16th Century: Island discovered by Arabs
1507: Portugese visit
1598: Dutch colonisation
1710 – 1810: French occupation
1735: Arrival of French governor Mahé De Labourdonnais
Effective industrial development of the island
1810 – 1968: British rule
The Republic of Mauritius total land area is 2,040 km2 and is constituted of the main island and several outlying islands. The environment in Mauritius is typically tropical in the coastal regions with forests in the mountainous areas. The estimated resident population was 1,261,208 as of 1 July 2014, besides everyone speaking Creole it is both an English-speaking and French-speaking nation.
It all started with arrack
On the isolated islands, only arrack would comfort the sailors and forget about their hard and lonely lives, travelling the remote seas. Initially, arrack was a brandy made out of sugar cane molasses in the East Indies or, more rarely, a palm or latanier leaves brew, simmered with some yeast made out of rice. The ships and their sailors were originally supplied by the Dutch based in Mauritius. It all begun with Jan Harmansz, a Dutch settler who lived in Flacq. He started brewing latanier sap, thanks to the high-tech machinery delivered by the Dutch East India Company. When sugar cane was first introduced in 1639, arrack became the primary source of revenue of the island. 6000 litres were produced annually by the year 1680.
Long live the “Guildiveries”
The French settled in Mauritius in 1740. At that time, Mahé de Labourdonnais firmly believes in the island’s opportunities and overall development. He established, at La Villebague, a well-managed sugar refinery and a distillery, using the molasses as the rum’s main component. But the locals wanted their own rum. So begun the “guildiveries”; a rough way to manufacture arrack and rum. “Guildiverie”, which literally means “kill devil” in English, comes from Bourbon Island and reveals the drink’s poor quality. Besides, “kill devil” was the original given name for the cane spirits in the British West Indies.
Time for the “Tilambics”
By 1816, the annual consumption of rum per capita reached 39 litres. This rum was not produced by the sole “guildiveries”. By 1858, there are 22 of them in the island and in the families’ backyards, will-fit “tilambics” would produce a dreadful drink, often with high hints of copper and lead. Hence the idea to mask the hideous quality by adding fruits and spices and merrily compose some famous rum “arrangé”. By the mid 19th century, centralisation gained the rum manufacturing and the production reached 100,000 litres per year. Produced with molasses, rum is not yet a superior spirit and is considered very coarse. Mauritius is under control of the British Empire since 1812 and its high-end society favours the much more noble whisky rather than the rum’s mediocrity.
20th century, or the seek for progress
The early 20th century marks the end of many prosperous years for Mauritian distillery in general. Increasing taxes on alcoholic drinks were affecting the people. Illegal distillation reached a peak, along with its harm and misdeeds. In order to deal with fraud, the 18th and 19th bills were voted, prohibiting the sale of poor quality rum. However, the British soldiers fighting in the World War were significant gin and rum consumers. Soon in shortage of rectified alcohol, Mauritian distilleries started producing more and more alcohol to help providing the soldiers at front. Mauritius still produces rum “arrangé” or traditional rum, made from molasses with soaked fresh fruits and spices.
21st century – the high quality rum
The 21st century saw a substantial improvement in the quality of our rum. After a long period of restrictions, the Government voted, in the early 2000’s, a bill which allowed a controlled distillation of quality rums. Moreover, the 2006 Multi Annual Adaptation Strategy law, authorising the processing of cane juice rum, or “rhum agricole”, was voted. The Mauritian rum produced from molasses or cane juice made a reputation of its own and now competes with the very best worldwide. Mauritian distilleries are regularly awarded for their highly noble brews and are renowned for their excellence and aromas.
Mahé de Labourdonnais transmitted to Mauritius the French “savoir-faire” in industrial development. The Domaine de La Villebague, in the village of Pamplemousses, would be the home for the first sugar mill of the island in 1740 and soon after, in 1742, the first rum distillery would come to light. Thanks to Pierre Charles Harel, born in 1806, distillation techniques improved massively along with the legal features.