If there is one job that fascinates in the world of rum, it is that of cellar master! For me, growing and aging rums is an art and for good reason: a rum’s DNA has its origins in its terroir.
Then there’s the variety of cane that adapts to the soil and climatic conditions, harvesting at the right time, the choice of yeasts and duration of fermentation and finally, the art of distillation. And only then, in close collaboration with the farm managers, master distiller, oenologist, or QSHE manager, comes the work of the cellar master, who must sublimate an identity and a sensitivity totally unique to the brand.
Creating a signature rum is a complex task that requires vast amounts of knowledge and time – it is often a life’s work … so today I propose that we go and meet Daniel Baudin, the iconic cellar master of the BBS group and owner of Trois Rivières, La Maunyand Duquesne.
Damien Sagnier: Hello Daniel. Can you tell us a little about your career path and explain your day-to-day role in the different entities?
Daniel Baudin: Hello Damien. My path is quite unusual because after doing my A-levels in science followed by an advanced vocational training certificate (BTS) in electronics, I became a lab technician for Bacardi in Puerto Rico, where I learnt rigour. With my scientific background, I adapted easily to the job.
Then, thanks to Mr. Jean-Claude Benoît of the Saint-James Distillery, I joined the Technical Centre for Cane and Sugar in Martinique (CTCS M), where I learnt the transmission of knowledge and continued my work as a lab technician. And finally, since 1991, I have applied everything I have learnt in the service of Trois Rivières and then Maison La Mauny (from 1994) as Cellar Master.
My job is to take delivery of the freshly distilled rums, evaluate them, store them, then present them to the AOC and then water them down for bottling, thanks to my colleague, developer Serge Salatchy. Then, I have to select which white rums will undergo aging, select the cask and buy barrels and many other tasks that require a lot of organization.
Of course, in addition there’s a whole bunch of administrative tasks, with production documents and management documents to be completed, ensuring compliance with HACCP rules, AOC traceability of different lots from different tanks, managing operators and production control, etc.
D.S. : So how did you become a cellar master? Did you complete a special course to adapt your academic training or did you learn everything on the job?
D.B. : I learnt everything on the job with the help of experts, including Mr Christian Vergier, who introduced me to an international perspective of alcohols, both in the field of wine and a variety of different spirits. I also underwent oenological training during many work placements in preparation for blending.
You can now gain a diploma as a cellar master but nothing replaces learning on the job. Generally speaking, it is the orality that prevails, everyone has their secrets and techniques, very little information is transmitted in writing in this kind of job.
D.S. : Everyone who’s been lucky enough to meet you agree that you are passionate and fascinating. Where does this passion come from? Does it come from rum, chemistry or just a love of wood?
D.B. : It’s true that when you have a passion for your job, you inevitably share this passion in your exchanges… What first led me to this job is seeing that with just one raw material – sugar cane, we can produce so many things: cane juice, sugar cane syrup, powdered sugar and of course alcohol, whether agricole rum or traditional rum. The rest fell into place one piece at a time.
D.S. : In practical terms, once the rum has been distilled, what is the aging process at Trois Rivières and La Mauny?
D.B. : Once the rum has been distilled, and before aging it, I first select the organoleptic and physical-chemical quality of the product to be barrelled, so this will include tastings but also laboratory tests to determine the levels of volatile aromatic compounds such as higher alcohols, various acids, esters and of course TNA. Then I look for a cooper who has a comprehensive approach and delivers consistent work. The type of wood might vary, except in the case of AOC, where it will always be oak.
D.S. : Whether for Trois Rivières or La Mauny, you use French and American oak barrels. Roughly speaking, Trois Rivières’ old rum style is quite dry and floral, with a woody note that immediately stands out, while at Maison La Mauny it is the delicacy and spices that dominate, with slightly more fruity notes. Of course, there are some exceptions to this generalisation… which parameters do you play with to ensure this aromatic identity consistent to each brand?
D.B. : As you can imagine, everything depends on the choice of cask, which is a well-kept secret, but obviously a lot of work has gone into establishing a kind of framework specific to both brands, a very precise selection which gives texture to one brand or the other, then according to the cuvées, the basic “recipe” is adjusted. To develop such a product, the main elements used in its composition are the type of the wood, how it is heat-treated and what it has previously contained (or not, as the case may be). And finally, we sample each batch in order to create the blend that we deem to be perfect.
D.S. : We don’t often talk about the various oak species that are used to make staves. However, like cane, there are several varieties: Quercus alba, q. rubra, q.petrae, q. pedunculata, etc. and each has different properties. Which elements do you take into account to determine the species of oak you want to use?
D.B. : Indeed, it’s an important and decisive subject that is hardly ever addressed because it’s so complex and only interests those involved with and/or passionate about it. There are more than 500 species of the Quercus genus in the world, but not all are suitable for barrel-making. I only use two out of the three species that are most commonly used.
The first sub-genus is Quercus alba, which is the classic medium or large-grain white oak, native to the U.S. Midwest forests. It brings empyreumatic notes and many methyl-octalactones (chemical compounds with spicy woody aromas, tonka bean, coconut), that give it a strong aromatic load. The second subgenus is Quercus robur, which is also a white oak although it’s coarse-grained.
It is more commonly called pedunculate oak and gives more tannic notes because it’s more porous, but it does have fewer aromatic compounds.
D.S. : This is precisely what brings us to another important feature of the wood – the terroir! The main oak forests are located in Minnesota, Kentucky, Missouri and Ohio for the USA, and Limousin, Vosges, Allier and Burgundy for France. Can you briefly tell us what these different varieties and terroir bring?
