We had friends visiting from frozen Boston and we decided to schedule a tour to the Macoucherie Rum Distillery in Macoucherie. It is a short 10 minute drive from The Beach House. You can drop in anytime, but it is best to schedule a guided tour. The Macoucherie Estate has been in the Shillingford family for several generations and is now the only (official) distillery on the island to produce rum from local cane. Not any cane however is up to the job - Macoucherie uses only that grown on its estate. We learned that we had come at the right time of year. Dry season, roughly November through April, is the point during which the sugar cane is harvested so it’s not too water logged, and then processed to remove the juice. The process, our guide explained, was mostly manual from start to finish.
The sugar cane, grown organically in nearby fields, was brought in by employees, hand hacked and weighed (laborers are paid by how much sugar cane they bring in, by weight). After being weighed, other staff members manually place the sugar cane into the machine, where the juice is extracted.
The juice is extracted using 200 year old technology. The crushing machine is run by a water wheel, just as it was i
n the 1800’s. The crushing machine and pump are the original water powered machine are equally as old. The staff are constantly tinkering with it to keep it working, you can’t buy parts for it.
We were walked through the back of the factory to see the boiler that uses wood to produce steam.
From there, we walked by the vats in which the sugar cane juice is kept to ferment, and wheere yeast is added to facilitate the fermentation process which takes 4 – 6 days. The chemist, Yves Joseph,
mentioned that while some factories on other islands use more yeast to speed up fermentation, the Macoucherie Factory uses less to maintain the standards of taste.
From there, he gave us the rundown on the distilling process where steam and sugars meet and are processed using antique machinery and then put into oak barrels to age. The resulting rum is then sent across to bottling. Even the bottling and labeling process is manual.
The entire process was interesting, involving a huge amount of chemistry and an understanding of the nuances of distilling. The factory produces four types of rum, three made from sugar cane and one made from molasses imported from Trinidad. Additionally, they produce their standard 80 proof rum for bottling and another rum – 128 proof – that is sold wholesale or retail to interested parties. Yes, that’s 64%… and yes, I opted out of tasting that one. The factory produces 20,000 – 25,000 liters annually. When I asked about distribution, they explained that most of their product is distributed within the island, with small quantities going to neighboring islands.
The tour is definitely worth the $3 US. Call ahead to schedule the tour 767-449-6224