I’m always and forever a sucker for a beautiful bottle. In the world of craft spirits—not unlike that of wine—this typically means evocative label art, typically offering a modern expression of what’s beneath the cap. But here in 2022, there’s a new bottle of rum on American shelves that looks like nothing else in the liquor store, drawing on centuries-old traditions from across the Francophonic rhum world, and offering a distinct, delicious vantage point on the modern moment for craft cane drinking.
It’s called Arhumatic, and it hails from France by way of Guadeloupe. It is perhaps the first bottling commercially available in the United States of rhum arrangé, which more or less means “rum with stuff in it”—fruits, herbs and a touch of cane syrup, all of it carefully balanced with a farmers market touch. While it’s true that this is rum with flavors, it’s about a million miles from the artificial, treacly “flavored rums” you may recall, wincingly, from your younger drinking years. And in the bottle, the fruits and herbs of Arhumatic tell a story without artifice, suspended right there beneath the glass, glowing with flavorful promise. It looks absolutely unlike anything else on the shelf right now—one cannot help but reach for it.
Arhumatic is produced in France, and became available in limited quantities across 30 states in the summer of 2022 by way of La Maison & Velier, a global distributor of craft spirits with a focus on genre-bending cane-based r(h)ums from the Caribbean. But the flavoring tradition itself stretches back hundreds of years, and is distinctly expressed across the cultures who create it. “There is a long tradition in the Caribbean, as well as on La Reunion and Mauritius, of rum maceration alongside fruits, herbs and spices,” says Johann Jobello, who grew up splitting time between France and Martinique, and is today a product manager at La Maison & Velier. “Rhum arrangé is what it’s called on La Reunion, but they say kleren trempé in Haiti, or it might be called punch or liqueur on Martinique and Guadeloupe.”
Jobello goes on to describe the process as a part of Caribbean culture, with a DIY ethos—“an orchestrated symphony”—with classic recipes and traditions that change with the seasons. Its roots are avowedly humble: “‘Rhum arrangé’ means ‘rum improved,’” Jobello tells me, “and it was developed in order to drink rums that were not very tasty, especially in a time when rum productions weren’t as clean and precise as they are today. The fruits give you flavors and the sugar enhances those flavors and hides the faults.” In this way, rhum arrangé is reminiscent of rum punch, offal, gefilte fish or any other of the innumerable nodes of human eating and drinking ingenuity with which we coax something delicious out of the leftovers, the nasty bits. And as these traditions are interrogated in the 21st century, the opportunity to innovate is ever-present.
In the case of Arhumatic, founders Thierry and Clémence Ogez came to the world of rum via their 15-year career as fruit vendors. It was here they landed on arrangé as a way to “give a second life to these fruits,” Thierry Ogez tells me. They began the brand in 2014, and consider it to be “craft arrangé,” paying special attention to the sourcing of fruits and herbs, cutting products by hand and bottling it all using rhum agricole from the Damoiseau distillery on Guadeloupe. Each bottling is more or less a freestanding cocktail in its own right, with flavors like passion fruit and vanilla, lemon thyme and ginger, and a surprisingly complex rum raisin, in which a mélange of currants and sultanas (aka golden raisins) meets both aged and unaged rums from Jamaica.
Arhumatic is not the first commercially bottled rhum arrangé—that would instead be Isautier, a historic distillery on the island of Reunion, a French overseas department 600 miles east of Madagascar. “The legend starts back in the 15th century, when sailors on the sea route to India would keep spices and fruits in alcohol to preserve them,” says Yann Auberval, who runs communications for the Isautier distillery, one of three remaining distilleries on Reunion. “This is how the local tradition of ‘rhum arrangé’ came into being on the island. We know that each family has its own recipes, and they offer their homemade arrangés at the end of a meal. It’s a symbol of conviviality.” Isautier sells a range of commercially bottled arrangés, with flavors including Banana Flambé (“our most popular seller,” per Auberval), as well as Guava Rooibos, Coffee Vanilla and a seasonal Christmas spice. The brand’s products are popular in France, but not yet available in the United States.
Interestingly, the arrangé-makers at Isautier bottle their expressions without fruit inside, preferring instead to macerate, then filter the finished product. Arhumatic takes a different approach, and for a very distinct reason. “We prefer to leave fruits in the bottle and allow the maceration to evolve and improve over time,” says Thierry Ogez. “You can drink it younger or older, and it’s never completely the same product.” Bottling in this style has the added benefit of being, well, beautiful—that glowing fruit argues persuasively for itself, drawing the curious and thirsty. “Aesthetics are important for us because it represents the quality of the fruit work and the fruit itself,” adds Ogez (once a fruit vendor, always a fruit vendor). “We know that some clients keep them as decorative objects.”
But you can, of course, also choose to drink it right now, and quite happily, too. Jobello of La Maison & Velier recommends chilling bottles of Arhumatic in the fridge before enjoying, or adding some ice cubes—both of these methods helped cut the sweetness of the spirit, and opened up some of the floral nature and complexity of the fruit. The brand’s passion fruit and vanilla expression nestled up gorgeously to fresh lime juice in a Ti’ Punch. (I omitted the additional cane syrup, since Arhumatic is already bottled with a dose of it.) The best way I tried Arhumatic, however, was actually in a culinary setting, pouring a healthy tot of the rum raisin over a dish of vanilla ice cream, and as the weather grows colder here in late 2022, my mind is starting to run away with itself on all the potential applications, like glazing a ham with the pineapple vanilla, for starters, or earmarking a couple of shots of the rum raisin for building Hot Toddy riffs on a snowy day.
And how fun that is, to think about arrangé almost like a pantry item, full of culinary possibilities from the kitchen to the home bar. Or you could sip it neat, highly recommended by everyone consulted. In matters of rhum arrangé (and elsewhere in life), Jobello speaks of a simple underlying truth: “The better the ingredients, the tastier the product.”