Saint-James Rum

Beez Neez now Chy Whella
Big Bear and Pepe Millard
Tue 18 Jan 2011 23:08
St James Rum




No spuddle about on a Caribbean Island is complete without a little look in a rum factory, today was to be no different - the rum St James. By the time colonists established a settlement on Martinique, sugar was becoming the most valuable crop in the Caribbean. In 1765, Saint James began making alcohol from the by-products of sugar production. Until only two years before, it had been illegal to export rhum from the colonies to France so ships loaded with molasses from the Saint James Sugar Factory in St. Pierre were sailing to North American distilleries to be made into rum.




The sugar company continued to expand until the eruption of Mt. Pelée, which destroyed the factory and distillery. Since then, Saint James has relocated to the eastern side of the island but today, only alcohol is produced from the sugar cane processed here. Opened to the public in 1981, the Saint James museum, on the west side of the main road in Sainte Marie, is housed in the mansion previously associated with the Sainte Marie Sugar Factory. On the museum grounds, a collection of machinery documents the development of the equipment used in the sugar industry over the last three hundred years.


Inside, in the cool shade of this picturesque mansion are smaller displays of equipment and photos of the sugar and distillery industry in Martinique. A beautiful bar on the ground floor offers samples of the rhums made here. Entrance to the museum is free, we were too late for the official distillery tour, but found our way around with the help of the bi-lingual signs and labels. Of course it would have been very bad form not to sample.



                                                                                              One of the tour trains - we were too late for

SAINT-JAMES was originally founded in Saint-Pierre on the "route de Fonds Saint-Denis where, by order of the king on the 13th of August 1685, the Tourvaillant Estate" or "Hopital" was established. The monks of the "hospitaliers de la charite" order ran this institution. The estate reached its pinnacle with Father Edmond Lefebrure, the order's superior. He built the sugar refinery and, according to some sources, called the rum produced there SAINT-JAMES. In 1765, this holy name, made it easier to sell rum to the colonists of New England. Martinique was occupied by the English at the time. It returned to French control during the Revolution and church property then belonged to the state. Following the Treaty of Amiens which ended the English presence in Martinique (between 1794 and 1802), the Trouvaillant National Estate covered one hundred and sixty hectares, with buildings, equipment, slaves and warehouses was rented to Monsieur Henry for nine years. Between 1809 and 1814, Martinique was once more occupied by the English who took charge of the property, now owned by the British Government. By Royal Order of the 8th of June 1820, the concession deeds were cancelled. The estate was sold by Royal Decree on the 17th August 1827 to the SAINT-JAMES Rum Company. In 1829, the estate owned one hundred and five slaves. From 1840; the factory used the new continuous distillation process.




                                                                           Typical adverts of the era featuring the slave workers and a cute little black child.


Circa 1845, a wine and spirit merchant from Marseilles, called Paulin Lambert introduced Caribbean rum to the French market. He became one of the biggest importers of this spirit distilled from molasses. The General Council sold the estate and sugar refinery on the 20th of October 1860. It became the property of Mr Paul des Grottes and his three sons: Victor, Edouard and Eugene. Each owned one quarter of Trouvaillant Estate. In 1882, Paulin Lambert filed the "rhum des plantations SAINT-JAMES" trademark at the commercial court of Marseilles. He began to market it in the following year. He owned offices and shops in Saint-Pierre. Until 1890, he was supplied by small local Caribbean distillers. That year, he purchased the Trouvaillant Estate which he re-named "Plantation Saint-James". On the 6th of September 1926, the company became a limited company and its head office was transferred to Fort de France in 1940. The rum was made at Trouvaillant and Acajou Estates until 1970. In the meantime, the SAINT-JAMES rum trademark was taken over by the Cointreau company. The factory was transferred to the old central factory of Sainte-Marie which belonged to the Depointes family. The Union land at Sainte-Marie had practically the same qualities as that at Saint-Pierre and the quality of the rum was therefore maintained.



The distillery, next to the museum, is a large operation that operates almost year round. Most of the cane processed here is grown by the Saint James Company on its land; the remaining 20% is bought from local farmers. At the distillery, the cane is shredded, then crushed in one of the four - three-cylinder cane mills, which are capable of processing sixty tons of cane an hour. During the cane season, the mills yield more juice than can be fermented. Most of the fresh juice is pumped directly to the fermentation tanks. The rest is filtered, then concentrated by vacuum to a syrup for storage. This is the first step of sugar production, but the sugar is not crystallized as it would be in the more refined process. After the cane season, the syrup is diluted to its original consistency then fermented and distilled into alcohol.



After twenty-four to thirty-six hours of fermentation, the fermented juice, or vin, is distilled in one of the six single-column stills. Leaving the columns at 75º, all of the raw rhum is allowed to rest for six months in one of twenty 68,000-liter stainless steel tanks. While the rhum is resting, carbonic gas, formed during fermentation, is released and other molecular changes take place. The rhum dismisses some of the tastes acquired during distillation and becomes a more consistent and pleasing drink. After resting, the rhum, which will be bottled as white rhum or Grappe Blanche, is diluted with distilled water to reduce the alcohol content to 50º or 55º. If it is to be bottled as Imperial Blanc Saint James, treated water is used to dilute the rhum.



                                                                                                      Some of the precious "old stuff"

Another portion of the production is put in one of the many 35,000-litre wooden vats, or tuns, for 18 months. Here, the rhum attains a slight yellow colour and some components in the rhum exchange chemical compounds with the wood, forming complex esters that also add to the flavor. This rhum, bottled at 50º and 55º, is sold as Rhum Paille Saint James. Finally, the last part of the production is put in 200-liter oak barrels, where it is allowed to sleep. After three years, the Rhum Vieux Saint James, bottled at 42% alcohol by volume, has a rich, brown colour with a mature aroma and taste.




        Bear found this snake on display, highly venomous and a distant relative of the crocodile - even stuffed it made him sweat behind the knee caps. An advert featuring the national hummingbird

Also bottled at the distillery are Rhum Saint James Hors D’Age, a blend of several aged rhums, and Rhum Ambre Saint James, a two-year-old rhum bottled at 45% alcohol by volume. All of the Saint James rhums described above are bottled in elegant, square bottles from Marseilles. Plantations Saint James Martinique is embossed on the side of these distinctive bottles and makes for a nice souvenirs, pleasant reminders of a popular Martinique rhum. In addition to the rhum distilled in the single-column stills, a pot still, resembling the one depicted on the label, is used to make small amounts of Coeur de Chauffe. Originally heated by a wood fire, this still is now steam-fired to reduce the fire hazard. Distilled from fresh cane juice, this rare rhum is bottled at 60% alcohol by volume and only available at the distillery.


This is one of the few distilleries in Martinique that utilises its equipment after June, the end of the cane-cutting season. The six stills represent the second-largest distilling capacity on the island and are employed to make alcohol from fermented molasses. All of these products are sold to bottlers in France and elsewhere in the world.