In the world of distilled spirits where one looks at distillation and aging as the primary defining factors of a spirit, it is very uncommon to speak of any product as “seasonal” or “fresh.” One might find notes of malted barley, but we don’t really speak of the nuances of the raw ingredient much more than “light" or "dark malt," etc. This is why I love agricole rum. You would be hard pressed to find many other products where the raw ingredient shines through.
Firstly the interest for myself has no doubt be sparked due to my new proximity to the San Francisco bay area, where an agricole (cane sugar) rum renaissance of sorts is currently underway. A bar has opened in the last couple years specifically geared towered agricole rum and rum mixology, while St. George Spirits across the bay in Alameda, has been producing an agricole using sugar cane grown in Southern California. Secondly cane rum is also a great bridge into rum as a whole. If you were unaccustomed to the super sweet oaky angostura like I was, agricole provides a gateway. The herbal and vegetal flavors of cane rum are not unlike some of the malty tones of scotch, or the pepper kick of tequila.
So what really is cane rum? Where the majority of the rum produced in the world is made from molasses (+90%), a byproduct of sugar production, agricole rum is produced from fermented fresh sugar cane juice, or a syrup produced from the juice. Where you can find cane rum in Guatemala, Trinidad, and now California, the heart of the most prized agricoles come from former colonies and French territories of Martinique and Guadalupe. Due to the strict French regulation put in place, Appellation d'Origine Controlee (AOC), Martinique is what many would state is the epicenter. Usually distilled at a lower percentage, and aged in French oak, cane rum’s nose and palate are more due to the sugarcane itself, rather than the aging process. As Paul Clark of the Cocktail Chronicals states, “these rums flirt with the notion of terroir, a sometimes awkward concept in the realm of spirits.”
I choose Saint James Royal Ambre as an introduction to cane rum due to the relatively short aging, around 18 months to 2 years. A second blend out of the Limousin Oak barrels, Royal Ambre is produced from cane which is exclusively grown on Martinique for the Saint James Distillery. So let’s get to the review!
Saint James Rum Agricole Review:
Price: I purchased this for $29.99 for a 750ml bottle at an Italian grocer. You should be able to find this cheaper.
Packaging/Labeling: Classic square style. Looks nice on any bar. Not much helpful information on the label.
Alcoholic Content: 45% abv, 90 proof. Ideal for a product of this kind.
Nose: Dark brown sugar sweetness meets your nose, though noticeably lighter than your average darker rums. Lovely freshness and floral bouquet. In one sense there is a relative richness that holds everything together, yet there is a mild muskiness which is common with certain rums. However this is nothing entirely unpleasant.
Palate: Immediately you gain a sense of subtlety on the front. Syrup and spice warm gently. Cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper, light char and burnt sugar. The sweetness is less pronounced on the palate. The finish is dry and peppery. You begin to pick up more of the vegetal qualities you might expect on the end.
Conclusion: The profile is quite different than most rums I’ve had a chance of tasting and adding water does wondrous things to this. Some reviewers will state that the lighter profile mixed with the higher abv makes this more of a mixer than a sipper. However, not being keen to rum cocktails, loving subtlety, always wanting higher abv, and loving the fact that the sweetness is turned way down, this is made to be enjoyed only with a little added water. I agree this is not a sipper for everyone to enjoy, but I can’t really image spending 25-30 dollars to place this in a simple cocktail. In my opinion this is a very interesting and wonderful change from the “daily grind.” I think it will be very fascinating to some who have the time, and fairly boring to those who don’t want to relish something new. Ultimately it’s a great value.