Like many countries in the Caribbean, Martinique has its own intimate relationship with crafting and distilling rhum. The island in the French West Indies is widely known in the region for its signature spirit, with distilleries playing a central part in the island’s colonial history. The drink is also tied to the numerous sugarcane plantations where much of the production took place. Today, rhum is an everyday fixture for many in Martinique. If you want to understand the food and drink culture of this French island, it starts with understanding the history of rhum.
History of Rhum In Martinique
First distilled in the 17th century and serving as a lucrative trade for French colonizers, rhum is deeply interwoven in the island’s history. Even though Martinique produces only two percent of the world's rhum, it is home to some of the best rhum distilleries in the region. Rhum production here is upheld to exceptional standards, and is handled with the same care as champagne in France.
Founded in 1887 by doctor and politician Homère Clément, Habitation Clément is Martinique's premiere rhum distillery. Formerly a sugar plantation, it was here where Clément invented Rhum Agricole, a style of distilling that utilizes sugarcane juice instead of molasses; in fact, this type of white rhum was invented after a drastic decline in sugarcane exports, leaving traders to figure out what to do with the leftover harvest. The result was a more aromatic spirit that is widely sought after by rhum lovers around the world.
Where to Drink Rhum in Martinique
You can taste the best of the island’s rhums at most of the restaurants or bars in the larger cities, but Martinique is home to numerous rhum distilleries that offer a unique tasting experience.
Welcoming over 100,000 visitors each year, the historic Habitation Clément stands out as the country’s most popular distillery. Featuring a botanical garden, museum, and the Clément family home, the 42-acre estate tells the story of Creole culture on the island as well as that of the man behind of the island's biggest brands. Be sure to purchase a bottle of Clément stash away in your luggage.
But Habitation Clément isn't the island’s only notable name in rhum. Dating to the late 1700s, Saint James is not just Martinique's oldest rhum brand, it's one of the most premier labels in the U.K. (its roots can even be traced back to a prestigious British family). The distillery offers tours of the museum—at the end of which you can get a free tasting—in addition to a tasting bar where you can sample the best the distillery has to offer.
On the northern side of the island, Depaz distillery serves up the best rhum-infused planteur punch on the island while visitors tour the beautiful estate grounds.
Rhum Cocktails to Try in Martinique
Martinique has no shortage of quality rhum brands, but the most important thing is how you drink it. While you can always enjoy the spirit on the rocks, the country’s mixed cocktails are the best way to drink rhum during your stay.
Upon arrival, Ti’punch, Martinique’s national drink, will probably be the first drink offered to you at almost any property you stay at on the island. Similar to a daiquiri or caipirinha, the cocktail is typically mixed with local white rhum, lime, and cane syrup. You probably won't be able to have just one of these drinks, but be aware that they do tend to creep up on you! For those who may not be able to handle the Ti'punch, another of the island's famous rhum cocktails is planteur punch, which is mixed with pineapple and orange juice.