Review: Saint James Imperial Blanc

While a square shaped bottle is not that unusual in the spirit world nowadays, it was quite innovative back in the days and it’s probably Saint James who is responsible for that. The shape of the bottle was meant to catch the eye, but also make it safer to transport it via ships.

In 1765 Reverend Pere Edmond set up a sugar mill and distillery in Saint Pierre, Martinique. He named the property Saint Jacques, but it was later changed to Saint James to appeal to the colonies of the New England.

It was in 1882, shortly after the pot stills were replaced with columns, that the brand Saint James was trademarked by Paulin Lambert, the new owner of the plantation. In 1885, the trader released the very first Saint James vintage, an original idea during times when rums were always blended. Paulin even put up a banner measuring thirty metres by four metres on the high ground above Saint-Pierre, on which could be read “Plantations Saint James” which eventually had people associating Martinique with the Saint James rums.

Unfortunately the town of Saint Pierre was the victim of the Mount Pelee eruption in 1902 and the Saint James Distillery was no exception. For the next 3 decades the rum was made across other distilleries that Lambert acquired with the insurance payout.

All production was moved to a newly renovated site in Sainte-Marie in 1973, when Cointreau purchased the company. Nowadays Saint James is run by La Martiniquaise group, who also own Depaz and Dillon brands – see my Dillon Blanc 55 review here.

Saint James has the Appellation d’Origine Controlee (protected designation of origin in English) designation since 1996 when Martinique obtained the status. The distillery makes agricole rhum and can process one ton of sugar cane juice per minute using its 6 stainless steel column stills – they also own a pot still, but it doesn’t make agricole as the AOC requires the rhum to be made in column stills.

Saint James Imperial Blanc is cane juice based, fermented for 36 hours and column still distilled. Bottled at 40% without any additions or ageing.

On the nose it feels quite rounded for an agricole. Tomato sauce, unripe plums, bay leaves and boiled corn on the cob. Unripe bananas, white pepper and mango juice. Coriander, grapefruit zest and a touch of cardamom. Doesn’t feel rough at all. Naturally there are sugar cane juice notes as well along with some saffron.

On the palate feels grassy and citrusy. Pink grapefruit, lime leaves, cane juice and white pepper. Unripe passion fruit, unripe bananas and green apples. It has a nice, bright profile. A touch of juniper and anise. The finish is medium with cane juice and citrus.

A more elegant and balanced example of agricole, easy to mix or shot – I would definitely recommend it in an Agricole Daiquiri. A very good introduction into the unaged agricole category.

I bought it for £16 for a litre at duty free in France, but it’s also available to buy from £22 (Master of Malt) or £23 (The Whisky Exchange). Still a good value, regardless.

Saint James Imperial Blanc score:
Flavour/taste: 46/70
Value for money: 15/15
Transparency/purity: 15/15
Overall: 76/100


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