Class chats to Dave Marsland, UK brand ambassador for Saint Lucia Distillers, about why authenticity matters when it comes to spiced rum.
1/ Unlike many rum producing countries, St Lucia has a tradition of spiced rums - can you tell us about this drinking history?
Saint Lucia is a spiced driven island, with agricultural practices being a major source of income and export for many over the decades. From bay leaf to star anise, mace and cinnamon, locals and their descendants throughout history have used spices in their remedies and medicines. These days, it's more about making spiced rum – infusions using local overproof rum! It's said that every family has their own recipe of home-made spiced rum to cure the sick and to raise spirits, and our Chairman's Reserve Spiced rum builds on this tradition.
2/ How did Chairman's Reserve Spiced come into being?
When we launched Chairman's Reserve Spiced at St Lucia Distillers in 2010, we wanted to make sure that the rum captured the authenticity of Saint Lucia's spice trade. The market at that time offered very little in terms of true spiced rums, which meant a relatively clean slate to work with. It wasn't our first time in producing a spiced rum bottling (that would be Kwèyòl Spice that is now more commonly known as Bounty Spice), but this time it would be for an international market. With this, we went to what we knew well - an average age blend of five-year-old rums distilled in a combination of our copper pot stills and Coffey still, then aged in American white oak casks from the likes of Jim Beam, Jack Daniels and Buffalo Trace. Each still’s distillate is then blended and reintroduced to oak for a further six months to marry. Or what is known as Chairman's Reserve Original. For it to become Chairman's Reserve Spiced, during those six months we infuse a blend of local spices and fruits such as cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, vanilla, allspice, lemon and orange peels, plus the local aphrodisiac Bois Bandé. We kept it at 40% abv too so it retained the expected characteristic of rum, while balancing the fresh spices that you receive upon the nose and palate.
3/ So many modern spiced rums are sweet and vanilla-forward. How does Chairman's Reserve Spiced's profile differ?
Chairman's Reserve Spiced offers a fresh approach to the senses. You receive an expressive aroma of bitter orange, nutmeg, subtle cinnamon and sweet raisin that differs from the expected vanilla. This then leads to a natural sweet and rich mouthfeel that bursts in waves with exotic spices, but also balances the journey with a crisp citrus character. It's what we describe as 'an epicurean and complex spiced rum'.
4/ The expression is actually Chairman Reserve's bestseller in the UK, so how much headroom do you think there is for growth?
The rise of spiced and flavoured rums has given Chairman's Reserve Spiced a platform like never before. The creativity and use of the spices we use have been seen in national cocktail competitions and in the kitchen, which has offered us a head-way into the true authentic Caribbean experience that a lot of customers seek out. With a better understanding of not just rum, but the ingredients within it (the gin trend helped with this approach through the huge amount of botanicals showcased over the years), we know that consumers are starting to level themselves up, making more informed decisions.
Even though Chairman's Reserve Spiced is our best seller, it doesn't mean we've hit the ceiling as we strive to retain our position as one of the few authentic spiced rums that originate from the Caribbean islands. We're always on the lookout for utilising our Chairman's Reserve Spiced through cuisine, as part of drink serves that approach different palates across the globe, and education of not just Saint Lucia and its agricultural practices, but the understanding of the individual spices and what each offers to the end palate.
5/ How are UK bartenders using your Spiced rum?
Interestingly, each city across the UK approaches our Chairman's Reserve Spiced rum in different ways. Some love to enjoy it within classic mixers such as cola and ginger beer, whilst others prefer pineapple juice and apple juice. It’s nice to see the use of Chairman's Reserve Spiced within a Daiquiri or Mojito, especially when the latter is topped with ginger beer instead of sparkling water or soda. A personal favourite is one that came left-field to me, and really showcased the versatility of the brand. In 2017 Ehren Khoo-Steel of Brass Monkey in Nottingham blended Chairman's Reserve Spiced with Campari and Velvet Falernum to equal measures, with a zest of orange to garnish. It's what is now known as the Chairman's Spice Negroni and it offers a beautiful balance of fresh spices, bitter and sweetness.