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» 01 Nov 2010

Nestled in a beautiful valley in the south west of Mauritius, approximately six hundred meters above sea level, lies the seemingly quiescent Rhumerie de Chamarel. With smoke from the chimney rising lackadaisically into the air, the scene would make a perfect setting for a painting by Constable.

But the rhumerie is in fact a bustling hive of activity, as soon becomes evident with a guided tour.

Two years in the concept, development and design stage and one under construction, the rhumerie produces “agricultural” rum from sugar cane juice, rather than “industrial” rum which is made from molasses. Twenty to twenty five tons of cane can be processed per day, producing about twenty five thousand litres of sugar cane juice and five hundred thousand litres of rum annually.

The Rhumerie de Chamarel is distinguished by being one of only a handful of companies in the world to grow its own sugar cane at a single (fifty hectare) location. This has the benefit of helping to ensure a more consistent flavour throughout the season and from year to year and gives the brand a very well defined product.  

The manufacture of rum begins with harvesting the sugar cane from the fields and bringing it as quickly as possible to the rhumerie, in order to maintain the quality and quantity of the juice.
Once at the factory, the cane is hand fed onto the levelling machine which feeds it into a machine tenderises the cane by hammering it, this allows more juice to be extracted.

The third machine on the conveyor belt is the mill. This crushes the cane between two rollers, squeezing the juice out and collecting it to be sent onwards for fermentation in vats, each of which can hold twenty thousand litres. Fermentation takes place over the course of thirty six to forty eight hours using organic yeast to accelerate the process of converting the sugar into alcohol. Chilled water is used to regulate the temperature in the vats.

The technical name for the product resulting from fermentation is “wine” – but you wouldn't want to drink it! It has an alcoholic content of four to five percent and must be distilled in order to complete the rum manufacturing process.

The distillation workshop involves two methods of distilling, “double distillation” and “single” or “column” distillation. The former involves placing the wine in a two thousand five hundred litre alembic and heating it to produce vapours which are then collect via condensation; the resulting liquid  is about forty five percent alcohol. The process is then repeated in a second identical vessel but the vapours collected this time have a seventy percent alcohol content and the liquid produced is called the “coeur de chauffe”.

Single distillation is a form of fractional distillation and is used to manufacture white rum. The vessel containing the wine is divided by twenty four plates and the condensate collected at each plate has a slightly different colour, texture, flavour and alcohol content compared to the others, resulting in the production of various types of rum.

The final stage in rum manufacture is simply to store the rum in oak barrels for three years to allow osmosis to take place – that is if you want an old rum. For a white rum, it is allowed to “rest” for three months, during which time non-essential alcohol will evaporate and water is added to bring the final solution down to a nicely palatable fifty percent alcohol by volume. “Dark” rum can be produced by ageing the liquid in oak barrels but only for around six months.

I found the whole manufacturing process to be very interesting to say the least, but there is more to  Rhumerie de Chamarel than rum production! There is, of course, a shop where you can buy a mind-boggling variety of different rums, as well as some interesting items produced in Mauritius and elsewhere. Their restaurant, L’Alchimiste, is well worth a visit. It can seat eighty people and serves fine organic produce, grown, or raised, on the rhumerie's own estate. This includes food like wild boar, deer, chicken and duck, as well as the usual vegetables.

It might interest you to note that the rhumerie itself can be hired in the evenings for things such as weddings, birthdays or other special occasions. They will cater for twenty to approximately one hundred people and bookings must be made in advance. The Rhumerie de Chamarel is well worth a visit and has the added bonus of being located in a very beautiful part of the country, close to the Seven Coloured Earths. A visit includes rum tasting afterwards (undoubtedly the best I've ever had) so make sure you have a designated driver!

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