Rum or Rhum?
‘Rum’ is a catch-all term for every style of the spirit, from white rums and golden rums to dark and spiced varieties. ‘Rhum’, on the other hand, refers to one style of rum only. The term is short for 'rhum agricole' (with 'agricole' meaning 'agricultural' in French), a style of rum originally distilled on French Caribbean islands such as Martinique, Haiti and the Guadeloupe archipelago.
What Makes Rhum Different?
Most rums are produced by distilling fermented molasses, a sticky black treacle which is a by-product of the sugar refining process. Rhum is different. It is distilled from fermented, fresh-pressed juice from sugar cane grown specifically for this purpose.
The juice is rhum’s only ingredient. Depending on how it’s aged, rhum is found in white, golden and dark varieties. In Martinique, Rhum Agricole which has aged for 3 years in oak barrels in often sold as Rhum Vieux or Rhum Vieux Agricole – ‘old rhum’.
The Origin of Rhum
Until the early 1800s, France bought huge amounts of sugar from its Caribbean colonies, making local sugar producers very wealthy. When France found another, cheaper source of sugar – homegrown sugar beets – its reliance on Caribbean sugar dropped. With fields full of sugar cane but falling demand for sugar, plantation owners stopped refining sugar cane and started fermenting its juice instead.
Is Rhum still only made in French-speaking parts of the Caribbean?
Although the French Caribbean remains its spiritual home and the location of most distilleries, rhum is also produced in the Dominican Republic, as well as on the Indian Ocean islands of Mauritius and Réunion, which both have strong historical connections with France.
What does Rhum taste like?
Rhum has an instantly recognisable earthy and grassy flavour. It is characterised by a distinctive freshness with a less syrupy mouth-feel compared to some big brand molasses-based rums.
Want to try Rhum?
Martinique (pictured below) has a number of famous rhum agricole distilleries and brands include Clément, St James, Depaz, Trois Rivières, J. Bally and Rhum J.M.