This micro-distillery was born in 2021 from the association of four planters from Le Moule in Guadeloupe and impressed us with its first batch, the Rejeton. Since then, the range has expanded and the new brand has teamed up with the Maison du Whisky. In short, it has everything of a future great. Especially since it adopts an approach that is both innovative and as close as possible to tradition, by choosing to highlight agriculture and the planters, renamed “master cane growers”, a bit like the wine growers.
Papa Rouyo is the story of a rum brand created in Guadeloupe in the middle of the covid, which less than two years later is distributed by La Maison du Whisky (LMDW) and finds itself propelled to the forefront of the Whisky Live 2022.
Except that before the first juice came out of the still, it took 8 years of reflection and various and sundry administrative steps (apart from Rhum Rhum in Marie-Galante in 2007, the last distillery to open its doors in Guadeloupe was Damoiseau, founded 80 years ago in 1942) to the four co-founders: Tim Synésius, Jean Marie Gobardhan, Judes Galli and Joris Galli, all owners of parcels around Le Moule.
“In 2014 we realized that we had the same problems: our small plots were harvested only every other year,” recalls Joris Galli. Indeed, industrial cutting favours large plots that are easier and faster to operate, while small ones are only treated at the end of the campaign, or not at all when the tonnage is reached.” The partners then decided to embark on a crazy adventure: to set up a distillery from scratch, in order to valorize the fruit of their work. But they don’t want to make rum for the sake of making rum, and from the start they think their project to be able to produce exceptional spirits, different from what is done on the main island or in Marie-Galante.
And to give an identity, a soul to the project, the associates decided to name it in homage to the planter and local figure Albert Ruscade known as “Papa Rouyo” (1920 to 1980), who is also the grandfather of Joris Galli.
A unique rum in its kind
From the start, all the choices (agriculture, distillation, aging…) are made to achieve a rum that is both high-end and unique in its kind. “We took our cue from the spirits we liked, like the great whiskies, and the great cognacs,” says Joris Galli. Thus, we chose an iron still while the standard is the column in Guadeloupe.”
The still eventually arrived in February 2021 and was immediately put to work. In March, the first barrels were filled, while the first 500 copies of the ‘Rejeton’, a single rum with a 56% proof made from cane that was not selected because it was too young or overripe (18 months old), were bottled in July.
For a first try it is a master stroke, it smells like ripe cane, it is powerful, aromatic, spicy, with a touch of salinity at the end. Since then, the range has expanded, with new batches of the Rejeton (where only 10% of the cane is overripe), an ESB (Samblaj), Eritaj (a single cask), and notably a collaboration with the Ricci family and the 1802 bar on the ESB.
The ESB having already the flavours of an old rum. The whole being particularly successful, but being proposed at prices quite salty all the same: for example the Rejeton is at 65 euros and Samblaj at 53 euros. But this is undoubtedly the price of excellence and craftsmanship.
Towards the vintages of the master cane growers
Today, the fields cultivated by the founders represent 11 hectares, all organic or in conversion, but Papa Rouyo also buys cane in the surroundings of Le Moule. The project is indeed centred on the moulien terroir, with its clay-limestone soil, whose marine sediments date back 5 million years.
“There is a strong influence of minerality in our rums because the roots of the canes come to lick the limestone, and even sometimes cross it”, learns Xavier Piron Brand Ambassador and Co-Responsible for the Cellars of Papa Rouyo. But there is also a strong marine influence with the nearby Atlantic Ocean depositing salt on our canes.
” Yes you read correctly, the roots of the canes penetrate several meters into the subsoil. And this is one of the greatest originality of this project: to give pride of place to the cultivation of cane (red cane and cane matos varieties), and to those who practice it, the planters or rather the “master cane growers”. Some of the cane cultivated is indeed 12 years old and goes down to 3 meters underground.
The master cane growers are also testing new cultivation techniques, such as the creation of 1.5-meter inter-rows. “We are going to plant less so that the canes do not compete with each other, are more beautiful, bigger and have more sugar. In the end it’s the same as planting a maximum of canes per hectare, except that it’s less difficult to manage”, Xavier Piron explains.
In fact, Papa Rouyo is already preparing for the next move, or even the next revolution, by elaborating single-planted vintages, where the work of a single master cane grower will be put forward. The final objective is that they are recognized as much as the winegrowers can be.
There is indeed a lot of work to be done in a cane plantation when one wants to manage it in the best way, one can work the soil, thin out the leaves, cut without damaging, go to organic farming, or even biodynamic farming… So many methods that the master cane growers already practice in an empirical way, but that Papa Rouyo wishes to systematize.
600 litres of 65-68% rum
Once pampered, even during long years, the sugar canes end up being cut. For the moment this is done by hand, but Papa Rouyo plans to move towards long cutting with a light cutting machine that will pass through the famous inter-rows.
Then, the same day they are crushed in Moule and the juice is sent to the premises of the micro-brewery Lékouz Bière in Goyave in Basse-Terre, where the fermentation tanks (3 small tanks of 50 hectoliters) and the Vosges still are located for the moment. These installations should soon be repatriated to Le Moule, closer to the terroir. Fermentations are conducted for 48 to 78 hours (depending on the parcels, the planters, the bricks, if it rained …) with an enscence by a Gadeloupean yeast called the RM, developed by INRAE Guadeloupe.
“Unfortunately, we tried spontaneous fermentation, but it doesn’t work yet,” says Xavier Piron. Distillation is carried out by a double still, a hybrid between a Scottish and a Charentais model, custom-made for Papa Rouyo.
The apparatus can process 3,000 litres of cane juice at 5 or 6%. The heating is done with steam, and for the moment is fed by fuel oil. In three days of work and two distillations, 600 litres of 65-68% rum are obtained.
Then, the reduction is done with spring water that flows from the volcano of the Soufrière, which again brings minerality to the rum. While the ageing is done in new US and FR oak barrels and ex-Cognac red oak barrels, with various heating from light to intense.
And there you have it, you know everything (or almost) about this new Guadeloupean brand which will undoubtedly bring us many other surprises and favourites in the years to come.