To Our Beloved Bar Community: Haiti needs you!
The poorest country in the Western Hemisphere was still recovering from the devastating 2010 earthquake (100k dead) when Hurricane Matthew struck last week. Nearly 900 people have been confirmed dead as a result of the hurricane, and more than 350,000 people desperately need our help to meet their basic needs.
One of the island’s largest private employers is a home-grown business that many of us know and love: Rhum Barbancourt. Let’s help Haiti in a two-pronged fashion:
- Deplete every case of Rhum Barbancourt in the world
- Donate $1 of every Barbancourt drink to Haitian relief efforts
Let’s designate one week for this effort beginning tonight, October 8, 2016, and run through next Saturday night, the 15th. On Sunday, October 16, please send your donation tally along with the number of cases depleted to me for tabulation (firstname.lastname@example.org). Then make your donation to Haitian relief.
EDIT: A sage member of the bar community and owner/operator of one of the world’s best bars reached out and told me that for most operators, more time is needed to put together drink specials and order sufficient stock to feature Rhum Barbancourt cocktails on their menus. This person is of course correct, so let’s forgo the tally and date cutoffs in favor of a longer period of promotion. This effort is solely about getting people the help they need, so let’s all do what we can as soon as we can do it. If that means it’s today, fantastic, but if it’s a few months from now, there will still be a very critical need then, too, and the help will be no less appreciated by the people of Haiti.
Suggested groups worthy of your support:
One of the hardest hit areas was the village of Jeremie. The Haitian Health Foundation is a US-based charity with a four star rating from Charity Navigator, and their primary area of support is the village of Jeremie.
There are several other reputable organizations that are providing critical support as well, including Doctors Without Borders. Ultimately the choice is yours, but please ensure the charity is reputable and maintains a rating of 90 or above from Charity Navigator or other independent rating agency.
In the meantime, please post photos of your chalkboards and Barbancourt cocktails to social media using the hashtag #BartendersForHaiti.
If anyone has contacts at Barbancourt’s US importer (Crillon Importers) or executives at Southern Glazers, please let me know. We would love to double (triple?) our impact with matching donations from these companies. Please let me know if you are able to help in this fashion. Same goes for importers in other countries.
Individual cocktailians and rum lovers: YOU CAN HELP TOO! Simply post your photo with the #BartendersForHaiti hashtag and keep track of your own donation tally.
Please SPREAD THE WORD! Let’s make this go viral within our community and beyond.
Thank you for your support, and let’s drink with a purpose for Haiti!
When is an Agricole Not an Agricole?
Lately I’ve seen two American-made cane spirits being sold as either “agricole” or “agricole style” rum. Both are made from what they term “evaporated cane juice”. To the uninitiated, this seems logical enough—rhum agricole is made from cane juice, so evaporated cane juice is basically the same thing, right? Sorry, no. Not even close.
Evaporated cane juice is nothing more than raw sugar (aka turbinado, or Demerara sugar [often a misnomer]) which is to say it’s white crystalline sugar with a light coating of molasses on it. If you make a distillate from raw sugar, you have not made rhum agricole, you have made “sugarshine”. Let’s take a look at the sugar production process to clear this up:
In the diagram, we see the cane coming in from the fields at top left, and raw sugar leaving and bottom middle. That raw sugar is what these folks are buying as “evaporated cane juice”. Is there any possible way it could taste or have other properties similar to fresh cane juice? Sure, both the juice and raw sugar contain sucrose, but that’s essentially where the similarities end. Evaporated cane juice is simply a misleading term that fools consumers into believing they are consuming something more healthful than processed sugar, and the US Food & Drug Administration agrees.
So what is real agricole, then?
Real agricole is made from the fresh-pressed juice of sugarcane. Period. It’s mostly made in the French West Indies on islands like Martinique and Guadeloupe, but recently, some small distilleries in the United States have started making agricole style rums.
Saint George Distillery in Alameda, California, for example, sources fresh sugar cane from the Imperial Valley near the Mexican border and ships it directly to the distillery for crushing. There are a few more startups with similar arrangements in the American Southeast (and even more planned). Another example is Manulele Distillers on Oahu, which takes the process one step further by growing several different cultivars of its own estate cane, each of which brings a unique flavor to the end-product.
Time is of the essence when it comes to sugar cane harvesting. As soon as the cane is cut, it becomes susceptible to bacterial infection and in turn, a loss of sugar content. Hand-harvested cane is a bit more resilient than machine-harvested cane in this regard, but in either case the optimum scenario will see the cane crushed within a few hours of its harvest. The fresh juice then flows directly to the fermenter where yeast will convert the sugars into alcohol and CO2.
At some small distilleries with estate cane, cane production can exceed their fermentation and distillation capacity, so they need to stabilize the sugar for storage. In these cases, the sugarcane juice is boiled into cane syrup (no crystallization) to kill the naturally present bacteria and increase the sugar content to a shelf-stable level. Examples include Richland in Georgia and Saint Nicholas Abbey in Barbados. These rums may taste grassier than rums made from molasses, but the boiling process changes the flavor components significantly enough to make it something apart from agricole.
Cane juice is a delicious beverage on its own. Its grassy, sweet profile is not only pleasing to the palate, but it contains nutrients such as iron, potassium, magnesium and calcium. If you compare that flavor with “evaporated cane juice” (a product that has in fact gone through extensive processing) one can quickly see that beverages fermented and distilled from these two sugar sources will taste nothing alike.
So distillers take heed. And more importantly, taste a bunch of real rhum agricole and ask yourself if the product you’re making from raw sugar tastes anything like it.
Spoiler alert: it doesn’t
PS. Stop it.
Agricole rum lovers
For more sugar fun, check out my visit to the famous Enmore sugar factory in Guyana.