Rhum Clément is a leading producer of A.O.C. Martinique Rhum Agricole. The opposite of industrial rum distilled from molasses, rhum agricole is a true representation of what it means to be pure, natural rhum. Rhum Agricole begins with the finest selection of sugarcanes, which are then pressed to extract a free-run aromatic sugarcane juice, distilled into a crisp and earthy vegetal spirit from the world renowned terroir of Martinique.
RHUM CLÉMENT TIMELINE
- Homère Clément, physician and mayor of Le François, bought the prestigious 300 acre sugar plantation, Domaine de L’Acajou, and pioneered rhum agricole, natural rhum made from the fresh free-run sugarcane juice.
- After the death of Homère Clément, his son, Charles Clément studied distillation at the famous Louis Pasteur School and returned to perfect his father’s rhum. It was Charles Clément who introduced Rhum Clément outside Martinique and developed France as the first great market for rhum agricole outside the Caribbean.
- Charles Clément is succeeded by his sons, George-Louis, who was in charge of production, and his two brothers: Jean-Jose and Marcel-Andre, who increased the visibility of Rhum Clément throughout the Caribbean, Europe, Central and South America, and North America.
- Rhum Clément is sold to the Hayot family, who remain close to the Clément family, in order to keep Habitation Clément in Martinique’s hands and deter outside conglomerates to purchase the company. The Hayot family continues to maintain the heritage, culture and passion of the Clément family and Rhum Clément.
- Rhum Clément re-enters the U.S. market under the direction of Benjamin Mélin-Jones, nephew of Homère Clément, with three rhums from the Clément portfolio: Rhum Clément Première Canne, Rhum Clément V.S.O.P. Rum and Rhum Clément Liqueur Créole Shrubb.
Rhum Agricole is only produced 2 months out of the year from fresh sugarcane juice and is exclusive to the French West Indies.
Rhum Clément is made from the best selection of the finest sugarcane from Habitation Clément. The harvest time for sugarcane begins at the end of February and finishes sometime in the beginning of May, making this the most important time in the production period.The sugarcaneis harvested as low to the ground as possible in order to get the highest concentration of sucrose. The distillery is within view of the fields to ensure freshness.
Hand selected sugarcanes are crushed to get their natural free-run juice, or Vesou. Organic field yeasts from the sugarcane begin the controlled open-top fermentation. The fermentation period can be anywhere from twenty-four hours to as long as seventy-two hours, resulting in Vin de Canne, or sugar wine, of anywhere between five and nine percent ABV. Fermentation into this sugary wine is what develops the full-bodied flavors and aromas. The longer the fermentation process, the higher the concentration of the aroma.
The Rhum Agricole is distilled in a small single-column copper still, which allows for the strength of the spirit to remain low. The length of the distillation as well as the strength of the Vin de Canne, plays an important part in this process, as does the physical makeup of the still. Small stills produce a heavy and low strength spirit, while the tall stills yields a higher strength and lighter spirit.
Rhum Blanc and Preparation for Ageing
After distillation, the fresh cane spirit is placed in stainless steel tanks to mellow. Each stainless steel tank has a small perforated pipe and a release valve at the top. A stream of filtered air flows gently through the pipe, creating tiny bubbles which pass through the rhum. This removes any unpleasant esters, which could take away from the full-bodied flavor of the rhum. Over a period of nine months, the rhum is reduced gently with slow agitations in preparation for ageing or bottling.
The Barrels, the Rhum and the Time
A complex mix of Limousin and American oak barrels are used to age Clement rhum. The alchemy of rhum and wood orchestrated by the cellar master is what gives Rhum Clément its distinctive character. The use of the two varied woods impart their characteristically intense fragrance and fine complex aromas as well as their lively persisting flavors.
During this maturing period, the tannin in the barrels lends its amber color to the rhum. After being placed in the barrels and stored in the cellars, the rhum begins to age. Due to the intense tropical climate of Martinique, there is a rapid loss of rhum that evaporates through the barrel. This is commonly known as the “Angel’s Share”. Each barrel is topped off continually with rhum from the same vintage.
Homère Clément became ‘The Father of Rhum Agricole” when he purchased Domaine de l’Acajou in Le Francois, Martinique and converted it into a Rhum Agricole plantation and distillery. At the height of the great sugar crisis, sugar production had come to a halt and the molasses, from which rhum was distilled, was no longer available.