D.B. : Without going into the details, I would say that Missouri oak brings spicy, delicate/pastry notes while French oak brings more tea/tisane notes and more fresh and fruity notes. For the more complex aromas that follow, they result from the desired conceptualisation more than the species of wood used. The thermal degradation of wood macromolecules generates the creation of many volatile aromatic substances, so the oenological contribution is based on the duration of charring and heat intensity.
D.S. : We have just learnt a little about the characteristics of barrels: new or previously containing other alcohols; made of oak, chestnut or acacia; various degrees of heating and charring, storage environment, there are many parameters… What do you think is the best combo for a perfect, versatile barrel?
D.B. : It’s difficult to make a versatile barrel, but to obtain a perfect barrel in my eyes, you need to mix different oak origins in raising the barrel (ed: assembling the staves with hoops), with different percentages of charring. But designing a multi-origin oak barrel with different levels of heat treatment is expensive! I had the opportunity to experiment with this type of assembly for a Belgian selection and it worked quite well.
D.S. : Traditionally, and in compliance with AOC Martinique specifications, you mature and age your rums using cylindrical oak containers (tuns and barrels). What do you think of square barrels (such as Roc Cuvette or Cybox) and egg-shaped barrels (such as Dolium or Ovum)?
D.B. : I don’t use egg-shaped barrels, and their use seems to be confined to certain wines and champagnes for now, especially for their Brownian motion effect . I’ve never worked with square barrels either… Although, I think they could be ideal for creating the perfect barrel because you could assemble the staves more easily with different heat treatments, origins, etc.
D.S. : As a cellar master, in addition to your personal experience, I imagine that you “keep an eye” on the work of your counterparts. What do you think of double aging, finishes, types of cellars (dry or wet), exotic/native wood species?
D.B. : Historically, there have always been barrels that previously contained something during ocean crossings – most of the time wines and whiskies from Europe and bourbon and rye whiskeys from North America.
Of course, they didn’t have the same mastery and it wasn’t, strictly speaking, an aging technique but was simply storage. So I say that any innovation is good! It allows us to bring more complexity to the aromatic notes in our different rums, provided of course that the principal flavour of rum is retained.
D.S. : Aging rum and controlling its evolution is one thing, but blending the flavours is another… of course, each blend is different due to its origin and destination. But generally speaking, how do you select cuvees in order to achieve the perfect symphony? How long does this R&D phase take on average?
D.B. : We regularly test rums directly from the barrel. Then we select the different batches that we enjoyed during these tasting sessions and from there, we perform several blending tests by changing the composition and playing on the percentages.
Regarding the length of time that it takes, I really can’t say. As you mentioned, every cuvee is different, and sometimes we find the right blend in the first tests, and sometimes the process can take several weeks.
D.S. : What are your favourite cuvees from Trois Rivières and Maison La Mauny, from any period at all?
D.B. : That’s a difficult choice to make, it’s like asking a parent to choose between their children! But I’d have to say La Mauny’s XO and Trois Rivières’ Cuvée Princess because they are complex rums that required a lot of work before the desired results were achieved.
D.S. : Today, everything is centralized at Rivière-Pilote at La Mauny: three columns for La Mauny, one for Trois Rivières and one for Duquesne, and then there are two storage areas. How is the “internal quota” distributed within the production unit? Can rum destined for La Mauny, for example, be used in a Trois Rivières recipe and vice versa?
D.B. : You’re right to ask. Until fermentation takes place, there is nothing to distinguish future rum brands from each other. By contrast after fermentation, each brand makes their own distillation adjustments and from that point on, each distilled rum is easily identifiable according to the column, date, batch, etc. Everything is then stored separately in stainless steel tanks according to their destination. As the preparations for bottling or aging advance, each brand therefore draws upon its own stocks, but their identities are not interchangeable.
D.S. : Maison La Mauny has just launched its Ratafia de Rum, an alcohol that intrigues me, as it’s mostly forgotten and doesn’t exactly have a glorious past… Can you tell us more about this new product, what is the process?
D.B. : It’s true that three centuries ago, cane alcohol had a bad reputation, particularly because it was of poor quality and was mostly drunk by sailors, however the techniques and, above all, the know-how have evolved enormously since then, and the quality of agricultural rums is constantly improving. So moving from ratafia to rum, this eau de vie has really come into its own, and this has never been truer than in the last 5 years, where we’ve seen an explosion of products offered.
There are already several mistelles in France: Floc de Gascogne, Pineau des Charentes, Macvin du Jura, Cartagène from the Languedoc, Rikiki from Beaujolais, Pommeau de Normandie or champagne or burgundy ratafia … Taking this principle of sweet wine, I had the idea of watering down a crude column rum with pure cane juice instead of water, which is what we would usually use. From approximately 67%, the rum is then reduced to around 33% volume. The whole is then put to age in oak barrels for just under 8 years to develop the aromas of the blend and give some body to the latter.
In the end we obtain a rum ratafia that is reminiscent of dessert with notes of brown sugar and tarte tatin in particular, not to mention fresh sugar cane of course. Thanks to its sweet aspect, this limited edition cuvee of 3000 50 cl bottles perfectly complements dessert, but can also be enjoyed over ice as an aperitif.
D.S. : That’s really interesting, thank you for the details! Any last words for Rumporter’s readers?
D.B. : Yes, I would like to thank Mr Alberto Vasquez de la Huerta, who believed in me, who gave me a leg up, and immersed me in the world of rum 31 years ago. Also to Mr. Jean-Claude Benoit, whom I mentioned above, who had faith in me for the CTCS Martinique analysis laboratory.
I also owe a lot to Christian Vergier for the various training courses in blending techniques, without forgetting all the passionate people I meet at the stands of the many European trade shows, in masterclasses with cellar masters in metropolitan France or directly in the cellars of Maison La Mauny and Trois Rivières. See you again soon at a tasting!