Where Has the Rum Gone? To Martinique!

In the garden of the Habitation Clément, a plaque reads, “Le don d’une plante utile me parait plux precieux que la découverte d’une mine d’or et un monument plus durable qu’une pyramide.” (“The gift of a useful plant seems to me more precious than the discovery of a gold mine and a more durable monument than a pyramid.”) Attributed to Bernardin de St. Pierre, who studied plants, this quote was probably not meant to refer to sugar cane, but those at Habitation Clément clearly agree with him at least in respect to this one plant. And for good reason. Sugar cane is the gold of Martinique: it is one of the island’s primary sources of income and the key ingredient behind their famous rum. However, sugar cane looks nothing like the rum it produces. So, how do we get from sugar cane to rum? The exhibits at the Habitation Clément explained this process to me.

First, the cane is cut off at the base with a coutelas—a Martinican knife with a wide, curved blade that looks a little like a pirate’s sword. The cane is then pressed for the juice, and the juice is distilled for 36 hours. This is just the beginning of a long process that goes into the creation of these rums. The fermented concoction is known as “jus de cane fermenté”—also known as fermented cane juice or cane wine. This jus is then placed in large wood barrels for three months. These are called foudre de chêne.

After the three months, you have the clear rum that you can find in grocery stores. But, in order to make amber rum, the process is still just beginning. The wine is now placed into fûts de chêne, or smaller oak barrels. These barrels have been burned on the inside to give them a unique flavor. The barrels are closed for a period of anywhere of a a year to twelve years. After they are opened, they have taken on a new flavor other than rum based on the type of barrel they were put in.

You’ll find that, on this island at least, rum is a cure for everything. If you’re sad, it makes you happy. If you’re happy, it makes you happier. If you’re sick, drink it with some honey and lemon. If you cut yourself, pour it on the wound. I have to say, that I had a rum cocktail yesterday and my allergies that have plaguing me since I arrived miraculously disappeared for the rest of the evening…

Some like to drink it plain. But if you’re like me, and six-year-old rum drunk plain gives you little more than a choking sensation, here are a couple of the cocktails suggested by the Habitation Clément’s historical ads that I have translated into English for you. As their slogan says, “La vie peut être plus amusante si vous le voulez.” (“Life can be more fun if you want it to be.”)

Punch of the Islands
1 part sugar cane syrup
4 parts white rum
zest of one lemon
2 ice cubes

1 part white rum
1 part orange juice
1 part pineapple juice
1 part grapefruit juice
1 spoonful of grenadine syrup
two ice cubes
a maraschino cherry to garnish


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