WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN RHUM AGRICOLE AND CACHACA?
I´ve read so many articles and seen so much confuison when it comes to what exactly is the difference between rhum agricole and cachaca. And then there`s rhum Barbancourt, is it or is it not a rhum agricole?
So i got the bright (?) idea to write a blog post and try to see if i can sort out what the differences are. I might not have it all clear either. To a large part i have Ed Hamilton and all the fellow members of the Ministry of Rum to thank for what i today know about rums. If i have missed anything or have something wrong here, or if there´s more to it, please feel free to comment.
Cachaça is distilled from fermented sugar cane juice while most (but not all ) rum is a distillate of fermented molasses.
Cachaça is typically distilled to between 38 and 48% abv while rhum agricole in the French islands is distilled to about 72% abv. Then of course, Cachaca must be made in Brazil while rhum agricole if made in Martinique must carry the AOC mark. Some people says cachaca should be called rum and others says rum should be called cachaca..I myself call rum for rum and cachaca is cachaca and rhum agricole is, well..rhum agricole. And sensorial – they taste completely different.
Rhum agricole is made from pure sugar cane juice which has been fermented and fermentation begins within hours of the cane being harvested.
Martinique is the only geographic area in the sugar cane spirits industry, with an Appelation and rhum agricole made in Martinique carries the AOC or Appelation d’origine Controlée mark. Rum from molasses is also produced and its called ‘rhum industriel’ or ‘rhum traditionnel’. Rhum agricole is distilled to about 72% abv.
The rhum agricole that is made in the other french islands such as Guadeloupe, la Reunion etc would probably not meet the AOC requirements since one of the requirements is the type of cane and then geographic areas, drainage, soil type, etc
Rhum agricole is also made in French Guyana and two of the most known brands is La Belle Cabresse and La Cayennaise. These rhum agricoles has a slight different flavor than the agricoles made in Martinique.
La Belle Cabresse for instance is less refined with a spicy floral note and a lot of flavor. I have only tried La Belle Cabresse, but La Cayennaise is said to be sweeter and rounder and a bit less herbal but with a distictive agricole flavor. Very interesting rums.
On the whole, rhum agricoles are very diverse even within the same island. As for the “terroir”, its not just the soil and type of cane that is used, its also the tradition of the spirit which includes the fermentation, distillation, and blending and its not limited to that.
The rhums from Martinique are lighter and more refined than the rhums from Guadeloupe for example, which are heavier and in my own opinion much more “grassy”.
The AOC or Appelation d’Origine Contrôlée mark was adopted by the Martinique distillers in 1996 and it is unique to the rhum of Martinique.
Rhum agricole can be bottled in Martinique or France but i`ve heard they may tighten the regulations so that the AOC mark can only be carried by rhum agricole bottled in Martinique. The Martinique AOC regulations were adopted to improve the quality and value of their products.
Rhum Barbancourt isn`t considered a rhum agricole even though its made from sugar cane juice. It seems to be in a class of its own. It has been suggested that sometimes the sugar cane juice is mixed with concentrated sugar cane syrup, but i dont know if there´s any evidence for it. There isn`t much information on how this rum is made. It certainly is a very fine and good rum.
There is two versions of the 15 year old Reserve du Domaine. Its the first version that has a serial number on the back and a newer version that is labeled Estate Reserve and that do not have any serial number.
The old Reserve du Domaine is said to be darker, richer and smoother while the new version is a bit sweeter, lighter and a bit less smooth. i haven`t been able to compare them myself.
The difference between them is most likely to be because of the chill filtration on the rums that are for export to non-tropical countries. The chill filtration technique is used to avoid the deposits or haze which could temporarily occur when the bottles are subject to colder temperatures. Its also a commercial process to standardise the product, its even written on Barbancourts home page that they use chill filtration.
Unfortunately the chill filtration removes esters and aldehydes, as well as some of the rums natural oils, which leads to a altering of the flavor profile and general mouthfeel of the rum.
