Travel: Martinique - All Roads Lead to Rhum ; Martinique Is Celebrated as Producer of Premium-Quality Drink

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Travel: Martinique - All Roads Lead to Rhum ; Martinique Is Celebrated as Producer of Premium-Quality Drink


One might say that rum is to Martinique as moonshine is to Tennessee. Martinique is generally known as a tropical paradise for sun and sea, but the lush, French Caribbean island is also celebrated as a producer of premium quality rum. Like many of its island neighbors, Martinique has deeply rooted tradition in the legendary drink, so much that the locals boast, "All roads lead to rhum." Flanked by the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, the 425- square-mile island is an overseas department of France and home to 10 prestigious rum distilleries, tucked among rain forest hills and coastal towns. Touring the distilleries leads one through a fascinating part of island culture, highlighting the history of the preferred spirits of colonial seafarers and sailors. Rum lovers can follow Martinique's informal Route des Rhums for distillery tours and tastings at award-winning craft producers including Neisson, Clement, and J.M. Rhum. And vacationers who prefer beach time over the tasting room will find a selection of Martinican rums on bar and restaurant menus, along with the island's signature drink - Ti- Punch - made with rum, sugarcane syrup and lime zest.

In French, the word decollage means to launch or take off, and in Martinique, the decollage is a morning Ti-Punch to start the day.

Distinguished rum

Though Martinique produces only about 2 percent of the world's rum, its brands are distinctive in that they are made in the "agricole" method from pure sugarcane juice, as opposed to industrial rum produced from molasses, a byproduct of sugar production. Martinique's rhum agricole (agricultural rum) is known for rich aroma and fresh flavor, and it is often sipped straight, as one would sip a vintage brandy.

Rum making on Martinique began in the 17th century, but the agricole method was discovered in the late 1800s as a result of beet sugar becoming readily available in Europe, causing sugarcane prices and Caribbean exports to plummet. In order to survive, sugarcane growers had to find a way to make other products from sugarcane, so they began making rum directly from fresh pressed sugarcane juice in place of sugar production.

Martinican rums have been awarded the French AOC designation (Appellation d'Origine Controllee), meeting protocols for the type of sugarcane used, production methods and the aging process. The designation means that the French government monitors Martinique rum production with strict guidelines similar to those applied to French wines, spirits and cheeses.

Follow Route des Rhums

With a couple of days to explore, it generally works well to select a few distilleries to tour, based on proximity to one's accommodations and other nearby attractions. Visitors will learn about how sugarcane is hand-cut in the field, crushed, juiced, fermented and aged. The final stop is the tasting room for discovering a range of fragrances and flavors found in barrel-aged rum and the younger white rums. …

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