This week we’re celebrating 20 years of the Chairman’s Reserve from Saint Lucia Distillers with the firm’s very first vintage bottling. 

Chairman’s Reserve was created in 1999 by the late Laurie Barnard, the chairman and head distiller at Saint Lucia Distillers. It’s a blend of pot and column-distilled spirits, aged longer to produce a richer, smoother and distinctly upmarket drop to be enjoyed by chairmen, chairwomen or just anyone who enjoys sitting behind a big desk with their feet up. Barnard died in 2012, ending the association of the Barnard family with rum on the island that dated back to the 1930s. The family had been there even longer, growing sugar cane since the 1820s. But by the 1970s, it was no longer profitable to grow sugar on Saint Lucia since the lucrative European market had switched to its own protected sugar beet crops. 

With sugar cane growing on the island in crisis, the two surviving distilleries on the island, Dennery on the Barnard family plantation, and the distillery near Roseau Bay owned by Geest, a Dutch company, merged in 1972 to form the Saint Lucia Distillery. All the equipment from Dennery moved to Roseau, now the only distillery on the island. It’s been an interesting journey since then with first Geest and then the Barnard family selling out and the company changing hands. Even more dramatically, in 2007 the distillery was partly burned by a fire started by arsonists. It was only fully rebuilt in 2009. Thankfully no rum was harmed though records dating back years were destroyed. Through these challenging times,  the quality of the rum never dipped no doubt helped by the steady hand of Laurie Barnard at the helm. 

Saint Lucia Distillers

The Roseau valley home of Saint Lucia Distillers

Laurie Barnard was succeeded as managing director by Margaret Monplaisir who used to work with him. The company was then bought in 2016 by Groupe Bernard Hayot, a Martinique-based group which has big plans. Speaking to the Spirits Business not long after the acquisition, Monplaisir commented: “Having recognised the quality of our rum, Groupe Bernard Hayot purchased the company with every intention to invest and take our rums global.”

With a mixture of three pot stills and a continuous still, the Saint Lucia Distillery makes everything from Bounty rums at the cheaper end to the seriously fancy Admiral Rodney range at the top. All the sugar can now comes from Guyana, though the company has begun planting sugar cane experimentally on the island but it has not reached commercial rum production. There are no age statements so the blender free to blend in young rums for vibrancy with older ones for richness.

This latest Chairman’s Reserve (available to buy here) then, is something of a departure. It’s a blend of two rums from a single year, 2005, one from a John Dore pot still and one from a Coffey still. The spirits were aged separately for four years before they were vatted together and aged for another 10 years. Only 340 bottles have been produced. A rare rum like this is unlikely to hand about long. We were excited to learn, however, that this 2005 vintage is just the start; Michael Speakman, sales and marketing director at Saint Lucia Distillers, told us: “We can certainly pledge that this is the first of many single vintages and rare releases to come in the future under the Chairman’s Reserve label”. What this space!

Tasting note from the Chaps at Master of Malt:

Spiced plum, dried apricot, rum and raisin ice cream supported by lots of baking spice, tobacco and dark treacle.