The story of Saint James Rhum started in 1765 when 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 better to the colonies of the New England. The name was trademarked in 1882 by Paulin Lambert, the new owner of the plantation.
Nowadays Saint James is made at their site in Sainte-Marie and it’s the world’s top-selling agricole rhum as well as the 10th largest brand of rum worldwide – according to their website.
They are committed to sustainability by operating in a closed circuit making it energy-independent. The Saint James estate grows a type of sugar cane called “C4” which is the most efficient at filtering CO2 from the air – the sugar plantations in Martinique absorb over 20% of the CO2 emitted by local cars. The cane fiber residues, aka bagasse, are used as biofuel for the distillation column and sugar cane crushing mills with a part of it also being composted or converted into electricity using a turbo generator. Even the vinasse, the liquid leftover from distillation, is processed for its water which is used to irrigate the sugar cane fields
Saint James makes (mostly) agricole rhum which complies with Martinique’s AOC (Appellation d’origine controlee) regulations. Martinique agricole rhums use cane juice as a raw material and creole column stills for distillation. The different designations on the labels such as this bottle’s “XO” are also well regulated and can tell us how long the rhum has spent maturing in oak barrels.
The “blanc” rhums are the ones that didn’t spend any time in barrels, but instead have been rested in large wooden vats for at least 6 weeks. The “eleve souis bois” are aged for at least 1 year in oak casks while the “vieux” need to be matured for a minimum of 3 years – if it’s a vintage “vieux” then the maturation period must be at least 6 years.
Other designations are:
VO – agricole rhums aged for at least 3 years;
VSOP, Reserve Speciale, Cuvee Speciale, Tres Vieux – agricole rhums aged for at least 4 years;
Extra Vieux, Grande Reserve, Hors d’Age, XO – agricole rhums aged for at least 6 years.
So according to the information above Saint James Tres Vieux Rhum Agricole XO is matured in oak barrels for at least “4 years” due to the “tres vieux” in the name, but then the “XO” brings that up to a minimum of 6 years of ageing. And if you use Google you’ll find that this bottling actually contains a blend of rhums matured from 6 to 10 years in small oak casks – not sure how small is “small oak casks”.
So Saint James XO is cane juice based, creole column still distilled and aged from 6 to 10 years in oak barrels. Bottled at 43% ABV without any additions as per the AOC rules.
On the nose it feels quite aromatic. New leather shoes, dusty old books, crystalised ginger and a touch of wasabi. Red apples, ripe plums, allspice and some melon. The wood influence really brings out the spicy and fruity notes of the rhum, it smells quite complex, almost like it has some dry sherry influence. Saffron, cinnamon, brown sugar and dried hibiscus. Burnt orange peel, nutty layers and passion fruit.
On the palate it’s sharper than I thought. Salted corn on the cob, sweet tobacco, cinnamon and maple syrup. Ripe plums, cloves and blackberries. The aromatic notes from the oak maturation are the ones in the spotlight, it’s similar to a sweet vermouth – without the sugary sweetness. Red grapes, grapefruit oils and hibiscus tea. It also has a tequila-like note to it. The finish is long with sorrel spice syrup and cooked red apples.
This is interesting, most aged agricole rhums are quite fruity, but this one has more of a fragrant profile full of spice and perfumy notes. It’s different enough to make it quite enjoyable, I like this. A fine sipper and a great example of complex aged agricole rhums.
It doesn’t seem like a lot of Saint James XO is available in the UK, but I found it to be priced at about £57 which just a little more than what I’d buy it for. An older version on the XO is also available on Amazon for £44, but I don’t know if it’s the same liquid so I won’t vouch for it.
Saint James Tres Vieux Rhum Agricole XO score:
Value for money: 14/15