- To reach the Rhumerie J. M from St. Pierre, you must cross the northern mountains of Martinique. As soon as you leave sea level in St. Pierre, you begin to climb until you reach Morne Rouge. The scenery behind you is spectacular. The cool mountain air is a pleasant change from the warm coast and, more than likely, a little rain will fall as you make your way along the winding road of the mountain pass. As you descend from the mountains near Ajoupa Bouillon, flowers of every description line the road, and you will see why Martinique is known as the “flower island.”
As the terrain levels off, pineapple fields give way to bananas and the Atlantic Ocean on the horizon. Just past Basse Pointe, on the way to Macouba, a well-marked road to the left directs you to Rhumerie J.M at Fonds-Preville. The distillery first appears as a cluster of metal roofs in a valley surrounded by tall bamboo. You will see J.M is a distillery that takes a lot of pride in the past and has retained most of the process equipment that was employed earlier this century.
In 1790, the stream that flows through the valley powered a water wheel to crush the cane at Jean-Marie Martin’s sugar factory. After sugar cane from the estate was pressed, the juice was introduced to six, cast-iron, round-bottom sugar pots. The sweet juice was cooked and, as it thickened and reduced in volume, was ladled to the next progressively smaller pot.
The names of the pots are indicative of their sizes: Le Grande, La Proper, La Lessive, Le Flambeau, Du Feu, and La Batterie. The last pot held the heavy black syrup from which sugar would be filtered. What was left after filtering was known as melasse or molasses. From this, rhum or tafia was made.
When the price of sugar fell, rhum was made directly from the cane juice and became the main product of the distillery. Since the bagasse was no longer needed to cook the sugar, it was available to make steam, and the water wheel was replaced by a more reliable steam engine. In April and May of each year, sugar cane is harvested from the estate cane fields. Once the cane is weighed, it is crushed in the steam-powered cane mill. These single-cylinder steam engines, found in many of the distilleries of the French islands, are quite impressive with their associated controls and linkages.
The juice takes two days to ferment, after which it is distilled in one of two single-column copper stills to about 80% alcohol. Water from the river that used to turn the water wheel flows in a gutter in the floor next to the copper still after it cools the fresh rhum.
Once distilled, the rhum blanc is allowed to rest in a stainless steel tank for about six months, while the rhum paille is put in small, oak barrels from France for one year. The fact that the rhum paille is put in 200-liter, oak barrels, instead of large vats of 20,000-liter capacity or more, accounts for more of the yellow or “straw” color of this rhum. It is also worth noting that the rhum paille from this distillery is bottled at 55º, as opposed to the usual 50°.
Aged ten years to a rich brown color, the aged rhum is certainly the pride of this distillery and comparable to a fine cognac. At 155 francs for a 70cl bottle, this is not cheap. But when you consider the time it takes to make a spirit of these dimensions, it certainly has value. Most of this distillery’s annual production of 200,000 liters is consumed in Martinique, but small quantities are shipped to France. Facing the hardships of a small distillery competing in a market dominated by larger competitors J.M was sold to the Hayot group in 2004 who now operate the distillery.
The distillery welcomes visitors from 9:00 to 17:00 daily, except Sunday. This is the northernmost of the distilleries in Martinique, and the tranquillity of the stone distillery buildings makes an enjoyable stop on your island tour.
- There are 5 products in our database distilled by J. M.
- J. M Elevé Sous Bois
- J. M Rhum Agricole Vieux 1997
- J.M Rhum Blanc
- J.M Rhum Blanc 80
- J.M Rhum Vieux VSOP