The Rhum JM distillery in Macouba, Martinique.

Rum Journal: From Martinique, an Exciting New Trio of Caribbean Rums

By: Alexander Britell - March 15, 2024

It just might be the most remarkable rum distillery in the whole Caribbean: the Rhum JM distillery in Macouba in Martinique, set inside the rainforest at the base of the island’s towering Mont Pelee volcano. 

For nearly two centuries, Rhum JM has put out some of the world’s greatest rum expressions, from its celebrated rhum blanc to a rarefied collection of aged rums

A large part of the rum’s brilliance is due to its extraordinary terroir. You see, unlike molasses-based rums, the sugarcane-juice rhum agricole of the French Caribbean is made from pure sugar cane juice. That means every year the harvest is different, every year the product is different, and the way in which the cane is grown, from its varietal to its altitude to its soil to the its location in the corner of a particular parcel can impact the final rum. If you know rhum agricole, you’ve seen the wonderful ways which French Caribbean producers experiment with all of these factors and more. 

But while terroir is essential to Martinique’s rum, it’s not the only thing that matters, of course.

More than a decade ago, on my first visit to the Macouba distillery, I was immediately struck by the sight of blue-coated workers at the distillery charring the barrels right outside of the facility. 

At the time, even in rhum agricole, that was a somewhat rare practice. But it underscored JM’s commitment to ensuring the quality of every single variable that makes a rum great. 

The company’s latest release is a testament to precisely that: the Atelier des Rhums series (literally “rum workshop” series), a new trio of rums, each of which highlights a different barrel charring profile (and varied wood types) — and the ways each one can influence the flavor notes of a rum. 

The special release has three expressions: Jardin Fruité, Fumee Volcanique and Epices Creoles. The rums are aimed in part at bartenders, who can use their unique characteristics to add untold dimensions to their cocktails. 

But the rums are equally fascinating to the connoisseur, lovely expressions of JM’s singular terroir and rum ethos put together by master blender Karine Lassalle.

The Epices Creole, “creole spices,” has a minimum of three years of aging within virgin barrels, with a profile that evokes a spicy note, bottled at a very welcome 46 degrees. 

Jardin Fruite (bottled at 42 degrees), “fruity garden,” is a 24-month expression with a mix of French and American cask aging and several different chars aimed at a fruitier profile. 

The final, Fumee Volcanique, “volcanic smoke,” has what JM calls an “extreme” charring, with just 12 to 14 months of aging at a lovely, robust 49 degrees. 

So what are they like? 

The names are true to their profiles. 

The Epices Creoles is definitely spice-forward: on the nose there are hints of cardamom, clove, caramel and a hint of fennel; the flavor profile is marked by orange peel, cacao nib and cinnamon and a bold finish. 

The Jardin Fruité has an aroma of almond, carambola and apricot; you’ll find flavors of banana, mango and cane stalk, with a lovely hint of minerality, rooted in the volcanic soil; the finish is beautifully rounded, with a note of cucumber and melon. 

The Fumée Volcanique’s nose is filed with cane stalk and earth; you’ll find smoky notes of tobacco, dark chocolate, toasted bread, pepper and a whisper of citrus. 

If you’ve ever made a ti’ punch, or substituted in a rhum blanc for a molasses rum in a daiquiri or a planteur, you know just how transformative agricole rums can be in a cocktail. 

Each of these will take a regular cocktail and turn it into something more. But these are also fine sippers, particularly the Jardin Fruite, which was the most rounded and drinkable neat. 

They’re not just good, they’re interesting, a wonderful example of the kind of intellectual creativity and experimentation you’ll find in the world of rhum agricole. Tasting the trio in one sitting is a great way to take a journey through the world of JM. 

It’s exactly what you’d expect from a magical, remarkable French Caribbean distillery, one that continues to put out some of the best rums on earth. 

For more, visit Rhum JM.

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