Drink Life Beverages

Six Things About the French Rum Industry

When it comes to French rum, most enthusiasts’ awareness starts and stops with the fact that Martinique

In what follows, I’ll lay out a much more detailed perspective on France’s rum industry,

Note: While the French call it rhum, the English version of that word is rum

Most Caribbean and Latin America rum-making is in independent states like Jamaica, Barbados, Panama, and Venezuela

It’s akin to how Hawaii is a full member of the United States, despite being several

In more precise terms, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Guyane, and Réunion are French departments, equal in every way

In French legalese, these overseas departments are collectively referred to as départements d’Outre-mer, abbreviated as

As French departments, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Guyane, and Réunion are subject to national regulations and control over

Within the rum world, the French Caribbean is famous for its cane juice rum – rhum agricole in

However, cane juice rums haven’t supplanted molasses rums to the extent you might guess

In fact, France makes more molasses-based rum than agricole rum, which may surprise some people

The French term for cane juice rums is agricole—agricultural in English

French texts alternately refer to molasses rum using the term sucrerie

Google Translate seems to prefer the latter meaning, so French documents translated into English confusingly refer to “

Instead, it means rum that could come from a sugar factory, i

With agricole and industriel defined, we turn to a third term in common use, which many people

Unfortunately, many descriptions of French rum claim that traditionnel refers exclusively to molasses rum, basically, a synonym

Proof of this point can be found in the 2018 French decree defining the quotas for its territories

In the case of geographical indications registered under this Regulation, the legal name of rum may be

The term ‘agricultural’ may only be used in the case of a geographical indication of a French

While this is true, it understates how long it took for agricole rum to overtake molasses rum

This French government data from 2019 makes it quite clear: [ii]

Note:   Note: The report does not include data from Guyane (French Guiana), presumably because its rum output

In brief, La Réunion makes substantially more rum than either Martinique or Guadeloupe, and 99

But while Martinique skews heavily towards agricole rum, Guadeloupe makes roughly equal amounts of agricole and molasses

In the case of France, it has long had a reduced rate of excise taxes on rum

What follows in this section is a very simplified overview of a very complex topic

dictates a set excise tax due for each liter of spirits (including rum) made or imported into

This means a lower tax bill for French rum makers, giving them a price advantage in the

Since mainland France is the largest importer of French overseas rum, the quotas are very important to

Since 1995, the European Union has decreed an upper limit on how much French overseas department rum receives

 Currently, it’s set at 153,000 hectoliters of pure alcohol (PAH)

To receive the lower tax rate, the rum must meet minimum requirements for strength and volatile substances;

Each department further subdivides its quota allotment across its rum makers in very rough proportion to their

In 2018, new quotas values were set out for all French overseas departments

[iii] The quotas for Martinique agricole distilleries were distributed as follows:

Guadeloupe has three quotas for molasses rum, comprising 67 percent of Guadeloupe’s combined quota:

First and foremost, distilleries can make more rum than their quota specifies

) Also, it’s worth noting that some French rums are exported outside the E

Within a department, distilleries that are part of the same economic interest group can redistribute their quota

Thus, the company that owns them has the option to reassign a portion of one distillery’s

Each department naturally seeks the largest share of the overall “pie” divided up by the CIRT-DOM decision-makers

In recent years, Guadeloupe has made the case that Martinique receives a disproportionately large share of the

The European Union has three different levels of Geographical Indication

One level down is the Protected Geographical Indication (PGI)

Guadeloupe has a PGI (Rhum de Guadeloupe), which is less restrictive, allowing for both molasses and cane

Guyane also has a PGI for its rum (Rhum de la Guyane), as does La Réunion (

The French are no strangers to regulations and regulatory bodies

At the local level, CODERUM (Comité Martiniquais d’organisation et de défense du marché du rhum)

It’s 1992 inception was in part driven by the desire to finally push the island’s AOC

There is also reportedly a CODERUM in Guadeloupe, although reports are that most of the island’s

When it comes to French rum, one company dominates the landscape: Compagnie Financière Européenne de

However, most people know of it via the products of its subsidiaries: Bardinet and La Martiniquaise

In fact, when COFEPP proposed to purchase its competitor Quartier Français Spiritueux in 2011, the deal came

On Martinique, COFEPP owns the Saint-James and Depaz distilleries, as well as certain aspects of the Le

Bonne Mère and Sucrerie Rhumerie de Marie-Galante, the two largest distilleries in the department, both making

COFEPP is also a shareholder in Guadeloupe’s two sugar factories

COFEPP’s rum portfolio includes Saint-James, Depaz, Dillon, Bally, Bellevue, Rivière du Mât, Negrita, Old

The company’s non-rum portfolio includes Cutty Sark, Glen Moray, and numerous other alcoholic beverage brands

The information above was collected from a wide variety of sources

Official government documents are the primary source, whenever possible

[i] The island of Marie Galante is legally part of the department of Guadeloupe

[ii] François-Xavier Deniau, et al,  Perspectives de la filière canne-sucre-rhum-énergie en outre-mer, Inspection gé

[iii] Arrêté du 13 juin 2018 portant répartition entre les distilleries du contingent d’exportation de rhum