Saint James 12 Ans

Saint James 12-RG2

Product of:  Martinique
Aged:  12 years
Price: €45 on Martinique 
Alcohol: 43% ABV
Sugar: 0 g/L
Context: Rhum Vieux Agricole
RG Rating: 8.5

Tasting Notes 
Saint James’ 12 Ans shows a dark mahogany color that shines like copper in a tasting glass.  Thin legs are slow to develop after swirling; many of them run and leave randomly dispersed beads toward the upper reaches of the swirl’s residue.

The aromas are bright, balanced and engaging.  Rich oak and stonefruit (primarily prune) stand out, followed quickly by spice scents of star anise, nutmeg, vanilla, pepper and a hint of vegetal sugarcane and coffee bean.  Sipping reveals the rhum’s sugarcane infancy and toasted oak maturity on a medium-body of charred wood and flavors consistent with the aromas.  The star anise is present from first initial taste through to the tapering fade of the finish.  There’s just enough sweet/tart dried fruit to balance the heat of the peppery spices, leaving a very pleasant impression.  I suspect Saint James 12 Ans would serve as an excellent digestif and pair well with chocolate.

Saint James rarely steps away from its tried and true square shaped bottle.  For their 12 Ans, which is quite old for an agricole, the bottle gets treated to a frosted opaque black paint job.  It’s ensconced in a nice  wooden presetnation box with dovetail-joinery, and faced with a clear plexiglass sheet to let the bottle show through. 

Saint James 12 Ans cap-RG1

More than two Centuries of rhum production – According to M. Michel Fayad, who led me on a tour of Saint James awesome museum, impressive distillery and aging facilities,  Saint-James is the largest rhum producer on Martinique.   Distilling began on the island in 1635, and Saint James commenced distilling in 1765 in the capital of St. Pierre. After the earthquake of 1902 devastated the city, operations were moved to the current location.  In the early days before the 1870’s, rhum was distilled on Martinique from fermented molasses.  The invention of the Coffey still, and the realization that bagasse (spent, crushed sugarcane stalks) could be used to heat the water boilers to produce steam, made it more efficient to use the new technology column stills.

Today, Saint James uses 18 fermentation tanks, filled every day during harvest season.  Fermentation starts with Baker’s yeast, but naturally occurring airborne and cane stalk yeasts contribute to the conversion of sugar into ethanol. for 36 hours.  The conversion is complete or halted, then the vesou is distilled in a single pass though the column stills.  The raw sugarcane spirit is rested for 12-18 months (maximum) before being transferred ino smaller aging barrels.  To see more, take a photo tour of the Saint James’ distillery and the must-visit musée du rhum.

Saint James adorns this rhum bottle with a curved label declaring Réserve Privée, meaning Private Reserve, as in; not much of this rhum is available to you, me, or anyone else.  Indeed, at 12 years of age, this rhum is very old even by Martinique’s agricole vieux standards.  It tastes Old World yet uplifting, inviting you to explore how delicious an aged sugarcane rhum can be.  I’m glad to have this bottle to review and share with you at The Rum Gallery, and I’ll be looking to acquire more on my next visit to Martinique.

Reviewed: Bottle No. 008513, May 20134 at the Rum Gallery, USA.

© Dave Russell 2017