Nov 122017
 

#399

For decades Mount Gay was considered the premium rum of Barbados, and rested its claim to fame, among other things, on being the oldest rum distillery in the Caribbean (there are papers stating its antecedents going back to the mid 1600s).  Its flagship 1703 was the halo rum of the island and the XO was perhaps the standard mid-priced high-quality Barbados rum with which everyone was familiar – and certainly Sir Scrotimus’s hating on anyone who didn’t champion that rum didn’t hurt (after all, why else would he be such a dick about it if it wasn’t good, right?).  Back when I started writing this was an ongoing situation, and while many extolled the virtues of Doorly’s or Cockspur, Mount Gay was firmly in the driver’s seat as it related to defining the Barbados rum brand.

Now, nearly ten years later, it is Mount Gay which is playing catch up.  They, like DDL and many other national-level brands, misread the tea leaves and came late to the party initiated by the nimble, fast-moving independent bottlers – aged, cask strength bottlings, fancy finishes, single barrel or millesime expressions…all this must have caught them so off guard that it wasn’t until 2016 or so that an effective response could be mounted with the XO Cask Strength (a very good rum, by the way).  

Be that as it may, even for those coming to the rum scene now with so many other options on the table (Foursquare being the largest and best from the island), one cannot simply ignore the XO.  It remains widely available, very affordable, and pretty much the same as it used to be — the 8-15 year old blend has undergone alterations over the years, sure, but the taste remains recognizably the same; the bottle is now the sleek ovoid one introduced some years ago; and in the Caribbean and the Americas it is remains a perennial best seller.  Many new writers and emergent rum junkies cut their baby rum teeth on it, even if in Europe most indulgently pass it by in favour of more exciting rums to which they have access.  And while its star may be fading in the heat of increased competition, this in no way diminishes what it is – a key rum of Barbados, setting the standard for a long time, almost defining the style for an entire region.  All current rums from there to some extent live in its (waning) shadow.

Is it still that good, or, was it ever as amazing as the wet-eyed hot zealots claimed?  I didn’t think so back in the day (as I’ve noted, my preferences don’t always run to indeterminate Bajans, really), but as this series grew shape in my mind and the mental list of candidates grew, I knew it was due for a re-taste and a re-evaluation, and Robin Wynne of that fine Toronto bar Miss Things stepped forward to provide a hefty sample a few months ago when I came sniffing around (and as an irrelevant aside, you could do worse than drop into the joint, because it’s a great bar to hang out in and Robin loves to help out with an interesting pour for the rabid).

Much of my seven year old mental tasting memory of the 43% rum remained the same: the nose began with a smoky sort of butterscotch and toffee flavour, quite soft and easygoing, underlain with a gentle current of coconut shavings and bananas.  Its softness was key to its appeal, I thought, and as it stood there and opened up, some brine, avocado, salty caramel, dates and nutmeg crept out. It was just complex enough to enthuse without losing any balance or being too sharp.

Palate-wise it was also reasonably well put together. Seven years ago I thought it somewhat sharp, but by now, after imbibing cask strength juggernauts by the caseload, I’m a more accustomed to heftier beefcakes and here, then, the XO faltered somewhat (which is a factor of my palate and its current preferences, not yours).  Much of the nose returned for an encore: vanilla, nutmeg and a delicious caramel smokiness, more nougat, toffee, and some salt crackers.  Bananas, papayas and some cinnamon made themselves known, with a little nuttiness and coffee grounds and molasses providing some depth, all leading to a short, warm and (unfortunately) rather bland finish that merely repeated the hits without presenting anything particularly new. It lacks something of an edge of aggressiveness and clarity of expression which might make it rank higher, but in fairness, its overall quality really can’t be faulted too much.

Anyway, so there we have it.  A perfectly well-made, well-assembled, mid-tier rum with really good price-to-value ratio for anyone who wants a very decent rum to add to the shelf, good for either mixing or some sallies into the sipping world. That I remain only mildly enthusiastic about it is an issue for me to deal with, not you, though I honestly don’t know if we can expect off-the-scale magnificence from a Key Rum, since then it would likely fall foul of the Caner’s “3-A” Rule: it must be Available, Affordable, and Accessible.  The Mount Gay XO not only ticks each of those boxes but has something else that has never really lost its lustre in all the years – a reputation for consistent quality and worldwide brand awareness.  Those attributes combined with its pleasing taste profile may well be priceless, and give it a solid place in the pantheon, as one of those rums which any aficionado should try at least once in his long journey of rum appreciation.

