Rums - whether mulled or plain - beers, wines, mineral water or lemonade... Reunion offers a wide range of local specialities, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. Of course, these should be enjoyed in moderation, depending on the situation...
Throughout the island it is difficult to escape the frescoes bearing the colours of the local beer, painted on the pediments of the snack bars or small restaurants. Bourbon beer is brewed on the island. Its symbol is a dodo, a large turkey-like bird that has now disappeared from the islands of the Indian Ocean. There is no better way to grasp something of the Creole spirit, than to sample the péi (local) beers, accompanied by bonbons piments or samosas. Since 2011, dodo has even been available in a version that is perfumed with lychee: Metiss'.
The local rum, rhum Charrette (Cart Rum), is impossible to miss, whether in the stores or a caz' (home), and is referred to as such on account of its label, depicting a cart loaded with sugar canes, drawn by an ox. While sold in glass bottles, it is also sold in small plastic bottles and is thus also referred to as "pile plate" (button-cell battery)! The rum is produced either from sugar cane juice (agricultural rum and old rum), or from molasses (the residue left after sugar is refined) for traditional rum. It is closely tied to the history of the island, including its darkest moments, since the sugar cane industry developed off the back of slavery. A visit to the production facilities is a pre-requisite if one is to understand this past and there is no lack of available options: Saint-Louis is home to Europe's largest sugar cane production facility, the Sucrerie du Gol [Gol Sugar Refinery] (where you can visit the factory and try the "sirops la cuite" [pure cane sugar syrups]). In Saint-Pierre, the Saga du Rhum [Rum Saga], the fruit of a collaboration between the island's three distilleries, is located at the heart of the Isautier Distillery, founded in 1845. In Saint-Benoît, the Distillerie la Rivière du Mât [Mat River Distillery] opens the doors of its facility for the production of traditional white rum, old rums and agricultural rums. Finally, the Sucrerie de Bois Rouge [Red Wood Sugar Refinery] and the Savanna Distillery, located in Saint- André, to the far east of the island, showcase the complete cycle by which the cane is transformed first into sugar, and then into rum.
Of course, the rum can be enjoyed neat (in moderation, given that Charrette is 49% vol.), in punch (with fruit juice and spices added) or in cocktails. That said, the islands local speciality is rhum arrangé (mulled rum), for which there are as many recipes as there are residents! In fact, anyone can "mull" adding fruits, spices (cinnamon sticks, vanilla) and herbs and allowing them to infuse... with faham, a type of wild orchid, in a variety of combinations. What's more, at the markets you will find pouches containing everything you need to produce your own rhum arrangé... Finally, if the menu in a bar offers a café-vanille, this is a punch flavoured with coffee liqueur !
Wine, sparkling water and lemonade
Reunion also has its own wines. The introduction of new grape varieties (including malbec, among others) to the slopes of the Cirque de Cilaos, along with the commissioning of modern wineries, have enabled the emergence of red, rosé and white wines, which hold their own in comparison with wines from the mainland. In some households in Cilaos you will also find "vin qui rend fou" [wine that drives you mad]! This is in fact a wine produced from the isabelle grape variety, which was banned in mainland France in 1935 (the ban has been lifted since 2003) but has always been grown on Reunion Island. Cilaos is not only known for its wines: a sparkling water, Cilaos, produced by channelling on of the cirque's thermal water sources is found on many a table on the island. Connoisseurs will take great pleasure in drinking Cot lemonade, which is also unmissable !