Today, I continue my exploration of rhum from Guadeloupe. But instead of rhum from the main island, we’re looking at Distillery Poisson from Marie-Galante. Marie-Galante is one of the islands that form Guadeloupe and has 4 out of 9 of Guadeloupe’s distilleries.
The distillery’s and estate’s name comes from its founder and former owner, Madame Poisson. It was in 1863 when she decided to get into sugar manufacturing. This led to her having a sugar refinery built on the estate; there are still visible remains of the old sugar refinery today. However, changes such as the reorganization and modernization of the industry in the end of the 19th century led to another factory becoming the main sugar factory of the island. Edouard Rameaux ended up buying the estate and refinery.
In 1916, Mr. Remaux added a creole still in the estate to start agricole production. He named the distillery and the estate after the person who is said to have perfected the distillation of fresh cane wine: Father Père Labat. Yes, this can get confusing. The distillery is better known as the Père Lebat Distillery. But in rum, estate names and distillery names can get mixed up.
After a long time producing agricole rum, the estate and distillery were bought in 2007 by Jean-Cedric Brot, who is a native of Guadeloupe. This led to the distillery getting modernized for better rum production.
To this day, the estate’s sugarcane is hand harvested and delivered to the distillery fresh, via ox-drawn carts. According to their US importer, PM Spirits, Pere Labat uses four types of cane: red, white, blue and gray. Some of them are grown on the estate, but more are bought from local growers
After crushing, the cane juice is fermented from between 48 and 72 hours. This wash finishes at around 5% ABV. The cane wine is then distilled in the creole stills for up to 70% ABV. Their blanc (white) rum os placed in open top wooden foudres (wooden vats) for 10 to 15 days. Demineralized water is added to proof down the rum. The locals drink the rum at 59% ABV.
In case you didn’t know, the majority of agricole rum from the Caribbean end up in the EU. France, Germany and the UK have always been strong rum markets. It’s only recently that agricole and other cane juice rum have become more popular in other parts of the world like the U.S.
For me, America’s rum movement was started by Ed Hamilton. Aside from his Hamilton Rum brand, he also imports Martinique’s Neisson agricole to the U.S. In recent years, other agricole brands such as Spiribam’s Clement and JMhave also started becoming more active and more well-known there. It’s an even better sign when one of the most reputable importers of high quality spirits in the U.S., such as PM Spirits, starts importing a small and good quality agricole brand such as Pere Labat. I’ve heard from more experienced rum enthusiasts that Pere Labat is believed to produce the best blanc agricoles in Guadeloupe.
Clairin has also been in the U.S. for a few years. So it can also be said that, despite not being agricole and the range not entirely being cane juice-based, the various Clairin being distributed by Velier have helped increase the awareness and demand for cane juice spirits.
To be of good quality, agricole rum must be produced from freshly harvested and pressed sugarcane. Otherwise, the quality drops after not being pressed and fermented within 24 hours of being harvested. This is why there’s an AOC for Martinque and a GI for Guadeloupe, which partly includes a limited harvest and production season for agricole. This means there’s going to be a more limited production.
The increasing popularity, and eventually demand, leads me to wonder about a few things. Questions such as: will there be enough sugarcane to meet the demand? Not all varieties of sugarcane are ideal for rum production. Most of today’s cane varieties are grown for sugar production. This means there’s a higher brix count, but it is lower in impurities. Yes, higher brix means more sugar. More sugar means more alcohol production, but it also means less flavor. A lot of flavor comes from impurities.
If there will be enough sugarcane, will the quality stay the same? Hopefully, the demand will encourage more farmers to switch to sugarcane and/or switch to working with sugarcane varieties more favorable to rum production.
Can the producers cope with the increased demand? When increased demand for spirits is mentioned, most will just think of buying more raw materials and more casks. But for producers with a limited production season, they’re likely going to need more space for additional fermentation tanks and stills.
Hopefully we get answers for this in the near future. For now, more people drinking more agricole and rum in general is a good thing. Aside from the fact that’s is good for there to be variety, maybe it can also help with whisky’s whacked-out prices.
Père Labat 70.7 – Review
On the nose: Not as sharp as I expected it to be. I get bold aromas of grass, roasted Japanese sweet potatoes, tapioca, grass jelly, pineapple crown, sugarcane juice, fresh cut grass, and Petrichor (that unique smell created when the rain hits pavement). The aromas of fresh cut grass, Petrichor, and roasted Japanese sweet potatoes really linger.
In the mouth: As sharp as I expected it to be. Whew! That’s strong. What I taste is more muddled due to how sharp this is, but I get medium flavors of sugarcane juice, muscovado sugar, tapioca, pineapple skin, roasted Japanese sweet potatoes, and black sesame paste with a small amount of mochi.
Rum always continues to surprise me. This is probably the highest ABV of an agricole rhum I’ve ever tried. With the ABV, I was surprised at how non-lethal this was to the nose and palate.
With how much I like this rhum, it doesn’t surprise me that Père Labat is considered to make the best unaged agricoles in Guadeloupe. It seems like this rum is catered for my palate. I love how there are only pleasant flavors here. The nose is consistent with the mouth. What I love more is that the flavors I like are the ones that linger. Roasted and/or steamed Japanese sweet potatoes are one of those treats I look forward to when in Japan, cheap and delicious.
Image courtesy of Rhum Excellence.