In 1605, the Guyana bound English ship Olive Branch got off course and its 67 colonists strong crew started a settlement on St. Lucia instead. This first contact with the island served deadly for the English settlers as the majority of them got killed by the local Caribs or lost the struggle against the tropical diseases, which resulted in the survivors fleeing from the island. Thirty years later, the French claimed the island but did not settle. Another attempt to seize the island by the English failed in 1639, when they could not prevail over the Caribs once more. Instead, a French expedition from Martinique, sent out by its governor Jacques Dyel du Parquet, succeeded in establishing the first permanent settlement on St. Lucia in 1643. In the following years, the sugar industry developed on the island and it became increasingly attractive for both, the British and the French. What follows are dozens of changes in ownership between the two great powers, until the British possession has been confirmed in 1814. That is seven years after abolishing slave trade and twenty years before abolishing it as an institution.
As far as rum goes, St. Lucia had several sugar estates at that time and most of them also distilled rum, which was common across the Caribbean. By the end of the 1950s, only two distilleries remained: One in Dennery, founded in 1931, at the Barnard plantation and one in the Roseau valley, which has been managed by the Dutch banana company Geest. When the price of sugar started to plummet because of the European sugar beet, the Barnard family had to cease its sugar production and engaged in a collaboration with the distillery owned by Geest. In 1972, the stills of the Dennery Distillery have been moved to the Roseau valley and a new company has been born: St. Lucia Distillers, who still operates in Roseau Valley.
In 1992, the Barnard family bought up Geest’s shares in the distillery, only to sell some of them to Angostura Ltd five years later. This had a very good reason, however. In 1998, they installed two new pot stills to increase the variety of rums that they can produce. This is particularly remarkable since the common trend across the Caribbean has been to scrap the good old pot stills in favour of the more efficient column stills. As a connoisseur, you have to love this move since the makes of pot stills tend to be more flavourful and aromatic. Apparently, this has worked out well for them as their range now counts over 25 rums and liquors which earned them medals and honours at international spirit competitions. The remaining shares have been sold to Clico Barbados Holdins in 2005. Without any shares left, Laurie Barnard, a distiller in the third generation of his family, continued as St. Lucia Distillers’ manager, until he has been succeeded by Margaret Monplaisir upon his death in 2012.
Similarly to how the former British and Spanish colony of Trinidad produced both, a British and a Spanish style of rum, the presence of the former colonial powers in St. Lucia can be found in their rum as well. It can best be described as a mix of the British and French style in which the heavy and expressive British body is augmented by the floral character of French style rums made from fresh sugar cane juice. What is more, they have their own tricks to achieve this. A couple of years ago they started planting sugarcane and are now experimenting with agricole style rums as well.
Besides a twin column still, St. Lucia Distillers has three different pot stills, two John Dore’s and a Vendome. One of the John Dore’s and the Vendome are used to distill both, a molasses and a sugarcane juice wash. I can imagine that we will see a few blends containing both distillates in the future. By mixing up the combinations of the different washes and stills, they are able to distill a great variety of rums. This becomes obvious when cross-tasting rums of different vintages as they tend to have different profiles.
What’s special about St. Lucia Distillers is their method of obtaining molasses. Since the islands doesn’t have a sufficiently large-scale sugar industry, the molasses has to be imported from Guyana. So far, so good. It is not really uncommon for distillers to use foreign molasses. In St. Lucia however, upon arrival at Roseau Bay’s jetty, the molasses is pumped through an almost 2km long pipeline along the Roseau River to the distillery’s storage tanks.
The following is a list of rums from St. Lucia I have had the chance to try:
- Berry Bros & Rudd St. Lucia Distillers 1999 11YO (1999-2010), 46%
- Blackadder St. Lucia Distillers 1999 12YO (1999-2012), 68,2%
- Cadenhead’s St. Lucia 1999 9YO “SLJD” (1999-2008), 70,8%
- Compagnie des Indes St. Lucia Distillers 13YO (2002-2015), 43%
- Duncan Taylor St. Lucia Distillers 11YO (2002–2013), 52,6%
- Duncan Taylor St. Lucia Distillers 11YO (2002–2013), 54,2%
- Plantation St. Lucia Old Reserve 2003 (2003-?), 43%
- Renegade St. Lucia Chateau Lafleur Finish 10YO (1999-2009), 46%
- The Secret Treasures Selection Privée St. Lucia John Dore 9YO (2005/06-2015), 55%
- The Secret Treasures Selection Privée St. Lucia Vendome 9YO (2005/06-2015), 53%
- The Secret Treasures Selection Privée St. Lucia Vendome 6YO (2008/09-2015), 52%