(83/100)


Other Notes

If it wasn’t so pricey and hard to lay paws on (3000 bottles issued), I would have said the Mount Gay Cask Strength 63% should have dibs on this entry. That’s an outright exceptional Bajan rum.

Sep 242017
 

#389

Based in Germany, Isla del Ron is not a very well known indie, and as of this writing seem to have only done 17 different single cask rum bottlings, from as wide afield as Barbados, Jamaica, Panama, Fiji, Brazil, Guyana, Cuba, Martinique, Nicaragua, and Reunion. Initially founded in 2009 by Thomas Ewer, it concentrated on bottling small quantities of Scotch whiskies, and began with rums in 2013. In the paucity of their history and selections, and their slim-pickin’s website, I get the impression they have a small operation going, something a bit bigger than, oh, Spirits of Old Man (which did an underwhelming Uitvlught rum a few years back) but not in the Ekte or L’Esprit range (yet).  That’s about all I have to go on regarding the company, so we’ll have to be satisfied with that for the moment and move on.

That aside, here we have another Barbados rum in my short series about Bajan juice issued by the independents – this one is another Mount Gay cask strength beefcake, with an outturn of 215 bottles and a hefty 61.6% ABV, and was tasted in tandem with the Cadenhead BMMG, the Green Label…and a Danish FourSquare from CDI as a counterweight, just because I was curious.

The nose started out with aromas of honey, nail polish, acetone and a thread of sweet diluted syrup, leading into a rather watery burst of light fruit – pears, watermelon, bananas, some nuttiness, vanilla.  But it is actually rather light, even faint, not what I was expecting from something north of 60% and even resting it for ten minutes or more didn’t help much, except perhaps to burp up some additional cough-syrup-like aromas.  You wouldn’t expect a cask strength offering to lack intensity, but outside the sharp heat of the burn, there really wasn’t as much going on here taste-wise as I was expecting, and nowhere near as forcefully.

It was better to taste, however: briny, some olives, caramel, almonds and something minty and sharp, and a queer commingling of  oversweet caramel mousse and very dark bitter chocolate (however odd that might sound).  There was also vanilla, some sweetness, papaya, watermelon, more pears, and yes the bananas were there, together with tarter fruit like yellow half-ripe mangoes.  There’s certainly a “rummy” core to the whole experience, yet somehow the whole thing fails to cohere and present well, as the two Cadenheads tried alongside did – this rum was by a wide margin the faintest of the four rums I tried that day (in spite of the alcohol strength) and even the finish, while long, only reminded me of what had gone before – caramel, some fruits, brine, nuts, vanilla and that was pretty much it.

If the BMMG was too strong and jagged and the Green Label was too light and easy, then this rum somehow navigated between each of each of those and combined them into one rum that was okay but simply did not succeed as well as a cask strength 12 year old rum should, and I suggest that perhaps the ageing barrel was not very active; note also that since I was simultaneously sampling a relatively younger European-aged cask-strength Bajan that was very good, we can possibly discount the ageing location of the barrel as a factor in this disparity of quality (though this is just my opinion).  

So summing up, I kinda sorta liked it, just not as much as I should have, or was prepared to. It made more of a statement than the Green Label but paradoxically gave somewhat less in the flavour department and did not eclipse the BMMG.  So while it’s a decent limited edition Barbados rum from Mount Gay, it’s not entirely one I would recommend unless you were deep into the Bajan canon and wanted an example of every possible variation, just to see how they could be convoluted and twisted and remade into something that was certainly interesting, but not an unqualified success

(83/100)


Other notes

  • Although the bottle does not specifically state that this is a Mount Gay rum, the company website does indeed mention it as originating from there.
  • Thanks to Marco Freyr, the source of the sample, whose 2013 review of the rum (in German) is on his website Barrel Aged Mind.
Sep 142017
 

Photo (c) Barrel-Aged-Mind

 

#387

Mount Gay out of Barbados is somewhat in the background of Bajan rum-making these days, maybe feeling like Huzur in Satyajit Ray’s 1958 classic “The Music Room”.  Understandable, since all the headlines these days are about the 2006 ten year old, the Criterion, Triptych and all the other amazing FourSquare releases.  And that’s a shame because there are some interesting indie bottlings out there from the island, as well as Mount Gay’s own recent cask strength work which I’ll get to one of these days.

