Old rums from Reunion Island

The end of the year and Christmas are traditionally THE time of year when sales of old rums and other high-end vintages explode. When it comes to crossing off the names of rums on the list addressed to Santa Claus, many rum lovers will probably point to distilleries in the Caribbean, South America or Jamaica. At Rumporter, we offer you an alternative, or rather an additional choice by focusing on old rums… from Reunion Island.

rhums vieux de La Réunion

When it comes to aged rums, Reunion Island is not the destination that spontaneously comes to mind, so much so that the brand image of its rums is primarily associated with the Charrette brand and the arrangés.

As a reminder, Reunion produces 98% of traditional molasses rum, 96% of white rum, 80% of which is owned by Charette, which is itself a blend of rums from the three main distilleries of the island: Savanna (50%) Rivière-du-mât (42%), and Isautier (8%). And yet, this overseas department produces some of the best old rums we have tasted in recent years.

French Oak, Cognac style, No Additions

I can already see some of the more ‘enlightened’ enthusiasts twisting their noses at the mention of molasses rums. However, as we keep saying and writing at Rumporter, there are excellent molasses rums all over the world, especially aged ones, and Reunion Island is no exception. First, according to the Indication Géographique Rhum de la Réunion, this molasses must be produced locally and not imported.

Secondly, Reunion molasses rum is a heavy, powerful, aromatic rum, very different from the light rums of the Spanish style, but more classic than the Jamaican rums. Contrary to popular belief, it can be drunk as a ti-punch. But also, of course, aged! “The rums of Reunion Island are characterized by a roundness, but also very fresh notes that we must try to keep during aging, explains the oenologist Christian Vergier, who presided over the (re)birth of the range of aged rums of Rivière du Mât. Our job is to preserve these characteristics during aging.

Whether at Rivière du Mât, Isautier or Savanna, the choice has been made to give preference to French oak, and most often to ex-cognac barrels. Techniques inherited from the Cognac region have also been used by those who have worked in Cognac or who have been inspired by it. The producers of Réunion Island rums all declare that they do not add sweeteners or colouring agents to their aged rums.

The three main distilleries, sourcing molasses from the two sugar factories of the “intense island” (the Bois Rouge sugar factory in the north, and the Gol sugar factory in the south), it is however difficult to speak of “rhums de terroirs” as it is heard for the Martinique or Guadeloupe agricole rums. One will not find (at least not for the moment) rums parcel or monovarietal. However, the vintage rums, or displaying only one count of age (for example 5 or 10 years) in the assembly, as well as the single casks made their appearance since about twenty years.

The awakening of the 2000s

However, in the long history of Reunion Island (which started making rum before making sugar), the production of aged rums in a thoughtful and coordinated way is very recent and was not self-evident. At Savanna, the first ageing rums date back to the Savanna sugar estate in Saint Paul, well before the distillery moved to Bois Rouge in 1992, although we can’t really date it,” says Samuel Pitarch, sales and marketing director at Savanna. Then, it went crescendo from 1992 when only 100 barrels were aging to our days with 900 barrels.”

Arriving at the beginning of the years in 2000 at the bedside of the production of old rums of Rivière-du-Mât (owned by La Martiniquaise since 2011), Christian Vergier, and then the cellar master Jean Grondin (2003), first had to make do with the existing. “When we arrived, we were using barrels that had contained all sorts of alcohols,” the latter told us during our visit in November 2021. The partners, both of whom have been in Cognac, have successfully adapted the techniques they learned there to the rums of Rivière-du-Mât, in particular the dynamic ageing (since 2004) and the ageing of ex-cognac 400L small and large French oak barrels, which represent 99% of the 2,000 barrels currently being aged.

In 2005, Danièle Le Normand, who was then in charge of the rum branch of Isautier, decided to launch a range of aged rums. She called on the oenologist Matthieu Cosse, a great lover of Armagnac and Cognac eau-de-vies, to carry out this ambitious project. He is also a winemaker at the Cosse-Maisonneuve estate in Cahors, and is overseeing the purchase of a fleet of barrels and the construction of an aging cellar. The ageing process started in new French oak barrels, before the rum was transferred to red barrels, initially ex-cognac, which were gradually replaced by ex-Isautier rum barrels.

“From the beginning, we selected the best juices, those that had an aging potential of at least 10 years, moreover you find rums of 2004 in the new releases this year”, confides Matthieu Cosse. Today 460 barrels of 350 litres are in ageing informs us Cyril Isautier, who manages the Rhums and Punch Isautier.

An inferiority complex is being overcome

Little by little, old rums from Reunion Island are beginning to make a name for themselves in France, and gold medals in international competitions are also beginning to flow in. In 2021, Isautier even formed a distribution partnership for its aged rums with the prestigious Maison du Whisky and launched a bottling with Velier.

But how can we explain that these aged rums, which we now adorn with so many virtues, have remained unknown for so long? The explanation is perhaps to be found on the side of Reunion, and of the Reunionese. During our visit in November 2021, all the people we met admitted to suffering from a certain inferiority complex vis-à-vis their fellow West Indians.

