Getting to Know Rhum Agricole, Rum’s Grassy Sibling

get to know rhum agricole clement with cigar
Clement Rhum/Facebook

The world of spirits is an amazing place, but it can be confusing at times.

Rhum agricole, or simply rhum, is a specific type of rum which is made from fresh sugar cane juice rather than molasses.

In the current state of the spirits industry, previously lesser-known or unknown types of booze are making their presence felt in a pretty big way. The historic diversity of aperitifs and agave-based spirits are becoming more well known. In the world of rum, one of the most essential spirits, rhum agricole, is grabbing attention.

Rhum agricole, or simply rhum, is a specific type of rum which is made from fresh sugar cane juice rather than molasses.

Historically, rhum was developed on the French-influenced Caribbean islands, such as Haiti and Martinique. Rhum made on Martinique can be labeled as AOC Martinique Rhum Agricole, a protected designation of origin, or appellation d’origine controlle. But rhum from fresh cane juice can be made anywhere.

The rum style using cane juice is also made in other Caribbean islands, as well as some in the Indian Ocean — and increasingly in the U.S.

The AOC rhum is distilled to around 70 percent alcohol by volume and aged for at least three months but can be aged for years in barrels. When bottled, the spirit is proofed down to between 40 to 55 percent. Rhum comes in all the same age iterations that rum normal does, and can be used similarly.

Rhums are generally more vegetal than the sweeter molasses-based rums and can be a bit harsh if sipped neat. The freshness of the base product of fresh pressed sugar cane juice can provide more nuanced flavors based on terroir, depending on a taster’s palate. For those that are into sour beers, they can be grassy with a little bit of funk. Rhum agricole works well in pretty much any rum cocktails, but especially in those that complement the vegetal notes by using other fresh product, like a mojito.

As with most global spirits, American craft distillers are also trying their hand at making rhum agricoles. Below, you’ll find a couple different rhum agricoles that you’ll be able to find on most good liquor store shelves.

Classic Martinique Rhum Agricole

get to know rhum agricole jm  classic martinique v2
Rhum JM/Facebook

There are a few rhum agricoles from Martinique fairly widely available in the U.S.: Rhum J.M., Rhum Neisson, Saint James and Rhum Clément, all of which have rich histories of production. Rhum J.M., dating back to 1845, makes 11 varieties of rhum agricole, from the base Sirop J.M. to its 15-Year Vintage. Neisson is younger than many Caribbean distilleries, starting in 1931, but Neisson’s rhums have garnered plenty of attention in the category. Dating back to 1765, Saint James makes a range of white and golden rums, old, and extra old rums and a line of “distillery collection” rhums. The rhums differ in aging vessels, aging times and span a huge flavor spectrum full of grassy and fruity notes. Around for more than 125 years, Rhum Clément is one the most respected rhum agricole producers, and releases styles from its Premiére Canne, a clear rhum aged nine months in stainless steel, to its Cuvée Homère, featuring the distillery’s best vintages of the past 15 years aged in French Limousin barrels and re-charred bourbon barrels.

American Rhum

get to know rhum agricole kohana hawaiian rum the manual spirit awards runner up
Dan Baker/The Manual

Meanwhile, St. George Spirits of gin fame (also flavored vodka fame here on The Manual) in California makes a California agricole and Kō Hana utilizes Hawaii’s tropical climate to make Hawaiian Agricole (which was a runner up in 2018’s Spirit Awards). In Louisiana, Three Roll Estate, formerly Cane Land Distilling, makes its rhum agricole three months of the year during the sugar cane harvest. South Carolina’s High Wire Distilling has also released its seasonal Lowcountry Agricole, made from sugar cane sourced from its home state.

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