Vietnam might not be the first country that springs to mind when you think of rum. But with high-quality sugarcane and flexible weather, Vietnam is an ideal place for producing great rum and that is the mission of Roddy Battajon.
The founder of Rhum Belami, Roddy has dedicated himself to changing the perception about Vietnamese rum and creating a memorable spirit that can take the world by storm. Roddy was kind enough to chat with The Rum Ration about his experiences in the rum industry, the Rhum Belami portfolio and where he sees the future of the brand.
The Rum Ration: Thanks for taking the time to chat Roddy. For anyone who is unfamiliar with Rhum Belami, what would you say are its most important characteristics and what makes it stand out from other rhum?
Roddy Battajon: Thank you I’m honored as well. For anyone who wants to learn more about Vietnamese rhum I would say its most important characteristic is the journey behind the process of making the spirit in a country with such a changing environment.
From the early days of production, I had to be flexible, building the distillery’s pot still myself with practically no budget. It allowed me to push the limits of my creativity to create a unique rhum, while still following the path of traditional rhums from Martinique, but with a real commitment to the local sourcing.
Teamwork was essential. Juyee Cheng, our general manager, had to support me and find corks suitable for our bottles was the one of our biggest challenges. At that time recycled bottles were our best shot but the corks never matched.
At the beginning of the company, the craft of one bottle was around 45 minutes and each cork had to be hand sealed. Those challenges helped to build the character of Rhum Belami. It was a true investment of time and precision for each single bottle and that’s priceless.
The quality of barrels was crucial too. They were imported from Spain completely neutral and toasted here in the hot heat of Saigon. This gave it the true identity of the first handmade rhum proudly crafted in Vietnam.
What makes my rhum stand out is that I have accounted for a total 75,000 handcrafted bottles. If a rhum lover is lucky enough to find themselves a bottle, they knows I’ve personally sealed each one with my own hands and distilled all my passion inside.
The Rum Ration: I’d heard you started your culinary career in Paris and then moved to Vietnam to continue to hone your craft. What motivated you to move there specifically?
Roddy Battajon: I felt that the Asian market and education system would let me pursue new career opportunities. Vietnam was a place where I could express my creativity and the locals were interested in exploring high-quality gastronomy through the likes of overseas chefs and true Vietnamese artists like Peter Cuong Franklin.
I was able to work with talented chefs and feel freedom in the kitchen.
The Rum Ration: What made you decide that you wanted to start producing rhum?
Roddy Battajon: I couldn’t stop sipping this virgin drink sold in every street, served with calamansi and fresh cane juice. It gave me a vision of what the Vietnamese rhum market could be. Why only make juice when you can make rhum?
My intention was to showcase Vietnamese terroir in craft cane spirits and prove to the world that Vietnam is synonymous with excellent drinks.
The Rum Ration: Vietnam isn’t well-known for its rhum but I can imagine there’s so much potential to expand and bring more awareness to the country’s great ingredients. What is the Vietnamese rhum market like at the moment?
Roddy Battajon: When you talk about rhum, most of the local customers are lost when it comes to choosing a cane liquor, as the Vietnamese rhum market is flooded by booze that gives terrible hangovers.
The South Asia market has a history of unregulated products. Whatever the product, the only goal from brands is to sell massive quantities of alcohol that aren’t interesting flavour-wise.
In Vietnam you can either have a back packer related rum made in a garage, which tastes like overly sweet caipirinha. Or a Bacardi that’s self-styled as true rhum agricole. The last straw was when a brand got consecutive medals at the exact date of their entry in the market. I didn’t see this as a coincidence. I wanted to change things.
Rhum Belami is only available from a few very special partners:
-Gastronomic/Fusion restaurants ( An An/Nhau Nhau, The refinery etc..)
-Rhum Bar/Speakeasy/rooftop bar ( Favella, Kanzaki, Birdy, Luu Bar, Bananamama, Lighthouse)
-Concept house/Art Galleries & 5* resorts ( My house, Hoa Tay, Pulman, Six senses, etc..)
-Asian Tour agencies ( Phoenix voyages.)
Our choice was not to focus on maximum retail but maximum collaboration. We wanted to pair our drink with local businesses that could showcase the Vietnamese environment.
Today, customers are getting curious about Rhum Belami, especially Vietnamese women and westerners who’re looking for something more unique.
The Rum Ration: Vietnam is said to produce some of the highest-quality sugarcane in the world, but I feel like there’s not nearly enough attention on it as there should be. What are the characteristics of Vietnamese sugarcane and does it have any unique qualities that are imparted into the rhum you produce?
Roddy Battajon: I create Rhum Belami following my Caribbean family tradition. The first important quality is the freshness of the juice called vesou. It’s sourced essentially in Long An, to maintain a local supply-chain and contributes to keeping the carbon footprint to a minimum.
In order to respect local farms in partnership with Rhum Belami, we decided to implant another crop to reinvigorate the soil without using fertilisers. A lot of distilleries forget their impact on the environment and the consequences of their harvesting method, diminishing nutriments in the soil.
Vietnam has perfect soil. It’s well drained and the weather ensures top-quality sugarcane in the fields.
The Rum Ration: What other ingredients do you use you to make your rhum?
Roddy Battajon: Long before I started to store the rhum, my intention was to focus on some specific treatments to my barrels that I could use to age the cane spirit and potentially affect the rhum’s character.
I wanted to produce specific spiced and exotic notes in the casks. They have been filled with different spices, botanicals and cooked fruits and then charred to obtain a caramelisation.
The Rum Ration: What are the flavour profiles like for each of the rhums that you offer and how would you suggest drinking them?
Roddy Battajon: Calyx: Distilled in 2019, but untouched during numerous months in oak cask that were prefilled with Mangosteen and dried fruits. Those forgotten barrels reserved for a completely different use, convey a surprisingly smooth palate for a 59.9% ABV rhum. The latest edition from house Belami, a true miracle, a new-born in the world of Covid-19.
Cuisse De Nymphe: The rhum, after distillation, is kept in lightly toasted barrels, which gives a provocative taste that’s reminiscent of nymphs, which explains the French nickname, Cuisse de Nymphe. It has a rich, aromatic bouquet, which varies between herbaceous and floral. Powerful and perfectly balanced, the ideal bartender choice for any passion martini and pina colada.
Legacy: The Legacy rhum is aged for 36 months in toasted barrels prefilled with red Phu Quoc Pepper and exotic fruits cooked in turmeric. The Legacy is our best seller and has a reddish colour, a fruity nose and a round, full-bodied taste. A woody note is persistent long time after the consumption.
Premium: Aged for 48 months in oak casks that have been prefilled with a blend of cocoa beans, roasted coffee and organic coconut. It’s bottled at 55%. I personally love combining it with a Cuban Montecristo Number 4 cigar and a dark forest pastry.
The Rum Ration: Where do you see Rhum Belami being in five years’ time?
Roddy Battajon: The next step is to be on the table of every best gastronomic table in the world. I also see regular tours of the Rhum Belami factory in Binh Tan post pandemic, with a demonstration of the cellar, cocktails tasting by boat in the heart of Saigon, and a show will be introduced with a collaboration of various artist as well.
I hope I can help to develop the future of rhum in Vietnam and change some bad drinking habits by proposing new pairing ideas. In addition, I’ll continue to focus on promoting sustainability for the rhum industry and I want to leave behind a world that my daughter can be proud of growing up in.
The Rum Ration: What online retailers can people buy your rhum from?
Roddy Battajon: You can get our Rhum from the following places: