Margaret Monplaisir, Chief Executive, St. Lucia Distillers
Q: Where do you work?
A: St. Lucia Distillers on the beautiful island of Saint Lucia in the Caribbean Sea. The distillery is on the west coast, in the heart of the Roseau Valley, which is situated between two rivers and near the sea and is one of the main agricultural areas on the island.
Q: Which products do you produce?
A: Chairman’s Reserve, Admiral Rodney and Bounty rums, as well the Marigot Bay range of cream liqueurs.
Q: How long have you worked for the company?
A: I have been working here for the past 37 years, having started straight out of school. I initially ran the distribution company, Barbay, which was later merged into the St. Lucia Distillers Group as the sales of rum had increased significantly. In 1990, I was appointed commercial director of the group. There I learned the manufacturing side of the business and my appreciation and fascination of rum grew. Over the years my role changed as the company went through different owners and joint ventures, but my participation in product development has remained.
Q: Describe the production process
A: St. Lucia Distillers produces 1 million LAA (litres absolute alcohol) per annum. We have four stills: a Coffey column still and three pot stills of different types and sizes. We produce rums from molasses and sugar cane juice. The sugar cane is grown right here at St. Lucia Distillers and we age our distillates in a variety of barrels. As a result, our master blender has a wide range of aged rums to choose from when developing new rum blends, making us experts in the art of blending.
Q: What’s a typical working day like?
A: My work currently requires that I spend most of the day at my desk as I handle most of the corporate communication, which can be time consuming. The rest of my day is taken up with meetings and dealing with operational matters. However, at least twice a week I make time to walk about the company and engage with staff to find out what’s happening on the ground. Of course, this includes a stop at the laboratory to “assist” the master blender with tasting any new creations he is working on, or samples from barrels recently harvested and reviewing any distillates that have just come off the stills.
Q: Please provide tasting notes
A: The common taste profile of rums produced by St. Lucia Distillers is a combination of oak, wood, sweetness, and spiciness. Other flavours present would depend on the particular still that the rum came from, eg. rums from our Vendome pot still are characterised by flavours of green apple, lime, mint and pineapple; while the John Dore 1 pot still rums are characterised by flavours of grapefruit, anise and honey; and the John Dore 2 rums give flavours of orange, almond, chocolate, peach, papaya and ripe mango.
Q: What would you say sets your product apart from others?
A: Our range of rums is quite sophisticated, having been blended from a wide variety of maturates, made possible by the use of both molasses and sugar cane juice, a variety of yeasts, a variety of stills and a variety of woods for aging. Sipping our premium rums is quite the experience, with a variety of pleasant flavours ever-changing on the palate and all complementing each other.
Q: What one fact should bartenders know about your brand?
A: Although we have created a number of award-winning aged rums, our primary focus is on quality and taste, not age statements, so our brands represent an uncompromising pursuit to produce the best tasting rums, to be thoroughly enjoyed either straight or in a cocktail.
Q: What’s your favourite part of the job?
A: Being part of the team involved in product development.
This requires various taste-testing sessions to select the final product and reviewing packaging to come up with the right image and name. Every time we launch a successful product it gives us a great sense of accomplishment and pride.
Q: What’s your favourite way to drink your product?
A: I enjoy the Chairman’s gold rums with ginger on ice as it enhances the flavours in the rum, while being a refreshing and long cold drink. Chairman’s Spiced I chase with cranberry juice, which adds a bit of tartness and sweetness to the drink.
Q: What’s your career highlight so far?
A: Breaking the glass ceiling and being appointed managing director of St. Lucia Distillers at a time when there were very few women at that level in the rum industry. I held the post following the passing of Laurie Barnard (chairman). It was an amazing experience to continue the work of Laurie Barnard and influence the growth of the company until it was sold in 2016.
Q: Who do you admire in the industry and why?
A: I was very fortunate to have worked alongside Laurie Barnard for 28 years before his passing. While having never received a formal education in rum-making, his passion and thirst for knowledge on anything relating to rum, combined with the good business acumen, made him one of the most influential people in the rum industry. The knowledge I gained from Laurie Barnard will be treasured by me forever.
Q: How do you relax outside of work?
A: Hanging out on the beach with family and friends, armed with a well-packed cooler, is the ultimate in relaxation for me; but I also enjoy spending time in my garden, reading an interesting novel and doing a puzzle or handicraft.
Q: If you could invite anyone for a drink who would you ask, where would you go and what would you drink?
A: I would probably invite Oprah Winfrey to hang out on my rooftop deck to view the sunset and enjoy a Chairman’s Forgotten Cask and ginger. I have long admired how successful she is despite her very humble beginnings and challenges in life. She gives me hope that anyone can rise above their current situation and be successful.