This is the first in a series of reviews about the Rhum J.M. line of rhum agricole.
The Rhum J.M. distillery is located, as with all A.O.C. marque rhum agricoles, on the French Caribbean island of Martinique. It dates back to 1845, when Jean-Marie Martin, whose initials are still affixed to the distillery, bought the Fonds Préville sugar plantation. The distillery passed through a number of hands over the course of the 19th and early 20th centuries, finally being bought by Gustave Crassous de Médeuil in 1914. Since then it has stayed in the hands of his descendants and relatives.
The distillery is situated on the northern end of the island in the shadow of Mt. Pelée. This is an active volcano, most notably wiping out the city of St. Pierre in 1902. While its position is risky, this location provides excellent volcanic soils for growing sugar cane as well as bananas and pineapples. All of the steps of rhum agricole production are carried out on the estate. Beginning with growing and harvesting the sugar cane, which is pressed within one hour after it is harvested to produce cane juice, which is then fermented, distilled and aged.
Rhum J.M. Blanc is the youngest rhum agricole in their line. It is rested in stainless steel tanks for four months before being cut down to 100-proof and bottled. This makes for a very fresh rhum that is clearly an agricultural product. While some of its flavors can be a little off-putting for someone who is more used to smooth, mellow, vanilla-tinged white rums, rhum agricole blanc has its own charms. In some respects it is analogous to blanco tequila, which also tends to be be aggressively agricultural with a few rough edges that have not been smoothed by the brief rest before bottling.
Taste: light sugar cane sweetness up front, apples and raspberries mid-palate, shifting to citrus and the funky apples and pears near the back, which also becomes a bit softer with water and gains a bit of hogo near the back of the throat
Finish: a replay of the nose in flavors, which lingers with a bit of burn from the alcohol
While this rhum is an interesting experience neat, its real purpose is in cocktails. The classic choice would be the Ti' Punch and, as I mentioned above, it subs in to recipes calling for blanco tequila, like a Margarita, quite nicely. It also makes for an interesting twist on cocktails that call for white rum.
1.5 oz rhum agricole blanc
0.5 oz lime juice
0.5 oz grapefruit juice
0.35 oz simple syrup
Combine all ingredients, shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass that has been rinsed with Maraschino liqueur.
This is hands down one of my favorite summertime drinks. The crispness of the rhum meshes with the bitter/spicy sweetness of the Maraschino perfectly while the sour lime and bitter grapefruit give it plenty of snap. For an extra-chilly drink, make it frappé style by blending the ingredients with a handful of crushed ice and pouring the liquid over a chilled glass full of crushed ice. It's like a Slurpy, but infinitely better.
While the recipe originally called for white rum and I like it a lot with Flor de Caña Extra Dry, the rhum agricole blanc adds another dimension to the drink. The funkiness of the rhum syncs with the bitter cherry notes of the Maraschino and just rides over the fruit juices. Surprisingly, the Rhum J.M. doesn't overwhelm the drink even though it's 100-proof. Lastly, it's best to go a little easy on the sugar as the Maraschino rinse will add a bit of sweetness and the drink it meant to be snappy.
Overall, I think Rhum J.M. Blanc is a great choice if you're looking for a blanc rhum agricole. The only downside is that it tends to be on the pricey side. Some of this is simply the fact that agricoles go for more than their molasses-based brethren, but J.M. Blanc is roughly the same price as Neisson and a bit more than La Favorite, the other two standard rhum agricole brands. However, if you happen to live in Washington, J.M. Blanc is currently discounted by ~$10 compared to the more standard price found down here in Oregon. I'd say that it's a good deal in the mid-30s, but a harder sell above $40/L. At that point there will probably only be a few dollars between the blanc and the slightly aged and significantly more complex J.M. Elévé Sous Bois, which will be reviewed in the next post of this series.
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