Jean Claude Benoit, director of the Saint James distillery, has been awarded the Icons of Rum prize at the World Drinks Awards as best Master Distiller of the year! A well-deserved award in view of his career in the world of rum. Here’s his reaction.
Could you tell us a little about your professional background?
I’m a graduate in agricultural engineering (INA 1966) and I’ve been working in the sugarcane and rum industry since 1975. First on the agricultural side, then in various distilleries before joining Saint James, then owned by the Rémy Cointreau group (now controlled by the La Martiniquaise group). I’ve been General Manager of the Saint-James distillery for over thirty years. I can say that I’ve had a real love affair with the world of rum, but also with Martinique in general.
What does your job as General Manager of the Saint James distillery entail?
As well as managing the teams on a day-to-day basis, I’m responsible for the overall health of the distillery. This mainly involves checking that the distillation columns are properly maintained and, above all, that they are correctly adjusted to the different qualities of fermented cane juice, which constantly evolves over the 4 to 5 months of the harvest. I also sometimes personally supervise the distillation of particular batches or cuvées.
How do you work with Marc Sassier?
Marc Sassier is my assistant for the product/process side. He supervises the fermentation and post-distillation monitoring of the rums, as well as the entire aging process. He’s the master of cuvées and blends. We complement each other very well.
How do you make a good rhum agricole?
You make a good rhum agricole with good cane and meticulous monitoring of the crushing and fermentation process. I have to say that the experience we’ve accumulated over the years is also a great help. It allows us to take a step back and gives us even more scope for innovation.
How do you choose a rum that will age, a rum that will go into the composition of an arrangé, a rum that will make a premium white?
The choice of rum according to its future is the work of the cellar master, in other words Marc Sassier, and it’s also one of the secrets of the brand, because it’s true that in 100 to 120 days of harvesting, the rums produced each day have their own characteristics, which we then allocate to the different cuvées.
Which cuvée are you most proud of?
I really like the Quintessence cuvée, which I feel combines quality and elegance. As its name suggests, it’s truly representative of the Saint James style, and has nothing to envy of the great Cognacs or Whiskeys.
What does this Icons of Rum nomination mean to you?
My nomination as “Icons of Rum” is obviously flattering, but in reality it rewards the work of an entire team and company. This distinction obliges us to work even harder to raise Saint James’ profile around the world.