Founded in 1703 in Barbados, Mount Gay is the oldest continually running rum brand in the world. Everything the company does, including its old-school production process, is steeped in tradition. So, it was no small matter when Mount Gay announced its new and first-ever female Master Blender, Trudiann Branker, earlier this year.
The Barbados-born Branker took over for Allen Smith, who steered the ship for 25 years and was responsible for creating the XO and 1703 Master Select expressions. She’s a chemistry-trained industry veteran who first joined Mount Gay in 2014 as the Quality Assurance Manager and apprenticed under Smith. In April, she officially took the reigns and will continue the legacy of the brand’s Master Blenders, finding balance between protecting the old and ushering in the new.
“I learned this craft from Allen, going through the tastings with him to understand all the different expressions at Mount Gay and how we want to craft our blends,” says Branker. “I will continue to do that to maintain the current expressions we have. I have the utmost respect for how Mount Gay has been made in the past, and my plan here is not to change that.” But she also expresses excitement for the chance to put her own stamp on the brand.
“While I love the traditional process, I also love using different types of barrels and wood and understanding how different liquids mature in different casks,” she says. “I love the upstream as well—understanding the still the liquid came from, and playing with fermentation to see how that comes through the value chain. So that’s how I hope to put my spin on Mount Gay.”
Staying True to Tradition
Fueled by a grass roots movement of rum activists—along with outspoken distillers and influential bartenders—rum’s reputation has been changing over the years. Despite counting sugar cane and molasses as its raw ingredients, rum is not inherently sweeter than any other distilled spirit. Nor is it a cheap party drink.
I have the utmost respect for how Mount Gay has been made in the past, and my plan here is not to change that.
With hundreds of years of heritage under its belt, rum has weathered the past few decades of disrespect, and it’s once again being viewed in the same light as the best whiskeys and cognacs. This rehabbed reputation has led to renewed interest in the category, along with dedicated rum bars, tiki bars, and rum-focused social media groups. Mount Gay welcomes the attention but is content to stay the course.
“Mount Gay has never really made rum as a mixer,” says Branker. “We’ve always made premium spirits for people to enjoy and experience. So, the trend of rum becoming more premium… we’ve always been there and will continue to stay there.”
That steadfastness can be witnessed at the distillery, where Mount Gay still employs many of the same distillation methods that were implemented centuries ago. Sugar cane is sourced from Barbados as well as other Caribbean islands to meet demand. The proprietary yeast strain is based off of an old, captured strain of wild yeast that has since been bred for consistency. They use a two-stage fermentation process and re-distill the first run of spirit. They also use four types of stills: a Spanish pot, a Scottish pot, a copper Coffey column still, and a regular column still. And the water used to distill and dilute the spirit is sourced from local underground stores that are naturally filtered through coral. All that goes into creating each rum the company offers.
Mount Gay’s Rum Portfolio
Mount Gay produces four main expressions: Mount Gay Silver, which is an unaged, entry-level introduction to the brand. Then there’s Eclipse, a fruity and floral option that’s aged up to two years in ex-bourbon barrels. Next up is Black Barrel, a bolder expression that mixes pot and column distillates and is finished in heavily-charred bourbon barrels. Mount Gay XO features rums aged between eight and 15 years. It’s rich and complex, balancing oak with vanilla and baking spices.
The trend of rum becoming more premium… we’ve always been there and will continue to stay there.
Finally, there’s 1703 Master Select, which sits at the top of the Mount Gay portfolio. First introduced in 2009 by Allen Smith, the rum is a limited annual release featuring rums aged between 10 and 30 years that are handpicked from Mount Gay’s oldest reserves.
In addition to the core lineup, Mount Gay has also produced limited-edition expressions, like 2018’s XO: The Peat Smoke Expression, which bridges Barbados and Scotland by finishing a blend of eight to 15-year-old rums in Islay whisky casks for six months. There was also the unique Mauby Rum, which was distilled with bark from the local Mauby tree.
The newest Mount Gay rum will be one that Branker handpicks herself. Launching in late-September 2019, the limited-edition rum will have her fingerprints all over it, representing her personal style and technique. The actual liquid and production process are still tightly-guarded secrets. But when hinting at what’s in store, Branker can’t hide her enthusiasm. She’s excited to show the world what she’s been working on.
And scores of rum fans are excited to drink it.