Rhum has always been big on Guadeloupe. It produces more rhum than Martinique but it does not have the AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) certification, which might explain why its rhums are sometimes overlooked in favour of its southern neighbor. Moreover, availability in Europe is an issue for some of the country’s brands. The lack of an AOC certification also explains why Guadeloupe’s distilleries tend to be more open to experimenting with different techniques and moving away from the AOC’s guidelines here and there. They also produce more rhum industrielle, i.e. molasses based rum, in the off-seasons of sugar cane harvests than Martinique.
In 1775, more than 70 distilleries existed on Guadeloupe. Today, only six of them are left, nine if you add those on Marie Galante. Marie Galante, named after Columbus’ flagship Marigalante, is a dependency of Guadeloupe and drier than the main island, receiving only about 150cm of rainfall per year. The vast majority of the sugar cane on the island is used for sugar production and only the remains by the remaining three distilleries. By law, they are allowed to produce rhum with 59% abv, which is still proudly sold by all of them.
What follows are small profiles of the distilleries on Guadeloupe and Marie Galante with tasted rums I can remember.
Established in 1887, Bologne is very proud of its terroir, an area of nearly 150 hectares between the sea and a mountain. On their sixty parcels of the Capesterre and Saint-Claude plantations, they are the only distillery on Guadeloupe to grow black cane, which goes into all of Bologne’s rhums. Black cane is highly aromatic but has a very low yield, which is why most other distilleries dropped it from their plantations. Distillation is also special in the sense that Bologne only distills up to 55-60% abv. The reason for this is that this method extracts fewer of the grassy cane aromas. What is more, all aged rhum matures in ex- Cognac or Armagnac barrels, which enrich it with plenty of fruity and spicy notes.
- Bologne Black Cane, 50%
With an annual output of about 3.2 million litres, Damoiseau is the largest distillery on Guadeloupe and the only one on Grande-Terre. That’s about half of the entire production on Guadeloupe. Funnily, it is also the youngest distillery on the island if we take the acquisition by the Damoiseau family as a starting point. In 1942, Roger Damoiseau, who has been working in a sugar factory, got a loan from his neighbor to buy an old mill near Le Moule. Today, headed by Hervé Damoiseau, they produce a very light rhum style and even the white rhum is aged for six months in oak barrels before being bottled. Interestingly, they also distill from molasses when sugar cane is out of season. In 1980, some of the molasses has been mixed with the agricole output of that year somehow and the resulting product was believed to be unsellable. It has been bought by Velier in 2001 and laid the foundation of their future success in the rum scene. The 1998 vintage that has been released by various independent bottlers under the name Bellevue, or even Bellevue Distillery, is a rhum industrielle (i.e. molasses based) that has been produced and sold by Damoiseau in large batches. There has been a lot of confusion regarding the name and I will one day address it in a separate article.
- Berry Bros & Rudd Guadeloupe (Bellevue) 15YO (1998-2013), 46%
- Cadenhead’s Bellevue GMBV 16YO (1998-2014), 57,1%
- Compagnie des Indes Bellevue 16YO (1998-2014), 43%
- Damoiseau Vieux 5YO, 42%
- Damoiseau Vieux Millésime 1989 (1989-2010), 58,4%
- Duncan Taylor Bellevue 17YO (1998-2016), 52,5%
- Rum Albrecht Bellevue 17YO (1998-2015), 54,8%
- Rum Albrecht Bellevue 19YO (1998-2015), 55,5%
- Rumdealer’s Selection Bellevue 15YO (1998-2014), 56,5%
- The Rum Cask Bellevue 17YO (1998-2015), 54,8%
- The Rum Cask Bellevue 18YO (1998 -2016), 56,6%
Domaine de Séverin
Séverin’s history starts in the 18th century with the sugar plantation “Habitation Bellevue”, which seems to be a very common name for estates with nice views in the French Antilles. Around 1800, Monsieur Séverin acquires the Domaine which then became a pineapple cannery. Fast forward to 1920. Madame Beauvarlet buys the estate and her nephew, Henri Marsolle, revives rhum distillation and eventually takes over the distillery. Today, it is still operated by his descendants and is home to the last remaining paddle wheel in the Antilles, even though it doesn’t crush the cane anymore. Being a small family owned distillery, Domaine de Séverin struggled financially, which forced them to sell the majority (65%) of their shares to an external investor. At Séverin, fermentation last for two whole days while distillation takes part in a single column still.
