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Sitting at a long, sun-bleached table, overlooking the vivid green grounds of Husk Distillers, on the banks of the Tweed, in the Northern Rivers of NSW, Quentin Brival tips a free pour double shot of Husk Pure Cane 50, unaged agricole rum, into a short glass. He adds about half a teaspoon of raw sugar and a lime coin (equal parts flesh and rind), which is gently squeezed for full effect.  

“The way people make and enjoy a spirit can tell you a lot about a particular place, which, I think, in turn shapes the product itself,” says Brival. “Technically, you’re supposed to make one for yourself, because, as we say in Martinique, ‘You prepare your own death’.”

Hailing from the small Caribbean island – the spiritual home of agricole rum – and dressed in khaki from head to toe, Brival is the head distiller and production manager at Husk Distillers (huskdistillers.com). He’s the man responsible for the growing, fermenting, distilling and bottling of the most important core ingredient needed to make this invigorating drink, known as a Ti’Punch (‘tee-pohn-ch’).

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“Agricole was first made in Martinique when the Europeans stopped importing sugar because they started making their own from sugar beet,” he explains. “Almost overnight, all of the small sugar mills and sugarcane farms on the island couldn’t compete. Instead of wasting their product, they found a way to make a rum from the juice of the freshly cut cane.”

The result is an intensely grassy, fresh and earthy spirit that’s worlds apart from the standard, one-note syrupy characteristics of most big-brand rums.

While most rum is made from molasses, a by-product of sugar refining, agricole rum is different. It’s made once a year at harvest time, straight from fresh, seasonally cut sugarcane that gets crushed, pressed, fermented, and distilled, in situ – hence the term ‘agricole’, the French word for ‘agriculture’. In much the same way as a viticulturist does with grapes, Husk grows its sugarcane in the very same place that the rum is made: from the ground up.

“Agricole is a seasonal production, a bit like a wine,” Brival says. “You’ve got a very short window to process all the cane when it’s ripe for harvest. Extracting the good juice, the fresh juice, as quickly as we can, is a very important part of the whole process.”

Quentin Brival, of NSW’s Husk Distillers, hails from Martinique.

Husk begins harvesting the sugarcane late in winter, towards the end of July, and finishes (barring a few rain breaks) around the start of November. The team utilise their own harvester, which, from a distance, looks a lot like a mechanised dinosaur noisily grazing its way through the tall, green sward, spitting out hunks and shards of split cane, called billets. Within just a few months, roughly 500 tonnes of freshly cut cane are reaped from Husk’s nearby fields and delivered to the on-site sugar mill where the canes are squeezed and crushed to extract every last drop of new juice.

Any excess pulp – known as bagasse – is collected to make compost, which is later spread back out onto the cane field.

“Seventy per cent of the work happens in the paddock. This is why we don’t buy cane from any nearby farms. We want to maximise the quality of our spirit… from harvesting to bottling,” Brival says.

After the juice is extracted in the sugar mill, it’s pumped over to the distillery for fermentation and distillation.

“We control the process from start to finish,” he says. “This is important to us, because it means we get to make the product exactly the way we want to make it, with no compromises.”

Husk Distillers is the first and, so far, the only rum distillery to make rum this way in Australia.

“Sugarcane has been grown in this region for over 100 years, but no one thought to make rum from it. We are simply adding another layer of history and opening up the possibilities of what can be done with this place that already exists,” says Brival.

“To us, this is the only way to make a rum with a sense of provenance. It’s a spirit that really tells a story of this special area of the Caldera Coast.”

Akin to fine wine, agricole rum has the refined romance of place innate, and a Ti’ Punch really is the best way to drink it.

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To prepare a Ti’Punch, pour 60ml of white agricole rum into a glass, add half a teaspoon of raw sugar and a lime coin. No ice. “A Ti’Punch doesn’t have any ice, because, for a long time, we didn’t have refrigeration on the island… So, you drink it neat,” says Brival.

Swirl the liquid, like you would a wine. Smell and sip it, slowly. As the sugar dissolves into the lime juice, and both elements infuse into the spirit, your nose is transfixed by the invigoratingly fresh scents of clean-cut grass, lime, and sweet wet earth.