When one thinks of a tipple in France there are a couple of drinks that come to mind, well, that certainly do for me. French champagne for example or Crème de Cassis, cider from Normandy, wine from the Cotes de Rhone and even white Vermouth. But, rum? Rum definitely does not make the list and Rhum Arrangè even less so.
So, it was a surprise, when wandering the streets of Saint-Malo in Brittany last summer, when it turned out that the colorful bottles lining the walls of many local bars were rum, or to be precise rhum arrangè. This triggered an investigation into what is a delicious and traditional crafty practice on this favorite northern France tipple.
The Origins of Rhum Arrangè
Although I discovered it in Brittany, rhum arrangè has its strongest roots in the French colonies such as Reunion and the Caribbean. I am sure we can all agree, these are much more familiar rum territories and the practice of rhum arranging probably found its way to new territories via the slave trade.
Without slaves the rum industry, and even part of our own American economy, would not be what it is today. Read about this in our article about the dark and tumultuous History of Rum
Rum versus Rhum
Now, you are likely wondering about the h. No, it is not a spelling error as those of you who have read our rum style guide know, but a rum produced using fresh sugarcane juice. Most rum is made using other sugarcane by-products such as molasses. The formal name for rum produced using fresh sugarcane juice is Rhum Agricole or rhum for short, except in the context of this article. In this article, it is simply how the French spell rum and rhum arrangè can be made using either rum or rhum.
If that seems a bit complicated, then our Rum 101 article explains the difference in more depth. Just remember, for the purpose of this article it is just a name and not indicative of the production process. But back to rhum arrangè.
So What is Rhum Arrangè?
Rhum arrangè or macerated rum, is the practice of macerating ingredients in rum to add flavors. Since this was my first introduction to it, I assumed it was a rather unique practice. I’ve since discovered it is popular in most traditional sugar cane producing areas and especially the rum producing island nations.
Now I know, I know, I have spent many an article convincing you, my fellow tipplers, that rum is the new whiskey…remember? That a good rum is delicious on its own, needs no mixers and I firmly stand by that. But. The world of arranged rums has opened the door to so many new and truly artisanal flavors so it's kind of in a class of its own. I’m confident we will see it on the shelves of trailblazing mixologists in the US soon.
How Rhum Arrangè is Made
To create this delicious arrangement, the selected ingredients are left to macerate in the base rum for a minimum of a month and up to 6. Often with the drinking of the rhum starting while the ingredients are still macerating so that the flavor profile is changing over time as you're enjoying it.
"Maceration is the process of submerging or soaking the ingredients in the rhum."
Being an island tradition, the ingredients used are dictated by what is available on the island at that time. Typically, one would find vanilla and pineapple, or lychee and mango. However, those are only the tip of the iceberg as the combinations are limited only by imagination.
Rhum Arrangè Goes Commercial
One of the things that makes this liquor truly craft is that the recipes are often generations old and each producer, even each household has its own unique one. The companies who have taken the step to start producing commercially have continued with this craft tradition. For brands such as Malo Rhum, which is the brand who first introduced me to this unique beverage, this is especially true.
The Malo Rhum team cut and prepare all ingredients by hand before adding them to the already bottled high-quality rum. The flavors include everything from Kiwi fruit and cinnamon to vanilla and lemongrass. As a true illustration of just how creative one can be, they even produced a limited-edition blue lobster arrangement. I didn't get to try this particular arrangement…and even as a New England girl I'm not sure if I'm happy or sad about missing that one!
DIY Rhum Arrangè
We may not all be brave enough to try seafood infused rum, but we can certainly mix up our own unique blend at home. We are not encouraging at home rum distillation because not only is it illegal, it can be very dangerous but grab one of our favorite bottles of rum and try the basic recipe below. Or you can lean on the expertise of The House Arrangement and purchase their arrangement kits to use yourself at home.
Aside from becoming tippler royalty for creating a signature rhum arrangè a ’la you. You’ll get extra points if your package it in an attractive bottle and give your very own rhum arrangè as a unique gift. And since you want to let the flavors meld for a while getting started on this project soon will have you ready just in time for the holidays!
DIY Rhum Arrangè Recipe
1 liter of white rum
1 vanilla pod
3 tablespoons of cane syrup or brown sugar in a pinch
Wash the ingredients and cut the apples and pears into quarters, be sure to remove the cores and pips. Split your vanilla pod down the center. Add the fruits, vanilla and syrup or sugar to the rum ensuring that they are completely covered by the liquid. Seal shake and store in a cool dark place tasting monthly until you reach the desired flavor. Each time you taste it, give the bottle a shake to blend the flavors as they are being extracted. The fruits, herbs, and spices are just left in the bottle, you don't need to take them out. So not only will the flavors continue to develop but it’s an easy and attractive way to identify the flavors you have chosen to use. It's that easy!
Once you have built up some confidence in your arrangement skills, start experimenting with your own unique combinations. Why not try coffee beans and vanilla, or pineapple and passion fruit? The trick is not to over complicate the ingredients and to use minimal quantities. Certain fruits, such as citrus, have a bitter pith which should be removed before you add it to your base rum. And, lest you forget, everything tastes better when in beautiful glass, so select a unique bottle for your blend to show it off.
We would love to see the finished product and try out some of your blends ourselves. So, while we are waiting for our own crafty arrangè to finish macerating, please share your creation and recipes in the comments so we can try making them too!
Main photo credit: Arrange Maison