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)