Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Rhum Negrita - A product of outdated ideologies and defunct distilleries


A recent find out at Sydney's Petersham Liquor Mart - a real treasure trove of a bottle store if you've never been - was a bottle of Bardinet's Rhum Negrita. Being the braggart that I am, I did not waste any time sharing my discovery with industry fellows. Whilst I wasn't claiming that the product was of high value or quality I felt a little chuffed that I'd managed to find something a bit different. Until I bumped into Mr David Ramos Hernandez that is.

David, the manager Low 302, is a Spaniard. And as it turns out this wee product used to be one of the big sellers in Spain and once upon a time was one of the few alternatives to Bundaberg or Bacardi available in Australia too. David, in need not be said, hardly raised an eyebrow.

Nevertheless, I decided I'd find out a little bit more about the product, and give it whiz past the old palate.

The producers of the product - Bardinet, founded in 1857  - are a bit of a giant in the French spirits market. Since 1974, the company has been based at Domaine de Fleurenne - a 14-hectare estate just outside Bordeaux. The complex is home to 90 000 hL of storage facilities of spirits, with 30% in ageing casks housed in 5 different cellars; 5 fully automated bottling lines with a maximum capacity of 14,000 bottles an hour for an annual production of 50 million bottles; and 12 000 m2 of warehouses. Lots of big numbers, but certainly no revelations here.

This particular spirit was distilled and aged at the Dillon Distillery, Fort-De-France, Martinique though Dillon, according to the Ministry of Rum, stopped distilling at the end of the 2005 season. The brand is still available today (in over 100 countries according to Bardinet's website) though I'd have to find a new bottle to establish where it it is made today.

The name of the product, Bardinet's logo and their old advertising posters are really what draws the eye. Negrita according to the Dictionary.com is: "n. A blackish fish (Hypoplectrus nigricans), of the Sea-bass family. It is a native of the West Indies and Florida". Although in this case I think we can be certain that the name actually means 'little negro woman'. 

The term and branding are politically insensitive to say the least especially as the spirit comes from Martinique. This country was built on the back of the slave trade and saw racially charged labour strife well into the 20th century despite the abolition of slavery in 1848.

Admittedly the posters and labels are more curious, than shocking to a modern audience, but that Bardinet have been unwavering with their branding for most of their 150 years deifies belief.

The product itself is an agricole rhum - made from sugar cane juice as opposed to molasses - as is the Martinique way. Allspice and cocoa dominate the nose and on the palate I get an initial sweetness which gives way to cocoa, dried apricots and fresh pressed sugarcane with a particularly hot finish. Very hot considering this rum weighs in at 38% abv. Whilst you know I like a rum with a bit of heat - this one doesn't deliver the goods on the high-ester, high-flavour end of the ballpark.

Whilst she ain't a goer I've had far worse. Still with it's strangely outdated brand ideologies (read; slightly racist)  I'm in no wonder as to why this product is no longer taking the world by storm.       

5 comments:

  1. I'm pretty sure this badboy has been a staple of the Dan Murphy's (rather limited) rum portfolio for a while now. I seem to recall having a big night on it in my earlier days. Might be worth investigating - if memory serves, they have the unaged as well.

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  2. Toussaint L’Ouverture is a prominent slave in the history of the slave trade. He rose up and fought the French oppressors. You can see a clip of his last moments in prison from the film “The Last Days of Toussaint L’Ouverture” – a short film – http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2468184/

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  3. Was one of only two rums sold in Papua New Guinea up until I left in late 1960's and as popular or more popular at the time than Bacardi, sales of which were handled I believe by Burns Philp Shipping co. Could be wrong but have not been able to find it for a long time.

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  4. A staple in PNG in the 60's and 70's. Goes well with Tabasco and Tomatoe Juice.

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  5. I just purchased some at Dan Murphy's for $20 a bottle,, at that price figured why not,,,, HOWEVER I am not too impressed, smells funny and taste funny (or at least different to what I am used to)

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