Updated: Aug 8, 2019
St Lucia Distillers was formed in 1972, by the merger of two existing distilleries on the island. Since the late 50’s the Dennery Distillery (since 1931) and the Roseau Distillery were the only ones in operation. Dennery was owned by the Barnard family, who eventually bought out the Geese family (Roseau) in the 90’s.
Laurie Barnard was the managing director of SLD until his unfortunate passing in 2012. Over the years, I’ve been told a few great stories about him by several people in the rum industry. The one that stuck with me most is that he used to produce rum and age it in a large variety of casks without having a plan on what to do with it. He’d create a great rum and then try to find a market for it. The result is a large inventory of rum, ageing in different types of casks, which isn’t currently being used in their blends. A treasure trove! If that doesn’t make your rum enthusiast heart beat faster, then I don’t know what will. Rumour has it that some of these rums will be released in limited quantities in the near future.
In 2016, SLD was bought by Group Bernard Hayot, owners of Rhum Clement and Rhum JM. They have planned major investments at the distillery and want to build Chairman’s Reserve into a large global brand. Some immediate changes were obvious for us consumers. 1931 used to be a different anniversary blend every year, now it’s a standard blend. They’ve also decided not to sell bulk rum anymore. Which means you won’t see St Lucian rum from independent bottlers (like Hamilton) once the current inventory runs out. I understand the reasoning behind this, but still find it unfortunate. The more St Lucian rum available to consumers, the better. Especially when it has been the only source of pure pot still rum. Plus, having access to some continental aged rum doesn't hurt either.
The setup at SLD is quite unique. They use 3 pot stills; John Dore 1 (1998, 422 liter), John Dore 2 (2004, 6000 liter) and a Vendome (2003, 1000 liter). Next to that they have a Coffey column still. To make it even more interesting they are distilling rum from both molasses and cane juice.
Some people might know I’m a fan of St Lucia Distillers. This love affair started many years ago when I bought a Hamilton St Lucia 7 year in the US and then an Elements Eight St Lucia in Montreal. I instantly thought they were stunning. They made me want more. Luckily I discovered the 1931 series (OMG) and the cask strength pot still Hamilton St Lucias (O M G!) soon after. They really sealed the deal for me. Chairman’s Reserve is another one of their products that has been in my rotation quite a lot for sipping and mixing. Incredible value for money.
What also helps in becoming a fan are the great people who work there, like Michael Speakman, and their openness on how they make rum and providing insight into what’s in the bottle. They've gone as far as posting the exact blending specifications on social media. Now that’s transparency!
Enough of my rambling! Time to compare a few of their rums. This is the lineup:
1. 1931 3rd edition, teal label. 45%
2. 1931 4th edition, black label. 43%
3. Hamilton St Lucia 2006. 46.5%
4. Chairman’s Reserve Forgotten Casks. 40%
Canadian availability is an issue, as always. I found the 1931 3rd edition in Montreal. The 4th edition in Toronto and Montreal. Hamilton 2004 in Buffalo NY and the Forgotten Casks shows up quite regularly at the LCBO in Toronto, luckily.
1931 3rd edition
The blend consists of:
· Coffey column still: aged 6 and 11 years
· Coffey column still: aged 7 years in port cask
· John Dore pot still: aged 14 and 15 years
· John Dore pot still: aged 7 years in port cask
· John Dore & Vendome pot still blend: aged for 10 years
When I first opened this bottle in my Montreal hotel room, I had a quick sniff and taste. My first thought was the nose being brilliant, but the palate not reaching the same high. Afterwards I was chatting with Steven James about it and he mentioned this is the one with added sugar. I knew there was one, just not which one. SLD is known for producing mostly pure rums, but they did experiment one and a half times with adding sugar to the 1931 series. 12g/l in this edition. The half is the 4th edition where they added about 5g/l. It’s slightly disappointing to me as I find sugar quickly overpowers all the different flavours. However, this was the best selling version of 1931, which proves again that sugar sells.
Starts a bit boozy in comparison to the 4th edition. Then a nice sweet oak comes through with pencil shavings, toffee, tobacco, vanilla and a bit of an earthy scent. It’s slightly bolder on the nose than the 4th edition. I love how this smells.
It’s clearly sweeter than the black label. Oak returns, with leather, milk chocolate and again that earthy note.
