Giant spinning gears, crushing and pulverizing sugar cane driven by a fiery cauldron, eagerly fed by a mountain of bagasse, the leftover by product of the crushed sugar cane. Steam slithering out every crack and crevice as it fights to push the same patched together equipment which has been making rhum for decades. The La Favorite distillery is an odd mix of rustic charm and steam punk aesthetic. You won’t get regaled by stories of generations of family distillers or explained an advanced fermentation and distillation process (they use bread yeast in fermentation and use the same kind of Creole still that other small producers use). Everyone here has their sleeves rolled up, or their shirts off, and are immersed in this frozen-in-time rhum making process which is done more by brute force than finesse.
La Favorite is a refreshing reminder that great spirits sometimes come from a gritty and dirty process. Distilled spirits have their genesis in purification, and at La Favorite this transformation couldn’t be more evident. The La Favorite Distillery, located in Le Lamentin, Martinique is one of the few family-owned distilleries on the island. Their output is dwarfed by such giants as Rhum St-James or Rhum Clement, and so they often get overlooked.
La Favorite’s white rhum is Coeur de Canne (50% abv, 100 proof), a wonderfully funky and grassy rhum that is one of the boldest and brassiest of the rhums on the island, with superb notes of light sweet sugar cane, grass, cinnamon spice, and ginger. The Coeur de Canne gets its quirky quality from the sugar cane grown in the Le Lamentin area. Martinique is a case study in microclimates, and the sugar cane from Le Lamentin is by far the grassiest and most vegetal tasting of the island. The Coeur de Canne is rested for 18 months after distillation which helps smooth the edges. This same spirit is used as the foundation for all of La Favorite’s aged products.
The Rhum Agricole Vieux Coeur de Rhum (40% abv, 80 proof) is a three year old rhum which is aged in a combination of ex-bourbon and ex-whiskey barrels. There’s a nice raisin note on the nose with grassy undertones. The sweet raisin combines amazingly with the funky grassy notes of the agricole along with ginger, orange, and some tropical fruit. The Coeur de Rhum has a nice long, spicy finish. The balance here is superb and La Favorite manages to balance the impact of the barrel with the aging which occurs through oxidization.
While they might be extremely difficult to find in the United States, La Favorite has a line of premium aged rhums which display a balance and finesse that few rhums can match. Each of La Favorite’s premium rhums are hand bottled and hand sealed individually.
The Cuvee Speciale de Cavistes 1991 (49.5%) is a twenty year old rhum with deep caramel notes with cinnamon and raisin. The grassy white rum notes are there but more as a suggestion. The finish has a nice pepper spice. As with the Coeur de Rhum, the Cavistes balances out barrel impact and oxidization superbly.
Cuvee Speciale de la Flibuste (40%) is a 30 year old aged rhum which may rank among the finest aged rhums in the world. In a region where most barrels lose 75% of their spirit in 8 years, a 30 year rhum is almost inconceivable. Even with 30 years in a barrel, the Flibuste isn’t over oaked; instead, it is balanced, lush, and amazingly concentrated with a deep complexity of layers that unfold over time. The Flibuste has a superb mouth feel that is deep and round with a swirl of flavors that include raisin, candied orange, ginger, black pepper, cinnamon, plum, caramel, and vanilla. The depth and layering of flavors and finesse of this rhum is simply entrancing. The finish is exceptional and it caps up one of the most brilliant aged rums on the market.
It’s almost mind boggling how such things of beauty can come from such a dark and gritty process, but this is the magic of spirits. They transform, purify, and create something amazing from the mundane. When it comes to aged rhum, La Favorite is absolutely one of my favorites.