A Primer on Rum: What Is “Rhum Agricole”?

Most commercial rums—the ones that conjure up images of peg-legged pirates with snarky parrots on their shoulders—are made from molasses. The ultimate sipping rum, Vizcaya VXOP, however, is crafted from pure sugar cane, and therefore is classified as a rhum agricole.

The literal translation of rhum agricole is “agricultural rum”—which provides a hint to the spirit’s genesis. Rather than using the molasses which is created as a byproduct of the sugar refining industry, rhum agricole begins with the sugar cane itself, which is harvested at the peak of its maturity, during the short dry season of the tropics.

Botanically speaking, sugar cane is a perennial grass of the genus Saccharum, and is characterized by jointed, fibrous stalks that grow to between six and 19 feet tall. Since it requires a tropical or temperate climate, it is primarily grown in Asia, the Carribean and the Mediterranean.

Sugar cane can be harvested mechanically or by hand. Did you know that a skilled harvester, using a cane knife or machete, can cut 1,100 pounds of sugar cane per hour?

After the harvest, the sugar cane stalks are crushed to release their aromatic juice, which is then fermented. Next comes distillation. Most rhum agricole is distilled to about 70 percent alcohol, which helps ensure that the rum retains all of the full-bodied character of the sugar cane and its fresh, vibrant flavor.

Another crucial part of the production process is aging in oaken barrels. Vizcaya VXOP is aged in casks that once held fine armagnac; it is this maturing period that gives the rum its warm, earthy, golden character and notes of spice and vanilla. As with many spirits, aging the rum also allows it to develop a more complex taste, making it ideal for sipping. Purists feel that rhum agricole should be taken neat, or perhaps with a little ice or water. Others like to gild the lily and use a rhum agricole like Vizcaya VXOP to make their favorite cocktail that much more delectable. Nevertheless, everyone can agree that this is a rum to be savored, not swilled.

So leave the cheap stuff to those who fancy themselves pirates. Spirits aficianados know that the real treasure is in a glass of luxurious rhum agricole—like Vizcaya VXOP.

Published in: on June 8, 2010 at 11:32 AM  Leave a Comment  
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