Rhum arrangé goes global

13 March, 2024

There’s a new string to rhum agricole’s international bow as producers hit export markets with their fruit-flavoured versions. 

The history of aged spirits is well documented. Brandy traders in the 11th or 12th century discovered that their tradeable commodity came out of the oak barrels a completely different colour with new aromas and a rounder palate. What was considered a convenient vessel for transporting goods inadvertently improved them significantly and today, oak barrels play a key role in the ageing of dark spirits all around the world. A similar process is responsible for the discovery of rhum arrangé.

The story goes that sailors en route to trade with India would keep fruit and spices in alcohol as way of preserving them for the long journey. This flavoured the rum over time and resulted in a new style adopted by locals called rhum arrangé – essentially rum with macerated fruit – a kind of French version of homemade limoncello or sloe gin.

Isautier is said to be the first commercially bottled rhum arrangé in La Reunion, the French island off the coast of Madagascar, and the style has a significant following in its other overseas territories as well as mainland France. Fast forward to summer 2022 and Arhumatic became the first rhum arrangé to enter the US market.

“There is a long tradition in the Caribbean, as well as on La Reunion and Mauritius, of rum macerated with fruits, herbs and spices,” says Johann Jobello, product manager at La Maison & Velier, in Punch magazine. “Rhum arrangé is what it’s called on La Reunion, but they say kleren trempé in Haiti, or it might be called punch or liqueur on Martinique and Guadeloupe. It was developed in order to drink rums that were not very tasty, especially in a time when rum productions weren’t as clean and precise as they are today. The fruits give you flavours and the sugar enhances those flavours and hides the faults.”

Of course, today the production of arrangé is no longer to hide poor-quality spirits, but to add flavour and create a different style of rum. This move by Arhumatic set off a chain reaction of brands either launching products, or exporting their existing range into new markets. Saint James on the island of Martinique has now launched its own four-part range of arrangé rhums in France, with plans to roll them out into international markets later this year.

Bridging the gap

Traditionally, rhum agricole is considered a more acquired taste than most molasses-based rums given the more pungent aromas and intense taste profile of sugarcane juice spirits. Arrangé -style rhums could therefore bridge the gap for consumers.

Victor Vernet, international brand manager at La Martiniquaise, producer of Saint James, tells Drinks International: “We have seen that rhum agricole and fruits can complement each other in terms of flavour profiles. Rhum arrangé, with its infusion of diverse ingredients, can offer a flavourful and perhaps a more fun and accessible way for consumers to explore the diverse world of rhum and rhum agricole. It provides a different combination of aromas, fruits, spices and other elements which could be more attractive to consumers looking for something new in the category.

“For the release of Saint James’ Les Arrangés range, France is our priority market for this specialised line-up as the trend for arrangés is very French overall, and the fact that we’ve developed a premium version under the Saint James brand, an agricultural rhum, is a great success. If you had the chance to speak with someone from Martinique, you will notice that this category is nothing new for them. For us the mission will be to educate worldwide consumers to this growing new category.”

The four recipes – Pineapple & Bourbon Vanilla, Tropical Mango & Maracuja, Lemon & Ginger and Banana Flambé & Bourbon Vanilla – all sit at 35% abv and therefore classify as liqueurs. According to Vernet, the base spirit is a 40% white rhum agricole from Saint James and the products contain no artificial aromas, while the fruits are macerated for over six weeks.

In France, which is a well-educated market for both rhum agricole and arrangé, Vernet says the product is very much aimed at independent retailers as “in most cases, bartenders like to create their own recipes using white rhum agricole and fruits they selected”.

Vernet adds: “When it comes to the global scene, we will be aiming at off-trade retailers as it is a suitable product for at-home consumption. However, we also have great ambitions with the on-trade. Bartenders have always been an excellent way for Saint James to communicate with its consumers and educate them on how to consume rhum agricole, so we believe that it will likely be the case with this exciting addition to the Saint James portfolio.”

Category invitation

In the UK, Spiribam, which distributes a portfolio of rums including Chairman’s Reserve and Bounty, has recently introduced three flavour varieties of Mauritian brand Arcane Arrangé – banana, pineapple and vanilla.

Dave Marsland, UK northern sales manager for Spiribam, says: “The concept of rhum arrangé is nothing new – in fact, it’s a very old style of rum making – but it’s only just beginning to reach international markets. It’s definitely inviting drinkers into the category. The biggest market is the US for this style because of its deep-rooted association with rhum agricole, but it makes a lot of sense bringing it the UK.”

The UK consumer base has previously embraced the flavoured gin craze and, more recently, gained a thirst for a spectrum of spiced rums. Marsland therefore believes arrangé could be an opportunity for rhum agricole to attract new drinkers.

“Of course there are some purists who don’t like the idea of using arrangé to showcase rhum agricole, but personally I think it’s a perfect way to get more people into cane juice rum. Arcane Arrangé is also a bartender favourite because, even though it’s classed as a liqueur given its sugar content, it’s also 40% abv so it packs a punch.”

Brands are beginning to activate in the on-trade for these flavoured agricole arrangés which, despite being a longstanding traditional style, feel like a new product for bartenders to play around with. In the upper echelons of the bar world, ’tenders will probably stick to unflavoured agricoles and build their own cocktails around them. However, there’s significant potential for this new wave of rhum arrangé to pair with a simple mixer and create a new style of rhum-based drink with minimum effort, while simultaneously exposing the world of rhum agricole to a more mainstream audience.

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