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A.O.C: Designation or Derogation?

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Capn Jimbo
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PostPosted: Mon Mar 17, 2008 5:12 am    Post subject: A.O.C: Designation or Derogation? Reply with quote

OK, it's time to play!

The rhums of Martinique proudly display the A.O.C. (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée ) label. The label is printed in the size, typestyle and position required by the national committee of the A.O.C. As mentioned before this roughly translates into "spirits of controlled origin". The term was invented and established in 1996 by France. The subject at hand...

AOC: A long needed designation, or a marketing ploy designed to capture a term of art?

Let's start by reviewing some of the regulations - and trust me, this is the short version!

For rhums "Martinique", supplemented by the mention "Rum Agricole":

Must be obtained by distillation of fermented fresh juice of cane with sugar. (Note: "fresh" is not defined)

Limited to the territory of the twenty-three communes of the department of Martinique.

Must be collected in pieces delimited by cadastral sections, pieces or parts of pieces, as approved by the national committee. The plans of delimitation are deposited with the town hall of the common interested parties.

The varieties of planted and cultivated canes must be registered on a list, approved by the national committee after opinion of a technical commission, indicated by the aforementioned national committee

The techniques of plantation and maintenance of the cultures of cane must be in conformity with the local practice. For one year of harvest, the period of cut starts as soon as possible at January 1 and is completed at the latest at August 31.

The irrigation is limited to four months following the date of cut or plantation... spreading of substances on the canes in order to support their maturation is prohibited. Harvests with or without burning by hand or mechanics are authorized.

The average output of a piece cannot exceed 120 tons per hectare.

Only the fresh juice or vesou can be implemented. The minimal values of Brix and the pH of the juice extracts from the canes must be higher than 14 for the Brix and pH 4.7 for the juice. These minimal values can be increased, by interministerial decree, according to the climatic data.

The methods of measurement of each collecting are approved by the national committee

The use of syrup and/or molasses coming from the manufacture of cane sugar is prohibited. (Emphasis added)

The canes must undergo a preparation by means of materials and of processes approved by the national committee after opinion of the technical commission.

The extraction must be made by mechanical cold pressure in traditional mills whose working width of the cylinders of crushing does not exceed 125 meters... must be made exclusively at ambient temperature starting from water and/or of small juices of the last mills. (Note: water is added)

At the end of the milling, the juice must be filtered cold of suspended matter by sifting or other suitable mechanics.

Liming is prohibited.

Fermentation is of discontinuous type, out of an open tank of a maximum capacity of 500 hectolitres. Continuous fermentations and out of closed tanks are prohibited. Yeast is limited to only yeasts belonging to the Saccharomyces kind. The duration of fermentationcannot exceed 72 hours at a temperature not exceeding 38.5° C. The fermented juices must present a minimum voluminal alcoholometric title of 3.5 parts per 100 in volume.

The national committee specifies the conditions of control of fermentation, and in particular the procedures: - of a nitrogenized and phosphated complement which can be brought at the time of fermentation; acidification which ensues by lowering of the pH, the protection of fermentation levurienne against the bacterial development.

Distillation must be done in columns with continuous operation used traditionally in Martinique, whose principal characteristics are as follows: - heating by vapor injection; diameters in the exhaustion part: ranging between 0.7 and 2 meters; concentration: realized by 5 to 9 copper plates. The columns having 10 or 11 plates can be used until the harvest of the year 2001; exhaustion: realized by at least 15 copper or stainless plates; retrogradation: realized by one or more wine-heating stills or water-cooled condensers out of copper.

The columns must be approved by the national committee.

The produced rhums must exit at the temperature of 20° C a voluminal alcoholometric title ranging between: - minimum: 65 p. 100 vol.; - maximum: 75 p. 100 vol., and in all the cases, they must present a content of volatile elements of at least carbinols and ethyl of 225 grams per hectolitre of pure alcohol.

Each distilling must make carry out analyses of its production by a laboratory approved by the ministers concerned, after opinion of the national Institute of the labels of origin. The frequency of the analyses must be at least weekly.