1931 4th edition
The blend consists of:
Molasses Base – 89%
Column Still – 46% 6% – 11 year (Bourbon Cask) 9% – 9 year (Bourbon Cask) 9% – 7 year (Bourbon Cask) 9% – 9 year (Bourbon Cask) 7% – 7 year (Bourbon Cask) 3% – 9 year (Port Cask) 3% – 9 year (Port Cask)
Pot Still/Column Blend – 11% 11% – 10 year John Dore 1/Column 50/50 (Bourbon Cask)
Pot Still – 32% 13% – 15 year – John Dore 1 (Bourbon Cask) 5% – 9 year – John Dore 2 (Bourbon Cask) 7% – 10 year – Vendome (Bourbon Cask) 7% – 9 year – John Dore 1/Vendome 50/50 (Bourbon Cask)
Sugar Cane First Press (Rum Agricole) – 11% 11% – 6 year – John Dore Pot (Bourbon Cask)
Maturation: 94% Bourbon; 6% Port Cask Ages: 13% 15 year; 6% 11 year; 18% 10 year; 36% 9 year; 16% 7 year; 11% 6 year
Sweet oak with a slight medicinal note. I’m getting honey, salty caramel, vanilla, walnuts, light licorice, saw dust and light leather. It’s mildly grassy thanks to the agricole part. Another excellent nose.
It starts with a lovely smokey tobacco note, then caramel, spicy oak, vanilla, pepper and dark chocolate. It’s somewhat sweet at the beginning and has a very long finish that ends slightly bitter. It’s clearly more complex than the 3rd edition, or at least I find it easier to pick up on the complexities.
Hamilton St Lucia 2004
This is a pure pot still rum. One thing I love about St Lucian pot still rum is the medicinal note that’s present in a lot of them. Aged for 9 years and bottled at 46.5% abv. According to Ed Hamilton it was aged in casks #208-10-04, 18-04-04 and 348-08-02 in Saint Lucia, then shipped to the US where it was blended, diluted and bottled. It’s not as potent, nor as good as the cask strength pot still rums from the Hamilton series.
Oh yeah it’s medicinal with acetone, wet cardboard, pepper, new car smell, pencil led, old bananas and raisins. What a freak combination. Wonderful!
It’s yummy medicinal and sweet. I’m finding banana, citrus, pepper, spicy oak and salty caramel. This is very good rum, but being used to drinking the cask strength ones lately, I feel something is missing.
Chairman’s Reserve Forgotten Casks
I’ll let you Google the reason why this is called Forgotten Cask and make your own judgement. Fact is that they announced it as a limited release but it seems to have become a standard feature in their lineup. It’s a blend of pot and column, aged 7-12 years. The first 5 years separated by still type, then blended and further aged.
It’s immediately clear this is a classic bourbon barrel aged rum. The oak is quite strong in combination with vanilla, tobacco, crayon, red fruit and pencil wood (yes, when you were eating your pencil in school). It’s not as complex as the others, certainly not in comparison to the 1931’s. But it’s the most easy to enjoy nose I find. It gives you a handful of scents/flavours that are eagerly jumping out at you. Simple can be great! Reminds me a bit of Barbados rum.
A lot of the nose comes back on the palate. Oak, vanilla, light smoke, tobacco and leather. It starts off sweet but the finish is very, very dry.
It is a bit of a weird comparison of course, even though these rums are from the same distillery, they are quite different. This is down to the unique setup they have with 3 pot stills, a column still and using both molasses and cane juice. The only two that are really comparable are the 1931’s. For me the black label outshines the other by a mile. It’s more complex and much more balanced between nose and palate. I still think the teal label is a very good rum, despite the sugar. Would love to have tried the blend without it.
The Hamilton was slightly disappointing because of the abv. I adore the cask strength versions. Putting that aside, this is still a great rum which I would buy again if I came across it. I’m in love with the medicinal note it has. I wish they would keep selling bulk to Ed Hamilton.
Lastly, the Forgotten Casks. I didn’t want to like it. I hadn’t tried it for a while and my vague memory of it was of a not very stellar rum with a finish that was way too dry. Perhaps I was sick the previous times I tried this, because I feel I couldn’t have been more wrong about this. It’s an excellent, straight forward bourbon cask rum that reminds me of Barbados. As I described above, it’s not super complex, but the handful of great flavours are jumping at you. If you want to enjoy a drink without having to think or concentrate on it too much, this is a great candidate. You’d have to overcome the dry finish though. Maybe add some sugar?! No! Don’t! :)
I wish there was a 55% version of it. I believe it could stand shoulder to shoulder with the Foursquare ECS series.
1931 3rd edition - 79
1931 4th edition - 90
Hamilton St Lucia 2006 - 80
Chairman’s Reserve Forgotten Casks - 82
Click here for info on the scoring method
Lastly I'd like to thank Michael Speakman for all the info he's given me over the years. And Rum Diaries Blog for the blend info on the 1931 3rd edition.