Espérance (Longueteau, Karukera)
Espérance/ Longueteau has been founded by Henri Longueteau, who transformed the old sugar refinery to distill rum. It’s still in family hands and today the only distillery in Guadeloupe which is completely self-sufficient. Most of the sugar cane (red and blue varieties) comes from their own plantations at the foot of the Soufrière and their bagasse, the residual product of sugar cane crushing, is used as fuel for their machinery. The Karukera brand has been launched by Guillaume Drouin in 2002, who teamed up with Francois Longueteau to create an agricole that is solely made from the blue cane variety and fermented without any acidifying or anti-foaming substances. Karukera was the Carib’s name for Guadeloupe, by the way.
- Karukera Vieux Millésime 1999, 45%
- Karukera Vieux Millésime 2000, 50,8%
Montebello’s recent history dates to 1968, when Jean Marsolle (brother of Henry Marsolle, who owns and operates Domaine de Séverin) and his son bought the distillery. Earlier, it ran under name Distillerie Carrére and was even a cinema in 1966. Gradually, the family turned it into a very modern facility. Today it is led by Grégory Marsolle, Jean’s grandson. After distillation, their rums are barreled in oak cask and then stored in metal containers in the sun. The idea is to accelerate the oxidation process by making use of the higher temperatures inside the containers. As a result, their oldest rhums age for a maximum of ten years but their maturity is comparable to that of older rhums.
The Reimonenq distillery was established by Joseph and Fernand Reimonenq in the commune of Sainte-Rose in 1916. The distillery has been torched after a short circuit in 1969 and then rebuild as a more modern version. Over time, a rhum museum (1989) and exhibitions featuring the “most beautiful” (others might call them creepy) insects of the world (1994) and models of the largest sailboat ever build have been added to the estate. More importantly, it were engineers working for Léopold Reimonenq who invented a temperature control process that managed to eliminate bad tasting ethers during distillation.
The distillery’s history can be traced back to 1821, when the local windmill has been built. It offers a 360° view on the surrounding sugar cane plantation, which is the largest on Marie Galante. Today, it is said to be the last active windmill on the Antilles. The distillery is headed by Hubert Damoiseau, a cousin of Hervé Damoiseau from Grande-Terre’s Damoiseau distillery. Crucially, rhums that have been released by independent bottlers with the label “Guadeloupe Bellevue 1998” do not come from the Bellevue distillery but from Damoiseau (apparently there is a connection between them anyway). There has been a lot of confusion about this and I will address it in a separate post. Bellevue call themselves the first ecopositive distillery in the Caribbean. In this case, it means that they only harvest from the surrounding cane fields to reduce transportation costs and the ecological footprint, oxygenate all waste water which is used to irrigate the cane fields and use bagasse as a fuel and fertilizer. Moreover, they installed four solar panels in 2010, the energy of which serves about a third of all households on Marie Galante. Bellevue plants red and white cane, ferment for about 30-40 hours and distill in a 20-plate column still. The vast majority of their output is bottled as rhum blanc and only about 5% is intended for further maturation.
At the end of the 18th century, Bielle was a small sugar manufacturer that had several owners over the years. After its bankruptcy, it has been sold to Paul Rameau in 1940, whose family built the Creole house and the distillery, but didn’t take enough care of the latter so that it had to shut down eventually. Thirty-five years later, Dominique Thiery, a nephew, took over the company and transformed the distillery during cyclone Hugo, which tore off the boiler’s chimney and gravely damaged the still. History certainly wasn’t easy on Bielle, but it gradually progressed in terms of production techniques and is now likely to be the most advanced distillery on the island. Its collaboration with Velier and Gianni Capovilla, a grappa producer, surely did not hurt either. Together, they experimented with new distillation and ageing techniques, one of which was to ferment the fresh cane juice without water for seven to ten days (!) and then double distilling it in a copper pot still. The Bielle branded products are diluted with rainwater, by the way.
- Habitation Velier Muller LL IV/3177 2015, 59%
- Rhum Rhum Liberation Integrale 2012, 59,8%
- Rhum Rhum Liberation Integrale 2015, 58,4%
Poisson (Pére Labat)
Poisson, founded by the Poisson family in 1860, is home to the brand Pére Labat. Starting out as a sugarmill, it was Edouard Rameau (notice how it is always the same couple of family names appearing all over the country!?) who bought the property in 1916, installed a distillery and gave it its name. Pére Labat was a French clergyman, botanist writer and much more. Crucially, he devised a novel method for manufacturing sugar on Martinique, which remained the industry standard for a long time. Distillation at Poisson is pretty standard, except for their over 100 year old copper Coffey still.
- Transcontinental Rumline BM Distillery (?) 3YO (2014-2017), 43%
- Rum Nation Guadeloupe Vieux, 40%
The fotos on this page were provided courtsey of Rhum Club France.