Martinique’s Rhum J. Bally – One Man’s Passion Begets Everlasting Top Shelf Pleasure
Most everyone, I imagine, is driven in some small way to leave his or her mark on the world. Whether through art, commerce, raising great kids, or establishing a groovy website, we all want to be remembered, right?
Sometimes we need help establishing our legacies. Other times, as was the case with Jacques Bally, we’re better off going it alone.
Jacques is the man behind Martinique’s Rhum J. Bally, one of the most exalted vintage spirits in the world. If you knew him prior to his arrival in Martinique in the early 1900s, though, you might find the everlasting mark he left on the world a bit hard to believe.
You see, old Jacques was a Centralien, or a graduate of the famed Ecole Centrale des Arts et Manufactures (ECP) in Paris. Originally founded in 1829, it remains today one of the foremost engineering schools in the world.
Not sure what Jacques was thinking when he left Paris for the dark and lovely volcanic shores of Le Carbet on the north Caribbean coast of Martinique in 1917. Just 15 years prior, nearby Mount Pelée had erupted, completely destroying the Paris of the Caribbean, Saint Pierre, nestled a mere five minutes up the coast from Carbet.
Where some may have seen an impossible challenge, though, Jacques saw opportunity.
He acquired the Lajus Plantation, a former sugar estate founded in 1670. Lajus, like much of the available real estate in northern Martinique in those days, must’ve been available at a nice price, considering the fresh memories of Mount Pelée. The 1902 eruption left the estate in bankruptcy and it was eventually seized before Jacques came along.
Almost immediately, the French engineer sets out to rebuild Lajus, only this time the sweet stuff produced here would be rhum.
He installs a new steam engine, updates usable existing equipment, and builds a new distilling column virtually by himself. He even designs his own bottles – first triangular, and later square – and, of course, produces the rhum.
Rhum J. Bally becomes an instant success, its alluring amber color and undeniable aromatic quality quickly winning over rhum lovers all across Martinique. By 1930, it’s known on the world stage.
Expanded production, Jacques’ passing, and brand acquisition by Remy Cointreau in later years eventually cause production to be moved from Lajus to the centralized Martinique’s Simon Distillery, but Jacques’ imprint still remains in every bottle of J. Bally. As noted by the company…
The craftsmanship of the methods developed by Jacques Bally (and which have been scrupulously safeguarded during all phases of the production process) enables rum enthusiasts to taste what is most likely the best rum in the world. Each vintage… is thus a veritable chef d’oeuvre…
Of course you’d expect J. Bally to sing its own praises, but I’m here to tell you… they’re not lying.
The rhum vieux pictured above that I enjoyed in the shadow of Mount Pelée a few years ago has always stood out to me as a singular sipping experience. It was a chilly afternoon high up in the mountains; a steady rain beating down all around us.
J. Bally kept me warm and happy, its subtle spiciness and woody flavor keeping a smile on my face despite the weather. Beautifully well-rounded, refined, and smooth, with just the perfect level of burn, J. Bally Rhum Vieux seemed tailor-made for my surroundings… which, of course, it was.
J. Bally doesn’t go overboard on production – only about 250,000 liters are released to the global market annually – but you can find it in your better liquor stores.
Nothing will match the joy of sipping J. Bally in the lush northern regions of Martinique that so captivated and inspired Jacques Bally in the first place, but if you get a chance, I highly suggest you pick up a bottle and try to replicate the experience…
À votre santé!