HSE or Habitation Saint Etienne are an agricole rhum distiller based on the French speaking island of Martinque.
Habitation Saint Etienne was modelled after “La Maugée”, a sugar refinery covering over 400 hectares from Gros Morne to Saint Joseph in the early 19th century.
In 1909, the property came into the possession of the Simonnet family who developed the distillery activity until its decline at the end of the 1980s. The estate was taken over in 1994 by Yves and José Hayot, who relaunched the Saint-Etienne brand.
HSE have a number of classic “Blanc” and aged rums as well as a run of “World Cask Finishes” which feature Scotch Whisky and Sherry finishes amongst others. This release of Black Sheriff is classed as one of their two “Special Editions” – the other being a Cuvee Titouan Lamazou. (I think he is a French travel writer – I’m not sure whether its the bottle or the rhum inside which is “special”).
Anyway moving quickly back to the Black Sheriff. This is a special edition because it is aged (rather than finished) in American Bourbon Barrels. Most Rhum Agricole is aged in French Oak.
Aged between 3 and 4 years this is a Rhum Vieux. A 70cl bottle which has an ABV of 40% will set you back around £35 in the UK. It is considerably cheaper in France (around 25 Euros in Carrefour).
In the glass the rum is a dark reddish brown. Much darker than I might expect. Have the barrels be charred?
The nose is slightly strange. An initial sweet vegetal grassiness gives way to some stronger rich oak notes. Hints of Bourbon spice and sweetness all come into the mix. It seems a little confused.
Sipped the rum is initially quite sweet, slightly vegetal with some nice subtle sweetness. Unfortunately this is very short. It soons gives way to a spicy oakiness which is also a touch on the bitter side. The finish is also very short and you get a little bit of oak before a touch of spice which quickly evaporates into nothingness really.
The whole experience of sipping the Black Sheriff is short and not particularly interesting. Its all a little meh.
I’m not totally sure what Black Sheriff’s aim is other than to offer something different. It seems a little to expensive to be marketed as a mixer and as a sipper for me it falls short of what I would expect.
On the HSE website the don’t really suggest mixing the rhum but I’ve tried it with cola (don’t its a stupid idea) and with lemonade (better but still not great). In a Ti-Punch it works better but its not really got the force to be as good as nice unaged white. Again its all just very average.
Theres nothing I particularly dislike about this rhum. What is there is not unpleasant. Its just there isn’t a great deal there. It’s all just a bit too subtle and a bit to mismatched to really work.
It tries to appeal to both rum camps and for me falls short on both counts.