Homère analyzed and mimicked the Grand Cru wine producers in France and the distillers of the great Armagnacs and Cognacs to perfect his method of rhum production known today as Rhum Agricole. He treated the sugarcane like a fruit and pressed them like grapes to extract their fresh natural juice and fermented a wine to distill into an eau de vie from sugar cane.
Rhum Agricole begins with only freshly-squeezed sugarcane juice, which can only be made when the sugarcane is at its peak of maturity, limiting production to a short season of just over two months. The sugarcane is pressed to extract the juice, which naturally ferments with organic yeast extracted from the cane stalks, producing Vin de Canne or sugar wine.
The result is a pure spirit derived directly from sugarcane, encompassing the natural aromas and earthy and vegetal character that is only present in A.O.C. Martinique Rhum Agricole.
Since 1996, the agricultural rhum from Martinique are the only rums granted with a French Appellation d’Origine Controlée (A.O.C.). A.O.C. Martinique Rhum Agricole is at the top of the official French quality scale and must comply with legal restrictions on cane varieties, yield, distillation, ageing, and especially production zone.
HOMÉRE CLÉMENT, “THE FATHER OF RHUM AGRICOLE”
Homère Clement was born in 1852 in Trinité, a small town on the east coast of Martinique. Attending school at the Lycée of Saint-Pierre, Homère excelled in his studies and received a scholarship from the French government to attend the University of Paris, where he studied medicine. He is one of the first ever “non-white” to graduate from medical school in France.
In 1878 he returned to Martinique where he practiced medicine in Le François and was the first “colored” physician in Martinique. He was adored on the island by all of the locals for his achievements against the “color barrier” and he had tremendous support and devotion from the locals.
In 1885, Homère Clement was elected mayor of Le François during the worst economic and political time of Martinique, the great sugar crisis.
In 1887 he bought Domaine de l’Acajou, a 300 acre sugar plantation now known as Habitation Clément. Homère had alternate thoughts for his newly purchased estate. The planter’s harvested sugarcane not to produce sugar, but to press the sugarcane to distill rum from the pure and flavorful juice. This revolutionary idea to produce rhum directly from sugarcane coined Homère ‘The Father of Rhum Agricole.’
Homère married Marie Mélin, the daughter of the town’s pharmacist in 1891. He continued his political triumphs and became a political activist in the Republican Party as a moderate deprogiste. In 1897, he received the honorable position, Legion Ruban.
Because he was the only political leader to survive the eruption of Mt. Pelèe in 1902, the people turned to him again for leadership in this horrific time of turmoil. He was a crucial voice to the French government to ask for financial aid to help re-build the northern half of the island. He died in 1923, but his legend as a hero still lives in Martinique.
HABITATION CLÉMENT – A LONG-STANDING HISTORY
Martinique has always had the reputation of being the best terroir for sugarcane cultivation, long before Homère Clément had the imaginative idea to press these sugarcanes to produce rhum agricole. Domaine de l’Acajou was purchased in 1887 at the peak of the sugar crisis.
The value of the sugar from Martinique was too high, which forced the European markets to source less expensive sugar from Central and South America. As a result, the local economy, which was driven by the principle cash crop of sugar, was in shambles. Many planters were out of work and took to the streets rioting against the plantation owners. What once was a rich and lively island was quickly mired in economic despair.
At this time, Homère Clément was a very popular member of the Martinican community and the mayor of Le Francois. He purchased the prestigious sugar plantation known as Domaine de l’Acajou just 3 km’s from the center of Le Francois.
This 300 acre estate was considered one of the best sugar plantations on the island of Martinique. But as it was stuck in poor and stagnate sugar economy, it was forced into bankruptcy by financier Georges du Prey de la Ruffinière.
Homère Clément made the necessary investments and transformed one of the islands most prestigious sugar plantations into a rhum distillery. He had the planters return to the fields to harvest sugarcane once again, not to refine sugar; but to press these high quality sugarcanes to extract the free-run aromatic and flavorful cane juice to distill pure rhum.
Habitation Clément soon became the Mecca of rhum agricole and today receives an average of 180,000 thousand spirit enthusiasts and rhum aficionados each year who visit the distillery and taste barrel samples in the cellars.
Habitation Clément offers an experience for all. The culture is rich and many people come to see the Créole antiques and architecture as well as the museum of rum, which symbolizes the rich cultural heritage of both Rhum Clément and Martinique.