Spirit of the French Caribbean
Updated: Jul 13, 2020
Martinique is a rugged Caribbean island that’s part of the Lesser Antilles, which is the volcanic Arc of the Caribbean where the North American plate and the Caribbean plate collide. An overseas region of France and it is totally French, but with the tropical Creole twist. Martinique offers dramatic mountains, beautiful beaches, breathtaking natural beauty as 30% of the land is covered in lush green rainforests, 31 protected hiking trails, canyoning adventures and every other conceivable water sport.
North of Martinique is Dominica, an independent nation and then its sister Guadeloupe; a little further north are your French speaking islands of Saint Barthelemy and Saint Martin. So if you are missing a little bit of “Je ne sais quoi” you can catch an easy flight south.
Martinique’s largest town, Fort-de-France, features steep hills, narrow streets and La Savane, a garden bordered by shops and cafes. The most famous island native is Joséphine de Beauharnais, first wife of Napoleon Bonaparte. Another woman that has ruled over Martinique is Mt. Pelee, she is what is called a stratovolcano in the north of the island. In 1902 there was pyroclastic blast which in minutes burned a huge area and killed 29,000 people. Since then she has been quiet but we still keep an eye on her.
Something else that is unique to Martinique is a different kind of spirit, Rhum. No, not Rum! Rhum Agricole (agricultural) is the traditional spirit made of straight sugarcane juice. Rum is based on byproducts of cane sugar. The cane has to be processed to produce sugar, and this processing produces a syrupy fluid known as molasses or black treacle and it is this by product that is used to make rum, which is sweeter like the Cuban style. Only 3% of the world’s rum is made by this Agricole method using fresh sugarcane juice.
Just as people drive the wine routes of France, here you can drive La Route des Grands Rhums. There are eleven AOC distilleries where you can become a connoisseur and experience the finest aged in oak barrels and tasted like fine cognacs. That means no ice, it is meant to be sipped neat.
At Habitation Clément on the south eastern coast of Martinique is more than an historical distillery, it is known for its high quality Rhum Vieux. In 1887, the Mayor of François, Homere Clement purchased the land. Clement was a descendant of a freed slave. First, he cultivates sugar cane which he sold to the factory of François, then in 1917, he is allowed to build a small distillery. At his death in 1923, his son Charles, a graduate engineer from the École Centrale des Arts et Manufactures in Paris and the Pasteur Institute, took over the business and worked to improve the quality (fermentation and distillation) of rhums. He created the Acajou brand in the '30s and Clement brand in the 40s. Today there are lush gardens, the main home of Creole architecture is formerly the family home, the old distillery is transformed into a mechanical interpretation center of how the Rhum was made and an amazing Contemporary Art Gallery.
Another elegant beauty of the island was Ceilia, the marketing manager at Habitation Clément who graciously showed us around shared another tradition -- a delicious Ti’ Punch (pronounced tee-pawnsh) ti’ is short for petit.
Made with a simple trio of ingredients—a quick squeeze of lime juice, a splash of sugar syrup and rhum agricole—the Ti’ Punch is the national drink of Martinique. The lime should be a hearty chunk so that you get both pulp and juice as well as the citrus oil when you squeeze it into the glass, then add the rhum to cover the lime, an island measurement. A touch of cane syrup and ice is optional.
2 oz. rhum agricole 1 tsp. cane syrup 1 lime
La Favorite Vieux Coeur de Rhum
Depaz Blue Cane Rhum