Why Madeiran Rum Is Special. Hello everyone, I hope you are well. In today’s post, I will be sharing a guest post from Madeiran rum expert Harold Vieira, co-founder of Harold & Hansa Ltd. Harold will share a beginner’s guide to Madeiran rums. Madeiran rums are becoming increasingly popular as rum lovers seek to widen their repertoire and palette away from the generic and sometimes excessively sweet molasses-based rums.
Why Madeiran Rum Is Special
Harold & Hansa Ltd is a UK distributor and specialist in Madeira Rum. Established in 2021, their mission is to spotlight lesser-known, premium-quality rums from Madeira. But what makes Madeiran Rum so unique?
Agricole rums are becoming increasingly popular as rum lovers seek to widen their repertoire and palette away from the generic, sometimes excessively sweet, molasses-based rums.
Agricole rums sit in the Premium rum category as they are rarer and offer a more complex flavour profile than molasses-based rums. With Agricole rums, you experience subtle notes of the sugarcane, which is not found in molasses rums. Agricole rums take on more layers of flavouring depending on the barrel or casks in which they have been aged.
Aged Agricole rums from Madeira, in particular, are unlike others globally. The high-quality sugarcane varieties grown on the Island contribute to the refreshing tones of authentic Madeiran rum.
A History Of Madeiran Rum
Madeira Island, known as the Pearl of the Atlantic, is located 850 km southwest of Portugal, with a population of around 250,000. The Portuguese Island is renowned for its beautiful landscapes, 90 miles of coastline and varied terrain. Madeira is a volcanic island with a mild to warm climate all year round. This helps explain why the island’s three primary industries are tourism, banana cultivation and Madeira Wine. In recent years, the production of Madeira Rum has revived. Once the most significant industry in Madeira, experts anticipate that it will be one of the country’s major exports in the years to come.
Rum da Madeira, known on the Island, is an Agricole rum with an extensive history and cherished by rum enthusiasts for its complex yet refreshing flavour profile. The warm climate of Madeira, together with its fertile volcanic soils, means this European landmass yields exceptional-quality sugarcane. What further sets Madeira Rum apart from other rums are the meticulous methods of production undertaken by the distillers on the Island. Timeless distillation methods combined with exceptional craftsmanship result in rums with extraordinary flavours. Madeira Rums have been recognised by the drinks community, with many rums from the Island having won top awards and accolades across international spirit competitions over the years.
How Madeira Became A Rum Pioneer
Madeira Island was officially discovered in 1419 by three explorers – João Gonçalves Zarco, Tristão Vaz Teixeira and Bartelomeu Perestrelo – by the order of Prince Henry the Navigator. The name ‘Madeira’ is derived from wood due to the Island’s historical abundance of dense forest. The first settlers of Madeira cleared the dense laurel forest to grow grain but soon after decided to plant sugarcane instead, with these crops originating from Sicily.
Madeira’s geographic location, warm climate, abundance of water and fertile volcanic soil meant sugarcane flourished and contributed to the Island’s prosperity. By 1466, sugar became the primary industry. The demand for sugar in the 15th century was so high that the crop was known as “white gold” across Europe. Madeira was thriving, producing an amount equivalent to half of the sugar consumption in Europe. Sugar from Madeira was considered to be of the highest quality. Despite competition from other sugar producers like Sicily, Egypt and Morocco, Madeira started exporting its sugar worldwide.
During this period of prosperity, Madeira began its production of Rum, with some of the production methods and technologies still used today. Sailors and traders transported Madeira Rum overseas and enjoyed domestic and foreign markets.
16th – 21st Century
However, the sugar and rum industry of Madeira started to experience a decline in the 16th century as a result of the decision to plant sugarcane in Brazil, a Portuguese colony at the time. Sugarcane grew effortlessly in Brazil, and Madeira – with its sloped land and more labour-intensive production – could not compete against Brazil’s new, cheaper sugar.
Furthermore, in the 17th century, a sugarcane disease surged across the Island, which was the hammer blow to Madeira’s sugar and rum industry. Sugarcane fields were replaced with vineyards and other fruits. By the late 20th century, sugarcane production declined by over 95% from its peak in the 15th century.
