The Martinique distillery JM obtained a Revelation trophy and a Grand Gold medal at Spirits Selection 2020 for its JM XO rum. We spoke with distillery director Emmanuel Becheau to find out more about this wonderful brand of agricultural rum and plans for the future.
The Martinique distillery JM is part of the Bernard Hayot group, which also owns Clément and Arcane rums (Mauritius) and the only distillery in St. Lucia. JM is the leading brand of white rum sold in Martinique, a little-known fact among lovers of agricultural rum. Clément ranks first for aged rum.
Located in Macouba, on the northern tip of the island in a narrow valley with lush vegetation, the distillery faces Mount Pelée which is often a challenge because the climate is more humid on this side.
JM already ranks first for sales of white rums. What are your plans for developing aged rums like the JM XO Revelation?
EB In 2012, the distillery was completely restored and modernized. Two new cellars were built on the plateau where 11,000 barrels are stored in tranquil surroundings. At the end of 2022, a third cellar will be built there, increasing ageing capacity to 15,000 barrels. We also plan to build three additional large cellars over the next 10 years, because the future of agricultural rum lies in a broad-ranging choice of rums aged in good quality casks
What are the specific features of JM XO?
M XO Rum is the result of a complex formula. Different batches were matured for 5 years in used bourbon barrels and 1 year in American and French barrels of varying ages with a fairly strong toast. Some of the new barrels were soaked in water before toasting. All the batches in the blend are 6 years old.
This is our leading export brand of mature rums so the Revelation – Grand Gold Medal is significant for our range.
Your range already offers noteworthy quality, both for the white and aged rums, as evidenced by the Grand Gold Medal. What is the recipe for creating outstanding rums?
Fresh cane juice is particularly fragile, so a distillery cannot produce agricultural rum from cane that has been harvested in fields too far away (particularly on other islands). A distillery can therefore lay claim to terroir-driven characters in its rum, unlike traditional rum made from molasses that may well been produced around the other side of the world.
The cane table at the back (reception hopper), followed by the shredder. Trucks unload the cane directly into the hopper
At JM, we don’t have a cane yard, but a cane table with a maximum capacity of 50 tonnes of cane. The freshly-cut cane is unloaded directly onto the table and is fed by gravity into a unit equipped with a cane cutter and a shredder. As the capacity of the silo is small, the canes are processed within two hours of their arrival – it is a real race against time! The aim is to obtain the clearest and least acidic juice possible.
No winemaker would ever think of leaving a trailer-load of grapes in the sun for 6 hours. Cane is a grass and we are making rum, not silage. We have therefore introduced properly organized cane cropping, even though we only have a few suppliers. Ensuring deliveries arrive seamlessly and the freshly-cut cane is processed swiftly is the first step towards guaranteeing quality.
Prevailing weather conditions during the entire growing season also have a distinctive influence on the quality of the end product. In some years, floral notes will dominate, in others hallmark sugar cane notes will stand out.
The varieties of cane grown can also put a particular stamp on each distilled juice, but these are much more subtle notes that not all consumers will be able to perceive.
Lastly, control over fermentations is a fundamental aspect of producing quality distilling juice. We have installed cooling coils in the fermentation tanks to ensure optimal conditions for the yeasts. Above 28-30°C, the yeast quickly runs out of steam and fermentation slows down. This can lead to the development of bacteria or other unwanted micro-organisms.
But ultimately, a lot of patience and love is also a requisite!”
What are the next products to look out for at JM?
We have just released JM Terroir volcanique, a VO rum for super/hypermarkets.
Two new products are in the preparation process. The first is a blend of mature vintages, which will be marketed in a 70 cl demi-john box. We are also going to bottle a 1996 cask in a bottle and not a decanter to rein in the price. This ‘signature label’ will be reissued each year in different vintages and is aimed at collectors.
In 2020, we introduced a new range targeting bartenders and mixology professionals: Atelier des Rhums. Designed to be combined with our bitters, the three rums were developed with different profiles but display typical aromatics: ‘Jardin Fruité’ is fruity; ‘Fumée Volcanique’ is mineral; and ‘Epices Créoles’ is spicy. Then there was the pandemic and we were not able to roll out our strategy. But the three products are performing very well through a network of wine shops, so they will remain a part of the range.
And finally, next year, JM will be producing its first organic rum!