It’s almost a foregone conclusion that 99% of the readers of this article won’t know a thing about this rhum and its brand, and until I started researching the bottle, I didn’t either. That’s an increasingly rare thing these days, considering that the writings of so many stellar bloggers over the last decade, combined with Rum Ratings and Rum-X, make it almost impossible for any brand to escape notice. Yet here we are, sipping at a peculiar bottle of white rum I bought completely on a whim (mostly because I can’t resist not knowing more about it).
The company that released it was once an independent French bottler in Bordeaux called William Pitters who mostly specialised in cognac, and occasionally rums as well – a couple of years ago Oliver Scars procured a 1970 HSE they had released, for example. They appear to have mostly issued rhums from Martinique as well as some punches and whiskies (Sir Pitterson whisky was a thing even if we don’t know who he was either) and on top of that, been something of a distributor too – but the source of their rhum was never disclosed. The date of formation of the company looks to be 2001, from a coming together of many tiny brands, and nowadays a much larger conglomerate called Marie Brizard Wine & Spirits is the owner1. This is more tangential to the review, though, so I provide their history below.
Exactly what we have in the glass is unclear – for one thing, I’m not entirely sure the brand exists or is being made any longer. The source distillery is a mystery – as noted, Pitterson did issue a rhum from HSE before, and Marie Brizard, the subsequent owner, had a distribution relationship with La Mauny – so we don’t know source or still or (maybe) age. Yet, although no review or online store is to be found carrying this rhum, I suspect it’s still around, and if it’s been discontinued then it was in all likelihood fairly recently; the bottle and label design is too sleek and modern, the price paid was too low, and several small restaurants, bars and cafes in France mention on their menus that they have it.
Leaving aside the murkiness of the rhum’s origin, I can see why they would. It may “only” be a standard strength white rhum, it has a lovely opening nose of white chocolate, praline, almonds and nougat – in other words, a bar of white toblerone (of the kind Grandma Caner reliably sends me every year at least once). It’s creamy and delicate, hardly seemingly dry at all; there is a light herbal aroma, grassy notes and sugar water that characterises an agricole, but here it’s mixed in with Danish butter cookies, chocolate cake batter like your mother allowed you to lick off the spoon after she was done; and unsweetened yoghurt.
The way it goes down is nice as well – nothing too bombastic, nothing too aggressive, just an easy sip, tasting of vaguely salty butter cookies, sugar water, vanilla and blancmange, plus a little toasted wonderbread and cheerios cereal (go figure). The herbal aspects of the aroma don’t really carry over here, and there are few if any citrus or acidic notes – what one gets is mostly ‘neutral’ fleshy fruit like sapodilla, melon, dates, papaya, and the finish is mostly without distinction, being short, easy and mild, giving a last dash of cereal and sugar water fruits, with perhaps a bit of watermelon thrown in.
Overall it’s a rum that plants its flag firmly in the midrange. It appears made to be a mixing rum and is just good and easy enough to sip on (though this would not really be my recommendation). It may only be 40% ABV, but feels somehow heavier, firmer, a tad stronger and even if you’re used to more powerful cask strength fare, it can’t be denied that the rhum tries its best, gives a good account for itself, and is a decent price for what it does deliver. As I say, it’s not clear whether it remains a commercially manufactured product, but if you see a bottle for sale someplace on your rumshop excursions, it’s no loss if you get one.
- The rum does not claim to be an agricole – it implies such by the use of the “rhum blanc” on the label. Yet, given it supposedly hails from Martinique, the wording and spelling is not unjustified. Overall, based on taste, I’d say that it is indeed an agricole.
- My bottle has a Portuguese tax stamp; I bought it with a batch of Madeira rhums so it may have simply ended up there. The lack of production and geographical information is unfortunate.
Historical notes – Marie Brizard
The firm of Marie Brizard was founded way back in 1755 by (you guessed it) Marie Brizard whose anisette was hit among the members of the ancien régime and who soon branched out into citrus liqueurs. The company stayed privately held by her descendants, and moved into sales all over the American continents over the following century; they started their own modern advertising in the late 1800s and were even exhibited in several World’s Fairs. Expanding the portfolio to include other spirits (as well as fruit juices and cordials) were good business decisions for the company, and by the post-WW2 years, due to canny product placement in French films of the time, the brands became near-iconic. William Grant bought in with a minority stake in the 1980s as a consequence of their distributorship arrangement for whisky dating back to the 1950s, but were so excluded from any decision-making that in 1994 they relinquished their association.
This situation of familial ownership, control and decision making continued until 2013, when a severe downturn in the market and mounting losses forced Marie Brizard to convert debt to shares…which were then snapped up by an American investment firm Oaktree Capital Management, who held nearly 20% of the voting rights. Continuing cash flow problems opened the doors for capital injections and share purchases by Compagnie Européenne de Prize de Participation (COFEPP, holding company which heads the La Martiniquaise Bardinet group), which as of 2019 held a majority shareholding of 51% while aiming for more, and can therefore be said to own the company…and so also the Pitterson brand.