I recently got hold of two bottles of rum from Martinique. It’s from Rhum JM, two vintage bottles from 2002 and 2003, both aged around 10 years.
Rhum JM, based on the northern part of the island Martinique, has been around as an estate for over 200 years, and is the oldest registered producer of rum on the island. Like most rums from Martinique, it’s a rhum agricole, which means it’s made from sugarcane juice rather than molasses. Sugarcane juice doesn’t keep the way molasses do, so the harvest, crushing and the start of fermentation is by necessity a fast process; in some instances it all happens within a day. Another difference between the production of rum from sugarcane compared to molasses is that juice has less sugar in it, so the fermented “wine” that goes into the still has a lower % ABV, around 4-5 %.
Rhum JM is labelled AOC Martinique Rhum Agricole communicating a protected designation of origin (AOC = Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée). This means that rums that carry the AOC label are produced according to some pretty explicit guidelines (regarding everything from the type of sugarcane that can be used, the fermentation process, distillation, maturation etc etc) and can only be produced on Martinique.
The regulation surrounding AOC Martinique Rhum Agricole is very unusual in its level of detail. But the idea of specific regulation putting in place guidelines is not unique, even though it’s often said that the rum world is very unregulated. The latter is certainly true on a global level, but several countries have guidelines regarding their specific production, for example regarding the amount of sweetener allowed or how age statements can be used.
JM rum, like other Martinique rum, is distilled on a creole column still to between 65 and 75% ABV. In order to comply with the AOC label they are unsweetened and don’t use any colouring. The rum is then matured in casks of American oak. This is more specific to JM, as some other Martinique rums use French oak casks for some or all of the ageing process. I haven’t tasted them, so I can’t say anything about that. That’ll have to be for another post at another time!