Winding through the mountainous region around Rhum JM, it’s hard to imagine how anyone picked this location to make rhum. Located in the shadow of Mount Pelee (an active volcano), Rhum JM is Martinique’s oldest producing rhum distillery dating back to 1790. Barrels of rhum used to be rolled down the mountain and into the sea in order to be transported to the nearby port town of St. Pierre.
Rhum JM grows all its own sugar cane on the Habitation Bellevue estate, located right above the distillery. The combination of volcanic soil, altitude, and climate give the sugar cane from JM a distinct flavor profile. At Bellevue the sugar cane yield is much higher than at lower elevations, but the sugar content is lower, so more of it has to be crushed to make the rhum.
JM grows three different kinds of sugar cane and follows the strict rules set out by the French government that dictates the AOC (Appellation d’Origine Controlle) for Martinique Rhum Agricole. Unlike with most other sugar cane plantations, the sugar cane crops cannot be burned at the end of the season. Also, sugar cane must only be harvested in the dry months, and must be cut and pressed within a few short days.
Because burning the sugar cane fields is against the AOC rules (sugar cane fields are burned in almost every other rum-producing region in the world), Rhum JM rotates their fields between sugar cane and banana, a significant part of their business.
The Rhum Agricole AOC dictates that all sugar cane used to produce rhum agricole needs to be pressed and crushed within three days of harvesting. JM does the extraordinary step of cutting and pressing their cane within one hour of harvest. The sugar cane is mixed with mountain spring water that flows from Mt. Pelee. Rhum JM produces a staggering ninety two thousand liters of sugar cane juice a day which results in five hundred thousand liters of rhum agricole per year.
Once the sugar cane is pressed, it’s moved into giant fermenters where yeast is added and left to ferment for twenty four hours. The results is a 4-5% ABV sugar cane wine that is distilled to make rhum agricole.
In the United States, Rhum JM is well known for its Rhum Agricole Blanc, but internationally, JM is best known for aged rhums. Rhum JM sells three key aged rums, including an XO Rhum Agricole which is 6 years, a 2001 vintage rhum which is 10 years, and a 1995 vintage that is 15 years.
Rhum JM XO (45% ABV) is a 6 year old rhum. It has wonderful bourbon notes on the nose with oak, caramel, and cinnamon on the palate. There’s a wonderful grassy midtone which balances everything out and a long finish with a nice, cool center.
Rhum JM 2001 (46.6%) is a 10 year old vintage rhum agricole. It has a soft, thick mouthfeel and a taste that is solidly oak driven. The 2001 has nice notes of oak spice, marsipan, black pepper, caramel, and ginger. It has a nice, long, spicy finish.
Rhum JM 1995 (44.8%) is a 15 year old vintage rhum agricole. It is wonderfully complex and flavorful and easily ranks among the best aged rhum agricoles on the market. The 1995 features an amazing mix of tropical fruit, ginger, oak,vanilla, caramel, banana, oak, black pepper, and orange peel. It’s soft and elegant with a long finish. This rhum is spectacular and has a depth that is reminiscent of amazing cognac.
Rhum JM is an iconic rhum agricole distillery. It not only represents the long history of rhum agricole, it shows how traditional craftsmanship can hold its own with modern distilleries like Rhum St. James. It is truly a gem of a distillery, producing some of the finest aged rhums we’ve sampled.Behind The Scenes of Rhum J.M. by Geoff Kleinman