The idea that rums, especially agricole rums, from the French West Indies were inherently better had indeed infused even among the Réunionese rum producers themselves. And for a long time, Reunion Island simply did not dare to promote its venerable spirits. But let’s face it, from now on, the Réunionese produce excellent old rums, they are aware of it, they are proud of it and they want it to be known!

Another piece of good news is that, in view of the growing success of their aged rums, the Reunionese are investing. Isautier plans to double its aging capacity by building a new cellar by 2025. Rivière-du-Mât is doing the same with the construction of a second cellar in Saint-Benoît to accommodate a greater capacity of 3,000 barrels of 200 litres and 400 litres.

9 vintages to better understand the old rums of Reunion Island

Rounder, less drying, old rums from Reunion Island are a good alternative to West Indian rums, while being less sweet than many Spanish-style rums and less ‘heavy’ than English-style rums. Here is our selection of must-taste bottles.

Rivière du Mât, an assumed classicism

“Rivière du Mât’s rums are never in the show, but are on the contrary very serious, structured”, Christian Vergier decrypts. Here is a range of aged rums where the roundness is present but never heavy, where the notes of cocoa, coffee and vanilla take the lead, but still allow the expression of exotic and dry fruits.

rhums vieux de La Réunion Riviere du mat
© Laurent de Gebhardt

Produced thanks to a dynamic ageing process that favours blending throughout the ageing process, in ex-cognac casks, they offer alcoholic degrees close to 40%. In few words: they boldly assume a certain classicism. And it is true that there is a comforting side to taste the range of old rums of Rivière-du-Mât.

However, we think that a touch of craziness could give the whole some pep to it. Lovers of rums with more asperity could however find their happiness with very well made single casks. “In addition, we are aging agricole rum with a 3 year old, 6 year old and OPUS 5, explains Séverin Bayle Marketing Manager / Alcohols at La Martiniquaise. Currently we buy the white bulk from our colleagues but we will be very quickly autonomous with the commissioning of a Creole column since September 2022 to distill the pure cane juice purchased from TEREOS”.

rhums vieux de La Réunion Jean Grondin
Jean Grondin © Laurent de Gebhardt


Greatness, or rather quality, does not wait for the number of years (at least 4 for this VSOP). One can still distinguish the frame of the white rum with its peppery aromas, its “refreshing” side praised by Christian Vergier.

But the wood gives it a nice maturity, and aromas of chocolate, vanilla and roasted fruits. A very good quality-price ratio.

70 cl, 43%, around 30 euros.


Rivière du Mât’s trademark being the blending, here is a rum which successfully combines the 2003, 2004 and 2006 vintages, which have all been bottled, sometimes in single cask.

All in greediness, the pastry aromas, beeswax and nuts emerge. This tannic and fat rum is aromatic, but without excess. The quintessence of the RDM style.

70 cl, 43%, around 65 euros

Single Cask 2003

Master of blending and wise degrees, Jean Grondin also knows how to select rums from particular casks, and to (moderately) increase the TAV. Thus this Single cask dating from 2003, titrating 46%, not cold filtered.

The wood is present, but controlled. The aromas of cocoa and coffee, well presented but tempered by a nice freshness. One returns to it for its complexity.

70 cl, 46%, around 90 euros.

rhums vieux de La Réunion Riviere du mat

The range of old rums of Rivière du Mât :

Traditional molasses rums

Royal Réserve : old rum (3 years minimum) of molasses – 40%.
VSOP : rum (4 years minimum) of molasses – 43
Grande Réserve : rum (6 years minimum) of molasses – 40%.
XO: rum (6 years minimum, 8.5 years on average) of molasses – 42
1886 : blend of 2003, 2004 and 2006 vintages – 43
Vintage 2006: molasses rum from the 2006 harvest – 43%.
Single Cask 2004: single cask molasses rum from the 2004 harvest – 46
Single Cask 2003 : single cask molasses rum from the 2003 harvest – 46

The Rum Agricoles

Cuvée Spéciale : (3 years minimum), only sold in Reunion Island – 45
Réserve Spéciale 6 ans : a blend of agricole rums that have aged for at least 6 years – 43%.
Opus 5 : blend of five aged agricole rums aged in oak barrels – 43

Isautier, rums with finesse

Supervised by oenologist and winemaker Matthieu Cosse since 2015 and launched by Danièle Le Normand (who passed away in 2018), Isautier’s range of aged rums can now rely on the know-how of cellar master Marie Ferrand and the voluntarism of Cyril Isautier, the director of Isautier rums and punches.

rhums vieux de La Réunion Marie Ferrand

First aged in new French oak barrels, then put to rest for a long time in red barrels that have previously housed house rums, Isautier’s old rums are characterized by a straightforwardness, and an almost vinous side.

We try not to mark the rum, to preserve its purity, its naturalness and its finesse of expression,” says Matthieu Cosse. We interfere as little as possible. As with cognac or armagnac, aging is there to ennoble an exceptional eau de vie.” At Isautier, we do not necessarily practice blending, so the 5, 7 and 10 year old rums, have aged the indicated number of years. Note that Isautier also produces agricole rums, which are also aged, like the 10 years.

rhums vieux de La Réunion Isautier

Isautier 7 years

This traditional molasses rum, aged for 7 years, is a real success. It manages to release beautiful aromas of ripe fruit, citrus, vanilla and toasted notes, while retaining freshness. It is good, precise, complex and one does not get tired of it.

