Very Smooth. Even in the bottle, the color of Saint-Etienne’s VSOP is beautiful to behold; dark reddish-brown like seasoned cherry wood. In the glass, the rum shows slightly brighter, more like walnut shell. There’s a lot of time in the barrel evident here. On the nose, HSE Saint-Etienne VSOP is sophisticated and highly aromatic, with harmonious notes of wood and cocoa, a pleasing bit of alcohol as you’d expect from a 45% agricole rhum, vanilla, butterscotch, caramel, pecan, semi-sweet fruit like dried apricot and pineapple, plus appropriate hints of clove and the slightest hint of anise. Complex but neither busy nor overstaying their welcome, the aromas pass delicately, retaining additional delights for your taste buds. Those deliciously complex aromas provide insufficient clues to the abrupt woody tannins experienced during your initial taste, which are only slightly softened by dark chocolate and vanilla, followed by an abundance of anise/black licorice. Whereas the aromas tease you to open the door, the flavors march in forcefully. The substantial flavors are unspoiled by the 45% alcohol content, but rather permeate rapidly over your entire palate. The medium body is more delicate than either the aromas or hardwood flavors would suggest, and subsides rapidly to pronounced licorice then fades to caramel, suitably dry but leaving a residual sweetness, inviting you to start the cycle over.
HSE does little export business as the majority of their rhum is consumed locally. In 1988 HSE closed its distillery and shortly afterward moved its 19th century copper stills to the Simon distillery, where HSE rhum is now distilled. However, aging still occurs on the original Saint-Etienne estate. HSE VSOP is aged a minimum of six years in American bourbon barrels as well as French Limousin oak, blended, and bottled at the old family facility in Gros-Mourne, Martinique.
A substantial presentation rewards the collector with a hefty cannon shell of a bottle, owing to its ¾-inch thick clear glass bottom and topped with a wood cap above a natural cork stopper.
Take a photo tour of Le Simon Distillerie on Martinique, and see how sugarcane is turned into rhum agricole for Habitation Saint-Etienne.
HSE Saint-Etienne VSOP is a big bold rhum that offers much at each stage of discovery: complex, harmonious aromas; an easy body with bigger flavors, and a delightful finish. I could sniff this rum all day and be happy to never take a sip, but we all know that’s not what it’s about. Like the bottle, the flavors are substantial. The aromas and finish are delicate. The Saint-Etienne VSOP experience is shaped like Omega, the last character of the Greek alphabet. From aroma-to-taste-to-finish, it’s subtle on both ends but big and round in the middle.
Reviewed: July 2009 at the Rum Gallery, USA.