This article will be the first of a mini series covering the Rums produced by St Lucia Distillers. Seemingly you can’t talk about St Lucia Distillers without talking about Chairman’s Reserve Rum, perhaps their most well know brand, which is why that is where I will start. But to truly understand the origins of Chairman’s Reserve Rum, you need to understand the capabilities that exist within the set up at St Lucia Distillers to produce a wide range of Rums utilising their four individual stills. A little background first then……
Saint Lucia is one of the Windward Islands. The Windward Islands are the South Eastern, generally larger Islands of the Lesser Antilles within the West Indies. The Windward Islands are Dominica, Martinique, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent & the Grenadines and Grenada. I have never visited but I am more than aware of the Pitons. The Pitons are two mountainous volcanic spires, Gross Piton and Petit Piton that grace the Chairman’s Reserve labels.
St Lucia Distillers emerged from a long tradition of on site, rustic rum production that was a common feature of the West Indies sugar plantations. The molasses (a by-product of the sugar industry) was fermented and distilled into Rum which was always in high demand, despite the fluctuations in the economy of the West Indian plantations. By the late 1950’s, only two distilleries remained on Saint Lucia. One in Dennery on the East coast, established in 1931 which was the site of the Barnard family plantation and the other in the Roseau valley which was owned and operated by Geest, a Dutch banana company. The St Lucia Distillers Group was formed in 1972 when due to the rise in European sugar beet, sugar production on Saint Lucia ended forcing the Barnard family to enter into a joint venture with the Geest owned Distillery moving their operations from the Dennery Distillery to the Roseau Bay Distillery in the Roseau Valley. This is the current location of St Lucia Distillers. In 1992, the Barnard family, who had been planters and Rum distillers for over a century, purchased the Geest shares. In 1997, the Barnard family sold some of their shares to Angostura Ltd before in 2005 selling their remaining shares to Clico Barbados Holdings with third generation rum maker Laurie Barnard staying on as Managing Director. In 2012 Laurie Barnard passed away and in 2013, Mrs Margaret Monplaisir was appointed his replacement.
Since its inception in 1972, St Lucia Distillers have grown from producers of single label mass market Rum to producers of well-regarded Rums and Rum based products. Not surprising given their capabilities.
Given the lack of large-scale sugar industry on Saint Lucia, to make their molasses based Rums, St Lucia Distillers import their molasses from Guyana. It has a unique method of getting the molasses inland too. The Molasses tanker ships its contents into a jetty in Roseau Bay where it pumps its contents into an underground molasses pipeline which follows the Roseau River for a distance of just shy of 2 kilometres until it arrives at St Lucia Distillers where it is stored in their molasses storage tanks. The distillery accepts for or five shipments of molasses per year. Recently, the distillery planted five acres of sugarcane to experiment in the distillation of sugar cane juice and I believe that we need to watch a later release of St Lucia Distillers 1931 to experience it. The sugarcane comprises four varieties sourced from the West Indies Breeding Station in Barbados.
Prior to fermentation the molasses is diluted with 75% water to create the ‘raw wash’. Fermentation takes place using one of two proprietary yeast strains dependent upon the intentions for the final product. The first yeast strain is specific to the Rums that will not be aged. It is utilised to give the purest spirit possible and is used in conjunction with their two column Coffey Still. The second yeast strain is a Caribbean yeast cultured from the natural yeasts found near the base of the sugarcane. This is said to create a higher level of congeners making flavourful Rums for aging. Congeners are substances produced during fermentation. These include a small amount of chemicals such as other alcohols (known as fusel alcohols), acetone, acetaldehyde, esters and aldehydes such as propanol, glycols and ethyl acetate. Congeners are responsible for a lot of the tastes and aromas of Rum. For the first 24 hours, fermentation takes place in the ‘Propagation Area’ which comprises a Propagator Tank where the Raw Wash and Yeast are first introduced to each other and two other vessels. Mother Vessel 1 and Mother Vessel 2 which are next in line to receive the fermenting brew. The final 24 hours of fermentation takes place in open tanks. The wash once fermented is about 7% abv, is maintained at a temperature of 32 degrees C and is ready for distillation.
