Reunion Island Rum makes up part of the cultural institutions of this Indian Ocean island’s creole cultural history. Reunion’s distillery use either molasses (for the production of traditional or industrial rum) or sugar cane juice (for rhum agricole, a special type of rum that is considered higher quality and is strongly associated with former French colonies, areas of English and Spanish influence having primarily developed molasses-based rums).
Sugar cane cultivation on Reunion Island started during the 17th century, on what was then called l’île Bourbon. The first stills made their appearance in 1704, when arack was produced, a rum of pure sugar cane juice similar to the tafia produced in the Caribbean.
In 1807, Napoleon forbade the production of arack, after which France’s two island territories in the region separated their production, with Mauritius producing rum and Reunion producing coffee and spices. With the conquest of Reunion Island in 1812 by the English, and the subsequent reconquest by France, sugar cane plantations and rum production were reinstated. In 1815, the first modern distillery saw light of day, with the explosion of sugar production on the island. The production of rum oscillated for decades, primarily being consumed on the island. In 1884 the first rum products were commercially exported, first to Madagascar and then quickly to metropolitan France.
Reunion Island Rum can be enjoyed in a variety of ways, including by itself. It is most commonly associated with punch and with the drink rhum arrangé, which was originally developed on Reunion Island and then spread to other French colonies in the Caribbean. As opposed to punch, rhum arrangé contains very little added sugar and is mainly made up of spices, barks and peels, fruits and fruit leaves. Due to its low sugar content it was originally consumed mainly as a digestif but different modern takes on the recipe are now available that sweeten it somewhat, allowing it to be drank as an apéritif.