I had recently written about the Grand Arôme rum category and how it will become relevant again in modern times. This paper by Kervegant definitely contributes missing pieces to that story. Apparently, the French tried to legally dissolve the category because of fears of fraud. I will point out that chemistry at the time was not able to explain the phenomenon of rum oil because it could not be revealed by titration. The mystery of it all may have contributed to notions of fraud. This article is completely ringed by missing information so it is not known what happened before and after. Did the grand arôme rums continue to exist, but get legally relegated to non-beverage uses like confections, perfume, and tobacco? I stand by my implication of the muck based high-ester process as destroying variety in the grand arôme rums.
Bulletin de l’Association des Chimistes
Le Rhum Grand Arôme
par D. Kervégant
In last December’s Bulletin, we spoke to our colleagues about the issue of high-flavored rhums and the struggle that producers must support to back up their product.
Today we are submitting to those whom the question is of interest a report by Mr. Kervégant, Colonial Agronomy Engineer, Head of the Department of Agriculture at Martinique.
This study was presented in 1935 to the Commission formally charged by the Governor with the grand arôme rhum question.
It is followed by a table of rhum analyzes from various sources and we notice in this one that the non-alcohol coefficients of white rhums increase as they age and it is therefore impossible to admit there eventuality is a limitation to this coefficient.
The grand arôme rhums are a special category made from cane molasses, characterized by an accentuated bouquet due to the presence of a high proportion of impurities (higher alcohols, acids, esters). Their production seems limited to Jamaica and Martinique, the latter being the only source currently known on the metropolitan market.
Susceptible to preserving their specific aroma, after cutting with relatively high amounts of neutral alcohol, they were considered to promote fraud. For some colonial producers, they would also help to divert consumers from rhum agricoles with less but finer bouquet.
It is therefore not surprising that their nullement has been repeatedly called for by the setting of a maximum coefficient of impurities. The arguments presented, which may make an impression on persons who are imperfectly informed, nevertheless lose their strength by a careful examination of the question.
And first of all, if grand arôme eaux-de-vie are likely to be used for blends, they are not the only ones to benefit from this privilege. Many rhums of molasses containing 350 to 450 impurities can be perfectly mixed with 50% neutral alcohol, without the non-alcoholic coefficient being abnormally low, nor the bouquet too attenuated.
There is no evidence, however, that the grand arôme is particularly sought after by fraudsters, who must find it more advantageous to turn to ordinary, less expensive rhums, and to chemical improvers specially prepared for this purpose, mainly in Germany.
Thanks to the establishment of the accounting controls and the creation of the state liquor monopoly, fraud repression is made, at the moment much more effective. If there are still possibilities of duplication, especially in the small trade, it seems that their limitation should be sought in an extension of the accounting controls rather than in the deletion of grand arôme products.
Great difficulties would arise, on the other hand, if it were become a question of fixing the maximum coefficient of impurities.
If we admit, with some chemists, that we can consider as a grand-arôme product measuring more than 500 impurities, many molasses rhums of Martinique will no longer be able to access the French market, especially when they will have to be aged at the colony for one or more years and will have their non-alcohol coefficient significantly increased as a result.
Setting the maximum at 500 would also mean the practical impossibility of exporting rhums of naturally barrel aged fresh sugar cane juice and evaporated cane juice, a long-term process that considerably increases the rate of impurities.
Finally, it should be noted that certain types of fresh cane juice rhum, the cœurs de chauffe, can measure at the exit of the still, until 550-600 of non-alcohol.
Disputes may arise between sellers and buyers for spirits located in the vicinity of the maximum impurity rate. A product measuring, for example, 450 in non-alcohol from the colony, is perfectly likely to see its coefficient increased to 500 after sea transport and a more or less prolonged stay in the docks of the ports of landing. Great difficulties occurred a few years ago in fixing the minimum non-alcohol coefficient.
But the most considerable inconvenience resulting from the removal of the grand-arôme rhums would be, no doubt, the lowering of the commercial standard of rhum. The main role of these eaux-de-vie is, indeed, to constitute natural enhancers intended to raise some rhums that are too flat, which would not be accepted as such by the customers.
It should be recalled that the first rhums imported into France were molasses eaux-de-vie with a coefficient of impurities ranging from 350 to 900 and possessing a particularly robust aroma to which consumers became accustomed.
During the Great War, because of the importance of the demand for spirits, the aim was to obtain the maximum yield at the distilleries, to the detriment of quality. This trend has been further accentuated by quotas so that today the average number of impurities does not exceed 300 for the molasses rhums of Martinique and is even noticeably inferior for those of Guadeloupe and Reunion.
At the same time, the production and export of fresh cane juice rh
ums, which in the pre-war period was consumed almost entirely on the spot, has intensified. But these have a naturally low impurity coefficient further lowered by the use of chemicals (sulfuric acid and sulphate of ammonia) to promote alcoholic fermentation. They also have a special taste called vesouté unappreciated by the French consumer.
These products, although gaining finesse, no longer have a strong aroma and require to be fortified with a rhum of strong bouquet, on pain of being depreciated or even being unable to sell. The grand-arôme eaux-de-vie not only make it possible to raise the total impurities, but also to improve the equilibrium of the elements of the non-alcohol, and thus the bouquet, by supplying to the agricultural rhums, very rich in higher alcohols, the acids and esters they lack.
There is, it is true, a bourgeois clientele looking for old rhums of fresh cane juice and concentrated syrup. But this is not very important compared to the popular customer who consumes rhum in grog or coffee, uses for which an aromatic product is clearly superior. It is also important to add that the re-exportation from France would no longer be possible if one could no longer offer foreign customers the full-bodied rhum, like Jamaica or Demerara, to which it is accustomed.
Some colonial distillers, opponents of the grand arôme rhums may well consider it paradoxical that one prefers the full flavored industrial rhum or agricultural rhum, but they can not without disadvantages neglect the elementary commercial principle according to which the salesman must bend to the taste of the consumer and not pretend to impose his own.
In summary, it can be argued that the suppression of grand arôme rhums would most likely result in lowering the standard of rhums demanded by customers from home and abroad, who would turn to other eaux-de-vie.
It would reach not only the importing traders, but the colonial producers themselves, since they are not assured of any compensation, since the impact of the measure on the reduction of fraud is perfectly uncertain.
This suppression would also be more arbitrary, the grand arôme rhum being a natural product, meeting the legal definition of rhums and having contributed the most to the world reputation of major French brands.