The Story Of Rhum Agricole

Your 'spirit-ual' education of sugarcane rum

We at The Spir.it want nothing more than to educate our readers about any and all spirits and cocktails that come our way. In order to show our appreciation for your need for a spirit-ual education, we welcome you to our several-month series dedicated to any and all spirits. Maybe you’ve heard of them, maybe you haven’t, but either way, you might learn something you never knew about your favorite spirit before! Consider this the beginning of some much needed spirit-ual guidance. Cheers!

Rhum agricole, a sugarcane spirit and a native of the French West Indies, was first produced in 1870, when sugarcane accounted for 57 percent of the arable lands in Martinique. Sugar cane, which was once incredibly expensive, dropped in price significantly, making for a surplus of a very inexpensive product. In order to take advantage, people decided to make their rum directly from the fresh sugarcane juice rather than from the more traditional molasses. As a result, rhum agricole was born.

During the first World War, most of the continental French distilleries were either occupied by Germany or destroyed. France was on the verge of an alcohol shortage because alcohol was crucial to maintaining morale among the troops, as well as producing explosives. Martinique boosted production and in 1918, continental rum producers began to lobby for the creation of taxes on imported rum. These efforts resulted in the adaptation of a 1922 law that restricted certain volume imports from foreign and non-continental producers.

Those restrictions remained in place until the end of World War II, after which rhum agricole was able to be freely distributed in France. During the '60s rhum agricole production rose and came very close to traditional rum. By 1970, rhum agricole production had overtaken traditional rum production on the French market.

— Sara Kay, The Spir.it