Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Feb 2010 Martinique - Habitation Clement

We were told that if there were only one distillery to tour on the island, Clement would be it - so we went with BJ & John. The gardens were indeed spectacular - with what seemed every kind of palm species, ponds, tropical flowers and happy birds. The tour wound past the "chais" - enormous storage sheds packed with hundreds of barrels of aging rum. Stepping into the doorway of a chai overwhelms the olfactory with a rich, thorough infusion of moist, woodearthy, raisinsweet rum perfume. The "angel's share" - the amount of rum lost to evaporation - is practically visible, as it reaches the maximum amount of about 10% in the tropical heat. Clement has piped in piano jazz, the sort heard in high-end hotel lobbies - to all of the storage buildings. Perhaps the music affects the overall quality of the rum--- adding a certain "je ne sais quois" to the flavor...?

The processing of the sugarcane is about to happen over the next week or so. The harvested cane has to be quickly processed or it begins to spoil within days - rendering it useless for rum. The cane is crushed in massive machinery, then the resulting "bagasse" is stored in enormous vats- each the size of an extra-deep hot-tub for ten - for the fermentation process before moving on through the still. The process is unchanged for centuries.

The original homestead of Habitation Clement is perfectly situated atop a small hill, to capture breezes and vistas through the shadetrees & hibiscus toward the sugarcane and banana trees. (And possibly, also the errant fumes from the distillery smokestack.) The house is a fantastic open layout of porchlike spaces around a central livingroom with two bedrooms on the upper floor and multiple sinks for washing off the tropical heat & dust. The kitchen, nicknamed the "gossip cottage", is a separate building, and there are stone demarcation posts as segregation area reminders. Apparently a common practice that - if breached - could be cause for whipping or worse. A slave at the plantation of Josephine (future Bonaparte) was shorted of her ears to serve an as an example for what happens when one literally strays from her designated path.

We followed our tour path properly, like good tourists, perusing contemporary art gallery buildings on a latter portion of the trail, and ending up at the tasting room. In the case of Clement, there was an almost bar-like atmosphere of underlit counters and great modern architectural elements housed within a centuries-old stone foundation. We went straight for the rhum vieux - 4- and 6-year-old, in this case, and quite lovely, although we did buy older vintages for future sampling...!

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