Mar 302013
 

 

A serious rum contender for an middleweight-overproof title, but loses out due to a lack of polish and a glass jaw. The Cabot Town got this one by a TKO.

(#125; 76.5/100)

***

Much as I appreciate really good top tier, expensive and very old rums, I equally enjoy taking up what some might term lower ranked offerings: single digit rums, blends and hormonally unbalanced raging overproofs of any kind. In fact, as I’ve said on more than one occasion, I wish we could see more established distillers move away from 40% spirits, and exercise their muscles a bit with higher strength products. So when I stared at the shelves of Willow Park the other day, resolving to get myself something less pricey, my eye fell on the Mount Gay Eclipse Black 100 proof, which called to mind fond memories of the Cabot Tower 100 proof: and while the Mount Gay was nowhere as dark, 50% is 50% and I snapped it up.

As I’ve also remarked, presentation matters to me . And while I’m all for tradition, I admit to being quite attached to Mount Gay’s new sleek bottle design: flatter, taller, simpler. Very zen. You get a really good look at the colour of the rum inside: which in this case was bright amber…almost bronze. Too bad it had a cheap-ass tinfoil cap on top. Grrr. Maybe I was expecting too much for a $33 hooch.

Mount Gay and other Bajan rums are noted for their banana hints on the nose; this one was no different. Faint bananas, toffee, vanilla, brown sugar and a hint of cinnamon were preceded by a strong and majestic oaken sharpness that took its own sweet time dissipating. About on par for a strongly proofed rum. Sharp, for sure. I tried it in conjunction with the Cabot Tower, and that one was well muted: the two compared like a slow fire (Cabot) to a quick burning match on the fingers (MG).

The body was surprisingly light for such a strong product, like a diminutive American football player after all the equipment is taken off. The arrival was deep and almost cognac-like, and here the body bulked up a bit after pumping some iron and settled out as a solid middleweight contender, spicy and oaken, with a good heat to it. Peaches and apples and cherries with faint nutty undertones all wrestled in a surprisingly gentlemanly fashion for control of the palate, fading (again, in its own sweet time…this rum was in absolutely no hurry to depart your senses) in a gradually reducing heat, with a last cheerily overhard slap of bananas, fleshy fruits and burnt sugar, as if to say goodbye. Very firmly.

Mount Gay is known as the oldest rum distillery in the world – while the company was formally created in 1703 (hence the date on the “1703” rum and each and every bottle), rum production has been recorded there at least fifty years prior to that. Owners of Mount Gay over the centuries also had association with the St Nicholas Abbey estate, whose products I have raved about before. The refinery makes use of both column and pot stills in its rums, giving the products a bolder taste, and in this case there is somewhat of a higher percentage of pot still distillate in the final blend, which is a combination of single and double distilled rums aged between two to seven years.

Overall, I’d have to say it’s a little too spicy: both the Favell’s and the Cabot Tower (the only other 100 proof rums currently in residence on my shelf) have that power, yet neither tried to stab me quite as brazenly: their makers muted the initial sting and subsequent harshness by some subtle alchemy the Mount Gay lacked or never bothered to try working on. Maybe it was because it was an overproof; even among rums there has always been a sort of sweaty, Brando-esque ‘bad-boy’ glamour surrounding the stronger rums, so who cares if they toss you against the wall a few times? Isn’t that what they’re all about?

I doubt many will seriously try the Eclipse Black as a sipping rum…most will use it as a mixing agent, and here perhaps the venerable coke or ginger beer are solid options before heading into subtler and more complex cocktails. If I had to make a comparison with other rums, I’d say the deeper flavours of the Cabot Tower appeal to me more, and the Favell’s is also quite excellent in comparison, as is the Panama Red (tasted but not yet written about), largely as a result of a slightly smoother finish and darker, more complex profiles. Yet the Mount Gay Eclipse Black 100 proof is a solid accomplishment by any standard, and proves that before Mudlanders complain too much about the Bajans, the flagships of Demerara Distillers and Banks DIH could perhaps seek to make a few high-standard overproofs* as well. That might not shut anyone up, but at least then they would have equal bragging rights.

