One winter morning, we drove out to the Rhumerie de Chamarel Rum Distillery in the southwestern part of the island, which has the appearance of a French château in the midst of a plantation Agricole. This one, though, is painted in strawberry and Tuscan sun hues rather than the more traditional neutral colors. 300 meters above sea level in a verdant valley, the Rhumerie de Chamarel blossoms in a microclimate that’s all it’s own.
Since 1800, the site’s artisanal distillery, named after Frenchman Charles Antoine de Chazal de Chamarel, has been tending sugarcane spirits. And the French influence is evident throughout. At first impression, the Rhumerie de Chamarel appears to be a charming Estancia from another era, rather than a rum factory.
The estate is strewn with purple flowers, and a coral-like granite sculpture marks the entrance to a stone tower at the end of a small rectangular pool. Architecture by Mauritian Mauricio Giraud blends seamlessly with the breathtaking surroundings. Despite the fact that this distillery is just about 15 years old, the owners have created a lovely ambiance with towers, arches, colorful flower beds, open yards, cobbled paths, and other features. There are only six rum distilleries in Mauritius at the time of this writing, three of which are known for their Agricole Rhums. The Chamarel distillery is one of the most beautiful factories on the earth, with wood, natural stone, and water bringing it closer to nature.
Honestly, the essence of rum became apparent to me on my first day in Mauritius. Today, as I lounge with the Black Gorges breeze on my face, thinking of the approaching ocean, I understand the intricacies of the tropical culture. Everyone on the island of Mauritius has their favorite rum concoction. The brilliant colors of the Mauritius countryside reveal cultural heritage at every turn while at Rhumerie de Chamarel, it all begins with a few rounds of various colored rum on the rocks. The vibrant colors of the Mauritius countryside reveal cultural heritage at every nook and corner whereas, at Rhumerie de Chamarel, it all starts with a few rounds of different colored rum on the rocks.
The Chamarel Royal and Ti Punch are two of the island’s most famous cocktails; wherein one of Chamarel’s specialties is designing comprehensive guest experiences. Chamarel is best described by the French proverb “one c’est bien, deux c’est mieux, trois c’est parfait,” which translates to “one is nice, two are better, three are perfect.” The several glass bottles of various spirits on the bar table, which resemble a tree branch, instantly take you to a dreamy seaside setting from the comforts of mountain encased Rhumerie. However, a glass of French wine is not enough as you gaze out at the breathtaking mountains. Sample Chamarel’s various rum flavours from a shot glass, as I did while sitting here in the tranquil tropics soaking in the beautiful scenery. Mauritian rum has a distinct flavour profile that is sweet, spicy, and velvety smooth.
It will amaze you, regardless of whether you’re familiar with high-end spirits from Barbados, the Philippines, Guyana, or any other country. Visit this distillery to learn about the rum-making process from professionals. A factory tour costs MUR 400 per person per 20 minutes with a guide. My guide, Josie, was a pleasant, middle-aged lady who spoke fluent English. She took me through the factory and explained the remarkable process of extracting and distilling sugarcane juice. Mauritius is also a pod nation, with plenty of coffee and vanilla to bring home.
A Distiller’s Guide to Making Rhum
Each sip from a kill devil Rumbullion in my hands brought back recollections of the factory tour I’d just assumed. Rhumerie de Chamarel, near Seven Colours Earth, makes traditional Rhum in a boutique setting while also growing sugarcane, vanilla, tea, and other crops. There are only six distilleries on the island. But what distinguishes them is that at least three of them also produce rhum Agricole, the elusive agricultural rum made from sugarcane juice, which is more seasonal and valuable than the Rhum industriel we’re all familiar with! Agricultural rhum, an austere, more flavourful product, is now protected under French and EU legislation. And what better way to learn about traditional Rhum production than to visit one of the estates that produce it traditionally?
Mauritian rum, like that of Barbados and Santo Domingo, is the result of sugarcane farming and indentured labour. Sugarcane is hand-harvested, seemingly at daylight, with the juiciest cane selected, processed, and the juice fermented into the spirit. It is then, distilled in a copper alembic. The copper pot still, as it is known, is an old method of distillation that preserves the flavours of the original ingredients, as opposed to current column distillation. The resulting spirit is used to age, blend, and create various Rhums. While few people are familiar with Mauritius’ Rhum, the relatively new business is growing, and its boutique offerings are becoming increasingly sought after. All Rhumeries in Mauritius has tasting rooms where you can try a variety of spirits.
But the sordid underbelly!
The slave trade was, of all, the sordid underbelly of the now fashionable spirit. It worked like a triangulation at its peak; Carib colonies transferred barrels of molasses to Europe, where it was distilled into rum, and then used to purchase slaves from Africa and ship them to work on sugar estates. Mauritius was the starting point for a new social experiment. Instead of slavery, which was annulled following the French Revolution, British colonialists hired indentured labourers on a contract basis to work on the plantations. As you take in the brick walls, remote cells, and ledgers of the labour force, the overwhelming enormity of this social experiment will hit you.
Rum’s Resurrection in the Modern Era
In recent years, rum’s reputation has improved. Aged and infused spirits are no longer regarded as unrefined; instead, they are better packaged, traded, and downed with pride. Unlike whiskey, which is typically judged by its “smoothness,” rum should always have a bite to it and should never be overly sweet. Before I set foot in Mauritius, I had only a faint idea of all of this. When it comes to drinking rum, are there any guidelines to follow? Striking a balance between smooth and edgy, whatever your inclination, is difficult because there are so many drinks to choose from, ranging from light to dark to gold, treacly to round and spicy.
Chamarel Rhumeries offers a wide range of liqueurs and rums, as well as coffee and spices grown locally. After getting high on the samples, who can resist their produce? I didn’t. Their popular coconut and coffee rhums make great cocktail bases. You may either drink the rhums straight up or use them to spice up your cocktails. Coffee, vanilla, lime, gold, coconut and spices make house rums, and practically everyone you encounter is a rhum enthusiast! Rum is a fantastic fit for the Mauritius way of tropical life; it’s steeped in the island’s heritage, that is why, during your trip, you should try at least one rum cocktail and also bring back a bottle to share with your loved ones. I brought some Coffee and Coconut liqueur back with me, and it’s been rhum’o’clock since then. Salutations! Here’s to staying positive and testing negative!
Written by Veidehi Gite.
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