The rhums of origin "Martinique" must enter one of the following categories:

Not to present any colouring and to have satisfied one period of minimum of three months of aging after distillation. In this case, the mention "blanc" must supplement the name. For the white rhums, storage in wood is not permitted. . A rum having received the certificate of approval for white rum cannot be further aged in wood. In all the cases, at the time of release to the market, the rhums must present a voluminal alcoholometric equal to or higher than 40 p. 100.

Rum aged in wood - must be placed in oak as defined in article 2. The duration of aging is at least twelve months without interruption. These rhums cannot be presented for examination prior to the eleventh month of aging. The content of these rhums of elements other than ethanols and methyl must be at least equal to 250 grams per hectolitre of pure alcohol, at the end of the minimal period of aging.

The mention "vieux" must be used with the label AOC "Martinique" to indicate meet all the following conditions: - ageing using the production and the conditions defined above, must be at least three years completed out of barrels of oak of a capacity lower than 650 liters. They can be presented for examination only after the thirty third months of aging in wood; - the quantity of volatile elements other than the ethanols and methyl, must be at least equal to 325 grams per hectolitre of pure alcohol, at the end of the minimal period of aging. The rhums "vieux" can mention a higher duration of ageing.

The rhums for cannot be declared for manufacture, be offered to the consumers, be dispatched, put on sale without, in the declaration of manufacture, on the titles of movement, on the leaflets, labels, invoices, containers unspecified, name being registered and is accompanied by the mention "label of origin controlled" in very apparent characters. The term "Rum Agricole" must supplement the name of the label of origin in commercial documents and titles of movement. It must be reproduced on labelling in the same visual field as that of the controlled label of origin "Martinique". In labelling, the mention "blanc" or "vieux" must be registered in very apparent characters, in the same visual field as the controlled label of origin. Dimensions of the characters of the mention "blanc" or "vieux" should not be higher as well in height as in width than those of the characters composing the name of name.

The use of any indication or any sign designed to lead the purchaser to believe that a rum has right to AOC "Martinique", whereas it does not answer all the conditions is will be prosecuted in accordance with the general legislation on fraud and the protection of the labels of origin if it is necessary.

In any drink, when a rum of the controlled label of origin "Martinique" is used jointly with another rum, the mixture thus obtained loses the right to the label.

I guess you need written permission of the national committee to pee during business hours, using only the right hand, for not more than 60 seconds and shaken, not stirred after.

Furthermore - and like all attempts to legislate - the regs are full of loopholes. What exactly constitutes "fresh" cane juice? Since water can be added, can it also be removed? Is the removal of a bit of water (to prevent premature fermentation, a thin "semisyrup") a violation? Rum from full blown (thick) sugar syrup or molasses is not permitted, but only if resulting "from the manufacture of cane sugar" - does removal of a bit of water, not related to sugar manufacture, count?

Spare me.

Amazing. The beauty of rum has always been its amazing diversity. Rum making was and is an art, made for over 300 years based on the most minimal of definitions, to wit "...a spirit distilled from sugarcane juice, sugarcane molasses or the refuse of the sugarcane at a strength not exceeding 150% proof" (Jamaica, 1941). Historically the major division was made by the French who designated rum made from sugarcane juice as "agricultural" and that from molasses as "industrial".

And that's the way it was until 1996.

So whatever happened to all the agricultural rhum produced for over a century in the rest of the West Indies (and in Martinique as well)? Ian Williams (author of "Rum") says it best: "In a stroke of snobbery they have converted every other rum in the world to mere 'industrial' alcohol".

"Rhum Agricole" in Martinique, at least the French AOC legal version, is no longer rhum as art but rather rhum by regulation - oppressively strict and designed to exclude all agricultural rhums made elsewhere.

I reject and renounce this artificial and legalistic marketing strategy. I reject the notion that tradition and common usage can be so easily erased. And I renounce, repeal and refuse to accept that rum or rhum by regulation will ever supplant rum as art.

Sorry my dear high (and deep) pocketed snobs, but that's the way it is for me. YMMV.