***

(*Guyanese High Wine does not count since it is primarily for local consumption and cannot seriously be termed “high standard”).

Mar 262013
 

mount gay 1703

Stunning, absolutely stunning.  Strong marriage of phenomenally well balanced flavours, terrific nose and a silky finish marred ever so slightly by a slight bitterness at the tail end. A damned worthy entry at the top-end, showing Mount Gay is still a force to be reckoned with in the premium lines.

First posted  28 August 2010 on Liquorature.

(#097. 85/100)

***

Mount Gay.  The premier house of rum on Barbados, the oldest rum distillery in the world, and this rum, their premium product, first seen in 2009.  I was not entirely enthused with the  Extra Old, but here, they have created a small gem that takes the qualities I liked in the Extra Old, and made almost none of the mistakes; and while it may not entirely beat the snot out of the EH25 or the Appleton 30, it is on par with the El Dorado 21, tastes like the Clemente XO, and can quit the field of battle with honour in the company of these exceptional opponents

The top end of their production line was not a part of the Liquorature gathering of August 2010, but because I had just blown the ~$125 on it and wanted to try it in company, I brought it along anyway — it’s become in an occasional thing of mine to bring something high-end to the table when I want the others to sample, because I am fully aware that without that, they’ll never spend the cash on anything but whisky (I’m fighting a valiant rearguard action here, as you might notice).  I consider this my small contribution to their education in Matters of the Cane.

All fun aside, let’s look at the 1703.  The bottle is simple, blocky and new age, harkening back to the old jugs of yore (and I adore simple elegance, so this gets mucho brownie points from me); the cork has a sumptuously tight feel to it and is metal tipped cork, tightly settled: it makes a plump, happy sound when popped.  The colour of the rum is a tawny dark gold, with reddish tints hinting of copper…perhaps a freshly minted new coin.  Like both the Doorley’s and XO, it possesses a medium body, lighter than other islands like Jamaica (or Guyana’s molasses beefcakes), but about on par with Martinique’s agricole offerings.

I don’t often spend more than fifteen minutes on a tasting before I make up my mind one way or the other: neither my experience nor my sophistication being wide enough to take this further.  However, when reviewing aged rums in particular, a more serious attitude really is needed (well, if you spent over a hundred bucks, doesn’t the object deserve more than just a cursory sip and disinterested demeanour?), and it’s always a good idea to let the opened spirit breathe in the glass.  The initial nose is of cinnamon, nutmeg and a soft whiff of bananas (the Mount Gay signature), but when it has sat in the glass for another few minutes, it opens up like my wife’s arms when I come back from a long trip abroad, and I get that warm comforting whiff of caramel, burnt sugar and toffee coiling around subtle fruits and spices.  And more than a hint of…well, leather.  Maybe that’s just me, though.

In the mouth the 1703 is quite dry and low-to-medium sweet, another thing it shares with both the Elements 8 and the Clemente XO, and for which I marked them down (and again I have to stress how personal a thing this business with the sweetness is for me). However, in fairness I have to mention how smooth the rum is, in spite of the aggressive oaken taste – the 1703 is a blend of rums aged between ten to thirty years in used bourbon barrels – and how subtler flavours slowly seep through the backbone of the tannins: vanilla, caramel, sugar, and baked apples. Yes, taking one’s time with this is almost a given: unlike a young lover who is all energy and power with no character, this one is all about mature and sober reflection of what it means to make love. The lack of sugar makes the overall taste much like a cognac (and the dryness reinforces this impression), and for that reason I myself won’t rank this high on my pantheon of truly great rums, but I fully acknowledge the depth of skill Master Blender Allen Smith utilized in marrying various rums aged ten to thirty years into this excellent synthesis.

