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Rum Bucket List Visit To Distillerie De Savanna

This is a continuation of a story about a whirlwind trip to Mauritius and Réunion with Eric Kaye, owner of Holmes Cay rum. Part one and two can be found here and here.

Before we could fly from Mauritius to Réunion we had to take a Covid test. There were quite a few clinics where this could be done, but one in particular was recommended most. We went there on Saturday morning, the day before our flight. Once we got there, it turned out the Covid test centre was outside in tents. We signed up and then sat down in a waiting area. Before us was a dad with his kids, after us two 16 year old girls. The dad had some issues with his youngest one, which I guess was about 3 years old and clearly didn't want to be tested. He was screaming, I mean SCREAMING! It seemed like he was being tortured. I thought I was only here for a Covid test! How do they do these tests in Mauritius??! Eric was up next. He was sweating a bit. I wished him all the best. See you on the other side!! He didn’t seem too happy in there either. I’ll spare you the details but he made me and the two girls laugh. My turn. I have to say, she did seem to try and steal a couple of my last remaining brain cells with that swab, but it was ok.

The flight from Mauritius to Réunion is a very short one. As soon as you are in the air, the landing procedure starts. After landing, it became clear pretty quickly that we were in France territory. Where speaking English is common and comfortable in Mauritius (they also speak French and Creole), it isn’t in Réunion. The landscape is also very different, arguably even more beautiful. It’s a volcanic island that is very lush and green. In certain places it definitely feels like paradise. Eric rented a car from the airport, which made getting to and from places a lot easier.

When we arrived at our 5 star resort we received a nice welcome with a non alcoholic local drink and a refreshing wet towel. It was still morning and understandably our rooms weren’t ready yet. However, they would put a rush on it and have them ready within an hour. Wonderful! After waiting for an hour and a half, no room. Turns out they over promised and under delivered. My entire working career I’ve been in customer service management and sales and that is a big no no. If you want to have an unhappy customer, this is a bullet proof way of getting there. We were both becoming a little cranky, so decided to look for some lunch to pass the time. This being a resort, they had a few restaurants and a bar. We checked out the different menus and picked one. When we got there, the hostess welcomed us. Unfortunately she didn’t speak a word of English. Eric’s genius basic French knowledge now came in very handy! She was telling us we were welcome to have lunch there, but that we couldn’t sit at a table yet. We should walk to the bar (which is in a different section of the resort) and wait there since they weren’t open yet until 12 noon. It was 11:50am! She wouldn’t let us come in and sit at a table for 10 minutes. Rather bemused, we walked to the bar and sat at a table. We figured we’d just have lunch there instead. Guy came over to bring us the menu. We looked it over and didn’t really fancy it. But, we would have picked something regardless….if anyone had shown up to take our order. But…..nobody did. It was now past 12 o’clock, we got up and walked back to the restaurant. The same lady welcomed us again and allowed us to sit down this time. Lucky us! Lunch was tasty and the waiter, who spoke English, was fantastic. The view of the sea was to die for, so that made up for the poor customer service.

The wonderful beach

Once we got our rooms I figured it would be a good time to go for a swim. I had gotten used to my daily swims in Mauritius. Thing is, in Réunion you aren’t allowed to swim in the sea because of potential shark attacks. We partly picked this resort because of that, as they had created some sort of lagoon in which you could swim safely. Once I got to the beach I laid down on a stretcher and went “aaaaahhhhh”. Nice beach, great view, great weather. Life is good. No swimming though. Darn! The lagoon was very shallow and full of rocks. My 6’6” body doesn’t really fit there and I packed lightly for obvious reasons (rum!), so didn’t bring any water shoes. Lucky for me, they also had a large pool. I typically ignore pools when there is a beach, but in this case I was happy they had one.

Great pool

For dinner we went to a local restaurant off the resort. When I’m traveling I like to be away from resorts as much as possible, to be able to soak in the local vibe. Otherwise I might as well stay home. It was busy, the buzz and the food were good. A great end to a first day in Réunion.

