Unveiling Rum in Reunion Island

Exactly a year ago, I stepped onto the mystical Reunion in the Indian ocean. A place etched in my memory forever.

Home to one of the most active volcanos of the world, Reunion Island is a seven hour flight from Chennai and a visa on arrival for Indians. The magical French touch and the endemic life species took me by surprise. I instantly fell in love with the place. What awaits you here? Breathtaking landscapes, snow capped mountains, extraordinary tropical forests, cirques (craters) and ramparts, marvelous natural park and more.

No matter how long you stay in Reunion island, one thing you are sure to taste just like I did - the rhum réunionnais- native to the island.

Peek into the history of rum in Reunion Island

The production of rum dates back to the 17th century with the advent of sugar cane plantations on the island by the inhabitants of the Bourbon island. However, the first stills, the machines used to distil sugarcane juice to obtain rum, were introduced in Reunion Island in 1704. Charles Panon-Desbassayns built the most sophisticated sugar cane mill of the island in the region of Chaudron in the year 1815. Ever since, the inhabitants produce rum from a by-product of the local sugar industry: molasses. La Saga du Rhum (External link) - the only museum dedicated to the history and evolution of rum of Reunion island is a must visit on your trip.

The Process

Almost all rum is produced from sugar cane. It is produced by either the distillation of sugar cane juice to obtain agricultural rum (le rhum agricole) or by the distillation of fermented molasses to obtain industrial or traditional rum (le rhum industriel ou le rhum traditonnel). The product can then be stored for eighteen months inside oak barrels to obtain old rum or can be stored in stainless steel tanks for three months to obtain white rum. Water is added to lower the alcohol content (typically 40% to 55%) and to get the right balance between alcohol and flavours.

Producers of rum on the island today

Today, three rum distilleries dominate the local rum production in Reunion Island: in Saint-André is the Savanna distillery, the Rivière du Mat distillery in Saint-Benoît and the Isautier distillery in Saint-Pierre. The famous Rhum Charrette is produced by all the three distilleries. The other well-known brands of these distilleries to look out for on your next trip are: Savanna rums, which is a brand that consists of more than 12 different rums, the Rivière du Mât, Isautier, Chatel, Varangues and Belle-Vue rums. Typically, agricultural rum is used in cocktails and traditional rum in infused rums.

Relishing le rhum réunionnais

Le Rhum réunionnais is an essential component of an indulgent stay on the island. While old rum is enjoyed au naturel as an aperitif or digestif, white rum is ideal for making a punch, macerated rum or cocktails like mojitos, as well as in cooking to add flavour to certain dishes, cakes and pancakes. The Savanna distillery is specialised in old rums. Inhabitants of Reunion Island also make ‘Rhum Arrangé (macerated rum)’, where delectable aromas, fruits or spices of herbs are macerated in the rum for some time before its consumption. Isautier -with their experience of over 170 years, develops innovative infused-rum recipes regularly. Their Ginger-Lemon and Guyave-Rooibos or Banane-Flambée are the ones to try. The rum punch is renowned for its conviviality. Served chilled, it is particularly appreciated by women and is perfect for parties and sharing with friends.

Doing it yourself!

Follow this simple Ti’Punch recipe by Isautier.

Ingredients for one person:

  • 50 ml Rhum Blanc Traditionnel Agricole Isautier 55° (55° Isautier white rum agricole)

  • 1/2 lime

  • 2 tablespoons sugar

  • 2 ice cubes

  • Preparation:

  • In a glass, crush the sliced lime with a pestle.

  • Add the rum, the sugar and the ice cubes, then stir for a few seconds with a spoon before serving.

Would you like to try making your own rhum arrangé? What’s interesting is that the only rule for making your own flavoured rum is to let your imagination wander and create magic in the drink. Créole families on the island have been experimenting and passing on their own concoctions of infused rum through generations. For those who do not trust their cocktail making skills; local markets (External link) especially the one in Saint Paul on the West Coast has vendors selling pouches with everything you need to create the perfect rhum arrangé or even better is buying a bottle from the local liquor stores or the distilleries.

Don’t forget to toast before you sip it up!

Santé! 😉