First off, I'm going to go ahead and get it out there: Depaz Blue Cane Rhum Agricole is on sale right now for $25. It's usually a little closer to $35. But what is rhum agricole? And why is it spelled all funny? Well, it's made under French law and so carries the French name, which translates (obviously?) as agricultural rum. But rhum agricole upholds certain standards, primarily that it's made directly from sugar cane, and not molasses or any other pre-processed byproduct.
So what does that mean in terms of experience? Well, the rules of production for this style of rum lend it a distinctive dryness, a fullness of body and an earthy-tangy quality something akin to gamey, dry-aged meat. So, not your soft and syrupy white rums or your black and buttery "dark" rums. Something in between, and yet something totally different.
According to David Wondrich in his book Punch, it's all about the flavor termed "hogo."
'Hogo' was a term of art in the rum trade since at least the beginning of the eighteenth century, when John Oldmixon used it in his history of the Americas. Derived from the term for the 'high taste' of rotting meat, it could certainly be used pejoratively. But just as one cultivated the haut goût in pheasants and other game birds by hanging them for days before cooking them, so the hogo in rum came to be appreciated and even, to a degree, encouraged."
Today this style has largely been supplanted by the sweet rums dumped in great quantities into frozen drink machines that churn with unearthly fluorescence. But a few producers of the old style remain. The aged rums of Martinique, like Depaz Blue Cane Rhum Agricole and Rhum Clément V.S.O.P., definitely fit the bill. As do other rums of former French territory, like Rhum Barbancourt 8 y.o. from Haiti. And though the Demerara rums of El Dorado (especially the 3, 5 and 8 y.o. bottlings) are made from molasses, they too capture something particular to the history and soul of rum as it was first conceived.
Depaz Blue Cane Rhum Agricole (Martinique) - $25 ON SALE Rhum Clément V.S.O.P (Martinique) - $22 Rhum Barbancourt 8 y.o. (Haiti) - $27 El Dorado Demerara Rum 8 y.o. (Guyana) - $24