Distillation – Coffey Still
The two column (continuous) Coffey Still at St Lucia Distillers was commissioned in 1985. Three coded spirit types are produced in this particular still, all over 93% abv. Within the still there are 40 plates with distillate taken off at plates 40, 35 and 30. The first spirit type is coded RS 201 (Roseau Spirit 201) and is the cleanest spirit produced. Yeast strain 1 is used and the spirit is taken of at plate 40. This spirit is never aged. The second spirit type is coded RS 203 and has increased levels of congeners. Yeast strain 2 is used and the spirit is taken off at plate 35. This spirit is used for aging. The third spirit type is coded RS 204 and has the most congeners. Yeast strain 2 is used and the spirit is taken off at plate 30. This spirit is also used for aging.
Distillation – Pot Still
There are three different pot stills operating at St Lucia Distillers but common to all is the fact that the first distillation takes the spirit to around 70% abv with the second distillation taking it up to 80% abv.
This pot still distills both molasses and sugarcane juice Rums, has a 1500 litre capacity and was commissioned in 1998. Spirits from this still are always aged.
This pot still distills only molasses Rum, has a 6000 litre capacity and was commissioned in 2004. Spirits from this still are always aged.
This pot still distills both molasses and sugarcane juice Rums, has a 2000 litre capacity and was commissioned in 2003. Spirits from this still are always aged.
For all distillates apart from RS 201 (unaged), the abv of the distillate is reduced to 63% abv. St Lucia Distillers used mainly first fill Bourbon Barrels for initial aging and believe that the perfect Rum is dependent upon the skill of the Master Blender to discover the perfect marriage of age and distillate. They see age statements as meaningless and misleading. The St Lucia Distillers Master Blender, Evanus Harris believes that there is no improvement in the quality of a Rum beyond 10 years, in fact their belief is that the Rum begins to lose quality. In addition to the Bourbon Barrels, St Lucia Distillers are also experimenting with Hermitage and Chilean Wine Barrels; Sherry, Madeira and Sauternes Barrels alongside using Port Pipes for products such as the 1931.
Chairman’s Reserve Range
Now that you are aware of the numerous styles of Rum available for use by the Master Blender, we can look at the Chairman’s Reserve range and their components.
Chairman’s Reserve White Label – 40% abv
Chairman’s Reserve White is an aged Rum mostly comprising 5 different column still Rums that have been aged for up to 3 years in previously used Bourbon Barrels. The colour gained during the aging process is gently filtered (at just 15 psi of pressure) to retain as much character as possible.
In the glass: The Rum is crystal clear and displays some reluctant droplets on the side of the glass. The initial aromas are of a light, sweet vanilla custard and raisins. It smells crisp with citrus oils and a little pot still element.
In the mouth: What first strikes you is the medium-heavy body of this Rum. It immediately coats your mouth in a creamy vanilla sweetness. There is a little pepperiness to the Rum on the tip of your tongue. The finish is short to medium length and is full of custard, pepper, vanilla and a little citrus.
This Rum can stand up for itself in a mixed drink and does make a really meaty Daiquiri with the citrus assisting in lifting the lime and the body of the Rum ensuring that if you dilute the drink too much, you won’t have completely ruined it.
Chairman’s Reserve Finest – 40% abv
Chairman’s Reserve Finest is a blend of molasses based column and pot still Rum. The Rums are initially rested in new oak for 9 to 12 months before being aged in a combination of used Jack Daniels and Buffalo Trace barrels. There is no age statement provided on the label but it comprises both younger and more mature Rums and has an average age of 5 years. Post blending the Rum is returned to the barrel for a further 6 months to allow the blend to marry prior to bottling.
In the glass: The Rum is a brilliant gold in the glass and the pot still elements come billowing out of the glass. Honey, vanilla, toffee, mango and banana notes are all evident and carried on a creamy caramel.
In the mouth: The Rum has a medium body and leads with caramel and a dried mango. There is a peppery tingle on the tongue and once again, the pot still is evident, but is calmed by the slight oakiness. It adds a real depth to the Rum and for me, makes it very drinkable, despite not being the easiest Rum to enjoy neat. There is quite a bit of heat on the medium length finish with that pot still carrying a buttery vanilla caramel and a peppery kick.
