Rumanicas Review 010 | 0410
Yes, you read that right. 1885. Holy molasses this thing is old. How can anyone even begin to assess a spirit that was made so incredibly long ago? I’m literally in awe.
What was going on back then anyway? Sino French war in Vietnam; the Mahdist army overran Khartoum and killed General Gordon; AT&T was incorporated in New York; Gottlieb Daimler patented his engine; the North West rebellion in Canada; the Statue of Liberty arrived in New York harbour; the Third Anglo-Burmese war…and St. James began bottling its vintages that year, same year as they introduced the square bottle. It may be the very first ever made, anywhere.
At around £6000 per bottle, all one can say is “ouch,” be grateful for the sample, and dive in on bended knee with head reverently bowed.
Colour – dark brown, almost black
Strength – 43%
Nose – Dark dark dark and so very plush. Made me feel I was sinking into an old Chesterfield. Plums, dark grapes, figs and black olives without the salt. Some vegetal in the background (really far in the bushes). Deep and thick, smoky, dusty. Not very sugary at all, and had some essence of tart and juicy overripe pears. Then soy sauce and teriyaki, mixed with dark molasses soaked brown sugar. Fresh and heavy, both at the same time.
Palate – Warm, full-bodied, thick and heavy. Must have been made before the French islands moved full time to cane juice. Dark prunes and cherries in syrup…and yet, and yet…where’s the sugar? Treacle, bitter chocolate, pancakes and maple syrup, a cereal note in there somewhere, maybe rye bread. Molasses, plums and pomegranates, a flirt of anise, some oakiness but nothing excessive. Incredibly deep and tasty, amazingly well balanced.
Finish – Short and warm. Some last notes of licorice, molasses and raisins, and some dry earthy mustiness to wrap it all up.
Thoughts – It was a fantastic rhum (rum?). Can’t imagine what a more leisurely tasting spanning many days would be like. The depth of the thing is amazing, and I felt it worked well even for a more modern palate: it was quite a remarkably rich and complex beast, and it felt almost sacrilegious to drink it at all.
Other – No idea how long it was aged prior to bottling. According to Antique wines & Spirits, it was bottled in 1952. Can it truly be 67 years old? No, not really. According to Benoît Bail who spoke to the master blender at St. James, all the 1885 stocks were in fact destroyed in the eruption of Pelee in 1902. Some bottles of the 1885 were over in Europe and Cointreau (when they took over the distillery), was able to locate many of them in Amsterdam, Paris and London, and sent them back to Martinique, where there were still on sale at St. James into the 1990s. The master blender was of the opinion that the rhum itself was/is 8-10 years old, not more.
Also, the different taste of the rums from that time (until the 1930s) arises because the cane juice was heated (not boiled) at around 40°C before fermenting it. Pasteurization, you see, had not yet made a big splash and large steel tanks were not common.
I heard that Luca Gargano of Velier bought 300 bottles of this as an investment kin the 1980s. I can just marvel at the perspicacity and far-sightedness of the man.
See also: Cecil’s (French) review on DuRhum is also pretty good.