Why you should try Indian Ocean rum

Why you should try Indian Ocean rum

The region’s storied rum distilleries are upping the ante with authentic cane-to-glass creations and imaginative twists. 

Published September 6, 2023

5 min read

This article was produced by National Geographic Traveller (UK).

Nothing captures the Indian Ocean quite like rum — and it has a long history in the region. Sugarcane, the key ingredient, has been cultivated for the fiery brew in India for thousands of years, and the spirit has been distilled in Réunion and Mauritius for centuries. Today, the local rum industry is still small, but quality is improving all the time with many producers drawing the eyes of the world.      

In Mauritius, Grays not only grows its own sugarcane but also makes its own molasses, which is a by-product of the sugar-refining process, for distillation — unusual in an industry that often imports it. By doing so, it offers a true reflection of the Mauritian terroir.Meanwhile, Réunion specialises in agricole, a kind of rum made straight from sugarcane juice rather than molasses, known for its grassy, herbal quality. Cane juice is fermented then distilled by producers such as Isautier, creating a fresher taste.

Finally, near the equator in the Seychelles, a new rum scene is hatching. Bernard and Richard d’Offay launched Takamaka, the first modern distillery in the country, in 2002, and are continuing to define the national drinks scene. Using heritage sugarcane varieties, and former bourbon barrels for the ageing process, they’ve attracted the attention of some of the best bartenders as well as rum collectors.

Four of the best Indian Ocean rums

1. Takamaka Rum Blanc, Seychelles

A light, white rum from Seychellois star Takamaka. Made from molasses distilled in both column and pot stills, it’s creamy and smooth, but still comes with character. A natural partner for almost any white rum cocktail, whether piña colada or mojito. 
Isautier 

2. Rhum Blanc Agricole, Réunion 

Established in 1845, Isautier is not only the oldest remaining distillery in Réunion, but the longest-running island business full-stop. They’re pros in making both agricole rums and more typical molasses-based rums. This white bottling gives you the full cane-to-glass effect, with all kinds of fresh vanilla, almond and citrus aromas.

3. New Grove Old Tradition 5 Years, Mauritius

Made from its own molasses — produced from sugarcane grown on the Terra Estate — this bottling from Grays is full bodied, opulently aromatic and richly flavoured. Expect plenty of complexity from time spent ageing in new French oak and ex-cognac casks; unlike some darker rums out there, it contains no additives, extra sugar or colouring to boost character. 

4. Rockland Dark Red Rum, Sri Lanka

Family-owned Rockland Distillery was founded in 1924 to make arrack — primarily from the fermented sap of coconut flowers — but it also produces this velvety rum, bursting with dried fruit and dark chocolate notes. 

How to make a mau tai

Unlike Cuba’s daiquiri or Puerto Rico’s piña colada, the Indian Ocean doesn’t have a world-famous rum cocktail that you’ll find in every bar. However, across Mauritius, Réunion and the Seychelles, rums are often infused with fruit and spices, and mixed with fresh juices. This recipe from Mauritius’s Grays distillery, featuring its molasses-based rum, New Grove, is a perfect example as it’s bursting with tropical fruit flavours.

Ingredients

30ml New Grove Old Tradition 5 Years
30ml unaged sugarcane juice rum (agricole)
30ml pineapple juice (preferably fresh)
20ml fresh lime juice
15ml mango juice
15ml fresh passion fruit
Pineapple wedge
Pineapple leaves
Sprinkle of toasted coconut chips to garnish

Method

Shake the rums, juices and passion fruit with ice for 20 seconds, then pour into a highball glass filled with cracked ice. Garnish with pineapple wedge and pineapple leaves, and top with toasted coconut chips.

Published in the Indian Ocean supplement, distributed with the September 2023 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK).

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