The 21st century saw a revival of the sugar and rum industries on the Island, thanks to government support and a drive by the local population to renew their traditional skills and heritage. Today, sugarcane accounts for 172 hectares on the Island, with all the production carried out by small family-owned farms. The cane continues to be grown on sloped land, with gradients more significant than 25%. Therefore, small-scale farmers continue to harvest sugarcane by hand without large-scale machinery. Madeirans take great pride in knowing that sugarcane continues to be harvested in this traditional way. It’s believed this corresponds to an exceptional product as the care and quality of the sugarcane are considered paramount.
What Makes Madeira AgricoleRumm So Unique?
All Rum comes from sugarcane. However, not all sugarcane is created equally. Madeira sugarcane is considered one of the best in the world. Thanks to Madeira’s unique microclimate, volcanic soil, altitude and oceanic influences, it has distinct characteristics. These factors contribute to the cane’s distinct, nuanced flavour profile, rich in aromatic compounds and complexity. There are three types of sugarcane grown on the island:
- POJ 2725 (also known as Purple cane),
- NCO 310 ( also known as Green cane)
- Yuba (also known as Canica) is endemic to the Island
Madeira rum comes from this exceptionally high-quality cane and is taken through a careful production process that influences the final flavour.
The first stage in the process of rum-making is harvesting. To preserve the sugarcane’s quality and consider the Island’s sloped terrain, all harvesting is done by hand, which means care and attention to detail are paramount. The sugarcane will only be harvested if it has a minimum of 15º Brix sugar levels.
The next step is crushing the sugarcane. This is done in more than one mill to ensure all the juice is extracted. In most cases, the crushing is done the day after the cane has been harvested to maintain the sugar level and extract the maximum quantity of juice. The crushed sugarcane juice then enters a reservoir where the next step occurs.
After the crushing of the cane where the juice is extracted, the fermentation process begins. The process is exclusively alcoholic fermentation with the help of yeast and usually takes between 24 and 72 hours.
The rum-making process involves several stages, and the penultimate stage is distillation. In Madeira, where rum making is an art, distillers use copper stills to achieve the most traditional type of distillation, resulting in small-batch rums with unique flavour profiles. They also have the option of using a column still to produce more consistent rum and in higher volumes.
It should be noted that Madeira only produces Agricole rums – made by distilling fresh sugarcane juice. This contrasts with over 90% of the rum produced globally, which is molasses-based. Molasses is a by-product of the refinement of Rumar, so Rumis is a cheaper way of producing Rum. With Agricole rum, no sugarcane juice is diverted to making sugar. Therefore, with Agricole rum, the consumer gets the whole essence of the sugarcane in the final product.
The ageing phase is the last and most crucial element in producing Madeira Rum. All Madeira Rums are aged in French oak barrels, contributing deep and rich flavour profiles. The most Premium rums of Madeira will typically be aged in oak casks that previously held Madeira Wine. These casks impart a sweet, brandy-like flavour to rums, incomparable to others on the market.
The whole production process of Madeira Rum is carefully carried out, from the harvesting of the cane to the ageing of the distilled product. This is why Madeira Rum is renowned for its smoothness, richness and complexity. Notes of dried fruits, caramel and vanilla sing harmoniously to bolder oak tones, making for a truly exceptional product. IVBAM, “The Institute of Wine, Embroidery and Craftsmanship of Madeira,” regulates and certifies the Geographic Indication (GI) that protects Madeira Rum. This GI preserves and maintains the quality and essence of what has earned Madeira Rum its international recognition.
I hope you enjoyed that.
About The Author
Harold Vieira is co-founder of Harold & Hansa, experts in Madeira Rum. Established in 2021, Harold & Hansa aims to spotlight lesser-known, premium-quality rums from Madeira. Co-founder Harold is from this beautiful Portuguese Island, and his family has been in the rum trade for many years. Madeira creates some of the best rums in the world using exceptional sugarcane varieties and a meticulous production process. The team at Harold & Hansa handpick the finest rums from the Island to bring to the trade and consumers in the UK. The company also organises rum-tasting events to take you on a journey to discover the spirit of Madeira, sip by sip.