Founded in 1930, the Carrere distillery is located in Petit-Boug, Guadeloupe. A small family business, more commonly known as Montebello, is just a little south of Petit Bourg. Take the new highway south to the round-about and follow the signs west to the distillery. When the road forks, stay to the right. The cane fields that once surrounded this distillery have yielded to development and, now, as you approach, the fermentation tanks are the first sign of the distillery.
All of the fermentation, distillation, aging, and bottling is done under the close supervision of the Marsolle family. Attention to the details of making rhum is only one of the reasons for the success of this operation.
The estate has only fifteen hectares of cane today, so most of the year-old cane is bought from farmers in the Petit Bourg area. Once the sugar content of the cane has been determined, it is weighed, and then processed to extract the juice. In the tall fermentation tanks, yeast is added to the fresh juice to quicken the fermentation process. Using equipment developed in Brazil, active yeast is separated from the fermenting wine. This recovered yeast is used to ferment the next batch of juice and, in turn, some of the yeast from that batch will be used in the future.
Like the other distilleries in the area, the fresh cane juice is fermented for about two days, depending on the temperature of the fermenting wine. The optimum temperature for the yeast to multiply and change the sugar into alcohol is 42° C, but this is hard to control in the open tanks which sit in the sun. To provide some cooling in the tropical heat, water is dripped on the outside of the tanks.
Once fermentation is complete, the 12% alcohol wine is distilled in the two-column copper still to about 85% alcohol by volume, one of the highest distillation purities of any of the distilleries in Guadeloupe. Due to the sugar content of the cane, and the yeast used for fermentation, Montebello produces only about sixty liters of rhum per ton of cane.
Once distilled, all of the rhum is allowed to rest in a stainless steel tank for one month. If the rhum will be bottled as Montebello Rhum Blanc, it is put in oak barrels for at least a week before bottling. This labor-intensive procedure enhances the character of the rhum before it is bottled at 50° and 55°. All of the production is bottled here at the distillery. The majority of the rhum is bottled in one-liter bottles, but 70cl, 50cl, and even 25cl bottles are also used.
After aging at least four years, Montebello Rhum Vieux is bottled at 42°, a slightly lower alcohol content than most of the other distilleries. Presently, Montebello is bottling four, five, and eight-year-old rhum. A neckband on the bottles of rhum vieux indicate the year the rhum was distilled. Since this is bottled according to demand, the age of the rhum can be approximated.
Montebello is planning to sell a 10-year-old rhum in the future. One of the considerations is the bottle, a 10-year-old rhum deserves a very distinctive bottle. And the label for this rhum should, likewise, reflect the special contents.
Under the quota system instituted after World War I, Montebello is allowed to sell 350,000 liters of pure alcohol annually. Currently, the distillery falls short of that quota, with most of the production exported to France. As part of the quota system, rhum sales are controlled; production is not. A distillery may increase its stock of rhum for aging or for sale in the future. This appears simple, but to properly store large quantities of rhum is an expensive task that requires considerable planning. The availability of barrels for aging is only one consideration; properly ventilated space is another. The capital required to produce a product and then warehouse it for some years present even more challenges.