Above: Habitation Saint-Etienne in Martinique (CJ Photo)
Time after time, Habitation Sainte-Etienne, located in the lush Gros Morne area of Martinique, wows its home island and the rum world.
The secret? The barrels.
No, its rhums aren’t aged longer. They’re aged the same way as every other distillery in Martinique— until they aren’t.
HSE, led by technical director Sebastien Dormoy, has been very creative in the way it finishes its rhums.
It’s been a bit of a revolution on the island, which adheres to certain specific regulations to maintain its AOC denomination of origin (the only one of its kind for rum in the world).
That’s led HSE to unveil everything from American bourbon-barrel finished rums (the new Black Sherriff) to, more boldly, a Single Malt Finish, aged first in oak barrels then finished in Smokehead Single Malt from Islay in Scotland.
Our latest encounter with HSE came with its Extra Vieux Sherry Finish 2002, which is, unsurprisingly, finished in Spanish sherry barrels.
While a number of producers in the non-agricole world are increasingly looking to sherry barrels to finish their rums, notably the superb Dos Maderas from Guyana and Barbados’ Doorly’s, we haven’t encountered it in a rhum agricole.
But HSE has produced a masterwork, aged first for six years in oak barrels then finished in sherry casks of Ian McLeod Distillers, also in Scotland.
The sherry finish has a reddish-amber hue, and an aroma of wood, apple, caramel and brown sugar.
The flavour is a wonderful mix of spice, sherry, dried fruit, citrus peel, oak, nut and a somewhat grassy, earthy character typical of rhums agricoles.
The finish is superb, velvety but never losing the loud character of rum.
Another bold, brash, revolutionary but exceptional rhum from the distillery in Gros Morne.
Sure, credit the barrels, but what you’re tasting is pure creativity.