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PostPosted: Fri May 23, 2008 1:00 pm    Post subject: Bravo! Reply with quote

Capn Jimbo, thanks for the obvious time and careful attention you have taken to reveal the AOC for what it is: a marketing scheme designed to distinguish the rums from Martinique.

I recently ran across an interesting Martiniquean website that pulled no punches in describing their homegrown rums:

Birth of Industrial rum

In the 18th century, Martinique sold molasses (restovers of the sugar industry) to North American colonies, who already manufactured industrial rum.

From industrial rum to agricultural rum

In the 18th century, Martinique sold molasses (restovers of the sugar industry) to North American colonies, who already manufactured industrial rum... The factory, equipped with a steam engine, formed the centre around which smaller exploitations were regrouped. A railway network in shape of a star served to move sugar cane from the fields to the factory... Certain habitations began to directly distil sugarcane juice (vesou), which gave birth to agricultural rum, referred to as “rhum z’habitants” at the time.

Industrial rum

Method of preparation: Industrial rum is manufactured by distilleries directly attached to cane-sugar factories. Molasses is fermented with the help of yeast, which gives an alcoholic liquid of around 5 to 6 degrees. Distillery is then continued in similar column stills as for agricultural rum, until the alcohol content reaches 65 to 75 degrees, though legislation does not allow the sale of alcohol of more than 65 degrees. This is compensated for by the addition of water.
Various qualities of industrial rum:

* Traditional rum the most typical of rums of consumption, containing 40 % of alcohol and a rather strong flavour, most typically used for confectionary, pastry and cooking.

* Grand aroma rum

...has a unique flavour due to its long fermentation period of 8 to 10 days. It is a mixture of molasses and wine blended in wooden casks, used essentially for cocktails, cooking and pastries. This rum is almost solely for export, so it is not well-known by Antilleans, even though it is manufactured in Jamaica and Martinique (Galion factory).

Martinique and the A.O.C.

As we have seen in the description above, industrial rum is of inferior quality than agricultural rum, and is often referred to as traditional rum in commerce... The appellation presents an important advantage in terms of marketing: it invests Martiniquean rums with a reliable quality standard, enabling them to conquer new markets such as Japan, Europe or the United States.

Link to French website (Here)

In my readings, more than one authority has confirmed that the term was created by the French long ago, to promote their cane juice rums made in the French Indies. I do agree that the term "industriell" - which they prefer to describe molasses based rums - was not meant as a term of honor or quality. They don't use it for their own molasses rums (which they call "traditional", but reserve the term for everybody else! It's pretty obvious that the other distillers of molasses rum see it this way too, as none that I know of use the term.

I do prefer the taste of rums made from molasses, but there are a few cane juice rums that are very nice. To me, when I think of rum, I think of molasses rums. This seems true of the marketplace in general, as cane juice rums represent only a very small percentage of sales.
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PostPosted: Sun Jun 22, 2008 5:05 am    Post subject: As for those pesky loopholes... Reply with quote

Saint James uses semi-syrup!

If you had the time and inclinination you might have noticed that in their astounding list of miniscule regs, the French state that rum labelled "AOC Martinique" must be (a) made in Martinique and (b) comply with their stunning Koran of regulations and specifications.

One of these states "made from fresh cane juice". But does not specify exactly what is "fresh". Another states "The use of syrup and/or molasses coming from the manufacture of cane sugar is prohibited."

In that post I speculated whether additions/deletions of water from the cane juice was permitted, especially when Preacher Ed rejected Barbancourt's world acclaimed agricultural cane juice rums based what he alleged was the occasional use of "syrup" (mistakenly it turns out). It also turns out Eddie reps La Favorite and Neisson from Martinique and is accordingly more than a little biased.

As always, the truth will out. I recently learned that Saint James - one of the oldest and respected of the AOC agricolic butt buddies - is unable to use all their "fresh cane juice" at one time. So what do they do? Surprise!

They reduce some of it to a thin "semi-syrup" which they later reconsitute, ferment and distill when production catches up! How bout dat! How do you spell h-y-p-o-c-r-i-c-y? I spell it M-i-n-i-s-t-r-y. As always, give Preacher Ed enough hemp and he'll hoist himself on his own pee-tard...

