A production with roots in history
Rhum history in Martinique starts in 1640 when sugarcane is introduced into the island. Sugarcane is cultivated for the sole goal of producing sugar, but the by products (waters, molasses, ...) are fermented and distilled to produce a spirit locally known as tafia or guildive (probabbly from kill devil).
This use is described as early as 1667 by the priest "Père du Tertre" in his book "Histoire générale des Antilles habitées par les François" (General history of the French West Indies). Several by-products used to produce spirits are listed in this book. One of the most widely used is a a juice called "Vésoü" which properly fermented and distilled gives "une boisson qui se débite fort bien dans les isles" (a beverage widely produced and consumed in the islands).
A production with a trademark
Rhum production and more specifically AOC rhum agricole accounts for 21% of the martinique's agricultural GDP1. Most of it is sent to the French mainland and in its overall majority it's AOC rhum agricole. The Gallion plant, a sugar producing facility produces molasse rum (locally called traditionnal rhum) from the by produced molasses.
Rhum agricole production enjoys since 1996 an AOC "Appellation d'origine contrôlée Martinique" (Protected Designation of Origin).
For many years, rum produced in French overseas regions (Martinique - Guadeloupe - Réunion - Guyane) have been awarded a special tax status by the European Community. This special tax status has been extented on June, 27 2007 for the years to come and the maximum volume of rum which can benefit from the tax exemption has been raised from 90'000 to 108'000 H.P.A. of which 33'000 H.P.A. for Martinique produced rums.
The 2009 harvest has produced 133'800 tonnes of cane. 74'537 H.P.A. were distilled from these canes. The ratio of produced alcohol over harvested cane is stable on the past recent years with about 55,7 litres of pure alcohol per tonne of harvested cane (about 100 litres of 55% abv / 110 US proof)
An export market
The rhum activity is mainly focused on the export markets, outisde of the island. In 2010 79.2% of the rhum production was exported to French mainland and toher markets (mostly north America). Exportation to the French mainlands is protected by a special revenue scheme2.
Exportation figures greatly flucuate. 2009 registered a 14% decrease as 2010 recorded a 27% increase. However, over the 2000-2010 period, the trend is clear with an annual increase of exports by 2.7% and local consumption decreasing annually by 2.5%.
As of 2011, There is 7 distilleries still fumantes in Martinique. A distillery is said to be fumante (smoking) if it is still in operation. There's also 1 sugar production facility, a distillery converted into a musem and several aging facilities :
The rhums produced in Martinique are listed here
(2) Article 362 du code général des impôts.