Martinique French West Indies
The first successful settlers arrived in Martinique in the middle of the seventeenth century and brought sugar cane sprouts from St. Kitts. When an epidemic threatened the success of the new colony, thirty-year-old Jean-Baptiste Labat, a Dominican priest from Paris, was dispatched to the French West Indies.
On the 28th of January, 1694, Père Labat arrived at St. Pierre on board the French ship La Loire after surviving an eight-hour battle engagement with the English ship The Chester. He brought with him the latest advances in distillation technology to be used in the production of alcohol at the Charity Hospital of Monks. His arrival marked a change in the production of alcohol in the French islands. Even three hundred years later, many surviving traditions are still credited to Père Labat.
As in the other French islands, you will find clear rhum agricole and dark rhum vieux in Martinique. You will also see other classifications that are not as common on the other islands. Millésimé is a designation some of the distilleries use on the labels to designate a particular year. Millésimé 1979, for example, describes an aged rhum that was distilled in 1979. Hors d’ Age is usually a blend of several rhums that have aged longer than other rhum vieux and cost slightly more than the unblended rhum vieux. Très Vieux, literally means very old, generally 10 to 15 years. Très Vieux rhums may be more expensive than Hors d’ Age, depending on the age of the blend. Currently, there are no standard criteria for these designations and they vary according to the distiller.
Several distilleries sell alcohol to blenders and bottlers in France where the rhum is sold as Martinique rhum. In the US I have seen a lot of rhums that claim to be from Martinique but one taste denies their origin. Actually these rhums are made in Martinique but aren’t the carefully produced agricole rhums you will find here. To clear the confusion new regulations have been adopted by the distillers. Look for the words “Apellation d’Origine Contrôlée Martinique.” All rhum agricole bottled in Martinique after May 31, 1997 must carry these words on the label.
Martinique has more distilleries than any of the other Eastern Caribbean islands. Plan on seeing at least one. It could easily be the highlight of your vacation.