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Chairman’s Reserve story

The premium blended rum from St. Lucia Distillers originated in the mid-1990s when one man, Laurie Barnard, was adamant it was time for a change, as the rum's name suggests, he was Chairman of St. Lucia Distillers.

"If we are to export our rum we need to be different; we need to have the tools to make great rum the old way. A column still and molasses is one dimensional." So he set his distillery on a journey to produce exceptional rum with the commissioning of three pot stills to add to the existing Coffey still.

Laurie drove the idea of having a diversity of rums from different stills and aged in contrasting woods so that the blender would have a palate of maturates from which to create a great rum. A special project to create a fine quality rum that represented the iconic style of St. Lucian rum, Laurie oversaw the first blending of Chairman's Reserve in 1999.

The back story

ency 38 imageLike so many islands in the Caribbean, when sugar was introduced to Saint Lucia in the late 1700s it revolutionised society, first with African slave labourers, and later, Indian indentured labourers - brought to the island to tend the labour-intensive crop. These forced workers formed the majority population, becoming the primary consumers of the island's rum, which was produced by the many small plantation distilleries from molasses, the by-product of their sugar production.

Over the centuries that followed sugar production boomed, driving the economy of Saint Lucia and the wider Caribbean, that was until European-grown sugar beet entered the market and due to the reduced shipping costs, stole much of the European market.

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By the 1950s only two distilleries remained on Saint Lucia, one operated by Geest, the Dutch banana company, and the other one in Dennery owned by the Barnard Family. The Barnards, who had originally settled on the island in the 1830s, established their distillery in 1932 to make rum from their extensive sugar estates. The rise in European sugar beet eventually forced the end of sugar production on Saint Lucia, so in 1972 the Barnards entered into a joint venture with Geest Industries and moved their operations from their old 'Dennery Distillery' to Geest's 'Roseau Bay Distillery' in the Roseau Valley, the company's present location, to form St. Lucia Distillers.

The Barnard family bought out the Geest shares in 1992 and then in 1997 sold some of their interest to Trinidad-based Angostura Ltd. In 2005, the Barnard family sold their remaining shareholding to Clico Barbados Holdings with third-generation rum-maker Laurie Barnard, the "Chairman", staying on as Managing Director. Most people in the Caribbean are only too aware of the financial meltdown of CL Financial, the owner of Clico, Angostura and Appleton distilleries, but due to trading profitably, St Lucia Distillers escaped largely unscathed to be taken into the safe hands of its present owners, Spiribum.

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Due to the closure of the last sugar processing plant in the 60s, banana plantations have now replaced sugar on Saint Lucia, so the distillery sources its sugar cane molasses, the raw material to make its rums, from Guyana. The molasses are shipped into a jetty in Roseau Bay below the distillery from where the viscous syrup is pumped onto shore and then up to the storage tanks at the distillery via a half-mile underground pipe. The distillery's molasses needs are satisfied by four to five such shipments a year - from which it produces one million litres of pure alcohol.

The lack of locally available molasses and the relatively small capacity of this distillery dictates that St. Lucia Distilleries export rums are marketed on quality rather than quantity, thus the distillery's export output is targeted towards the higher end of the rum market with the likes of Chairman's Reserve.

As well as the three pot stills and precious Coffey still, St. Lucia distillery boasts various different types of fermentation vessels which allows for the production of a wide variety of rum styles so giving the blenders a rich palette of rums to work with.

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