Today, then, let’s discuss the mastodon of the Cadenhead BMMG 66.3% which was pot-still distilled in 2000 and bottled eight years later…consequently, it somewhat predates the Golden Age of Cask Bottlings through which it could be argued we’re living – no doubt that’s why few who don’t follow Marco’s work or aren’t Cadenhead fans have heard of the thing.  As is usual with Cadenhead, there’s no info on what the four letters mean, but since we’re all smart fellows here (anyone who braves my convoluted parenthetical phraseology almost has to be), I think we can hazard a guess that the “B” is for Barbados, the “MG” is for Mount Gay, which only leaves the mystery letter of the second “M” – and I’m going to suggest “Massive” as a reasonable identifier, because 66.3%, whew, that’s not exactly milquetoast now, is it?  Oh and as usual, one can infer zero additives or other mucking about – that’s standard for the Big C.

Photo (c) Barrel Aged Mind

That out of the way, let’s dive right into the nose without further ado.  At first sniff it was definitely not a Jamaican or a Guyanese rum – it was redolent of flambeed bananas, honey, nutmeg and peaches, rich and pungent…and that was a good thing, because at that strength it would otherwise have been way too serrated for anyone’s nose to take easily and even as it was, it really took some adjustment.  This was one of those occasions where I added some water even before tasting to see what would happen, and this coaxed out some additional salty caramel and cherries in syrup at the back end, plus oak and faint licorice, mangoes….and coffee, which surprised me, since it’s not an aroma I commonly associated with Little England.

As for the palate, well, sharp is sharp and this one carved its way down my gullet with intent to rearrange my insides.  There were bananas and caramel, vanilla, nutmeg and oak, those were easy takeaways – one had to get past the power to find more, and here again water did help.  Once it settled down (or I did), I sensed more coffee, fruits – mangoes, papayas, cherries for the most part, clear and distinct at first but then they took a backseat and caramel, almonds, nutmeg and slightly sweeter coffee notes took center stage.  Although it sort of worked, it just seemed, overall to be a bit too jagged, too raw – it was hard to decide whether dialling down the volts would have made it better, or ageing it for longer, because continental ageing for a “mere” eight years doesn’t exactly smooth out the rough notes, the way an equivalent in Barbados might have.  This was more clear on the finish, which one really had to be careful with because it was long, and quite intense, very hot, leaving us with vanilla, some oak, yet more coffee and some background off-key nuttiness which didn’t blend well, and was fortunately not there for a long time.

Lonely, austere and brutal as an Edward Hopper painting, this is not a rum for the weak-kneed, proof-challenged or saccharine inclined. It’s frenziedly, almost rabidly assertive, and though I am giving it a guarded recommendation, I must also point out that somewhere along the line the balance was a bit off and the tastes didn’t play that well together.  Part of the issue (surprisingly, for a cask-strength lover like me) is the strength – here 66.3% really is a bit much.  Intense and powerful for sure, with all that this implies — but we must guard against the notion that just because some 65-70% juggernauts are so great, that high proof automatically confers great quality without question. This is not a rum that walks up to you and then sits down for a chill on the beach waiting for your inevitable appreciation…on the contrary, it’s a furious frontal assault of proof on the senses, and afterwards, picking oneself off the floor, one might be left wondering whether something less strong, something slightly older, might not have been better, and more easy to come to grips with, after all.

(84.5/100)


Other Notes

  • Last time I checked this was retailing around €150 online.
  • This was a sample sent to me by that historian par excellence, Marco Freyr of Barrel-Aged Mind when he wanted me to get exposure to some differing takes on the Bajan rums, some time back.
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