Posted by: oysterculture | February 14, 2009

Rhum’s the Word

I’ve had many encounters with rum in my day, in my mojitos, margaritas, fart tunnels (ahem, college) you name it.  These beverages came in dark, light, spiced and all the colors in between, and of course tasting these rums was the libation equivalent of island hopping through the Caribbean:  Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Jamaica.  But it was not until I traveled to Martinique and discovered rhum, that my eyes were opened.  The difference in taste is that significant.  I’m sorry, rum, but your days are over.


Martinique distilleries produce the only rums in the world with their own AOC (Appellation d’Origine Controlee) a certification used by the French government to classify quality agriculture products.  To meet the requirements, it must be made of 100% sugarcane juice, and emerge from the distillery at a relatively low proof, < 72%.  The low proof allows the flavor of the sugar cane to survive the distillation process.  Also, the rum must be aged in oak barrels, and the addition of additives is prohibited. The AOC has numbers assigned that impart a great deal of information, if you take the time to study them

Guadaloupe and French Guyana (Guyanne) also  make rhum this way, but this method is definitely in the minority, as only 3% of the rum produced is made from sugar cane without the sugar extracted.  The rest of the world’s rum is made from molasses or concentrated syrup.

Martinique rhum comes in two categories:

  1. rhum blanc (white rum) – rests in vats for ~ 3 months before bottling
  2. rhum vieux(aged rum) – stored between 3 to 15 years in a charred-oak barrel which imparts a distinct flavor.  This rum is typically served neat.

How does Martinique rhum differ from other rums produced in the Caribbean? 

They all started generally the same way, major sugar produces in the 18th century discovered that molasses – a by-product of sugar making when fermented and distilled yielded a potent liquor.  A fine example of sustainability – an industrial waste turned into liquid pleasure.  In the 19th century, Martinique distillers turned their approach to rum in another direction.  Sugar beets had replaced sugar cane as the source of sugar, so they were determined to make the cane fields viable in another way – they produced rum directly from the sugarcane juice.   In the development, they found that by using the sugarcane juice rather than the molasses, they could produce a lower proof  beverage which retained the wonderful characteristics of the sugarcane.  The higher proof is required for the molasses based rum to prevent the carryover of the sulfurous tastes naturally found in the molasses. 

Martinique rhum is not readily available in the United States.  You can get it, you may need to search.  I had no trouble finding it in Europe, especially France.

When we were in Martinique, we pretty much drank rhum one way, everyday, and that was in ti (pronouced “tea”) punch.  Our consumption was purely for medicinal benefits, we did not want to succumb to a tropical fever.  
Martinique (photo from

Martinique (photo from

My impression, is that anyone that has been to Martinique knows of, or has tried, ti punch.  So to get some exposure, and possibly inpress your friends, here is a recipe from the the Nelson Distillery (one of the main rhum blanc producers on the island).  You’re on your own for providing the atmosphere.  But when I taste my first sip of that wonderful concoction, my eyes drift shut, and my my mind wanders back to … ah – those incredible carribean beaches, the warm sand between my toes, and the lush warm nights scented by the bourgainvillia.  I’m back in Martinique!  

te punch ingredients (photo from

ti punch ingredients (photo from

Ti Punch for one

  • 2 0z.  rhum blanc
  • 1/2 tsp. sugarcane syrup
  • 1 lime

Thinly slice off one of the sides of the lime, so you have a circle of peel with some pulp attached.  Squeeze the slice into a tall glass, add the rhum and syrup.  Stir vigorously.  Enjoy!

a key ingredient in Martinique cusines (photo from corbis)

a key ingredient in Martinique cusines (photo from corbis)

One dish sure to go well with the ti punch is this shimp and coconut dish from the handy cookbook by Stephanie Ovide, entitled French Caribbean Cusine.  The food on Martinique is primarily French or Creole, which means you cannot go wrong.  It is delicious, and definitely compliments the rhum. 

Shrimp with Coconut

serves 4


  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1/2 c chopped onion
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 3 c chopped tomato
  • 1/2 c dry white wine
  • 1 T fresh thyme
  • 2 bay leaves (fresh if you can get it)
  • 1 T chopped Scotch Bonnet pepper
  • 1 T salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1 can (14 oz) coconut milk
  • 1 pound jumbo shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • 1/4 c grated coconut

Heat oil in frying pan.  Add onion and garlic, and cover.  Cook over medium heat for 5-10 minutes.  Stir in tomatoes, white wine, thyme, and bay leaves.  Season with Scotch Bonnet pepper, salt and pepper.  Simmer for 5 minutes.  Add the coconut milk and simmer for another 10 minutes. 

Stir in shrimp.  Sprinkle with grated coconut, and simmer for another 10 minutes.  Serve hot over rice.

We cooked meals some nights and they featured a lot of grilled shrimp.  We marinated the shrimp in olive oil, garlic, lime juice, minced Scotch Bonnet pepper and salt.  We grilled them and served those tasty morsels with rice and a lovely aioli.



  1. Purely for medicinal purposes you say? I must get me some of that medicine 🙂

  2. I swear by it, we were not sick one. Healthy as oxes =)

  3. […] of carbon for in situ remediation of  hydrocarbons, act as the base fermentation material for rum, and even be used as a minor component for brick work.  I had some suspicions about that last use […]

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