Rum Review: St. Lucia 1931 Batch 3
St. Lucia Distillers 1931 Rum Review
Lying in the Eastern Caribbean, the independent island nation of St. Lucia can be found between Martinique and St. Vincent. The volcanic island boasts some of the tallest mountain peaks in the Caribbean, and the soil is appropriately rich and fertile—perfect for growing sugar cane. And grow it they did until the sugar market dropped out; thankfully rum production continues today with the help of imported molasses from Guyana.
St. Lucia Distillers has an interesting history from a business perspective. The island’s two distilleries merged in 1972 upon mutual agreement between the Geest and Barnhard families, with the Barnhards running the combined business. They eventually bought out the Geest family’s shares in 1992 and sold a stake to Angostura in 1997 for capital improvements including the installation of new stills. In 2005, the firm was sold to the curiously named Caribbean Life Insurance Company (CLICO) which at the time was the largest holding company in the Caribbean.
In May of 2007, an arsonist set a fire that torched several of the company’s buildings, and much of the plant was lost. Importantly, the distillery itself was spared, and despite the huge loss, the firm was able to rebuild over the next two years. (Being owned by an insurance company helps in such situations, one would assume.)
CLICO subsequently collapsed at the end of 2009 amid the global financial crisis, and the government of Trinidad & Tobago elected to bail out the company in 2010 to the tune of $7.3 billion. It’s unclear how the company’s assets are currently held; calls to the distillery and its US Importer were not returned by press time.
At the time of the 2005 sale, a Laurie Barnard was kept on as the Managing Director, but in 2011 Margaret Monplaisir took over as acting Managing Director, officially winning the job in 2013. With Monplaisir’s ascension, it appears as if the Barnhard family’s involvement in St. Lucia’s rum production has ended.
In a bit of a reversal, the company planted five acres of sugar cane on its property in 2009, and have begun making an estate rum once again. According to Imbibe, they are already blending this agricole-style rum into their products.
Now let’s get back to the rum. St. Lucia Distillers produces a variety of rums for sale around the Caribbean and beyond. On the island, folks like top seller Bounty rum (usually mixed with Coke) but the rums you’re most likely to find in the US are in the Chairman’s Reserve line (you may remember their spiced rum won first place in our blind taste test). Beyond the Chairman’s Reserve are a couple of super-premium marques called Admiral Rodney and 1931. The 1931 marque was first released to in 2011 to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the founding of the Barnhard’s first distillery in Dennery. The initial run of 1931 was very well-received, and St. Lucia Distillers elected to produce an anniversary blend in each subsequent year. Today we’ll taste bottle 6819 from 1931 Batch 003, which was bottled on August 12, 2013. At 40% ABV, the bottle retails for about $70 here.
The rum is contained in a beautiful clear glass decanter with a thick base that sweeps up the sides elegantly. The label is small, which lets us see not only the lovely mahogany rum inside, but also a fair bit of suspended solids in the liquid. Pretty big particulates have either arrived as suspended solids or have precipitated out of solution—I’m guessing they are cork or barrel char, but at 40% alcohol, it’s of no real concern. The rear label bears a portrait of Denis Barnhard, the company’s founder. The closure is an elaborate affair that looks like it would be equally at home as the shift knob on a vintage Jaguar. The large wooden cap bears an inset metal coin that says: 1931, 82 years of St. Lucian rum making”.
In the glass, the rum colors are a blend of copper and mahogany. A swirl of the snifter yields a thin ring from which only a few long legs emerge. The rest of the liquid eventually forms into small droplets that fall at a snail’s pace.
Moving in for a nosing, the rum bursts out of the glass with pear, apple, melon and dried apricot. The fruit then gives way to a bit of tobacco and leather before being attenuated by cocoa, vanilla and orange marmalade. Wow—this one appears to be firing on all cylinders. Let’s have a taste…
As the rum enters, it is simultaneously sweet and spicy. The initial flavors are licorice, smoky oak, tobacco, toffee and a bit of butterscotch. What an interesting combination! The next sip produces the addition of black pepper, cinnamon, and a bit of the funkiness we might expect from an independent bottler’s version of a Saint Lucian rum. The fruit is also here now, with lemon zest and melon. The next few sips yield more of the same, but the licorice note seems to hold sway after a time, just beating out the smoky oak and funk notes for the last word on the long, luxurious finish.
I really enjoyed this rum; the blending of the funky pot-stilled rum and clean column-distilled rum is fantastically complex and yet supremely approachable. Imagine a re-casked combination of rustic St. Lucia rum from Ed Hamilton or the Berry Brothers combined with the best of the Chairman’s Reserve, and you’ve got the 1931. My only complaint is that it is a tad sweet, but as a party to the ACR, St. Lucian Distillers should not be adding sugar. I can only assume the sweetness is coming from a fortified wine barrel finish (they are known to use Port, Sherry, Madeira and Sauternes casks in addition to Bourbon and Cognac barrels). But even if it is a touch too sweet, the fact remains that the 1931 is a delightful rum assertive enough to make you sit up straight on your bar stool, but sophisticated enough to not knock you off it. I eagerly await the next batch.
On to the scores:
- Appearance 1/1
- Aroma 2/2
- Mouth feel 1/1
- Taste 3.75/4
- Aftertaste 1.75/2
- Total 9.5/10
Have you tried 1931 Batch 3? If so, please share your thoughts below.