Rhum aging and bottling
Aging and watering
Rhum getting out of the distillation column has typically an alcoholic grade around 70 % abv (140 US proof). It is hence unfit for human consumption (at least for mots of us). Furthermore its aromas are not yet fully developed. Rhum is put into tanks (stainless steel or wooden ones) for a few months (at least 3 months according to AOC specifications).
Rhum is said to round itself, it loses any astringency and becomes soft to the palate. Its flavours develop themselves, giving a feeling of completeness without any harsh sensation.
If distillation must take place in a distillerie fumante (local name for running distilleries), aging activities can take place elsewhere. Some well known brands like Habitation Saint Etienne specialized in rhum ageing and blending and have their rhum distilled at other plants in Martinique.
According to AOC specifications, rhum blanc (white rum) must have stayed at least 3 months and no more than 3 months if it has been kept in wooden barrels. Hence wooden barrel aged AOC white rhum is exactly 3 month old. It must also be absolutely colourless. To be sold, rhum blanc (AOC or not) is watered to alcoholic concentrations ranging from 40% abv (80 US proof) to 62% abv (124 US proof), most common concentrations being 40, 50 & 55% abv (80, 100 & 110 US proof).
Rhum can also stay a bit longer in oak barrels. A few months later (at least 12 months according to AOC specifications) , the rhum has developed an amber coloration acquired from its contact with the wood of the barrels. Such rhum is called Paille (straw). This kind of rhum is also sold under the ambré(amber) designation, even if Martinique ambré rhum is usually at least 18 month old or event 24 month old ( as Depaz amber rhum for example).
Rhum may also be aged of more than 3 years in oak casks and be designed as rhum agricole "vieux" (old agricole rhum) under AOC designations. Oak barrels used for AOC rhums vieux have to be made of oak and their capacity must be under 650 litres (172 US gallons).
Non white rhums (paille, ambré & vieux) are usually bottled on site or in the area. The former distillery, Dillon located in Fort-de-France suburbs has been converted into an ageing and bottling facility at the end of the 2006 sugarcane campaign. The facility is a warehouse for Dillon, Depaz & Saint James rhums (Dillon rhum being distilled at Depaz and Saint-James facilities).
Rhum blanc (white rum) to be sold outside of the production island is usually shipped in large containers. Bottling is then performed locally to the intended saling area. It helps cutting costs and saving energy by avoiding unecessary transport of the bottle glass. For example, Saint James white agricole rhum sold in Europe displays on the bottle a bottling code of "94018 A" which means bottled near Charenton-le-Pont, probably at the former Cusenier distillery plant.