While molasses can be shipped anywhere, sugar cane begins to degrade almost as soon as it is harvested, so fresh cane rums are made close to the fields and farmers often prioritize sustainability. This creates a gap with most sugarcane crops, which is often hard on the environment. Copalli, for example, wanted to avoid cutting down the rainforest for agriculture and instead converted old citrus arbors and other wasteland into sugar cane fields. And while commercial sugarcane growers often burn their fields to facilitate harvesting, creating air pollution and other negative impacts, artisanal distillers, including copalli and Hawaii Kuleana Rum Works and Kō Hana Distillers not. Many producers of fresh cane rum also use organic methods.
Where does fresh sugar cane rum come from?
While the traditional homeland of fresh cane rum centers on Martinique, Guadeloupe and other French Caribbean islands, today it is made at distilleries in the region and further afield. There are distillers putting their own spin on fresh cane rums in Australia, South Africa, Thailand and beyond, as well as areas of the United States where sugar cane grows, such as Louisiana. , Florida, South Carolina, California and Hawaii.
Although historically rhum agricole was not based on slave labor – and one of the style’s most important ancestors, Homer Clement, was a black man who founded his distillery in 1917 – many modern distilleries are located in areas where the brutal history of sugar cane still resonates. When Renegade Rum started a few years ago in Grenada, the company found that local farmers were afraid to grow sugar cane. “[It was for] for a whole host of reasons, including historical baggage and stigma, but essentially agriculture and sugar cane were neglected areas from a development perspective,” says Jane Nurse, who leads marketing and environmental communications at Renegade. There had been little investment in the mechanization and modernization of sugar cane farming on the island, and farmers were wary of outside investors who made big promises but never delivered. Eventually, the company founded the CaneCo subsidiaryhiring locals to grow different varieties of sugarcane and bringing the whole process, from field to bottle, in-house.
How is fresh sugar cane rum made?
Fresh sugar cane rum must be fermented and distilled a day or two after cutting, so it is only made where the cane actually grows, at harvest time. The cane stalks are fed into a mill to extract the juice and separate it from the pulpy by-product, called bagasse, which is often then used as biofuel or compost. The sugar cane juice is then fermented with wild or cultured yeast and then distilled. For agricultural rum from Martinique, a specific type of still called alembic créole must be used; producers who do not follow Martinique’s official AOC may use pots, columns, or other types of stills. After distillation, unaged rum can be proofed with water and then directly bottled, although most distilleries also fill barrels to mature. Maturation can last only a few months, or up to a decade or more.
What does fresh sugar cane rum taste like?
If you are used to conventional dark rums, spiced rums or Bacardí, the first taste of a fresh cane rum will surprise you. Often described as grassy, since sugar cane is a type of grass, these rums have a grassy, earthy funk that encompasses a wide range of other notes, from pineapple to black pepper. And while they may smell sweet, there’s little to no residual sugar.