Pére Labat Agricole Blanc 59° & 50°

Pére Labat 50° Bottle-RG1-USE

Product of:  Marie-Galante, Guadeloupe, FWI
Aged:
  NA
Price:
 €9.75 - €12/Liter in French West Indies
Alcohol: 59%  & 50% ABV 
Sugar: 0 g/L 

Context:
 Rhum Blanc Agricole
RG Rating: 9

Tasting Notes 
Very Smooth.   Much like the clergyman it was named after, Pére Labat the rhum is full of surprises. To start, swirling produces legs, and a good many of them too.  They do run quickly, but the important thing here is their presence - the large majority of unaged white rums simply sheet quickly down the inside of a tasting glass.

The color is crystal clear - no surprises there.  But then, we know that from the transparent bottle.  Sniff gently, and the rhum provides aromas of fresh-cut sugarcane juice running from the crusher, tempered by lesser pungent grassy smells.  And yes, there is sweet buttery alcohol on the nose, but it too is surprising for it’s mild acridity.  The initial taste is yummy sweet with a medium-heavy body, with mild anise and white pepper riding along throughout the rather long finish.  

Pere Labat Stamp Antique Vignette-RG1

Anecdotes 
Pére Labat, the rhum, was named after Jean-Baptiste Labat, the 17th and 18th-century missionary clergyman (Pére = Father) whose innovations in efficiently managing plantation resources and sugar and rhum production, remain a legacy of the once-thriving Caribbean corner of the sugar-rum-slave economy known today as the “Triangle Trade”.

Very soon after Pére Labat arrived in Guadeloupe in 1694, he suffered a life-thretening lillness and fever.  Only the divine intervention of the local alcohol, likely the predecessor of what is today called rum, kept him alive. According to Pére Labat’s journal: “The spirit drawn from sugarcane is called guildive, though savages and negroes call it taffia. It is extremely strong, has a disagreeable odour and it is as bitter as our grain spirits. It is prepared in a place similar to a vinegar factory…” Jean-Baptiste Labat, New Voyage to the American Islands (1722). 

Pere Labat 59° Label-RG1

Astute viewers will notice the words La Guildive towards the top of the bottle’s label.  Guildive is a French-ification of “Kill Devil”, the disparaging term for rum in it’s earliest Caribbean incarnations.  As has been reported often, it is an apt description for Caribbean rums made centuries ago.  Some English rums, notably those produced on Antigua, were prized by many for their lighter body and smoother consumption as early as the 18th century.  French rhums came into their own beginning in the mid-19th Century with advances in distilling technology and other techniques. With improvements in production developed by Father Labat, plus others such as Aeneas Coffey and better tuning of Alembic stills, rhum, rum, and ron have certainly evolved to the fine sugarcane-derived spirits we enjoy today. 

Contemplattion - Pere Labat 59°

Marie-Galante was named after Christopher Columbus’ boat, the Maria Galanda, which carried him to the island during his second voyage to the West Indies in November 1493.   Marie-Galante was the first island visited by Columbus in the archiplego known today as Guadeloupe, a department of France. That voyage was also significant to the entire Caribbean, as it was then that the famous explorer first brought sugarcane to the New World.  The island first came under French colonial rule in 1648, then for two centuries went through bloody back and forth battles between Carib Amerindians, British, Dutch, Brazilan, displaced African slaves  and ultimately French colonial settlers.   Today, Marie-Galante is part of the Guadeloupe archipelago, which also the islands of Grande-Terre and Basse-Terre (Guadeloupe proper), Terre de Haut and Terre de Bas (Iles des Saintes) and Desirade.  Since 1982 Guadeloupe has been a single overseas department of France.

During the peak of Caribbean sugar production, Marie-Galante  boasted 105 sugar mills.  About 70 of them are in currently various states of ruin.  For an island population of 12,000, its three distilleries would seem sufficient for even the most ardent aficionados.  Pére-Labat is produced at Distillerie Poisson.  Two other distilleies operate on Marie-Galante.  Distillerie Bielle ' Rhum Bielle produces 330,000 litters of rhum annually.  Bellevue founded in 1769 is the oldest distillery on the island still producing rhum, and is the largest at 850,000 liters annually.

Opinion
I’m generally not one who likes surprises.  But in the case of Pére Labat 50° and 59° rhum blanc, they were undeniably welcome.  Both rhums make for an elegant classic ‘Ti Punch, as they really must for honor’s ssake.  Yet they also also sip like a subtly sweet sugarcane apéritif, albeit with considerable octane. 

Reviewed: May 2014 while sailing around Marie-Galante in the French West Indies.

© Dave Russell 2017