Chairman’s Reserve Finest is a Rum that gets heavy use here at Rum Diaries HQ. It is mainly used in Cuba Libres here in rotation with the usual pot still influenced Jamaican classics. I also have my own play on a White Russian that uses this Rum and a nice dry Rum based coffee liqueur topped off with a dash of black walnut bitters.
Chairman’s Reserve Spiced – 40% abv
Chairman’s Reserve Spiced utilises the Chairman’s Reserve Finest blend as it’s base. Cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, lemon, orange, almond are used to spice the Rum along with a local tree bark known as Bois Bande. This is traditionally used in Rum Shacks to infuse into high strength unaged Rum to create what is said locally to be a powerful aphrodisiac! Certain of these spices are left in a tank to macerate in aged Rum for in excess of 12 months to further increase the intensity of flavour.
In the glass: The Rum is a mahogany colour with deep red where it thins at the edges of the glass. There is an instant hit of cloves which I happen to love in a spiced Rum. Nutmeg, cinnamon, orange, ginger and cola are present by the bucket load. The orange is a bitter orange, a little like an orange liqueur, and doesn’t smell overly sweet. I can also pick up allspice berries.
In the mouth: This Rum is a lot sweeter than it smells. It again leads with a mouthful of cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla, cola, allspice berries and a little coconut. There is also a good dose of black peppercorns. For me it needs to dial back the sweetness a little but it is hugely drinkable. The finish is of a medium length and is all cloves and ginger with citrus elements and a slight marzipan.
Again this is a Spiced Rum that has seen multiple bottles used in quick succession here. It makes for a really good Spiced Daiquiri and when mixed with lime, cinnamon syrup, apple juice and ginger beer it’ like a liquid strudel.
Chairman’s Reserve: The Forgotten Casks – 40% abv
On 2nd May 2007, St Lucia Distillers suffered a major fire. Fortunately the majority of the distillery was undamaged but the areas greatly hit were storage areas. There was a need to find alternative arrangements for a quantity of the barrels and these were placed wherever possible, including some random locations. A ‘memory lapse’ on the part of the cellar team meant that some of the barrels which held Chairman’s Reserve Finest in its marrying stage which had been laid down in 2006 remained unlocated until 2011. By this time the average age of the Rum was 10 years old. Once the barrels were opened and tasted, the resulting extra aging was found to have added a complexity to the Rum. St Lucia Distillers decided to offer the Rum as a limited release calling it Chairman’s Reserve: The Forgotten Casks. Quite how many barrels were ‘lost’ is unknown to me but if this is more than just a marketing tale, there must’ve been a fair few as it is still readily available……
In the glass: The Rum is a dark reddy gold in the glass. Caramel, pot still elements, and a little alcohol burn are immediately apparent. As the Rum calms itself down, chocolate, coffee, brown sugar, oak, vanilla, raisins and a nutty element reveal themselves. There is also a mango and pineapple element playing around between the nut brittle and cinder toffee elements.
In the mouth: There is an initial sweetness to the Rum along with some bite and heat before it dries a little. The pot still again is evident along with a heavy dose of milky chocolate. Coffee and creamy vanilla are also carried on the Rums medium body. Further sips reveal oak, more chocolate and peaches on the back of my tongue. The Rum has a medium to long finish that starts sweet with vanilla, raisins, coffee and milk chocolate. This then dries out to reveal a peanut element.
This is a great Rum to drink neat. It has plenty to keep your interest. It also makes a killer Old Fashioned with the chocolate flavours working really well.
The Chairman’s Reserve range of Rums, for me, represent real value. All four are worthy of a place in your collection as they are produced by a credible distillery with a good range of stills enabling them to draw upon a wealth of flavours. The prices are also not extortionate with the White Label available for around £20, the Finest for around £20 (also available in supermarkets), the Spiced for around £22 and the Forgotten Casks for around £32. We are into multiple bottles of each expression now and I cannot see that changing. The availability of the Finest in supermarkets such as Tesco and Sainsbury’s means that there really is no excuse.
There are other Rums produced by St Lucia Distillers and their Admiral Rodney will be covered in another post. As will their special edition 1931, releases 01, 02 and 03.
As usual, we’d love to get some feedback on your experience with the Rums and we’re more than happy to share.
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