It’s time I talk about a Guadeloupe rhum.
Similar to Martinique, Guadeloupe is a Caribbean province of France. Being that, they also produce Agricole rhum. However, they don’t have an AOC like Martinique does. I briefly touched on Martinique’s AOC in this Rhum JM review. Despite not having an AOC to follow, the consensus among Guadeloupe rhum distilleries is that they stick close to the AOC’s regulations.
Counting Guadeloupe’s island of Marie-Galant, there are a total of nine rum distilleries, with the Damoiseau Distillery being the largest. As of this 2017 article by the Cocktailwonk, Damoiseau produces about 55% of the islands’ rhum.
Damoiseau was founded in 1942 by Roger Damoiseau, Sr. He was an engineering graduate who bought the Bellevue estate. The purchase left them with a lot of debt, so they resumed the company’s production of sugar, sweets and jams.
In 1968, Roger Damoiseau, Jr. took over. They were able to pay off the debts through selling rum in bulk. Later on, his sons started working with him. One of Roger’s sons, Herve, became the company’s chairman in 1995, while his other son Jean-Luc became the master distiller in 1978. His daughter Sandrine promotes the brand through events.
In case you’re wondering why you haven’t heard of them, they only started exporting to the US in 2013. Before that, most of their products were exported to France. I’ve also seen some of their basic expressions in Japan.
The distillery goes through around 30,000 tons of sugarcane per year. They dilute the cane juice with water during the crushing process. This goes to one of their fourteen metal fermentation vats. There, the cane juice ferments for 36 hours with their cultured yeast. This fermentation lasts 12 hours longer than the larger Martinique agricole brands like Clement. Fermentation ends at about 6% ABV.
I should note that Damoiseau also distills molasses-based rum. The most common ones you’ll see in the wild are Guadeloupe rhum 1998 sold to brokers like Main Rum. These are then bottled by various independent bottlers such as Transcontinental Rum Line and Kill Devil. The abundance of 1998 molasses-based Guadeloupe rum is said to be due to excess stocks then. Some of these 1998 molasses-based Damoiseaus will also be labeled as Bellevues. There have also been cane juice x molasses rum blends such as this Damoiseau 1980 by Velier.
Much like in Martinique, Damoiseau uses creole column stills. Cocktailwonk said there were two when he was there in 2017, with a third one being installed at the time. Among the two older ones, one has 17 plates and the other has 24. The distillates leave the still at around 85% ABV.
Today’s rhum is Damoiseau 1953, which is a 31 year old rum. Not much is known about this rum. Even the source of this sample, The Lone Caner, isn’t sure whether this is an agricole or a mix of cane juice and molasses or just molasses.
This is a very rare treat for me. From an age statement and historic point of view, this the oldest French Caribbean rum I’ve ever had. Being 31 years old, it can safely be said that this was bottled in 1984 at the earliest. It’s surprising that you can still find a rum bottled that long ago. Then again, rum has been neglected for a long while, so perhaps it’s not that surprising. I also have very little experience with the distillery; the only rum I’ve had from them is their 5 year old.
The Lone Caner (Lance) and Single Cask Rum have good reviews on these if you want another perspective of this rum. Many thanks again to Lance for providing the sample. According to him, this cost him a pretty penny when he bought this in 2017. This is now going for €3,450 in Excellence Rhum.
Damoiseau 1953 (31 Years Old) – Review
Color: Date syrup.
On the nose: Not as oaky as I expected it to be, but it is as mild as I imagined it to be. It’s got this typical aged agricole aroma of lemongrass syrup with milk chocolate, but it lasts a lot longer. In fact, if you’re not really paying attention to this, it can seem like it’s the only aroma you can get. In-between and after are subtle bursts of cloves, cinnamon, honey, date molasses, raisins, brine, banana bread, jackfruit, and white strawberries.
In the mouth: I get more tannins here and the sugarcane taste isn’t as pronounced as on the nose. I’m immediately reminded of Earl Gray tea; it’s that black tea taste mixed with citrus (Bergamot) factor. There are the familiar and light notes of date molasses, raisins, cloves, cinnamon syrup, honey, banana bread, and brine. The lemongrass syrup and milk chocolate tastes come out at the end, but are a lot more subtle compared to the nose.
At first, I was really not sure what else to think of this, because this is my first French Caribbean rhum this old. A part of me wonders if I should compare this to a whisky I’ve had, if I’ve had any.
I also feel conflicted since I prefer rums which are more spirit-forward, which is why I tend to prefer unaged sugarcane juice rum over the aged ones. However, there are cane juice rums that I really like such as Neisson’s and Mhoba’s.
This came from a sample swap, I think I should stop over thinking and just enjoy it. I decided to treat this like an interesting and meaningful conversation with that elderly stranger at the bar. The types when you know you know this is a rare encounter you’ll learn from, so you just let the stranger speak and talk when you need to. Much like those experiences, how often does someone get to taste cane juice rum this old? Add the fact that they’re hard to get if you’re not based in France or the country of origin, due to how limited and seasonal cane juice rum is. Add another factor that this was aged in the Caribbean which means it aged “faster” and has had more angel’s share than spirits aged in Continental Europe. You’ll mostly only see rum this old that are aged in the cooler climates of Liverpool or a Scottish IB’s warehouse.
So I’ll say I enjoyed this a lot. It’s a very memorable experience that I won’t forget. I’m also glad the cask influence didn’t completely drown out the distillery’s DNA, although I don’t see myself buying a bottle as expensive as this.
To answer your question Lance: this surely has sugarcane juice rum in it. It either has a high proportion of it and a low proportion of molasses or it’s purely an agricole.
Image courtesy of Excellence Rhum.