You may have come across the word Rhum, or Agricole. Rum, rhum agricole, and cachaca are three spirits that are often confused with each other.
All rum is produced from sugar, which is why it sometimes becomes difficult to differentiate between a few popular varieties and classifications of rum. However, slight variations in the process of distillation, extraction as well as aging make one beverage different from the other.
Rhum Agricole is directly distilled from pressed sugarcane ‘juice’, instead of molasses or processed sugar like rum. Cachaça is the national drink of Brazil and very similar to Rhum Agricole, appart from some slight differences in the manufacturing process.
Scroll down to learn what’s rhum agricole, as well as the difference between the 3 beverages.
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What is Rhum Agricole?
Rhum Agricole is a form of rum that’s specifically produced only from fresh-pressed sugar cane juice. The pressed juice must undergo fermentation within a day to avoid it from spoiling. And that’s why, rhum agricole is crafted as close to its source as possible.
This makes each drink have a taste of its specific terroir (or agricultural provenance in the terms of french winemakers) It sports unique grassy, vegetal characteristics which make it quite a loved spirit. Agricole is used in numerous cocktails, ranging from multi-rum blends to tropical variations, while some aged beverages are produced to be sipped like whiskey.
The Difference Between Rum, Rhum Agricole, and Cachaça
While the three drinks go for cane sugar as the chief source for their production, they have some fundamental differences that are explained below.
Classic rum is a spirit distilled from fermented cane juice or sugarcane byproducts, mostly molasses, which is a syrupy extract produced by refining cane or beet sugar. However, most countries derive rum from sugarcane and not beet. In terms of flavor, rum is marked by a sweet and dry touch.
The sugars contained in the molasses are fermented out even before the process of distillation begins. Rum is mostly distilled somewhere between 85-96% ABV. Rum can be produced anywhere, and can contain different additives, including spices, sugar, or caramel.
It can be barrel-aged or not, while being sold in gold, clear, or even black versions. Too often, manufacturers and distillers add sugar to the distillate and make clear, unaged vats while giving it the look with some caramel coloring and not allowing it the time required for aging.
The market is loaded with a spectrum of rums, spanning from simple spirits to complex sippers. The chief ingredients for making rum include yeast, water, and sugarcane molasses or sugarcane juice.
Rhum agricole, generally referred to as ‘rhum’ or ‘agricole’ is actually a sub-classification of rum. What makes it different from rum is that it’s directly distilled from pressed sugarcane ‘juice’, instead of molasses or fermented cane juice.
Coming from Caribbean countries with French-speaking population, the beverage was invented in Martinique, and rhum agricole crafted in Martinique comes with the AOC mark, i.e. Appellation d’origine Controlee mark.
Anyone can produce and sell this spirit, but a drink can only be labeled as Rhum Agricole AOC Martinique legally if it’s distilled from fresh sugarcane juice in Martinique.
Fermentation must be discontinuous (i.e. batch fermentation) and done in open tanks of capacity less than 500 hectolitres (13,000 US gallons). While most rum washes are run up to 20% ABV, Agricole must complete in less than 3 days and finish between 3.5 and 6% ABV.
Interestingly, the AOC also specifies that rhum agricole be distilled using continuous distillation.
It’s generally distilled to 72% ABV, while using continuous distillation columns sporting a diameter of between 27 and 78 inches. The column must have at least 15 stainless steel or copper stripping plates, at least one water-cooled condenser for reflux, and between 5 and 9 rectifying copper plates.
The drink calls for some strict processing requirements, wherein the cane juice must be extracted with cold-pressing methods and the fermentation starts within hours of harvesting the sugarcane. Rhum agricoles can be found in different varieties within the same island. Speaking of the terroir, the factors that define the unique taste include the soil and type of sugarcane used, the fermentation, blending, and distillation.
Cachaça is the national spirit of Brazil with an earthy and floral taste that can be raw upfront. It is mainly produced in 5000 distilleries within the country and is crafted using 30 varieties of wood when it comes to aging the drink. Just like rhum agricole, this beverage can be distilled only from fermented sugarcane juice.
It can be made from fresh juice or melado, i.e. reduced sugar cane juice without the removal of crystalline sugars. It is typically distilled to 38-54% alcohol by volume, while being bottled at 38-48% abv.
Speaking of the process, it involves extracting fresh juice by pressing washed sugarcane through huge metal rollers. Unwanted cane fragments are then filtered before fermentation of cachaca. The drink is fermented in copper or wooden vats, followed by boiling it down 3 times until it yields a sticky concentrate. Sporting a caramel or yellow color, aged Cachaça features a smooth taste, and the drink can be labeled as ‘aged’ only if it has been aged for at least 12 months. The distillation process of premium Cachaças is performed in a way that the final product retains its sugarcane flavor.
Traditionally, Cachaca is aged in native Brazilian woods to bring out a unique flavor to the drink, and the aging process can be performed in over 26 different rainforest woods. It ranges from jequitiba; balsam wood, guarandi, umburanas, jatobá, cedar, imburana, freijoa and more!