Distillerie Bologne

Guadeloupe French West Indies

The colorful history of the oldest distillery in Guadeloupe is a revealing perspective on the lives of the people and the conflicts they endured in the early seventeenth century. In the sixteenth century, the Protestant de Bologne family, originally from France, emigrated from Holland to the Spanish-controlled colony of Brazil. While Spain was preoccupied with the quest for gold in the new world, the Dutch refugees prospered by cultivating sugar cane and selling the sugar in Europe.

In 1640, Portugal won her independence from Spain. Together, Portugal and Brazil then declared war on the Dutch planters in Brazil. In 1654, the prosperous immigrants left their land but took gold, silver, slaves, and equipment from their sugar factory with them. After being refused permission to land in Catholic-dominated Martinique, a convoy of several boats and twelve hundred refugees arrived in Guadeloupe. By 1664, Louis de Bologne and his two sons, Guillaume and Pierre, had begun to rebuild their sugar trade in the Baillif region of southwest Guadeloupe. For one hundred years, the Bologne family was successful. But in 1764, Joseph Samuel de Bologne was unable to pay his debts and the property was sold.

During the next thirteen years the estate, which consisted of the cane mill, sugar factory, distillery, a beautiful brick master's house, a separate kitchen, cages for fowl, and a jail, had changed hands three more times. Two years later, the French Revolution (1789 - 1802) was declared in Paris — an event that changed the lives of everyone from the slaves in the colonies to the king himself! When the decree of the abolition of slavery was signed on the 4th of February 1794, large numbers of newly freed slaves joined the troops and went to war or simply disappeared. Eight years later, slavery was reinstated, but the fighting had destroyed the estates and their ability to produce sugar.

The Bologne house and sugar factory changed hands again before Jean-Antoine Ame-Noël bought the sugar factory on the 26th of May 1830. A black man, “free by birth,” originally from Bouillante, Jean-Antoine was a free mason, fisherman, corsair, speculator, and coffee grower in Bouillante. Until that time, no black man had owned a sugar factory of such significance as the Bologne factory. The estate now consisted of more than one principal house, a better cane mill, four boilers, filters for making sugar, and a four-stone mill to grind manioc. The stone aqueduct, which brought water from the river, and the cane mill can still be seen at the distillery.

The definitive abolition of slavery, in 1848, accentuated the economic problems of the planters prompting Jean-Antoine to organize a société agricole with 60 cultivateurs. The profits from this arrangement were shared equally between the owners of the land, the equipment owners, and the labor. In 1850, he was buried in a small garden next to the distillery in the midst of his 140 hectare estate. Francois Joseph Ame-Noël inherited his uncle's fortune but, despite his best efforts, the sugar industry continued to decline. In 1874, he was unable to pay his debts and the property was auctioned to settle the account.

In 1873, the Le Dentu & Cie corporation built the Usine de la Basse-Terre, a central sugar factory. This marked a turning point in the evolution of the sugar industry. Modern machinery, which tripled the efficiency of the sugar crystallization process, was imported. Even a railroad was built to transport the cane to the factory. A million francs were raised by selling bonds to finance the operation and, in 1875, the Bologne house was allotted to M. Emile Le Dentu for his own use.

When the Usine de la Basse-Terre was unable to repay the huge debts it had incurred, the properties were again fragmented by auction in 1887. On the 3rd of November 1930, the house and grounds were purchased by M. Louis Sargenton-Callard. Since that time, the property has not changed hands. Today, Suzanne Sargenton-Callard is responsible for the distillery operation at Bologne. When the production of sugar became unprofitable at the end of the nineteenth century, Bologne began specializing in making white rhum agricole. The process begins by hand-cutting mature cane from the fields around the distillery and other farms in Guadeloupe.

After the cane is weighed and crushed to extract the juice, or vesou, the filtered juice is pumped to one of the eight 50,000-liter fermentation vats. During the twenty-four to forty-eight hour fermentation, the heat generated in these tall tanks promotes natural circulation. This circulation, the large surface area, and the shade of the sheet metal building helps dissipate the heat and reduces the chance of the fermenting wash spoiling due to high temperatures. After fermentation, the grappe, or cane wine, is distilled in one of the two identical, copper distillation columns. The beautifully crafted copper piping and polished columns of these stills are truly works of art.

Bologne is unique in that the rhum is distilled to only 55º to 60º. This allows more of the flavor of the cane juice to come through in the finished product. The low distillation purity also requires careful quality control of the cane, the fermentation process, and the trained fingers of the distiller or maître rhumier. Cane cut from a burned field, for instance, would negatively affect the taste of the finished product.

After careful distillation, the clear raw rhum, or rhum distillerie coulage, rests in large oak casks up to eight months while the flavor improves. After resting, the rhum is blended with pure, spring water to 50º, filtered, and then stored in stainless steel tanks prior to bottling. Bologne produces 1,400,000 liters of rhum between November and August, then bottles it throughout the year. A lot number, including a date, is stamped on each label during bottling. Close examination of the bottled product reveals the slight color attained during the time spent in the oak casks.To minimize production and inventory costs, only one liter bottles of Rhum Bologne are bottled here at 50º. Miniatures have only recently been bottled.

From Deshaies, it's an interesting bus ride to Bologne. Start early, the 8 a.m. bus to Basse-Terre stops just north of the jetty, near the vegetable stand. You can get a cup of coffee and a croissant in one of the sidewalk cafes while you wait. Just south of the Basse-Terre airport, the Bologne distillery is easily spotted on your left up the steep, stone road in the cane fields.

Tours at Bologne are from 9:00 to 13:00 daily during the season. Come taste for yourself what a difference the low distillation purity and staling in oak vats make on the most popular white rhum in Guadeloupe.
There is only 1 product in our database distilled by Distillerie Bologne.
Rhum Bologne

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Last updated October 11, 2008