti punch. You’re welcome!
- 2 oz of white rhum agricole
- 1/2 tsp of turbinado sugar
- 1 lime wedge
Use a small spoon to muddle the lime into the sugar in the bottom of a short glass. Add the rhum, stir, and serve. I prefer mine with a couple of ice cubes. For variations, use a stick of sugar cane or cane syrup instead of sugar. That’s all there is to it!