Next day, up early as usual. No swimming in the sea for me, so I figured I’d go and get some breakfast. It was a self serve type of place with lots of options and someone making all sorts of egg dishes to order. The freshly squeezed orange juice was heavenly. The juicer was one of those big ones where you throw a couple of whole oranges in and you can see them move through the machine. Morning entertainment! I immediately wanted one of these devices. Breakfast was good and laid a good foundation for what was to come later in the morning. Savanna rhum! Click here for more info about Savanna.

I have to admit, this was the part of the trip I was most excited about. Before agreeing to go on this crazy voyage I asked Eric if he was planning to visit Savanna. If that hadn’t been part of the plan, I wouldn’t have joined him on this journey. Luckily it was and I was excited about it. In a lot of cases you won’t be able to read that excitement from my body language, but believe me….I feel it inside :)

We had agreed to meet with Cécile Prusse at the distillery shop. Cécile is Brand Ambassador but also calls herself the Swiss Knife for Savanna. The final part of the drive there was a very narrow road through cane fields, towards a massive sugar factory (Bois-Rouge). Because of the size of this factory, we both felt it wasn’t as idyllic as we imagined it would be. Not that this mattered though. Once Cécile and the shop crew arrived we went inside and watched a video about Savanna rhum for a bit. We had a rum chat after and then walked to the distillery.

First thing we walked past were the fermentation vats. I stood there admiring them for a bit and took some photos. These things get overlooked at times, but it’s where a lot of the magic happens. I was left behind though, as Cécile and Eric had already walked into the lab. There we met Thierry Grondin, R&D Manager. Incredibly nice and knowledgeable gentleman who showed us the lab and told us more about Savanna HERR. Eventually he said:”Would you like to sample HERR at 71%?”. Twist my arm!! I don’t care it’s 10am! It was delicious. For all the fans out there, I did mention they should bottle it at that strength. I don’t think that plea made much of an impact though.

For the geeks: Savanna buys bacteria from a lab in Germany and a lab in the US and puts those in vinasse to propagate. Fermentation times: 10 days for Grand Arome, 5 to 6 days for HERR, 24 hours for the regular expressions. Closed fermentation only. Grand Arome and rhum agricole are produced in the Savalle column still, HERR in the pot.

Ivar, Cécile, Eric, Thierry

Savanna Fermentation Tanks

View from fermentation tanks

The next destination was a meeting room that had a few display cabinets full of rum bottles, new and old…..and a sink. The sink is important for several reasons. First you can rinse your glass there and second, get some much needed water to drink. More importantly though, the cabinet underneath it was full of rum bottles. Cécile opened it and I immediately felt she should have said:“TATAAAAA!”. A sink that was hiding a lot of treasures! What followed was an incredible tasting of about 10 to 15 expressions. One even better than the other. From the standard lineup to the limited cask strength offerings. Beautiful!


Treasures under the sink

We then checked out the sexy column still and the not so sexy pot still. I love doing that, they are always intriguing to me. Next up….the ageing warehouse.

Savanna Pot Still

Savanna Savalle Column Still

It’s hard to describe the experience of being in the Savanna warehouse. Calling it magnificent wouldn’t do it justice. To make a long story short, Cécile gave us a siphon and let us go through the entire 1000 barrel warehouse!! What???!! We literally saw every corner of it and were allowed to try rum from many different casks. Mind blowing experience. So much good rum. I felt very lucky to be there. Cécile was more than generous with her time. At some point I felt a little guilty because we were taking so long. It was difficult to leave such a beautiful place! Before we did leave, we discussed the barrels we liked best. For me, one was particularly outstanding. Eric wasn’t sure, so we went back for another taste. Upon tasting it for a second time we were in agreement rather quickly….this one was extra special. I hope to one day see it in a bottle in my cabinet at home. With that, my work was done. For Eric it had only just started. Getting his hands on some of that wonderful rum for his Holmes Cay brand was and is the next challenge.

Our favourite cask

Eric, Cécile, Ivar

We walked back to the store where we were able to buy a couple of bottles of single cask Savanna. I wish I could have brought multiples. Cécile then took us to a nice restaurant to have lunch, together with Thierry. The food and company were excellent.

