Distilleries of Martinique — Part 1

Even though there are many activities to enjoy as a tourist when you visit Martinique, and even if you are not fond of the strong taste of old rums, you should definitely consider stopping by a couple of distilleries during your journey. In this series of small posts, I will try to show, with pictures, what can be enjoyed in these places; aside from a purely historical interest (sugarcane farming and rum production are closely linked to the country darkest times with slave trade), they are nice to visit if you have never been into a factory or haven’t seen large scale food production plants.

Cocktail
Cocktail
Nikon D750 + Nikkor AF 50mm f/1.8 @ 50mm, ISO100, 1/80, f/2.5

But first, a few words about (cane juice-) rum production, also called “Rhum agricole” in French. The whole process (type of cane, fermentation duration, distillation…) is described in a standard called “AOC” that guarantees the quality of the final product. If you don’t care about rum production and only want to discover nice factories and historical buildings you can skip this part and go directly to the pictures!

Sugarcane Field
Sugarcane Field
Nikon D750 + Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD @ 24mm, ISO100, 1/1250, f/3.5

To begin, the canes are crushed several times, and their juice extracted, then put into containers. Yeast is added and the whole thing is left to rest during a few days so that sugar transforms into alcohol. The “wine” produced this way is then distilled. A ~70° alcohol is obtained, which is next diluted in water (white rum degree of alcohol is usually 55° or 50°). For “old rums”, aging process takes place in oak wood barrels and lasts a few years (at least three years for the “Very Old” label, more than six for “eXtra Old” rums…). Each rum manufacturer can choose to extend this duration or use casks that were previously intended for other kinds of alcohol (whisky, wine…). As for champagne, the resulting beverage is a blend of different casks, from different years, and is supposed to represent one brand “taste”.  Sometimes, “millésimes” or “single cask” bottles are produced (rum from a particular year or from a… single cask). As I said previously, cane juice rums from Martinique meet precise specifications; however, each distillery recipe differs, from the cane species used (and where they grew), to the type of distillation columns as well as some details in the aging process. Even if, nowadays, many brands belong to the same holding companies, or share their infrastructure, each one of them tries to keep its own specificities, “taste”, and product line.

Sugarcane
Sugarcane
Panasonic GF7 + LEICA DG SUMMILUX 15mm / F1.7 @ 15mm, ISO200, 1/160, f/1.7

Now that you know how rum is made, it is time for more pictures! For each place, I will not give too much details about history or processes (everything is available on manufacturers’ websites), but instead I will show you from a “photographic” point of view why it could be interesting to go there…

Depaz

Depaz – Huge Rum Containers!
Depaz – Huge Rum Containers!
Panasonic GF7 + LUMIX G VARIO 12-32mm / F3.5-5.6 @ 17mm, ISO200, 1/400, f/14
Saint-Pierre
Saint-Pierre
Panasonic GF7 + LEICA DG SUMMILUX 15mm / F1.7 @ 15mm, ISO200, 1/1300, f/5.6

This distillery, one of the island most famous, is located in the northern part of Martinique, near the city of Saint-Pierre, on the mountainside. Here by “mountain” I mean “volcano” of course! There is no entrance fee and you can ask for group tours. The scenery is very nice, as the place lies between mountain and sea, sugar cane fields dominating the water.

Depaz – Random buildings
Depaz – Random buildings
Panasonic GF7 + LUMIX G VARIO 12-32mm / F3.5-5.6 @ 20mm, ISO200, 1/320, f/8

One thing to know about Caribbean weather: the sky is never perfectly clear and many clouds will give a dramatic look to your pictures! The factory, in which you can see distillation columns, looks quite modern compared to the others you will see in my next articles. Regarding rum itself, it is said that the soil, coming from the volcano, gives a particular taste.

Depaz – Distillation
Depaz – Distillation
Panasonic GF7 + LEICA DG SUMMILUX 15mm / F1.7 @ 15mm, ISO400, 1/60, f/2.2

A few feet from the plant, you can see a nice castle in which, apparently, it is possible to organise wedding ceremonies! Good to know… As usual, the tour ends with rum tasting and the distillery shop.

Depaz – Castle
Depaz – Castle
Panasonic GF7 + LEICA DG SUMMILUX 15mm / F1.7 @ 15mm, ISO200, 1/400, f/8

As it is quite easy to get there from Saint-Pierre, do not hesitate to take a look!

Neisson

Le Carbet
Le Carbet
Nikon D750 + Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD @ 24mm, ISO100, 1/60, f/7.1

A few kilometres south from the previous place lies the city of Le Carbet. Its name come from a traditional kind of constructions. The town itself is quite small but there are some interesting places to visit here (including a zoo). Coming from the south, near the city entrance, you can find on your right the Neisson distillery.

Neisson – Distillation
Neisson – Distillation
Panasonic GF7 + LEICA DG SUMMILUX 15mm / F1.7 @ 15mm, ISO200, 1/125, f/1.7

A lot smaller than Depaz, it is one of the lasts “family business” producers of the island. Their only distillation column is fully made of copper.

There is no guided tour but you can freely visit the whole plant. Unlike bigger rum brands (like Clément or Saint-James), the whole manufacturing process, from cane growing to bottling is made at the same location. The brand is well known for its very good white rum and unique aged ones. Recently, Neisson has sold the first “AOC” organic rum ever produced in Martinique.

Neisson factory is not the most interesting one to visit, from a purely “photographic” point of view, but you will not need to take a huge detour to go there if you plan to travel in the north-west part of Martinique.

On the next post, more distilleries to come…

Romain Castellani

Just a random guy, who loves travels and photography.
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