One from a favourite distillery of mine this time – Mount Gay. Barbados really does punch hard when it comes to it’s rum producers and this is a beauty. It’s also the oldest surviving rum distillery in the world, with a deed showing its presence, way back on 20th February 1703!
A swift(ish) history lesson. The distillery and fields were purchased from the Sandiford family in 1747 by John Sober for the sum of £6,000…that’s just over £1.4m in today’s money!
Called ‘Mount Gilboa,’ the sugar plantation comprised 280 acres of land in St Peter & St Lucy, the 2 northernmost parishes in Barbados and the same location as today’s distillery, although the sugarcane I believe is now imported.
Sober brought on Sir John Gay Alleyne to manage the site – “Alleyne introduced new strains of cane, improved crop yield and enhanced the production process, innovations so significant that on his death in 1801, the Sobers named the estate for him.” Mount Alleyne was already taken at the time, hence use of his middle name.
Fast forward to 1858 and the distillery was purchased by the Thornhill family, with the view of making Mount Gay the pre-eminent Bajan rum. Not much info here about them until…..
In 1918 the now 368 acres of land on which the distillery sat was purchased by one Aubrey Fitz-Osbert Ward, scion of the Ward family and subsequent co-founder of Mount Gay Distilleries Ltd, the bottling and blending company which was setup in Bridgetown (the Bajan capital) to allow rum to be sold by the distillery whilst not running afoul of the laws designed to prevent this practice.
Upon Aubrey Ward’s death, his stake in the bottling company passed to 2 of his children, Lisle and Darnley. Eventually, around 1980, a majority stake in the company was sold to their US distributor, called Foremost-McKesson who eventually sold off their entire spirits portfolio to Remy-Cointreau, thereby owning the brand name, whilst the Ward descendants continued to manage the rum distillery.
Coming to 2013 and Frank Ward Jr was now the MD. Due to financial difficulties and a lack of investment at the distillery over the preceding decade, production of rum was ceased until a year later, whereupon the majority share of the rum refinery itself was sold to Remy-Cointreau, allowing them access to now not only the brand name, but the means of production.
Frank Ward Jr will be a chat for another day, when I review some of the stock he set aside for different distillery projects….
Today’s review, getting back to the topic of this post, is of Mount Gay’s latest installment in the Master Blender Collection, the Port Cask expression. The last release, the Pot Still expression, is one of my all time favourite rums, so to say I’ve got high hopes would be an understatement.
The Master Blender being referred to is Trudi-Ann Branker, who took over from her predecessor, Allen Smith after a 3 year apprenticeship at Mount Gay after joining as a quality assurance manager in 2014. Aside from her amazing previous Pot Still release, she also oversaw the reformulation of the beloved Black Barrel and XO during 2020, to overwhelmingly positive reviews.
Today’s rum is a blend of column and copper pot still rums, the column still being aged for 5 years in Tawny Port casks with the double-distilled pot still being aged for 14 years in American Whiskey and finished in Tawny casks for 1 year; I’d assume these were fairly dry port barrels but haven’t a hydrometer at my disposal to check for ABV/dosage. It’s bottled at a cask strength of 55% and was not chill-filtered. Full disclosure, my tasting is based off a sample I was very kindly sent by the UK marketing team at my request, a photo of which you can see on my Instagram profile, where it looks much better than the awful one at the top of this page…might be time to update my phone.
Presentation – The sample I received was one of the best I’ve ever gotten, with a beautiful cylindrical glass container stoppered with cork and dipped in red wax within a purple box. The photos I’ve seen of the full sized bottle are equally gorgeous.
Nose – This is an absolute joy to smell – Milk chocolate, macadamias and chocolate digestives (like, perhaps a chocolate Graham for the US amongst you) and raspberries lead the way, moving on to fruit cake, redcurrant and burnt orange with some marzipan. Really rounded, with no one smell exerting dominance over the rest.
Palate – This is not a sweet tasting rum, despite possible expectations given the port aging/finishing. That’s a good thing; the port is a nuanced modifier, complementing the rum rather than beating the crap out of it. There’s dry oak and ginger (characteristically Mount Gay to me) with dark chocolate, moving into cherry, dried sultanas, orange zest and some fresh apple for me. This is ridiculously drinkable at 55%….
Finish – Medium, slightly tannic finish with that spice holding on in my chest for a few beats.
Scores on the door:
Value for money: 3/5
Notes: This is a really good release from Mount Gay and, whilst it’s not as eye-opening as their last in the Master Blender collection (for me), that’s not to say it isn’t worth your time, particularly if your rum preference runs to the less ‘fruity’ end of the spectrum. This is a rum that tries to persuade you with its reasoned arguments and skilful diplomacy as opposed to a bruising assault on your senses (have I shoehorned enough shite metaphors and analogies into this review yet?) I get the impression that the column still component is the lions’ share and I’d be interested to learn of the breakdown if anyone out there can point me to it. If you’re a fan of port cask finished rums, such as the Admiral Rodney or Detente it’s a safe bet you’ll enjoy this. Worth noting that it’s a bit pricier than the previous release, with it’s current retail price of about £130 on TWE and MoM in the UK, but it is also a limited release of 6570 bottles (at least in Europe).
Let me know your thoughts!