It was time to say goodbye. Without a doubt this was the highlight of my trip. Savanna has always been around the top of my list of distilleries I wanted to visit. Unbelievable quality and diversity in rum and nothing but nice people running the business. I’ll hopefully be able to come back at some point. In the mean time I have the difficult task to get some more Savanna rhum into Canada. Thank you Cécile, you were very kind and generous!

We had one more thing to do, which was to visit the bottling plant. It was a bit of a drive there and at one point we realized we had to be close….but still couldn’t find it in this industrial area. We did another lap, another turn and another turn. I pointed to a pallet of empty glass bottles. Had to be there! Or was that too obvious? Eric decided to drive a little further and ask someone. In the mean time, I had texted Cécile. Immediately after, I received a phone call from Johanna Amalou, Marketing Manager for Rhum Réunion, who was at the bottling plant. We were right around the corner. It was the place where the pallet of bottles was. Logic! Johanna gave us a short tour of the plant. Always nice to see places like this in action. They mainly bottle Rhum Charrette, but also Rhum Savanna. We tasted a couple of things and walked out with a few rum gifts and a smile on our faces!

Since we had a rare afternoon without any appointments, I figured we should see some bits of Réunion. This was not planned at all, so we had to figure out where to go. I checked our best friend, Google maps, and a waterfall called 'Cascade de Grand Galet' popped up, which had a high Google rating. Even waterfalls have them! I wonder what the waterfall will do when it receives a bad review! Picking a good destination is important, but the way there can be just as interesting. It was! Driving through the mountains was awesome. It’s so green everywhere. Narrow uphill roads….which Eric loved driving on with a stick shift :). Small waterfalls and streams everywhere. It’s gorgeous around there. Once we were close to our destination we parked the car and decided to walk. Each in a different direction though. That’s what you get when two independent people travel together. I climbed down into a little valley which had a small river with some waterfalls in it. Eric went straight to the main attraction. And what an attraction it was! Likely the most impressive waterfall I’ve ever seen. Absolutely gorgeous. I could have stayed staring at it for hours. Not enough time for that though.

Cascade de Grand Galet

On our way back to the hotel, we stopped at a big grocery store to get an extra suitcase for Eric. There’s no way he could have packed all the rum in one case. The number one rum travel challenge! We grabbed lunch at a small sandwich place before heading back to the resort. Flying back home the next day.

Home for Eric is NYC, for me it’s Toronto….but I decided to make a stop in Amsterdam to see my family for a few days. Flying there from Réunion had a major advantage. Because it’s part of the EU, I was allowed to bring a lot more alcohol with me without any problems. I had 14 bottles in 2 suitcases, which could have been problematic had I been flying from Mauritius, as it’s not part of the EU. I was still a bit worried when I arrived in Amsterdam. The luggage belt was right in front of a group of border guards who were bored out of their minds. They were waiting for some action. I didn’t hide from them. Bought a train ticket from a machine that was right next to them. Opened my suitcase after picking it up from the belt to take my jacket out. That could have looked suspicious I guess. When I walked over to the border guards I felt something might happen. However, there were a couple of non-white people in front of me who were the chosen ones for an inspection. Coincidence? I don’t think so. More likely racism and white privilege.

Apart from the benefit of seeing my family, the other advantage was that I could leave some bottles of rum there. Canada is incredibly strict when it comes to alcohol. If I had declared 14 bottles, I’d be paying a fortune in taxes and duties. I left some at my mom’s and they will slowly make their way over to Canada. Whenever someone visits me from Holland, they bring a couple of bottles with them.

That’s a happy end to a wonderful trip. One that made a real impact on me. From meeting so many wonderful people at all the distilleries, to learning about new (to me) cultures and of course acquiring a lot of rum knowledge. I enjoyed every distillery visit, with Grays and Savanna being the clear highlights. Traveling with Eric was a joy. You never know if someone will be a good travel partner. We have different personalities but adapted well to each other. No drama, easy going travel. We are both quite independent and gave each other room to do things on our own, which is very important to me. Another vital thing for the purpose of this trip was that we discovered our tastes in rum are quite similar. This made me a decent second opinion during our tasting sessions.

We visited two more distilleries that I might still write about, but the 3 most important ones are covered.

Lastly, some photos of the duty free rum choices.

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