As a brand and/or category grows, one can expect ersatz or substitute products to enter the market. We’re seeing it with horseradish dyed green to look like real Japanese wasabi. The poorly prepared Japanese whisky market’s unexpected boom caused different brands to bottle world whisky as “Japanese whisky.”
While not yet so well-known and recognized as a concern, rhum agricole is facing a similar issue. Currently, the term agricole can only be used by the French provinces of Martinique, Guadeloupe, Reunion, and French Guiana. The only other non-French territory is Madeira; which is a province of Portugal.
One of the main issues is that the term agricole is only protected and recognized in the EU, meaning cane juice-based rum brands produced and sold outside of the EU can call themselves as agricole and capitalize on its growing popularity. A few examples of cane juice-based rum calling themselves agricoles are St. George’s “California Agricole rum” and Rhum Mia from Saigon, Vietnam.
The other main issue is the market’s poor awareness of and education about rum. Because agricole was the only cane juice-based rum for the longest time, consumers tend to use agricole as the catch-all term for every cane juice-based rum. It’s safe to say that there’s no malice in this; I see this as being similar to whisky newbies calling Jack Daniels “Scotch.” Education will fix ignorance.
Let me just say that the examples I gave aren’t inferior substitutes for agricole. They are, at worst, as good as some of the decent agricole brands I’ve had. Their borrowing of the term agricole just made them ersatz. I’m also not sure if St. George still produces their cane juice rum, since it’s no longer on their website. It’s also out of stock in the US stores I’m familiar with.
Some have wondered if Vietnamese cane juice rum should be allowed to use the term since they were under the French from the late 1800s to 1954. One of the counters is that Vietnam wasn’t under the French for that long. The French territories that can use agricole have been under the French for centuries. Martinique and Guadeloupe are the most common examples, so let me use Reunion this time.
Reunion was said to be an uninhabited island when it was found by the Portuguese in the early 1500s. The French East India Company settled on the island in the mid 1600s. They were ruled by France as a colony until 1946; it became an overseas department and region of France in 1974. Compare that to Vietnam which wasn’t under the French for at least a century and currently isn’t an overseas department.
Madeira being able to call their cane juice rum agricole will be as surprising to most as it was to me, mainly because I initially only knew them as producers of the fortified wine of the same name.
Apparently, sugarcane was introduced by the Portuguese to Madeira in 1425. By 1466, sugar became the island’s main export product. Aside from being sold to mainland Portugal, their sugar reached parts of Africa and Northern Europe.
After a few centuries of on and off sugarcane cultivation (due to various issues such as competition, cane diseases, and pests) Madeira’s sugarcane cultivation started to expand again in the 1800s. But this time, they also started producing agricultural rum, since the equipment and technology for it reached the island.
This is surprising to me since the Portuguese waited so long to produce agricole in Madeira. They’ve been producing Cachaça, which is also cane juice-based, in Brazil since the late 1500s. Rum in Barbados only came about in the 1600s thanks to the Dutch.
Today, there’s a resurgence in sugarcane production. Along with a greater demand for Madeira rum, the regional government has been giving incentives and technical support for production.
The agricole rum I’m reviewing today is That Boutique Y Rum Company’s (TBRC) O Reizinho. O Reizinho comes from a mill of the same name and means “the little king.” It’s owned by Florentino Izildo Gouviea Ferreira who created it in 1982. Aside from rum, they produce liqueurs and other spirits.
According to this video, harvest and rum production generally lasts from March to May or mid-June. It’s implied that all the work is manually done. Only the cane crushers and an electric powered trapiche (mill) aren’t manual. They use natural fermentation that lasts for 3 to 4 days. Their copper pot stills are fueled by wood. So far, their aged rum are all aged in ex-Madeira wine casks. The Madeira GI requires rum to be aged for at least 3 years.
TBRC’s O Reizinho was distilled in 2017 and was rested in an inert container before bottling.
Thanks to rumdamadeira.com for the notes.
That Boutique-y Rum Company O Reizinho Madeira Rum Batch 1 – Review
49.7% ABV. Bottle #141/487. Batch 2 available from The Whisky Exchange for £33.75.
On the nose: Initial impressions are that it’s citrusy with a bit of salinity and grassiness. I get light to medium aromas of dried orange and lemon peel, lemongrass, salt water, pink peppercorn, olive water, cane juice, cane stalks and cane vinegar.
In the mouth: Much brighter compared to the nose but less cohesive and has more bite. I get medium tastes of dried orange peel, peppercorns, lemongrass and cane juice. The olive and cane vinegar notes are still there but lighter.
On the nose, it’s more layered but the different notes aren’t as lasting. While in the mouth, it’s not as layered but the different tastes last longer and are easier to appreciate.
This is a very good taste of unaged Madeira agricole. I’ve had one of Boutique-y’s aged Madeira agricoles, but wasn’t a fan of it. Because this utilized wild fermentation and pot stills, I expected a bit of funk. But there’s even less funk with the lack of pronounced grassy notes found in typical agricoles. Regardless, this is good and makes me look forward to trying more from Madeira agricoles.