Kiowa Bryan – Meet the Expert

Kiowa Bryan – Rhum Expert

Kiowa Bryan hails from Vermont originally, where she took her first job in hospitality over 20 years ago.

It was while behind the bar at The Eveleigh in Los Angeles that she first tasted a Ti’Punch and realized her intended career path advocating for the education of all things Rhum Agricole and the French Caribbean.

Rhum Agricole with Kiowa

Since then, she has been lucky enough to spend the last eight years growing professionally into the role of US Marketing and On-Trade director of Spiribam Fine Spirits Family, while the company did the same, expanding into a seven brand portfolio. In her spare time, you can find her listening to Christmas Carols far into February, studying history, or snuggling her dog Martinique Warrilow McFly.

Where do you think the category of rum originates from, and in what time period was this? 

I’m sure someone else will talk about the multifaceted history of rum in general so I’ll stick to something a little more niche, Rhum Agricole. The term “Agricole” meaning “agricultural” in French came to be back when molasses rum was the dominant rum being produced in Martinique, which was the case up until after WWI.

In order to differentiate the rum that was mass produced both locally and for France from the local rum made by farmers from sugarcane, the terms industrial rum and agricultural rum came to be. Though it didn’t become popular until after WWI, “Rhum Agricole” was first reported at the sugar refinery at Fonds-Prèville in northern Martinique (where Rhum J.M is made today) in the early 19th century, and was first officially recorded at the 1855 World’s Fair where Martinique Rhum Agricole won 1st and 2nd place medals.

What is Rhum made from?

Fresh sugarcane juice.

Sugarcane by Rhum J.M.

Did you know that sugarcane begins to oxidize and ferment within the stalk as soon as it is cut, which can cause bacteria and unfavorable flavors. ​For this reason you ideally want to crush the sugarcane into juice as fast as possible.

In a nutshell, how is Rhum made?

Sugarcane is a perennial grass that, like your lawn, we cut it with a giant tractor into foot long pieces that go through three decreasing size mills to crush and juice the cane. The resulting sugarcane juice goes into large stainless steel vats with commercial yeast to accelerate the fermentation process which lasts about 24 hours before it’s ready to be pumped over to the single column copper stills.

The key to such a flavorful rum made on a column still is the proof – we only distill to 72% ABV, which is mandatory by A.O.C. law which states we cannot exceed 75% ABV in distillation. The A.O.C. or Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée is a set of standards for French agricultural products that requires that the production of everything from Champagne to Camembert is done in a manner that is true to their geographical and historical terroir. Martinique A.O.C. Rhum Agricole is no exception and every step of production is done in accordance to strict rules.

Why should everyone be drinking Rhum Agricole?

Because there is no better way to capture the pure essence of elegant, sweet, aromatic sugarcane!

Why should everyone drink your brand? 

Lucky for Martinique Rhum Agricole, every single bottle of rum that has A.O.C. Martinique on it has already gone through the toughest tests of quality in the entire rum category. That being said, every single Martinique A.O.C. Rhum Agricole is outstanding.

Why drink mine? Well, the beauty of distilling the raw sugarcane juice is that you can really taste the terroir or sense of place of where it’s from. So, if you like a lot of minerality with hints of lemon zest, star anise, and cane flower, Rhum J.M is for you. If you like a little more savory of a flavor profile, Rhum Clément is for you. I am obviously biased and love my brands but I find the beauty of Martinique Rhum is that each brand has a different flavor profile depending on where on the island they source their cane, the variety they use, and the water source. That being said – Rhum JM and Rhum Clément are both made at Fonds-Préville Distillery which is one of, if not the most, sustainable distilleries in the world so you can feel good about that cocktail you’re drinking.

What is one of the biggest misconceptions surrounding Rhum?

Since we’re talking Rhum Agricole specifically, I’ll stir up a bit of controversy so get your popcorn out.

“Rhum Agricole” can only come from overseas departments of France or Madeira. So, why do we see American Agricole in the USA? Well, first off, you don’t in Europe or the UK. To say the TTB has loose rules regarding rum in the USA would be an understatement especially compared to the 40+ whiskey subcategories (there is only one incredibly vague category for all of rum).

The AOC began deliberating the qualities of AOC Martinique Rhum Agricole in the 70s and it took them over 20 years to finally agree on stipulations for the final designation, which have been in place since 1996. So, you can understand the hesitancy we have in allowing anyone to slap a “Rhum Agricole” (which is a French spelling btw) on any ol’bottle as a means to claim legitimacy for a category that Martinique has spent the last 50 years developing and perfecting.

I guess they say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery or something though right? Okay, now that I’m off my soapbox, let me just say that I am a huge fan of the many other SUGARCANE BASED DISTILLATES out there – just don’t call it Rhum Agricole 😉

Coolest story or anecdote about the Rhum category?

The Ti’Punch (say tee-ponsh) is such an integral part of Martinique culture and really the only way that people consume rhum there and it couldn’t be simpler – Rhum Agricole, lime, and sugar. It is much like preparing a cup of coffee in that there is no perfect recipe, it is served deconstructed so that you can prepare as you like it.

There are even nicknames for consumption in different ways or at certain times of day: décollage (to take off in the morning), Ti’Rude (rudimentary with very little lime or sugar), Ti’Sec or Petit’Feu (dry, little to no sugar), Ti’Pape (served at the hour of the Pope in the afternoon), Pété-pie (a “foot-breaker” at night just before bed) and there is a saying surrounding the ritual of making it yourself which cautions: “chacun prépare sa propre mort” or each one prepares their own death – so don’t pour too heavy I guess?

Because you are generally drinking many of these Ti’ or “little” (pe’tit) punches throughout the day, you need something to soak up the booze so they are usually served with the most delicious fluffy little fish fritters called Accras. It’s the most simple, perfect pairing I have ever found and there’s nothing that screams Martinique like these two things.

Ti’Punch & Accra by @rhummufin

Favourite cocktail made with your brand?

Rhum Agricole is delicious in a wide variety of cocktails but for me, the best way to drink it is the way it’s consumed in Martinique, in a Ti’Punch. While there is no “recipe” here’s how I like mine so you can follow my lead and take it from there.

All you need to do is cut a quarter size disk off the side of a lime, squeeze and drop into a rocks glass, add a dollop of sugar/cane/simple/honey syrup – whatever you have really, and then pour an ounce or two, depending on your mood, of Rhum Agricole blanc on top. Then give a swirl, a swizzle, or a stir and add an ice cube if you are feeling so inclined. You can also make with aged Rhum Agricole if you’re feeling fancy.

Anything else you want to share?

While Ti’Punch is meant to be celebrated everyday (and is in Martinique), you can join us in an international celebration of Ti’Punch each March for Clément Ti’Punch Week. So keep your eyes peeled for the week of March 16th (International Ti’Punch Day). This year (2023) we had over 150 events in 20 countries and the swizzling activity was WILD.

The history of alcohol and cocktails is not only fascinating, but it can be confusing and frustrating too. Especially as it can all change without notice as historians and researchers regularly unearth new pieces of information that up-end our favourite booze stories, muddle our understanding of different categories, and even undermine our most solid facts!

As always, don’t forget to show us what you made by tagging us!
@Candra_Drinks  #MakeBetterDrinks  #CandraDrinks

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