Saint-James Rhum 1885, A Myth Among Legends

11 May 2023 | Buyer's Guide
Saint-James Rhum 1885, A Myth Among Legends

There are rare bottles, mythical bottles, bottles that we hardly hope to admire one day if only in a museum behind a display case or at a collector's place, bottles that seem inaccessible, unfindable, and then... and then one day, one of these bottles resurfaces from the past and we are suddenly lucky enough to be able to acquire it. It is this opportunity that Excellence Rhum offers you today with this Saint-James bottle from 1885.

A raw material

The history of Saint-James dates back to 1765, when Father Lefébure, Superior of the Fathers of Charity, founded the Trou-Vaillant sugar refinery, near Saint-Pierre in Martinique. More than a century later, in 1882, the rhum produced on this estate became a brand, Saint-James, under the leadership of Paulin Lambert. A rhum made from “vesou” (cane juice) is then distilled there. This process makes it possible to concentrate the aromas, eliminate bacteria and thus better control the fermentation, and ultimately to have a more stable product.

This Saint-James rhum, vintage 1885 is the direct result of this know-how.

Aerial cane transporters from the heights of Bellevue to Saint-James
A railway track in the Saint-James Plantations, 1930s

An international reputation

Saint-James rhum from the 1880s-1900s fascinated Europe. In 1890, a journalist related his stay in Martinique: “My most interesting visit was to the Saint-James plantations, which are the most beautiful and most picturesque in all the West Indies. It is, moreover, the obligatory excursion of all foreigners arriving in Saint-Pierre. These plantations begin on the very hills which dominate and command the town of Saint-Pierre. They see the town and the harbor; from the high seas the view widens and embraces a magnificent panorama”.

Saint-James rhum is exported to the Court of Spain, to the English House of Lords but also to Argentina.

This 1885 vintage is the last witness to this first golden age of Rhum Saint-James

A square bottle

At the time, the success of Saint-James aroused jealousy to the point that its competitors wanted to imitate him. One of them even goes as far as to reproduce the square bottle of Saint-James rhums for its own rhums. During a resounding lawsuit, the details of which are made public, the Saint-James brand obtains in 1885 the monopoly of this famous square bottle which it will keep for more than a century.

It is in this bottle that the Rhum Saint-James vintage 1885 is bottled.

A unique vintage

This 1885 vintage Saint-James Rhum is the oldest that has come down to us from this great House. Its age can be estimated at 4 or 5 years. Produced from cooked vesou, it was bottled between 1905 and 1939 - unfortunately we cannot be more precise - and relabeled in the 1950s.

It is bottled at 47% Abv. This alcohol content is that of all old Saint-James rhums from the 1880s, at a time when rhums rarely exceeded 44% in the trade. Saint-James rhums will retain this level of alcohol for decades.

People who have had the chance to taste it describe a nose borrowed from coffee, leather but also fruit, prunes and figs. On the palate, the rhum has a certain thickness, with magnificent notes of liquorice, tobacco and tangy fruit.

Saint-James commercial, year 1930s
La Rhummerie Trouvaillant, Saint-James, year 1930s

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Rédigé par

Matthieu Lange
Conseiller en spiritueux