Most people are familiar with the more common molasses based rum and for some of our tasters this was their first opportunity to try out the sugar cane juice based agricole style rum.
What is Rhum Agricole?
Lucy Beard, the Master Distiller at Hope Distillery says, “Rhum Agricole is a style of rum developed in the French Caribbean islands back in the 19th century and is a far more intense spirit than classic rum. It is often described as rum in its very purest form, and, if produced with skill, it is both intricate and dynamic.”
Lucy explains that freshness is key. She says that once pressed, the sugar cane juice will start fermenting immediately, so it is important to carefully oversee both the pressing and the pitching of the yeast to ensure consistent and controlled fermentation.
“Because it is the pure fermented juice that is distilled, it really celebrates the sugar cane itself,” adds Lucy.
Nose and Palate
The nose and palate of a Rhum Agricole is distinctly different from the molasses based rums. Whereas molasses based rums soft and smooth and have plenty of caramel and burnt sugar, the sugar juice rums are sharp and fresh and the sugar cane comes through clearly.
Lucy adds, “Rather than distil a classic rum, we wanted to design something that was unique and more unusual, which customers and bartenders would want to seek out”.
We asked Lucy about the source of their sugar cane and the process of preparation.
Lucy answered, “We wanted our rum to celebrate South Africa. We source fresh sugar cane stalks from Mpumalanga and press these on-site and then ferment in stainless steel tanks before careful distillation in Mad Mary, our copper still. The resulting spirit really tastes of the land: both grassy and earthy, yet fragrant and floral.”
The tasting notes for Rhum Agricole describe it as funky with olive and umami notes on the nose. On the palate it is subtly sweet and grassy with hints of citrus and a peppery yet herbaceous finish.
Our Tasting Experience
Our tasting team sampled the Rhum Agricole neat, on the rocks and with a touch of ginger beer and lime zest and these where some of the comments;
Janine says, “The nose was harsher than I expected but, both neat and on the rocks, this rhum is surprisingly gentle. I love the floral notes. With ginger beer and lime zest I get taken back to my childhood and the musk sweets that I used to enjoy. This was my first tasting of a rhum agricole and I am converted! This is a rhum that I will keep in my cabinet.”
Eugene, the master distiller at Brickmakers Distilling Company, says, “This is a very fresh and tasty spirit. I love the grassy notes and can smell and taste the freshly pressed sugar cane.”
Matthew, a research pharmacist by trade, added, “I find wheat, honey and malt on the nose and on the palate I find a sweet tutti-fruity with herbs and biscuits. The ginger beer balances well and creates a refreshing drink.”
As a child I spent many happy holidays on the KwaZulu Natal coast and my dad would occasionally stop on the side of the road to retrieve a few stalks of sugar cane that had fallen off a transport truck. I have many a fond memory of chewing on that raw cane and sucking out its pungent juices.
That same spicy, sweet smell is to be found in Hope Distillery’s Rhum Agricola.
I first tasted Rhum Agricole in Cuba were it is used in the making of mojitos. Whether it was a small, pub frequented by the locals or the big resort hotels showing off Cuban culture, the mojito was extremely popular.
The Rhum Agricola of Cuba was, like the Cubans themselves, a rough and ready spirit. The sugar juice was overwhelmingly powerful on the nose and the palette.
Lucy’s Rhum has those same lovely sugar cane notes, but, as with all her recipes, there is a high level of sophistication. Crazily, the Hope Rhum is both more simple and more complex. Simpler because the sugar cane front is subtle and more complex because so many other less obvious but equally delightful flavours have been allowed to come through.
Neat or on the rocks, I thoroughly enjoyed the Rhum Agricola and I can see many a fun filled experiment on the horizon with mixes and condiments.
If you want to enjoy Rhum Agricole for the party spirit that it is, then try out The Rhum Daiquiri:
50ml Hope Rhum Agricole
15ml fresh lemon or lime juice
10ml sugar syrup
Add the ingredients to a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake until well chilled and strain into a chilled glass.
Garnish with a slice of lime or zest of lemon.