L’Industrie Rhummiere A La Martinique by D. Kervegant, 1933

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An important lost text on rhum from my 2022 book bounties list has finally been recovered. I knew of one copy already, but they would not lend it. Luckily, a beautiful copy from a resource in Martinique has been newly digitized. The text is roughly 100 pages and in French. Unfortunately, I do not have the time to translate the entire thing like I did with Rhum and Cane Eau-de-vie, 1946.

KERVEGANT (D) — L’industrie rhummière à la Martinique, Bull. Agr. Martinique (3), II, 23-110, 1933.

If you want to digitize any of the text, the easiest way is to use the Microsoft “snipping tool” to create an easy cropped screen shot of a chosen passage. This image can now be opened as a Google doc which will generate OCR. That OCR text may need minor editing but it can then be copied into google translate. It may take some sleuthing to iron out idiosyncrasies in the language, but that is the fun part.

There are some interesting passages that grapple with the investigators of Jamaica rum such as Percival Greg on page 63:

The acid isolated by Greg and identified by some authors with pelargonic acid has been suggested to be an oxidation product of the terpene essential oil; this oxidation would be due either to the physiological properties of certain breeds of yeasts, or to the slowness of the fermentation which allows a more prolonged contact with the oxygen of the air.

Another passage on page 66 is notable:

PECK and DEER (16) found fission yeasts in ferments from Peru, but not in those from Trinidad, Demerara, Cuba, Natal and Mauritius. PAIRAULT has observed that in Martinique, the surface scum of fermentation tanks is mainly made up of Schizosaccharomyces. These, which are large and elongated (up to 25 microns long by 4 to 5 wide), were found exclusively at the beginning of the century, when the temperature was high. N. DEER (15) considers fission yeasts from rum distilleries to be very similar if not identical to Schizosaccharomyces Pombe, isolated by LINDNER (49) from Kaffir millet beer.

I have always been curious about how closely the ferments of Martinique pre-eruption of Mt. Pelée matched those of Jamaica. Was Pairault surveying pre-eruption ferments of Saint-Pierre?

The Archives Territoriales de Martinique library resource just digitized the first photos I’ve ever seen of the Mt. Pelée aftermath:

The fission yeast tradition in Martinique was blown to bits with the exception of the Grand Arôme tradition at three distilleries as best I can tell.

Another candid passage from page 83 reveals the opinion by Kervegant:

The mode of distillation seems of secondary importance: industrial distilleries of Saint-Pierre were already equipped with continuous column apparatus, as are the factories producing grand arôme rum today.

This echos my idea that we need to give more marketing concern (and celebration) to fermentation as opposed to distillation.

On the following page, 84, Kervegant tells a little about blending with grand arôme rum:

Also, traders are obliged, in order to enhance the aroma of too flat factory rums or mask the dull taste of agricultural rums, to  make blends with grand arôme rum, which distinctly contain a high proportion of elements (ethers and acids) that ordinary molasses rums lack.

The marks of L. M., Grand’Fonds-Galion, Bassignac, correspond to Martinique grand arôme rums. Unlike all molasses rums, the above products, obtained by the L. Meyer, Galion, Bassignac factories, have suffered only a slight decrease in their impurity coefficient, which varies between 450 and 1,100 , or their Ethers-Alcohols ratio always higher than 1 (1.2 to 1.5 in general), which makes them similar to Jamaica rums. Here, for comparison, are some analyzes of these products: [a table is provided]

It would be great to learn more about the L. Meyer and Bassignac distilleries and possibly their unique stories in surviving the eruption where 40,000 people perished. The decrease Kervegant references is the change in character post eruption, 1902. This text, to some degree, is to help initiate a revival of character and diversity that was lost.

We get a few more details on the following page that candidly differs from Kervegant’s later writing in 1946:

Galion and Bassignac rums therefore offer great analogies, especially the first, with Jamaica rum. Demerara rum on the contrary bears a lot of chemical resemblance to our regular molasses rums.

The grand arôme L. M. exhibits, with a high coefficient of non-alcohol, a harmonious balance of its various constituents (especially in rum n° 2, which is the type most commonly produced at present), which gives it a delicate yet very accentuated bouquet, and must make it classify among the best crus of industrial rums.

There was a lot of fear, at one point, that grand arôme rums would play an important role in duplication. “The more grand arôme rum offered to warehousemen or retailers, said Mr. René Jean-Charles (33) in 1924 in a speech to the General Council of Martinique, the less they will pay for it; less expensive they will sell grand arôme or aromatized eau-de-vie; the greater will be the quantity consumed in working-class circles and the greater will be the difficulty of placing for direct consumption the natural rums which will naturally claim a higher price than that of the mixtures whose unfair competition we point out. Tyrannical and unbearable situation which calls for a prompt recovery both at the point of local production and in the interest of metropolitan consumption.”