According to Brazilian law cachaça must be distilled from 38 up to 54% alcohol by volume and its bottled at 38-48% abv. Up to 6mg sugar can be added. Cachaça can be made from fresh sugar cane juice or melado which is sugar cane juice which has been reduced but without removing any crystalline sugar out of the juice.
The harvested sugarcane is washed and pressed through large metal rollers to extract the juice and its this first pressing that makes cachaca. The juice is then filtered to extract any cane fragments etc before the process of fermenting. Cachaca is fermented in wooden or copper vats and then boiled down three times and the result is a sticky concentrate.
The aging process yields a cachaça with a smoother taste and most often a yellow or caramel color. Premium cachacas are distilled in such a way that the sugarcane flavor isnt lost. To be labeled “aged” a cachaca must be aged at least one year according to Brazilian law.
Cachaca is traditionally aged in native Brazilian woods that adds distinct flavors and characteristics to the final product and this aging in various rainforest woods is something i find very interesting and i would like to further reserach that topic…
As far as i know they use at least 26 different woods…woods with exotic names such as balsam wood, jequitibá, guarandi, umburana, ipê, jatobá, imburana, cedar, freijó….or garapeira which is used to age for example Abelha Gold – an artisanal cachaca with lots of flavor and personality that i really like.
Garapeira is a type of native Brazilian Ash which adds it´s own sweetness and spiciness – but without changing the flavor of the cachaca itself contrary to what oak barrel aging does which adds that familiar vanilla or toffee notes that we are used to from molasses rum.
But cachaca isn´t only aged in Brazilian woods, Leblon for example have their cachacas rested or aged in cognac casks while Moleca Gold is aged in oak barrels.
Most often the cachaca producers uses a leavening agent in the production of their cachaca, meaning that during the stage of fermentation they will add corn meal, corn flour or rice bran, to the sugar cane must. And that these grain additions will add distinctive flavors and aromas to the cachaca besides producing the alcohol.
This is a fermentation starter mash that is made from cane juice and toasted corn meal which is generally and tradtionally practised. Traditionally cachaça is fermented using indigenous yeast strains that are naturally occurring in the cane.
Artisanal cachaça is typically made in batch potstills, while industrial cachaça is made with continuous column stills.
Then there is also a third type of cachaca that is made by adding caramel or wood extracts without any aging – called “yellow” cachaca – and the addition of the wood extracts and caramel gives the “yellow” cachaca a much sweeter taste.
So these are the main things that differentiates cachaca from rhum agricole as far as i know. Then when it comes to rum, apart from rhum agricole, its made from molasses, a totally different way to produce this sugar cane spirit.
To round this up i made a ti punch with palmsugar and a ginger caipirinha.
DIRTY VIEUX PALM SUGAR TI POOONCH
1 oz rhum agricole blanc
1 oz rhum agricole vieux
A slice off the side of a lime or as much as you prefer
0.5 oz palm sugar syrup
Start squeezing the lime and drop into the glass. Add the palm sugar syrup and the rhums and stir to mix. Add a cracked ice cube if you like.
FRESH GINGER CAIPIRINHA
2 oz cachaca
0.5-1 oz simple syrup or 1 heaped tblsp raw sugar.
I use raw sugar even though its not dissolving as easily as the traditionally used superfine sugar because i like the flavor of the specific raw sugar i have (Billingtons golden natural unrefined cane sugar) better.
1/2 to 1 lime depending on size. Cut the ends off, then the pith and cut it in pieces.
2 cm piece of fresh ginger,sliced.
Muddle lime, sugar and ginger in a rocks glass, add crushed ice and cachaca, stir well. Fill up with more crushed ice if needed. Garnish with a lime wedge.
Is there anything aside from distillation abv, terroir, AOC and the use of leavening agents that is distictly different about the production of rhum agricole and cachaca? also if there is anything in this post that is not accurate i wanna know so it can be updated if needed, so please comment…