- Following the signs along the beach from St. Pierre to the Depaz distillery takes the pedestrian slightly out of the way on the one-way streets that are typical of the French coastal towns. Don't despair — the walk up the hill is worth it.
In 1917, Victor Depaz amused his contemporaries by being the first planter to move back to the site of the devastation that followed the eruption of Mt. Pelée fifteen years earlier. The crop flourished and still produces one of the highest yields of cane in the Caribbean. When Pelée erupted again in 1929, the force was directed upward and the distillery, as well as the town of St. Pierre, was spared.
The distillery is housed in a modern, sheet-metal building. The open design offers the workers and visitors the most comfort possible in this tropical climate. The metal construction also reduces the risk of fire, a constant threat in the flammable alcohol business. Even though an alcohol fire can be extinguished with water a small fire would cause considerable losses. But the biggest risk is that the rhum aging warehouse, where the future profits of the distillery are matured, might catch fire — a catastrophe few distilleries could survive.
During the distilling season,from February to May, eight to ten thousand tons of fresh cane are harvested from 120 hectares of sugar cane around the distillery. Recently, mechanical cane-cutting equipment has been employed, but due to the rough terrain, some of the cane must still be cut by hand.
Ten tons of cane per hour are crushed by the steam-powered mill. Then, the sweet juice is fermented in twelve 30,000-liter fermentation tanks for thirty to thirty-six hours. To maintain the fermenting wine below the critical temperature of 30ºC, water from the Roxelane River drips on the outside of the fermentation tanks.
The fermentation tanks and most of the process piping at this distillery are stainless steel to help facilitate sterilization of the equipment between distillations and reduce unwanted bacteria. Quality control and cleanliness are important ingredients for this rhum agricole.
Once the wine reaches 4.5% alcohol by volume, it is fed to the distillation column where it is concentrated to 68 - 70% alcohol by volume. Typical of the distilleries in Martinique, Depaz employs two identical single-column distillation stills. The columns appear to be stainless steel, but both contain copper plates or trays inside. The large, water-cooled condensers for both stills are also copper.
After distillation, the rhum, which will be bottled as rhum blanc, is allowed to rest or stale for a few months in stainless steel tanks while the taste of the fresh rhum improves, the same way a good stew is better the second day. The remainder of the production is put in burnt-oak casks for aging. Once a year, the barrels are topped off with rhum from the same production year, to make up for the alcohol lost to the 'angels.' Replacing the angel's share is not unique to Depaz, but is an essential part of the tradition.
The white rhum or Rhum Blanc Depaz is bottled at 50º and 55º. For a few francs more, the Rhum Paille Depaz, aged two years and bottled at 50º, is a good example of how aging affects the taste and color of the rhum. Though not as dark or mellow as the rhum vieux, Rhum Paille Depaz is certainly worth trying. Rhum Vieux Depaz, aged four years and bottled at 45º, is popular for good reason and should not be missed.
An assortment of Rhum Vieux Plantation Millésimé Depaz is also for sale at the distillery. These are special production years that are hard to find. Some available years are 1979 for 118 francs, 1950 for 540 francs, or a rare 1929 rhum for 1250 francs. All of these aged rhums are bottled at 45º. If your budget won't accommodate one of these rare rhums, consider the Rhum Vieux Depaz Reserve Spéciale, a superb blend of aged rhums that is hard to find except at the distillery.
Depaz produces 1,000,000 liters of rhum annually. The local consumption of this rhum is not as great as some of the other rhums in Martinique but Depaz does enjoy a large market in France.
After the self-guided tour of the distillery, Bernadette will offer you samples of the fine Depaz rhums at the visitors reception center from 9:00 to 16:30 daily except Sunday.
On your return to St. Pierre, turn left down the walkway through the ruins of the old fort and cathedral of Old St. Pierre. This leads to the museum of the old city above the waterfront.
As you make landfall in Martinique from the north the lights over the stadium, just north of St. Pierre, form a range that leads to Depaz. Between the northern and southern stadium lights, the distillery smokestack and stone house can be seen.
- There are 5 products in our database distilled by Depaz.
- Depaz Blue Cane Amber Rhum
- Depaz Rhum Blanc
- Depaz Rhum Dore
- Depaz Rhum Vieux
- Depaz Rhum Vieux Reserve Special