BLOG: Skipper Josh’s Indian Ocean Rhum Safari


Magical Mauritius and Spell Binding Seychelles


By Skipper Josh Collins

The first thing you notice when flying into Mauritius is that the island seems to be covered in sugar cane fields. Up close this is confirmed, as trucks and tractors rumble past you down narrow farm roads loaded with crushed cane; a sweet raw smell is everywhere.

The island’s link with rhum is further emphasised when, at 6am fresh off the plane, I stumble into a little shop – an iron and wood shack. As my eyes adjust to the darkness I seen a very elderly toothless Chinese shopkeeper sitting there surrounded by dusty bottles of enticingly named spirits, stuffed frogs, vintage toys and fluorescent snack foods. Wow! At least 30 different types of rhum are available here, a figure that triples when I hit the local supermarket later on in the trip. The choice is flabbergasting; they even sell for some peculiar reason Mad Monk extra old Rum from Nepal!


The whole island is an amazing mix of cultures. Indian, African and French being the predominant ones, but a visit to the capital Port Louis reveals a much more varied mix. The market reveals many strange fruits some of which I have never even heard of before.

“Locally it is called “island recipe rhum” and each family jealously guards their own formula. It was originally started to cover up bad tasting spirits, but has evolved into a total art form of its own.”

Every single bar or restaurant I visited during the stay hosted a large ornate display bottle of macerated rhum. Each individual establishment put their own twist on it and some did it better than others (some where quite simply undrinkable). Ginger, vanilla, pineapple, prunes, orange peel, cinnamon, star anise, were just some of the ingredients found in these bottles. More often than not a shot of this house rum was offered free with the round or meal. This is a tradition I have happily adopted for the Hula Bula Bar and we are eagerly awaiting the maturation of our first trial bottles.

Locally it is called “island recipe rhum” and each family jealously guards their own formula. It was originally started to cover up bad tasting spirits, but has evolved into a total art form of its own.


Rhum Zartistes is the king of the macerated rhums operating out of a fantastic Creole restaurant La Belle Kreole in Mahebourg. Made by rum-meister Alain O’Reilly using quality old rhums, they even offer an exquisite 17 year old plum and vanilla brew, as well as 5 and 10 year old versions. Alain ages the rhum in specially imported old whisky barrels. I tasted the 17 year old, a white rhum flavoured with ginger and a sweet cinnamon rhum – all of them superb.

The Rhumerie de Chamarel ( has hit the rhum nail right on the head. Placed on a high plateau with its own microclimate it operates in a completely eco-friendly fashion. Every part of the sugar cane is used in the rhum making process from the treasured sugar cane juice to the left over biomass or ‘bagasse’ used to create biofuel.

Hand-picked daily at dawn, the freshly-harvested sugar cane is transferred in less than four hours to the mills of the rum distillery. An exceptional product is produced by distilling the fresh, fermented cane juice.

The golden Rhum agricole is just amazing, almost providing the qualities of aged rhum in a relatively young product. It comes in a very snazzy, very big bottle and after a tour of the facility and seeing how much care goes into its production you won’t be surprised by how good it is. I definitely rate this on a par with the best rums I have tasted.


Another Mauritian rhum gem is New Grove Oak which comes in the aged (8 years average, which won silver medal at this year’s International Rum festival) and the, even better in my books, 3 year old which again is a blend of old and new rhums.

This is an industrielle rhum aged with some fruit elements such as orange peel that provide a great palate. This was readily available, though at the more expensive end of the market, at most liquor outlets in Mauritius.

One of the real sins of traveling in Mauritius was the absence of any real savvy bartenders and the fact that local rum knowledge was very minimal. Though I am sure there are some exceptions. Your hotel or resort is more likely to be offering Caribbean rum of known brands mixed with imported mixers whilst playing Frank Sinatra and Chris de Burgh! This is a real shame given the quality of some of the local products and the variety of tasty and interesting fruit available to make juices. Some exceptional cocktails could be created here. The local music is also far superior to old Frankie for providing a bit of Island ambiance.

Next up was a quick detour to the Seychelles islands – about a two hour flight north of Mauritius.  While not much sugar cane is produced here there are still quite a few local rums worthy of mention.

Again every liquor retailer stocked predominantly rhum. This ranged in scope and variety, but without the truly exceptional top end beverages available in Mauritius. There were nonetheless some pleasant surprises.

Takamaka Bay is the main rhum of the Seychelles ( and comes in a normal white, a tasty dark rhum, and a pretty good coconut variety too. This was found in every bar on the islands and provides the local staple for cocktails.

A great find was that the fresh fruit juice and coconut water stalls, on the many beaches would often add an illicit slug or two of Takamaka Bay to their offerings thus improving them considerably.

What was very interesting was the vast variety of cheap generic rhums often sold in recycled plastic water bottles. A few quick tastes provided nothing memorable, but some Paradise rhum leaked a bit in my suitcase on the way home and produced the most wonderful odor. Ungawa! It was quite a find and for about two dollars a bottle this brew, though indistinguishable from about 10 other varieties, proved to be the king of the cheapies providing a full palette, rich caramel flavors and a full on hit of vanilla. My guess is the flavoring is added piecemeal to the spirit, but it was surprisingly drinkable for a bottom shelf rum, and mixed up it’s a great cocktail addition especially as a float on a Mai tai.


Another specialty of the Seychelles liquor offering is Coco d’Amour Liqueur. Based on a sugar cane spirit (so we can lump it in with a rum article) Coco D’amour is a rich creamy liqueur with coconut and coco de mer in it that supposedly a aphrodisiac quality to the potion. Coco de mer is a plant endemic to the Seychelles shaped exactly like a ladies nether regions and is only edible for a month or so of its long growing period. Rather like a coconut the extract then petrifies into a substance with the strength of ivory thus making it inedible. The liqueur is superb and certainly fills a bit of a void in the coconut cream liqueur selection, especially as Batida de Coco seems to have vanished from our shores. At the Hula Bula Bar we find it is brilliant as a syrup poured onto our ice-cream cocktails. Another great thing is the bottle is shaped like the aforementioned fruit providing all sorts of fun larks behind the bar.

Though most of these drinks are currently hard to source here Quittin’ Time ( in Australia provides a good range of Mauritian and Reunion rhums all worth tasting, such as the quality Green Island and the great Riviere Du Mat.


Josh Collins is man behind the magic of Deville’s Pad and Hula Bula Bar in Perth and designs bars and clubs for his company Wonder Bar Designs. Contact Josh on

This article featured in the December ’09 issue of Bartender magazine.

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