Thanks to several bottle splits I got my hands on a few old rums. We start with a pair of St Gilles from the 1950s but the others will eventually also find their way onto this blog.
Unfortunately my background research on these rhums didn’t produce a whole lot. According to Lance, a certain Reverend St. Gilles opened a small plantation in the 17th century and my understanding is that these Martinican rhums have been imported by the French Compagnie Métropolitaine des Rhums S.A. and bottled by the Italian Stock S.p.A.. That’s about it. If you know more, please let me know and I shall add it here.
In general, these old rums are always jamboree bags, spanning the entire spectrum between completely undrinkable and absolutely magnificent. As you might expect, most of these rums tend to be closer to the former but when they’re great, they are usually very great. Moreover, some of the old rums are quite different in style and craftmanship and it is always interesting to see what the rums from a certain region tasted like back then. How about these two then?
Rhum St Gilles “Yellow label” (Martinique 1950s, 44%): As it turned out, this one is a bit lighter so we shall start with it. At first this smelled like old Enmore but after a few seconds this association vanished entirely. The woody notes step aside to make room for dark and heavy dried fruits, plenty of leather and muscovado sugar. Judged by the nose, I’d say that this is a traditional, i.e. molasses based rum and not an agricole. Then musty notes of antique furniture. You probably know by now that I like these kinds of aromas but the alcohol is just slightly too present for 44%, which is not a big deal though. The palate falls off a bit as the reduction made the rum less intense than the nose promised. Again, I can find the muscovado but also spices such as pepper, allspice or nutmeg. Going back to the nose, it is a lot more aromatic than the palate. The alcohol is a bit sharp, which makes me wonder how old the rum is. On the one hand it has this dark and heavy profile with plenty of spices, which suggests that it spent quite some time in a barrel. On the other hand, the alcohol could be integrated a bit better, which points towards a younger distillate, but maybe that’s because of the reduction. With the second sip I get cassava, different roots and slightly gingery notes. I am starting to like this a little bit but nevertheless we should not rate this too highly. Still interesting to try these old/ lost rum styles. The finish is spicy with chili or ginger beer and not very long. I don’t really like it. So how do we rate this? The nose is nice, the rest is more or less average. Blindly, I might have put this to Gardel, ancient Jamaica or perhaps really even Enmore, without coming close the their respective qualities.
Rhum St Gilles “Black label” (Martinique 1950s, 44%): Relatively intense and slightly smelly if you ask me. Dark sugar and vegetal notes, chicory perhaps. In that sense it reminds me of some J.Ballys. That’s probably where I would have put it in a blind tasting, even though it lacks the slight grassyness. On top of that different roots and… animal skin!? Since the nose isn’t really to my liking, we shall just continue with the palate. Quite a bit better. The alcohol is better integrated than in the “yellow label” and the rum should be a bit older. The chicory is still there (towards the end) but we also get nicer flavours such as gummibears (pineapple), roasted coconut, carrot cake and spices such as pimento or nutmeg. If it weren’t for the disturbing vegetal notes I might actually like this but since they are popping up here and there I just can’t. If you like the age-statement J.Ballys (potentially with a twist), you might also like this one I think. Eventually, I get the same set of roots I’ve had with the other rum, just a somewhat darker, yet fruitier variation of them. The finish is actually quite nice and comes with licquorice, caramel and some woody notes. Well… for me the rum is night and day at the same time but I can imagine that some people out there might like it.
I have absolutely no idea what my final verdict on the St Gilles should be. They have some nice elements to them but I am not looking forward to tasting them again. As I have said above, tasting rums from another time or whose profiles we are not getting any more is always interesting, but most of the time these old rums just aren’t better than what we can get today. Being quite enthusiastic and passionate about this hobby though, I have the constant urge of trying them nevertheless. It broadens your rum horizon, educates and is even reassuring in the sense that we should not always mourn the old days, as I have done with the Cadenhead’s Gardel 1982 20YO for example.
So when I am faced with the choice, I’d take the yellow label. The black label might be the better rum overall since it is more mature and intense, but the yellow label simply suits my personal palate a bit more.