Could you please introduce yourself explaining your role at Rhum J.M including a brief overview of how you got involved in the rum industry?
Karine Lassalle, I am Quality Manager for Rums - Cellar Master at Distillerie JM since January 2017. I took over from Nazaire Canatous, former Cellar Master, who retired in July 2018 and with whom I evolved for more than 1 year. He transmitted to me the soul of JM Rums. My role today is to manage the rum from the exit of the distillation column to the delivery for bottling. I am responsible for the quality of JM rums. I am in charge of selecting the white rums for bottling, managing the aging of our 10,000 barrels (and soon 15,000), monitoring our product blends and developing Research and Development for our brand... a multitude of tasks!
I try, as much as I can, to offer my knowledge in the tasting and production of agricultural rum to as many people as possible. I am a tasting trainer for the staff of Martinique's Hospitality and Catering industry to help them better understand their local production and the products they use and sell in their establishment.
I also try to be as interested as possible in other rum or spirit productions in the world, even if I admit that I often lack the time to do so!
Rhum J.M is renowned as a very traditional operation producing the quintessence of Rhum Agricole in an unchanged fashion. How do you balance your values for tradition and demands of the modern consumer?
Indeed, JM is known for its excellence in very old vintages in "brut de fût" (cask strength) . We have an exceptional know-how on the barrel work and the aging of our rums. We do our best to perpetuate it year after year.
However, the danger for us, as for all other companies with strong traditions, would be not to open our blinders and not to look at the evolution of the world around us... With this in mind, for nearly 10 years we have been investing more and more in our facilities, in order to continually gain in efficiency and to maintain the quality that still makes our worldwide reputation.
Moreover, I am convinced that we can combine tradition and modernity. When we create new products, sometimes younger, we apply the same techniques of quality barrel selection and blending as we do for our older rums. There is a multitude of possibilities in the work of the barrels which allows us, without any artifice, to propose products for all and of great quality.
I believe that JM is one of those brands that, despite the years and the centuries, never stops questioning itself and evolving with the times, that is the strength of the brand!
Can you describe the characteristics of the rums you produce at the distillery in just a few words?
JM's motto is "Quality", our products must be beautiful and delicious! Our product requirements are at their highest and we are constantly questioning our choices and our objectives.
In your opinion, what distinguishes Rhum J.M apart from the rest? What makes it unique?
JM is an elegant distillery with a strong character, nestled in a valley in the middle of nature, on its own land.
When you wander in our Distillery, you can feel the ancestral soul that reigns on the site, you live a real experience through all your senses and you leave with a remarkable memory of your visit...
Our products are infused with the soul of those who made the brand famous. We put a lot of passion and energy into producing our rum for everyone to enjoy.
I believe this is what makes our Distillery, our products and our brand identity unique.
Terroir is the star of the show at Rhum J.M, can you tell us about how your unique terroir impacts production and flavour?
The J.M. distillery is located in a green setting at the foot of “la Montagne pelée” in the north of Martinique and benefits from its own micro-climate which offers the perfect conditions for growing sugarcane. We are harvesting sugarcane at the highest cultivatable elevation for sugarcane on the volcano.
Rhum J.M uses its own volcanic mineral-rich spring water, sourced 200 meters above sea level, from the bowels of Mount Pelée. This rich and flavorful water is used at every point in the production of Rhum J.M and is a key asset to the exceptional quality of our rum.
The perfect illustration of this unique terroir, associated with our know-how, is our new product "Terroir Volcanique" which is an old agricultural rum that has been aged in two different types of barrels with different heating level.
In 2020, Liquor.com featured an article discussing Rhum Agricole and its boom outwith Martinique and other French territories. They discussed the opinion that it could be damaging to protected producers. What’s your views on this?
In my opinion, any evolution of the local and global market must be seen as new challenge! The growing competition and the increase of our exports must lead us to think our productions differently, it is a nice way to constantly question ourselves and not to stay on our assets.
You have been releasing some exciting single casks in a variety of cask finishes including Armagnac, Cognac and Calvados. What cask finish would you like to try with Rhum J.M that you haven’t yet?
Indeed, upon my arrival, the second series of finishes was released. These finishes were conceived as 100% French in partnership with the magnificent Cognac Delamain, Calvados Lecompte and Armagnac Château du Tariquet.
Today, our development strategy is not focused on this type of development but why not in the future try old wine barrels, mezcal or others... the possibilities are multiple!
What are you most excited about in the rum world right now? What challenges do you see for the future of the rum industry, and how can it overcome them?
Today in the world of rum there is a real growing awareness of the way we produce, and I think that's great. I think that the challenge of tomorrow is there. We could say that J.M has its own ecosystem in the north of Martinique, and this is what makes its terroir unique, preserving it is our duty. More and more distilleries are turning to a more responsible model and this is very good. At JM, we operate in a circular economy, all our co-products are revalorized in the production of our rums: Our bagasse is used to run the boiler and to make compost, our vinasse is treated with plant filters to irrigate the sugarcane and banana fields on the edges of the distillery ... in short, we collect in order to transform, to produce and then we give back.
What advice would you give to new enthusiasts who are just beginning to explore the world of rum?
The only advice I give to the maximum when asked is "enjoy your discoveries and your tastings! ". Be curious, don't let yourself be influenced by the preconceptions of some, make your own personal experience, it is often the best!
Rhum J.M have a spectacular range of core and special releases. If you had to pick, which would be your favourite and why?
It's hard to choose just one! I love them all...
I think my heart goes out to my first pride, the Multi Millésime 2002 - 2007 - 2009, it is my first blend at the Distillery, the first of a long series...
If you had to pick just one individual in the rum industry or distillery that you have not yet visited or met, who/where would you pick and why?
One person, that would be Joyce Spencer ... the first great lady of rum of course!
One distillery... I would certainly choose one of the smallest and most artisanal distilleries in Brazil, Asia or elsewhere... they often produce quality distillates that reflect the passion of the people who make them.
What’s your next focus at Rhum J.M? Can you give us any insight into future releases?
In the last few months, we have been focusing on younger products with our "Atelier des Rhums" range and our "Terroir Volcanique"...
Soon we will offer you new treasures in old rums... but it is difficult at the moment to tell you more! I keep our secrets preciously...