Very Smooth. Habitation Saint-Etienee (HSE) Rhum Vieux shows a brilliant shade of golden amber in your glass, perhaps slightly darker than you’d expect for a rhum agricole aged for only three years. Legs proliferate by the dozens, so many that they bead up and fall like the faceted ornaments on a crystal chandelier. It’s a pretty effect, and gives hope that there’s a n oily rhum waiting to be sampled. Sniffing reveals mild aromas of roasted buttery anise seed, some smoke, vanilla, leather, baked apples, caramel and mild white pepper. On initial taste, the anise is more pronounced, like black licorice and pepper, with smoke, vanilla, a flambéd fruit dessert, all delivered in a harmonious progression by a medium weight body. The flavors reside for a good while time on your tongue, then finish with a slight oak tannic dryness that tastes consistent with the aromas and flavors. All in all, HSE Rhum Vieux is well presented, moderately complex and pulls no surprises.
Saint Etienne’s facilities – including their old copper stills – were acquired by the large Simon Distillery on Martinique in 1994. Simon moved the distillation equipment to their distillery in order to preserve the unique flavors and taste of Saint Etienne rhums.
A hefty bottle is sealed by a thick wooden cap over a natural cork stopper. The back label includes some flattering excerpts from Martinique author Patrick Chamoiseau’s essay titled “Elmire des sept bonheurs, Confidences d’un vieux travailleur de la distillerie Saint-Etienne” (In English: Elmire of the seven happinesses: Confidences of an old worker at the Saint-Etienne distillery). Loosely translating the author’s unique Creole French, I make out that the label extolls HSE’s secret arts of old-world distilling. “I knew the cut [of the sugarcane], the hoist, crushing. I fermented the wash in the tanks. I handled the distilling columns. I tasted the heart of the spirit, rum right from the barrel. I have done it. Handled it. Heard it … Many begged for the secrecy of this rum … the world envies. They wasted their time. I have nothing to say to them.”
Take a photo tour of Le Simon Distillerie on Martinique, and see how sugarcane is turned into rhum agricole for Habitation Saint-Etienne.
Chamoiseau’s essay is as part homage to the distillery, part respect for the artists who practice there, and makes us aware of the central role rhum plays in the culture of Martinique life.
Does using the quote amount to French hubris? Definitely. Can HSE’s gentle rhum agricole vieux back it up? Certainement. Does using the quote amount to French hubris? Definitely.
Can HSE’s gentle rhum agricole vieux back it up? Certainement.
Habitation Saint Etienne’s rhum vieux is a gentle agricole in flavor and alcohol content. As such, it is easy to drink, and it might just be the Martinique rhum that newcomers to this spirit should try first. It’s a fine introduction to the world of aged Rhum Agricole. it’s also a rhum you can enjoy neat or in a classic (albeit more tame) ‘Ti Ponche. It’s more rewarding every time.
Reviewed: August 2012 at the Rum Gallery, USA.