Sugarcane and Madeira Rum

Around 1500, only eighty years after its discovery, Madeira had become the largest producer of sugar in the world, due to its quality being superior, and it was a lucrative business for the island. Sugar, known as ‘ouro branco’ meaning white gold, was extremely expensive, and it found its way to the super affluent of the era, mostly to royalty and nobility

In the last century, the production of sugarcane has been fluctuating a lot, as shown below:
1930 6,500 ha
1952 1,420 ha
1986 119 ha
1990 90 ha
2021 172 ha



‘Saccharum officinarum’ is the Latin name for sugarcane, that
is the basis for sugar and Rum. The plant consists of several thick hard stems covered in leaves. At harvest time, when the stems are mature, these leaves are removed, as the stems are cut off close to the ground, leaving the rootstocks to grow new stems in the year to come. The stems are quickly brought to mills, where they are crushed and thus release the fresh juice. As the name implies, the sugarcane juice is rich in sugar, that can be extracted, or fermented to an alcoholic liquid that is later distilled to Rum.

Production of Rum

There are six sugarcane factories remaining in Madeira, called ‘engenhos’, Portuguese for mill. In March, they open the gates for the first harvest, to be closed again in May. One mill is located in Funchal: ‘Fábrica de Mel de Cana Ribeiro Seco.’

A remarkable sugar mill, worth visiting, can be found in Porto da Cruz, the ‘Engenhos do Norte’ run by the Cane Mill Company. This is the only sugarcane mill in Europe that still runs on a steam engine. A few days after this mighty colossus commences, the steam blows tens of metres from the high red bricks chimney into the air. Inside you are teleported 100 years back in time, workers dump the sugarcane stems into an enormous machine that powers the heavy steel mills with which the stems are pressed. Deeper into the factory you will find copper distillation pot stills and columns where the colourless ‘aguardente’ emerges. Engenho do Norte is famous for its ‘970 Single Cask Rum'.

13) Cane Mill


Madeira Rum: premium quality

In Madeira, Rum is produced from specially grown sugarcane. As with Madeira wine, aged Rum shows its potential. It is incredibly complex, presenting sweet aromas such as raisins, dates, figs, caramel, and dried tropical fruit like papaya. You will also notice those of spices, such as cinnamon, licorice root, and pepper. Besides, you can come across chocolate, hazelnuts, and a slight hint of smokiness.

If you are reading 'Madeira Wine Today', you probably are a connoisseur, someone who loves paying attention to flavours. Treat yourself to a Madeira Rum of 12 years or older, it is never lost money as you can hang on to such a grand Rum for years.