Moko Rum - A History of Rum In France

Moko Rum - A History of Rum In France

Moko Rum - A History of Rum In France

Moko Rum is an interesting brand. First launched in 1869, the rum was originally created by two brothers from Bordeaux. Ernest and Maurice Lasserre imported rums from Martinique and Jamaica, as well as learning and refining techniques of distillation and aging, in order to make their rums, with a focus on creating a superior drinking experience for the consumer. It may surprise you to know, but rum used to be huge in Bordeaux, and it was at the time known as one of the epicentres of the rum trade.

Rum history in France begins in 1755. A lady called Marie Brizard had taken care of a West Indian Sailor who had been ill, and as a thank you, he gave her a recipe for an aniseed liqueur, or anisette. With this one recipe and her nephew, Jean-Bapitiste Roger, she founded what would become Marie Brizard et Roger International, a drinks company that stayed in the family until 1998, becoming a subsidiary of Belvedere in 2006. After their Anisette proved popular with people, Marie and Jean-Baptiste brought out an aromatic blended rum called Charleston, which contained “20% of ‘great Galleon aroma’ from Martinique or rum from Jamaica”, and was one of the first rums blended in France.

Rum had been popular in the French Caribbean throughout the 18th century. However, at this time importing and sale was banned in France itself, as it was thought it would be competition against the domestic alcohol trade including wine. As with most things, this didn’t stop the smugglers and there are reports it was already being consumed in cafes in the late 18th century. Then, there came a number of big changes. The revolution affected the sugar economy. Slavery disappeared for a time. Haiti became independent and beet sugar appeared in Europe. In 1819, Martinique exported seven times less rum than before the revolution, and importation remained low until the mid-1800s. However, things were about to take a turn for the better.

Over a short span of time in the 1850s, rum imports suddenly exploded. The main reason for this is that people were drinking more, plus the Great Wine Blight meant less wine was available to drink so people turned to rum. Additionally, there was a sugar cane shortage in the West Indies, and this pushed rum producers to autonomous production, meaning industrialisation and rum being produced on a larger scale. In 1854 a decree was passed removing prohibition and customs duty on all alcohol of foreign and colonial origin and the rum industry in France began to bloom.

Bordeaux became France's rum capital. The trade supplanted the wine industry, and it began to play a major role in the economic development of the city. Fast forward to the latter end of the 19th century and there was additional economic revival with new industries such as agri-food and automobile manufacturing. All of this meant that the port saw modernisation of its infrastructure, with the building of vertical docks and steam cranes. Markets boomed, import and export was huge and this included sugar cane rum, with Bordeaux serving as Frances’ principal Caribbean trading port.

As you can imagine, this hub of activity meant the growth of rum houses like Marie-Brizard Cazanove, Lambert, and many more. The rum trade was burgeoning, and it did even more so with the arrival of WW1. The armies fighting had a demand for rum, and the military supplied it, via orders and further upgrading of the port. At it’s height, the port received 250 tons of rum a day. There was some further demand after the way, as rum was marketed as a remedy to the Spanish Flu, but imports started to decline, with Le Harve eventually taking over as France's main Atlantic port as it was deeper which meant access was easier.

However, the brands that had set up in Bordeaux remained. Many of them existed until the mid-1900s, though some carried on and still do under different control. Marie Brizard was still running a bottling plant in 2015. And then we have Moko Rum, who had enjoyed many years of success, winning awards and medals in their early days. Then, nearly a century later, in the 1960s, production ceased.

However, Moko rum is now making a comeback. In 2017 Philippe Peyrat and his children, Clémence and Edouard—the direct descendants of Ernest Lasserre—are using their long experience in wines and spirits to resurrect MOKO, updating the methods used by their forebearers in the creation of great rum. Their rums are aged for several years in Panama to achieve maturity, then imported at their full, natural alcohol level to preserve aromatic richness. In the cellars of Maison Peyrat they are held for several months in oak casks previously used for aging cognac to impart an incomparable elegance and greater roundness in the mouth.

There are six rums in the range. First there is a Caribbean rum, which would have been received in July’s Craft Rum Box and is a blend of Trinidad, Tobago and Jamaican rums with amber-coloured hues with notes of exotic fruit, coconut and toasted almonds on the nose. They make a spiced rum, which is in this month’s Spiced Rum Box, and has notes of vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon, caramel and allspice. Agrum is a bright expression with grapefruit and yuzu. The other three are aged rums. 8-year, 15-year and 20-year. The 8-year is round and full, with vanilla oak, caramel and maple syrup. The 15-year has notes of cardamom, vanilla and tea and the 20-year has a wonderful profile of figs, bourbon, and grilled nuts that evokes Cognac. Having tasted the Caribbean rum in last months Craft Rum Box, I am highly anticipating the Spiced Rum in this month’s box. They certainly seem to know what they are doing with blending and I for one am rather pleased that they weren’t lost to a rather interesting French history.

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Bernadette Pamplin

Bernadette loves rum. She set up a gin focused blog Under The Ginfluence eight years ago. Since then, her passion has naturally spread from gin, to rum and other spirits too. You can find work from her on Gin Magazine, Distiller Magazine, and Spirits Beacon, as well as content for  The Gin Guide.

She’s also the editor of Rum’s the Word, writing articles on rums featured in the box, as well as other rum related topics. Bernadette has built up six years experience in judging for events like Gin of the Year, World Gin Awards, Spirits Business Awards, Gin Guide Awards, IWSC and the American Distilling Institute Judging of Craft Spirits and works behind the scenes, assisting with organising and participating in panels for the Craft Distilling Expo.