So far most of the analysis of this Spiritual has centered on the way these cocktails drink. We’ve been looking at the dramatic variance in the profile of a cocktail where only a subtle component has changed. But this Spiritual is also organized by producers, and is in fact, very much about the producers. In the Agricole Punch, Ginger Beer and Lemon add a spicy-sweet-sour approachability to the otherwise serious La Favorite Rhum Agricole. Predictably, when tasted alongside the stripped down Creole cocktail, this is abundantly clear. But what about the producer, themselves? What are the commonalities?
La Favorite is on the West Coast. Notable producers also include JM at the northernmost point and Clement to the Southeast
As in wine, in order to gain a complete understanding of what’s being served, we have to look at origins. Wine professionals are maniacal about the role of terrior (the place) in the wine, and in serious debate, it is the center point of the discussion and ultimate assessment of quality. Evaluating beverages from this perspective is by no means definitive, but it does allow a common ground. In other words, Rhum Agricole from Martinique, should taste of…”x” (x in this case would be sweet pears, grass, salt, etc). If citrus or juice has been added to rhum, you need not be an expert to decipher the change. It is evident. But part of the exercise is (or should be) to identify which elements of the spirit clearly speak of the producer. Also, what was the method of production or the terrior? The type of thinking will serve you not only in drinking these cocktails, but in drinking wine, beer, tea or any other fine beverage. As you become more in-tune you with this process, your retention and understanding grow, and the more expansive your drinking database becomes. And don’t we all aspire to a more expansive drinking database?
Rhum By Another Name
We can begin with the clearest indicator of place-the spelling. The “h” in rhum is indicative of the French speaking Islands. That includes Martinique, the primary source source for quality rhum, and the place from which we’re granted the aforementioned La Favorite. This also includes Haiti and Guadeloupe. Trying to cover the cultural and historical breadth of Martinique Rhum in this condensed text is excessively ambitious, but, we’ll begin the conversation.
Martinique is the largest of the French West Indies Islands. La Favorite was founded there in 1842 and remains one of two family-owned distilleries there
It is important to understand Rhum Agricole as very French. Consider the serious nature with which the French approach their food and drink. From butter to Rhum (mmm…rhum butter…), there is an intervening government entity that must endorse the merit, or place of origin for these products. The agency, very well known in wine circles, is the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) which translates as “controlled designation of origin.” And its really that (1635) deep. Whereas the rest of the world is perfectly content to make marginal to repulsive rum and focus their energies on marketing, Martinique is the only place in the world where those 3 auspicious letters are found on a bottle of rum. And as for La Favorite, well, it’s basically the 1%. Along with Neisson they are held in the highest esteem on the island and are the only two family-owned producers that remain on the island.
On to Haiti: Rhum Barbancourt
The Prince, is cleverly named after Haiti’s capital city of Port-au-Prince. It’s been two and a half years, but whenever Port-au-Prince comes up, it is still difficult to seperate this place from the graphic images and general destruction of the 2010 earthquake. The damage of that earthquake is so strongly associated with Port-au-Prince, that the city will bear this asterisk for the rest of our lives. And that’s saying quite a lot for a nation that has endured slavery, environmental and political catastrophes for the last 200 years. But rhum, distilled from fermented sugarcane juice, and not molasses, is a part of Haitian history too. And since the mid 19th century, Bharbancourt Rhum has been the pride of Haiti. And that should also be part of the association.
Following the disastrous earthquake, Barbancourt was able to resume production in just a few months. It is a testament to the strength of the Haitians and the important role of rhum in Haitian culture. It’s important to distinguish Barbancourt, which does $12-million in annual sales, from, say, Bacardi. This isn’t some behemoth multinational company saying, “we need to recoup!” It is totally feasible that the owner of Barbancourt knows the names of his employees. The rhums that spilled into the streets were up to 15-years old. These guys are in the business of making the best rhum they possibly can. For the surrounding community, this distillery is a livelihood and source of pride.
As an homage to the producer, this is a great cocktail. We begin the Prince with a rocks glass and a dropper. The dropper goes into the bitters is gently and methodically squeezed. A thin puddle of the dark bitters barely coat the bottom of the glass despite its small circumference. Yanni grabs the glass and while slowly rolling his wrists into the shape of an o. The bitters have coaxed in all directions and now coat the floor of the glass. The Prince is primed. For now, we’ll stop here. There will soon be a sequel post, where we’ll dissect this cocktail alongside its partner, The Classique.