From Eddie's long existent posting about Saint James:

During the cane season, the mills yield more juice than can be fermented. Most of the fresh juice is pumped directly to the fermentation tanks. The rest is filtered, then concentrated by vacuum to a syrup for storage. This is the first step of sugar production, but the sugar is not crystallized as it would be in the more refined process. After the cane season, the syrup is diluted to its original consistency then fermented and distilled into alcohol.


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PostPosted: Fri Apr 02, 2010 10:44 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I think people from 100 - 150 years ago would be amazed at how we understand terminology such as "Industrial". In their days industrial meant progressive and was not derived as a negative "cheap bulk crap" as we now tend to understand it.

Similarly it amazes me how some stick to silly names & terminology, like "Industriel" or "Agricole" (in French - plain english terms would of course be industrial and agricultural - same same, no difference).

Names have little to do with the quality of a product. AOC was given to Martinique (and only Martinique - the rest of the French islands do not have this) in the 90's. So if someone says that "tis' because of the controlled methodology and AOC that Rhum Agricole Martinique is superior" - well, I guess before late 90's they made same kinda crap as the rest of the world...huh?

I think these days people just have waaayyy too much time. They spend their days looking for little minute nonsense to talk about and argue, and they also seem to be in real need to find something to believe in. In this case there is a mantra about the legendary goodness of the rum of one island, and eager marketing men spreading the gospel. And instead of letting their palate do the judging, the idle people with too much time get hold of the message, and start believing in it as if in desperation.

I have tasted good Martinique rum, and bad. Same goes for rums of the rest of the world.

Many zealots of Martinique rums presume waayyy too many things, and actually know very little about rum in general. One common misunderstanding I've met is that Martinique rum is also superior because it is made in pot stills only. isnt. Funny how Mr. Hamilton for example slanders column still (industrial/ molasses) rums, stating how from the column still the manufacturers get a near-tasteless high percentage alcohol (which they then need to fiddle with, in order to get taste to their product). I wonder how different in the spirit they get from column stills in Martinique? Smile Too many contradictions and nonsense, tut tut!!!

[For example, Bally rhum is made in a column still - So is Damoiseau]

Historically due to the French revolution and the start of sugar beet growing in Europe, sugar plantations (and cane) lost their importance first in France (followed by the rest of Europe slowly). This is the whole reason for the uprise of Rhum Agricole in the French islands - not because it was somehow magically better, but because they no longer HAD the sugar estates and sugar mills to make the molasses.
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PostPosted: Sun May 16, 2010 10:31 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I don't think you should think of the AOC badge as a stamp of quality; rather, it just means you know what the product is. It's not so terribly important with rums (yet), but imagine the situation where you walk into a wine store and see 1000 bottles of French wine. There is no way you could know all of those products. However, the AOC stamp tells you that this last bottle of Cotes du Rhone will be, in some important way, like all the other bottles of Cotes du Rhone. Actually, the appellation system is even better applied in Italy, where not only the regional name is closely controlled, but if the bottle says "reserva" that actually means something.

I agree with all of your critisms of the AOC labeling, but it might also be a useful to think of the current AOC rhum system as a starting block. Potentially in future we can have Rhum Agricole Frais, for rhums that are produced only from freshly pressed sugar cane.

I think it would be nice to know if you found a rum that claimed to be Jamaican (whether it was made there or not) was in fact made with dunder, as the yeast source, etc i.e. I don't want to buy a rum that claims to be Guyanese, but tastes more like a Navy rum.

Just my thoughts.
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PostPosted: Wed Jun 01, 2016 6:28 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

AOC Agricole from Martinique isn't necessarily better than molasses based Rums but it is different. I have no problem with them attempting to set regulations as to what those differences actually are. The whole exercise is like the regulated differences between Armagnac and Cognac.

Not all rum from Martinique carries the AOC designation. The buyer can decide.
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PostPosted: Thu Sep 22, 2016 12:30 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

One must differentiate, e. g. Saint James produces ABC and Non-AOC Rhum. With the the additives in most Rums from other countries, I am glad that AOC sets a good example. Of course, the rules must be checked and enforced. See La favorite Wink
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