You say Rum. I say Rhum. What the H is going on?

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Carol Hills: I'm Carol Hills, this is The World.
You know it's the holidays when people start pouring rum into their eggnog. But rum drinkers beware: not all versions of the stuff are created equal. You have your industrial variety rum, made from molasses by brand giants, like Bacardi or Captain Morgan. But if you want the really good stuff, check the version that's spelled RHUM. As in rhum agricole. The best varieties come from the French-Caribbean island of Martinique.
Wyatt Peabody devoted a whole article to rhum agricole for the online drinks magazine, Punch.

Wyatt Peabody: What we think of as rum today is not really reflective of what it can be.

Hills: So what can it be?

Peabody: It can be pretty spectacular, and it's just the purest expression of rum that you can possibly find. You know, as opposed to 99% percent of the world's rum, which is made from molasses, which was actually a byproduct of sugar manufacturing that goes back centuries. Rhum agricole is made from fresh-pressed sugarcane juice and it makes for an entirely different expression, the likes of which no one has experienced if they've not had rhum agricole.

Hills: So can you tell us what the difference is, in taste?

Peabody: One of the easiest ways to do it is make a simple daiquiri with white rum from Puerto Rico, say, and compare that with a daiquiri made from rhum agricole, and you'll get something, that white distillate, that is like nothing else on Earth, in terms of reflecting terroir and sense of place. You get a funk, which for those of us in this business, we love that world. We love Sherry, we love muscat, we love rhum agricole. A sense of place, a sense of the earth. Herbaceousness, dampness reflective of the micro-climates.

Hills: So when you say terroir, you mean where it was made and therefore how it tastes.

Peabody: Correct.

Hills: Okay.

Peabody: Of its very specific soils, the chalky soils of cognac come through in the ultimate distillate.

Hills: Is it penetrating the US market much?

Peabody: The growth has been really explosive, and I'm really proud to see it, quite frankly. Again, we're talking about an industry that's dominated by one brand or a handful of brands that, kind of, through marketing and smart campaigns, shift the public opinion. And this Martinique thing, it's the underdog, for sure. Rhum agricole is roughly one to two percent of global production of rum in total. So it's definitely the little dog in the fight. I can't give you numbers, but I can just tell you that I travel a great deal around the United States, and I've seen an incredible explosion in the rhum agricole business domestically.

Hills: Is it mostly in restaurants and bars, as opposed to in stores, in the US?

Peabody: Yes, the on-premise... and consumed in bars and restaurants is obviously explosive. That's where the taste makers are. Those people are actually going down to Martinique and they're getting to experience what it's like to be there, some of them.

Hills: And is it all part of the, sort of, trend towards artisanal, local, perfect kind of stuff?

Peabody: Very much reflective of that. You know, people are more and more wanting to taste the best possible expression, and the artisan expression, as opposed to some industrial mutation. And with that quest, rhum agricole is just a natural fit right now, what's happening. I mean, you know, keep in mind, this is the only appellation of--the AOC appellation d'origine controlee outside of France, in the world.

Hills: So let's get down to the nitty-gritty. What about cost, compared to the rum we know?

Peabody: Well, you know, it's definitely more expensive than... Well, I mean, you know it's hard to say with the rum we know, because there are so many different expressions of rum. You might be paying a little bit more, but I would argue that what you get for that dollar is tremendously more than you can get from a molasses-based rum, in most cases. Absolutely no comparison with what you get from rhum agricole.

Hills: So you're always moving around, looking for the latest thing that tastes good. How did you stumble upon the rhum agricole?

Peabody: I spend a lot of time working with muscat, and you know, the terroir reflective nature of muscat was something that was always important to me. And I guess that I just found rhum agricole before it was really coming into the United States. I mean, keep in mind this wasn't really coming here until 2005 or 6. And it was just, you know, it was a natural expression. People sharing bottles, smuggling bottles, and it was one of these beautiful things that just evolved. And now, of course, everyone's talking about it. And keep in mind that this stuff has been selling very happily in France, and the rest of Europe, for some time. We are slow to the game here in the United States. We're catching up, if you will. And, you know, the people are really charged to know that their neighbors to the north, as opposed to shipping stuff across the ocean, that we're excited about it. And again, a lot of people are making pilgrimages down there, whether bartenders or chefs, or consumers, and you know, it's one of the most spectacular trips you can take. It's not easy to get there, but once you do, it's like nothing else I'd experienced in the Caribbean, that's for sure.

Hills: Wyatt Peabody, he's written about rhum agricole for the online drinks magazine, Punch. Thanks so much, Wyatt.

Peabody: Thank you.