Sunday, December 21, 2008

Day 09 - Lagosette, Haiti - Haitian Rhum

Just up the dirt road from Children of the Promise, with the Citadel lingering like a dominant, ever-watchful threat from above, you can smell an aroma that is very common in this area. The very fist time I smelled this odor (several trips ago), I remember being somewhat repulsed by it. For sure, there is a certain degree of difficulty in distinguishing the scent from that of stinking, rotten, burning garbage.

I call it a "sweet stink."

The closer you get to the source, you begin to see that in fact, something is burning. Piles of sugar cane are strewn about like an abandoned game of Pixie Sticks.

The process used to extract their sweet sugar and convert it into alcohol is an old one. To begin, freshly cut sugar cane goes to the press. As each cane stick passes between the tight rollers of the press, an ultra-sweet liquid is extracted and deposited into large wooden casks where the brown pulp will ferment (rot) for some time.

Back at the cane press, as honey bees gather to plunder the sweet, dripped remnants from the edge, each sugar cane carcass is cast aside, to be reintroduced to the process once the fermenting juice has been properly aged.

The piles of pressed sticks themselves begin to ferment in the open air as the pulp-filled casks stew nearby, beneath a makeshift shelter. From time to time, villagers pass by to pull a flimsy, discarded shaft from the pile and gnaw on its tart flesh. This byproduct certainly makes for a local treat. Taken in moderation, there can be some value in the remaining juice and it costs nothing.

After the pulp has sufficiently fermented in the casks, it is transferred over to a large boiling device... an oven.

Have a look at the delightfully rotten sludge! Anyone thirsty?

Here's where the discarded sugar cane stalks are reintroduced into the process. The discarded piles of cane stalks are inserted into this large oven and burned to provide the heat necessary for boiling the sludge and distilling the alcohol.

Personally, I love the fact that this process makes use of the entire sugar cane stalk, leaving very little waste product in the end. Quite literally, the plant that contains the sweet juice is eventually used to refine itself.


After passing through this contraption, the evaporated byproduct collects and begins to steadily pour through a pipe, situated just above a small collection bucket. From the pipe pours a highly concentrated liquid. According to our host, this rhum ranges anywhere from 80% to 90% proof and is much stronger than what will eventually make it to your glass, ice cream, or gourmet dish.

Nonetheless, I felt there would be no honor in this experience unless I took the time to sample the fruit of so much labor.

Many thanks to the gentlemen who walked us through the process. I am glad to say, I have a couple of new friends!

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