The fear here is that cheap neutral spirit will be blended with grand arôme rum and rhum agricole won’t be able to compete. The working class may also consume to excess because the product is so affordable.

Mr. Barthe, Chairman of the Beverages Commission in the Chamber, said in a speech he made in 1927 at the Town Hall of Fort-de-France during a mission to Martinique: “You must not supply the French trade with grand arôme rum either, because the excessive non-alcohol richness of this product makes them enhancers, the use of which was prohibited by the law of July 28, 1912, because they facilitate blending.”

To which the metropolitan port merchants replied that it was absolutely essential to raise the weak bouquet of molasses rums and ordinary cane juice with a medicine rum, to have them accepted by customers.

New legislation on fraud has come to iron out the dispute raised by very full-bodied rums. It must be recognized, moreover, that the added value which they once enjoyed on the metropolitan markets has not diminished with the reduction in the possibilities of duplication.

[duplication is a translation of “dédoublement”, but I’m wondering if it might better be said as “stretching” because it implies extreme blending. As I write, I’m sipping on Denizen 8 year old which is a blend of 20% Galion grand arôme and 80% pot still “plummer” rums from Jamaica.]

Kervegant seems to harbor a passion for grand arôme rum. Something unique is his beautiful descriptions which make the Martinique examples seem drinkable on their own as compared to Jamaican examples that are dominated by levels of ethyl acetate leaving them only fit for a blend.

Did L. Meyer and Bassignac die out because other producers harassed them with legal restrictions? What is odd to me is that even though Galion is currently the only show left in Martinique, they recently passed self restricting regulations that state their ferments cannot achieve over 5% ABV. That may match what they typically achieve, but allows no room for innovation even if the aroma can be maintained. They may not become competitive if other islands create a heavy rum renaissance with more efficient ferments.

Kervegant’s bibliography turns up quite a few references not included in Rhum and Cane Eau-de-vie, 1946 and a few of the citations appear to be newly digitized. These are what caught my eye:

Bachelier. — Rapport. Bull. du Syndicat des distillateurs agric no. 29, 1926.
[This turned out not to be too interesting, but is in a periodical new to me.]

Bassières (E.) — La crise economique. Bull. Agric. de la Martinique No. 17, 1921.
[Probably worth translating.]

Bassières (E.) — La fraude sur les rhums Bull. Agric. de la Martinique No. 18, 1921.
[I did not find this and wondered if it had anything to do with the grand arôme controversy.]

Bassières (E.). — Fabrication du rhum. Bull. Agric. de la Martinique No 22, 27-30, 1922.
[This is brief and appears worth translating.]

Hervé (J.). — Il y a rhum et rhum comme il y a fagots et fagots. Fort-de-France 1931.
[This is not turning up easily but was referenced in the Oxford Companion to Spirits and Cocktails so I’ve inquired with the relevant authorities.]

Jean-Charles (R.).— Apercu sur la question des rhums de coupage et des eaux-de-vie de grand arome vis-a-vis des rhums naturels et sur la repercussion economique et budgetaire. Bull. du Syndicat des distillateurs agric no. 12 1925.
[I think this is the first article, but the tittles don’t really match up. What is given as a title is a synopsis which translates to: Outline of the issue of blended rums and spirits of great aroma vis-à-vis natural rums and the economic and budgetary impact.]

Lubbert (M.).— Note sur les cours. Bull. du Syndicat des distillateurs agric no. 1, 1923.
[For some reason this year is missing everywhere.]

Saint-Olympe (M.).—Notes sur la fabrication du rhum a la Martinique a la fin du XIX (Inedite).
[This is an absolutely wild cursive manuscript that would take someone very special to translate.]

Saint-Olympe (M.).—Report pour la semaine des rhums coloniaux. Bull. du Syndicat des distillateurs agric. 1927.
[All of year 1927 is here, but I didn’t find it on the first pass. Keep in mind, the year may be a typo.]

SAUSSINE (G.). — La chimie du rhum. Bull. Agr. Martinique (1) I, 101-109, 1899.
[This discussion Percival Greg’s fission yeast no. 18 among other aspects of yeast selection and is probably well worth translating and possibly my next project. There are also intriguing notes on rhum at the end of the journal.]

SAUSSINE (G.). — Le rhhum a la Martinique. Rev. des Cultures Col., mars 1900 p.165-170.
[This is pre eruption and may represent a description before a change in style in Martinique. And we already know this author is very aware of what was happening in Jamaica rum.]

X… —Le rhum et la situation economique. Bulletin du Syndicat des Producteurs de rhum des Antilles, 1er mars 1931.
[I highlight this only because its a different Bulletin du Syndicat that hasn’t turned up yet.]

I put this all together as a resource for producers and writers.

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