Still Life: Saint Lucia Distillers

Every few months, a tanker ship pulls into Saint Lucia’s Roseau Bay, and anchors. A diver drops into the water and attaches an 8-inch flexible hose to the ship. The hose is connected to a 12-inch pipeline that runs for 194 meters underwater before hitting land and popping up in the middle of a beach and continuing overland for just over a kilometer. Eventually the pipe connects to one of several gigantic tanks.

For the next several hours, thick black liquid flows from the ship to the tank—liquid that is vital to the site’s operation. Not oil, but rather molasses: Since Saint Lucia no longer grows enough sugar to make any appreciable amount of molasses on the island, this undersea dance is how the island’s one distillery– St. Lucia Distillers – receives its vital feedstock.

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Spiribam’s Benjamain Jones – Director’s Cut Interview

In February 2019, I sat down with Spribam’s Benjamin Jones at the Miami Rum Congress to talk about all manner of wonky rum topics. Jones has been essential to bringing rhum agricole to the North American market over the past fifteen years – specifically the Rhum Clement and Rhum J.M brands. More recently, he’s spent a lot of time integrating St. Lucia distillers into Spiribam’s portfolio. Although not as omnipresent on social media as some rum industry luminaries, he’s deeply knowledgeable about today’s rum industry.

My recent Bevvy “Ruminations” column shares his thoughts about the revamped St. Lucia Distillers product lineup, including the new (outside of St. Lucia) Bounty offerings.  However, we talked about many more topics that didn’t fit within the Bevvy interview: behind-the-scenes takes on the St. Lucia Distillers distillery upgrades; innovating within and outside the Martinique AOC regulations; the structure of Spiribam and parent company GBH; the influence of Richard Seale; sugar cane availability; how the Chairman’s Reserve Mai Tai competition came about; his own family connection to the Rhum Clement family.   Lots of interesting information to be found in Ben’s answers, so rather than leaving his insights on the cutting room floor, I present it here.

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Geographic Indication Fast Facts

In the spirits world, Geographical Indications, or GI for those who are conserving syllables, have recently been in the forefront of many nerdy conversations. This is especially true in the rum community. I’ve written extensively about certain rum-related GIs and have noticed that there’s a lot of confusion about what a GI is—and what it is not—as well as what it accomplishes.

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Privateer Rum’s Maggie Campbell on Barrel Aging Science – Tropical or Otherwise

The “Wonk” in Cocktail Wonk refers to digging deep to understand as much as possible about spirits and cocktails. Many of the stories here involve the chemistry of aging, as well as the different elements in a spirit – water, ethanol, and other compounds such as esters, aldehydes and higher (heavier) alcohols. It’s these compounds that give spirits their aroma flavor. Each spirit has its own ratios of these compounds, thus making that spirit taste different than any other spirit. The set of aromatic compounds in a spirit are impacted by many processes, including fermentation, distillation, and barrel aging.

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How the Financial Crisis of 2007 Reshaped the Rum World

In the course of researching various rum-related topics, there’s some recent history that I keep bumping up against. Between 1997 and 2009, one company purchased several extremely important rum companies such as Angostura and Appleton. It also acquired a few other well known spirits brands. It then went bankrupt during the world financial crisis that started in 2007. The echoes of this bankruptcy have been heard as recently as 2017.

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The Curious Tale of a Pineapple Press and the West India Docks

Researching distilled spirits history is a bit like panning for gold—lots of work for the occasional grain of gold remaining in your pan. But there are also jaw-dropping moments when a sizeable nugget suddenly appears. These “A-ha!” moments motivate you to keep dipping your pan in the riverbed and swirling away.

Over the past eight months I’ve become fascinated by the history of the rum arriving in the U.K. during the 1700s to 1900s. This was the era of London Dock rums and British navy rum. What I’ve uncovered is quite surprising and little known by the vast majority of today’s rum enthusiasts. In an upcoming book that Plantation Rum commissioned me to research and write, I tell many of these stories; it’s in the final production stages and should be available later this year. Still, with my enthusiasm for the topic quite high, I keep finding interesting tidbits that make for a more detailed picture.

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