St. George Spirits California Agricole Reserve Rum

St. George Spirits Agricole Reserve-RG1a-USE

Product of:  California, USA
Aged:  NA
Price: $75
Alcohol: 40% ABV
Sugar: 0 g/L
Context: Aged 
Rum Agricole
RG Rating:  7

Tasting Notes
St. George Spirits’ California Agricole Reserve rum entices with its  bright copper color.  Legs form and run quickly after swirling, leaving only a smattering of randomly dispersed droplets clinging to the sides of a tasting glass.  But the rum emits a potent vegetal, grassy, spice bouquet, promising a heady tasting adventure.

Ease into the sniffing.  The California-grown sugarcane of this agricole rum is fully evident in the vegetal aromas.  Perhaps the cane was crushed more than a day or so after harvesting, as forward scents of decaying bagasse reveal the fibrous structure of the plant.  Plentiful woody scents from the cane and aging cask on an oily texture are delivered aggressively to your nose.  It’s more cane than sugarcane – unmistakably forward yet somehow managing to be appealing.  The initial taste is likewise big and bold, with flavors more sour than sweet,  fully reflecting the vegetal aromas.   Wood and plant matter are foremost, and distinctly lacking any sweetness.  The body is characterized by an oily sensation on the tongue – not viscous but slick – ending in a brief, dry but very smooth finish of dried sugarcane fibers.  From beginning to end, this rum is expresses its sugarcane source.

Sipped neat, the rum is intensely grassy, clearly declaring its sugarcane DNA.  It expresses the decayed vegetal aromas and flavors to a considerably greater degree than rhums agriciole produced on Martinique and Guadeloupe.  Unlike those French West Indies rhums, the St. George Spirits does not dilute their California sugarcane with water during crushing.  Distiller Lance Winters prefers to only ferment the juice from the cane itself, claiming “that’s where the flavor comes from”.

The sugarcane for the bottling reviewed here was harvested in late March of 2010.  A common strain of yeast known as EC1118 is added to the sugarcane juice to start the fermentation at 21°C.  Winters chose this yeast for it’s relatively neutral affect on the sugarcane juice.  “It imparts a minimum of other flavors”.  EC1118 is an aggressive yeast, generally overpowering other weaker strains in the wash – airborne or native to the sugarcane stalks themselves.  EC1118 is relatively tolerant of alcohol and also produces about 30ppm of sulphur dioxide that inhibits the growth of bacteria during fermentation. 

Crushing California-grown sugarcane at St. George Spirits-RG1

Raw spirit was condensed off the still at an average alcohol content of  68%. The lowest of the runs was around 50% ABV.  The raw spirit was rested in stainless steel tanks for 5 weeks, then laid down into barrels for aging at 54.81% ABV for four years and one month.  After extraction from the barrels, the rum was gradually diluted down to 40% ABV for bottling over three months time.   

St. George has four Arnold Holstein stills in its employ:  2 x 250L, 1 x 1500L, and 1 x 500L with 2 Columns.  The columns of the last still can be operated using one or both columns, and any combination of their 16 bubble cups.  The rum was aged for four years and four months in French Oak, exposed to the Pacific Ocean breezes funneling through the Golden Gate to Alameda, California.

Take a photo tour of St. George Spirits' Distillery here.

Like all of St. George’s liquors, their California Agroicole Rum is packaged in a substantial, wide bottle topped with a natural wood cap and synthetic stopper.  

If you were expecting St. George Spirits California Agricole Reserve rum to replicate a rhum from Martinique or Guadeloupe, then guess again.  It is as far removed in flavor as it is geographically – drier, more fibrous than sweet, grassy and without the subtle anise and nutmeg aromas that define so many rhum from the French West Indies.  This is a uniquely California agricole rum.  Here, the cane is different, the still is pot not column, the EC1118 yeast is an aggressively territorial eater and significantly different from the more delicate baker’s yeast generally used for fermenting fresh vesou on Martinique.  

If you’re looking for a big powerful rum, then this might be the one.  For others, it will have grow on you.  Much as French rhum vieux agricole is an acquired taste (alas, many Americans never do), this rum from St. George Spirits takes some getting used to.  Give it time.  Say, about half a glass.  You’ll appreciate its potent musty flavor.  If you prefer, add a little ice.  It goes a long way toward disarming the more powerful flavors. 

Reviewed: The sugarcane distilled into this rum was harvested from California’s Imperial Valley during 2010 and tasted less than 200 miles away at the Rum Gallery, USA in June 2015.

© Dave Russell 2017