At the northern tip of Barbados, St Lucy is home to the world’s oldest running rum distillery, Mount Gay. This stalwart of rum production has been working its alchemy on molasses since 1703, turning the refined sugar by-product into liquid gold. For over three remarkable centuries, Mount Gay has been the benchmark not just for Barbadian rum production but rum production in general. From the science of fermentation and distillation through to the fine art of ageing and blending, Mount Gay is famed for producing rich, flavourful rums.
The Innovative Craft of Mount Gay Distillery, Barbados
11th December 2023
Discover the latest offering from the Mount Gay distillery, at the forefront of authentic rum production for over 300 years - with exclusive commentary from Master Blender, Trudiann Branker.
Traditionally, rum distilleries take molasses — a rich, sticky, dark, honey-like syrup — from a variety of different sugar refineries, and cleverly convert it into rum, using their centuries of distilling knowledge. Mount Gay is no exception, and it has always taken pride in using molasses from both local and Caribbean origin. Yet the team at Mount Gay took their commitment to locality a step beyond when the distillery acquired 324 acres of the old Mount Gay Estate in 2015. This allowed the distillery, for the first time in centuries, to be a fully vertically integrated operation from field to bottle.
Every year since, the skilled team at Mount Gay have harvested their single-estate sugar cane, transforming it into rich, sticky molasses before fermenting, distilling and ageing it at the distillery. The unique, clear rum spirit yielded from the distillation of their own sugar cane was then carefully matured on its own, expertly looked after by master blender Trudiann Branker. Under her watchful eye, the rum was guarded until Branker decided it was ready for release. It has finally been bottled this year as the First Edition of the distillery’s Single Estate Series, a new annual release celebrating the terroir of this most magical of islands.
Branker started her career as a brewer and understands the value of local processes to produce a truly local product. “Our local cane molasses is totally unique, yet still giving us the flavours that we love here at Mount Gay, and this is one of the reasons we are so excited about our new Single Estate Series,” she says, smiling. Branker’s passion is infectious. She enthuses that “the Single Estate Series is as Barbadian as rum could be.” She is not wrong. Few rum distilleries have the capability for a field-to-glass journey under their own watch, and this makes Mount Gay the true spirit of Barbados.
“Growing Barbadian sugar cane to make Barbadian molasses, and bringing every element of the rum production together at our home in St Lucy, was a unique journey,” Branker says. “This release is a first for us. It was the first estate rum we launched at Mount Gay. Like any first, it has been a huge adventure for the whole team, and a real education. We learned to farm and mill sugar cane. We created Barbadian molasses that, for the first time, was not a by-product of making sugar: it was the product focus.”
The result is the Single Estate Series 23_01, a blend of 2016 and 2017 harvests of the distillery’s own sugar cane that, due to the unique properties of the fermented local molasses, was selected for distillation in Mount Gay’s copper pot stills. After slow and careful distillation, the resulting spirit was aged in the distillery’s own warehouses, in casks that formerly held bourbon, allowing the flavour of the rum and its unique terroir to shine.
“The single-estate cane molasses is significantly different to any other molasses we use, including that from the other areas of the island,” Branker explains. “It is a real expression of what the team have planted on the estate, year after year.” She goes on to explain how the molasses for the Single Estate Series is not a by-product, but deliberately milled to be less refined, delivering an increasing level of flavour and a unique, complex profile. Branker describes it as having “pineapple notes, something we have never seen before in the fermentation stage here at Mount Gay.”
This first Single Estate Series brings together mature rum from some of the first vintages distilled from Mount Gay’s own molasses. Bringing the two together was key for Branker, who is keen for the release to show off the art of blending, as well as the science behind the spirit. “Each vintage is very different year on year. As we were working with them, we saw significant differences, both as spirit from the pot stills and as it goes through the maturation stage in oak casks. It was important to showcase the art of the blend that we have perfected here at Mount Gay, bringing in the key facets of each vintage.”
The final rum is rooted in the Mount Gay house style, which Branker describes as “fruity with vanilla and cacao” — the use of the single-estate molasses delivering an extra level of spice on the palate, with a lighter floral aroma. Overall, the final blend carries aromas of pear, plum, fresh cut flowers, dried fruits, nutmeg and lemon.
The palate also experiences pineapple, sea salt, leather, ripe yellow banana and star anise, and the complexity means the rum is best enjoyed neat, or with a splash of water. Bottled at the honest strength of 55% ABV and limited to just 4,002 bottles, the Single Estate Series 23_01 is non-chill filtered, which helps preserve the richness of the rum’s texture, aroma and flavour. The Single Estate Series 23_01 is housed in an eco-designed bottle, deliberately lightweight and made with 70% recycled glass. Further reinforcing the brand’s sustainability credentials, it is presented in a gift box that is 100% recyclable.
“We have such a strong history with rum and everyone at Mount Gay can say that they have played a part in creating the Single Estate Series,” Branker says proudly. “It is a privilege to be able to take rum to this next level, and something I never thought would be possible to bring to market.” She asserts again that this rum “is 100% Barbadian” — which is evidenced by the fact that it is also 100% delicious.
Mount Gay Single Estate Series Release 1, £345