70 cl, 40%, around 60 euros.

Louis et Charles

Once is not customary at isautier, here is a rum of assembly. Between rums aged between 14 and 22 years, and rarer, agricole rums and molasses rums.

It is also the case of the 5 years. Here, the opposites marry and do not fight. The initial roundness ends on a drying sensation, the exotic fruits are tempered by a beautiful freshness.

70 cl, 45%, 94 euros


This rum, which pays homage to Antoinette Isautier, the first female director of the House in 1865, was one of the first to be aged by Matthieu Cosse in 2004.

This nectar, encased in its updated triangle bottle, is a very, very beautiful old molasses rum. We are caught by the aromas of nuts, candied fruits, chocolate, vanilla … all being very pastry. And a final of minty liquorice comes to refresh the whole.

70 cl, 55%, 123 euros

The range of old rums of Isautier

The permanent range :

The 5 years old : blend of rums agricole and molasses of 5 years old – 40%.
The 7 years old : 7 years old molasses rum – 40%.
The 10 year old: 10 year old rums agricole – 40%.

Exceptions :

Alfred : Molasses rum 12 years old – 45
Antoinette: 14 year old molasses rum – 55%.
Louis et Charles : blend of 14 and 22 years old agricole and molasses rums – 45
L’Elise : single cask rum agricole of 15 years of age – 55
L’Apolline : 16 year old single cask molasses rum – 55

Savanna, or rum for geeks

Savanna has been producing aged rum for a very long time, but only started bottling juice under its brand in 2003. When La Martiniquaise bought the spirits branch of the Quartier Français group, Savanna had to be sold to avoid the creation of a quasi monopoly on the island.

rhums vieux de La Réunion johnny landais
Johnny Landais

Now owned by the Reunionnaise du Rhum (Chatel group), Savanna is the largest contributor of Charrette rum. But it is also the most prized distillery in Reunion by rum geeks. Indeed, it excels in putting on the market limited editions and single casks that only arrive in metropolitan France in 100 or 200 copies (but which are available at the distillery’s store).

But Savanna is above all a unique know-how in the field of great aroma: a rum very rich in esters and non-alcoholic compounds, resulting from a long fermentation involving yeast and vinasse. Thierry Grondin, a doctor in organic chemistry, and Johnny Landais, the cellar master, are at the helm.

The rums are generally aged in ex-cognac barrels, but Savanna is not averse to finish or even double aging. The Bois-Rouge distillery also markets a little rum Agricole.

rhums vieux de La Réunion Savanna

5 years old

Here is a traditional rum of sugar refinery (the Savanna distillery is leaned to the sugar refinery of Bois Rouge) very well made, with its aromas of ripe fruits (pineapple, banana) in the nose, also present in mouth, completed by spices and empyreumatic aromas.

70 cl, 43%, around 45 euros

The Must

Here is a traditional rum of sugar refinery (the Savanna distillery is leaned to the sugar refinery of Bois Rouge) very well made, with its aromas of ripe fruits (pineapple, banana) in the nose, also present in mouth, completed by spices and empyreumatic aromas.

70 cl, 43%, around 45 euros

Herr 10 years

We have tried to present you with easily accessible vintages, but Savanna being a master in the art of marketing limited editions, one was needed in this selection. “Herr” is normally a high ester rum made by Thierry Grondin. Here it had been aged for 10 years in ex-cognac barrels, a rarity!

We found the usual markers of the Herr (English candy, lychee, brine …), and the roundness that brings the aging in ex-cognac casks. This cuvée is now unavailable, but Savanna regularly releases aged versions of Herr (such as the Tribute to Japan), so we recommend you to stay alert and jump on the next batch… or to try the Herr (unaged) version 2022.

Savanna’s range of aged rums

Permanent range :

Métis : Blend of traditional rums aged in casks blended with traditional rums aged 4 years in French oak barrels – 40%.
5 years : Traditional rum aged for 5 years – 43
The Must: Blend of traditional and great flavoured rums aged up to 9 years – 45%.

Limited series :

Edition Bois-Rouge 2022: Blend of very old agricole rums – 57%.

Other rums from Reunion Island

Reunion’s rums are less monolithic than they seem. Thus, if molasses rums represent 98% of the production, the three main distilleries market agricole rums. Isautier even has plans to create a micro-distillery for agricole rum at the family estate of Bérive. Organic, plot-based and vintage rums should be produced within a few years.

The small family distillery La Part des Anges produces sublime fruit waters, but also some of the best agricole rums (white) that I have ever tasted. Also featured in this issue, Métiss offers traditional Reunion Island arranged rums and has plans to build its own distillery. Alongside gin and budka, Arômes Distillerie also offers Zarboutan rum.

The Domaine des Tourelles also has its own rum. Finally, Nicolas Rivière has joined forces with Nicolas Julhès to offer a rum made from his ultra-premium sugar: Galabé.

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