Saint James 1885
The Saint James brand was founded in 1765 in Saint-Pierre by the alchemist priest, Edmund Lefébure, who had built a sugar mill and distillery on the Trouvaillant estate to raise funds for the Hospitaller order, Fathers for Charity. The order lost all of their possessions following the French revolution, and the estate on Martinique passed from the state into private hands. The most successful of these was François-Paulin Lambert, who took over the Saint James plantation in 1890 having worked at its distributor for many years. It was Lambert who patented the now iconic square bottle in 1882. His family ran the Saint-Pierre distillery where this was produced until 1955, surviving both the devastating eruption of Mount Pelée in 1902, and the rum market collapse following the first world war. The following two decades saw a period of transition for Saint James, which converted for the first time to the production of agricole rather than molasses-based rums, and moved to a new distillery at Saint-Marie in 1974, funded by new owners, Cointreau. Today it is run by La Martinquaise (who bought it from Remy Cointreau in 2003) and is one of the largest rum producers on the island, operating six creole column stills to produce over 4 million litres of rum per year.Amongst rum enthusiasts there are few bottles so hallowed as this, a relic of a bygone age that exists today only through the strangest quirk of fate.
Distilled in 1885 at Plantation des Saint James - prior to the advent of pasteurisation and stainless steel fermentation vessels - the juice had to be gently heated to 40°C prior to fermentation in open wooden containers. Saint James was fortunate in 1902 that its Trouvaillant location was well-sheltered from the eruption of Mount Pelée, mercifully buried under ash rather than anything more destructive. The distillery was quickly back in operation and the incredible stock that produced this bottle spared. Having said that, it is still only by luck that any exists today, unearthed in cellars in Amsterdam, Paris and London.
This bottle dates to around the 1930s or 1940s when the company was still run by François-Paulin Lambert's son, Ernest. The company was sold in 1955 by his widow following his death. It also predates the distillery's switch to distilling producing agricole rum, so will have been distilled in the old style from a molasses wash.
Not only is this bottle one the great relics of rum and a true piece of liquid heritage, but reports from those lucky few who have sampled this sacred liquid - such as attendees of Luca Gargano's Rum Tasting of the Century - attest that it is also a sublime tot, with Cyril of DuRhum awarding it 93 points.