The sting in the tail comes at the end. On the pleasantly long and reasonably smooth finish there is that faint hint of bitterness and spite which so marred my enjoyment of the XO – less than that offering, true, but I was watching and waiting for it, and yes, it’s there: unlike the Appleton 30 which expended much time in muting the oaken infusion, here this was not the case, or at least, less effort was made. When one thinks of the overall brilliant beginnings of the rum, it’s subtlety and complexity of married blends, this is – to say the least – problematic. I think, however, that brandy aficionados and whisky lovers will look at me askance and ask me what the hell my problem is, were I to bing it up, and guzzle the thing down with great enjoyment.

As a gift for someone special, as a sundowner in your new $4million house overlooking a lake somewhere, this rum will not disappoint, and overall, it’s an excellent choice for a sipper (no, I didn’t even think of bastardizing this with cola), in spite of its final bitchiness, which is a minor blip on an otherwise straight line, in my opinion (enough to make me mark it down, mind you). Mount Gay has been officially making rums since 1703, and lost a little ground in the premium market over the last decades, but it appears their long tradition of rums for the cognoscenti is in no danger of disappearing anytime soon.

 

 

Mar 262013
 

First posted 30 July 2010 on Liquorature

(#096)

*

You’re not looking at two images here by accident: both of these are Extra Old. The one on the right is the new design, and what I bought was the one on the left. There’s some confusion in the literature as to what you’re getting: the one on the right is supposedly 15 year old blends, while the one on the left is stated on some websites to be 7, 8 and 10 years old blended together…what the hell? However, after having contacted Mount Gay’s customer service (in France, because Rémy Cointreau has owned the brand since 1989), I can now tell you that both blends are exactly the same – a combination of 8-15 year old rums – and the bottle on the right is merely a newer, more “premium” design, which is in line with my observation that rums are now moving upscale in both blending and design (see the [e]8 review if you doubt me).

Mount Gay is the rum from Barbados that essentially – after tourism, I guess – makes the island’s name. Not everyone has heard of Doorly’s, or Mahiki’s or St. Nicholas Abbey, and though Cockspur is pretty familiar to any West Indian (it’s had sniggering rights for decades) it’s not so well known outside the Islands: but you’d be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t at least heard of Mount Gay. It is the Bacardi of Barbados, you could say.

Maltmonster made the remark the other day that he likes to do his tasting in vertical rankings, because you get a better idea how the rums (well, he said whiskies, but I chose to think he misspoke himself in an unfortunate faux pas which he now sincerely regrets and will one day beg my forgiveness for) improve or develop as one goes up the price chain. The problem with that admittedly laudable theory here in Cowtown, is that while well-suited for the elephantine selection of single malts one can find in even the meanest mon-and-pop establishment, it utterly fails for the anorexic pickings of the cane around here. One is therefore left with the dubious methodology of simply comparing rums on age and price and hoping you can draw some reasonable conclusions from that.

Anyway. The oldest continuously operating commercial distillery in the western hemisphere is not in Scotland, it’s not in the American continents – it is this one, and it has the papers to prove it: in fact, legend has it that Mount Gay was distilling rum since the mid 1600s, which would bring it in a shade behind Bushmills, in Ireland (so look it up). The signature of their lines is banana and almond, the way citrus is for Appleton, and the premium offering is the Mount Gay 1703 Old Cask: what we had for the July 2010 selection was a few rungs lower – the Extra Old, a mixture of rums eight to fifteen years old (a note here: the kind of the bottle I review is the picture on he left: this is gradually being replaced with the sleeker new design on the right).

On the nose it’s caramel candy, with that taste of banana. A bit strong, burning gently but not offensively. Swirling in the glass shows the thin legs of a model from Milan, but nothing special to my mind (I don’t attribute much to the legs unless they are really running off the reservation). On the palate, this supposedly premium sipping rum does not, unfortunately, impress: while it shows off a medium brown colour, tastes of the usual molasses and brown sugar, and hints of pecan, the blend is somehow not assertive, not intriguingly complex…it is, to but it bluntly, a tad bland. Behind, stiffening it up, is the aforementioned banana and a slight note of citrus that almost disappears in the mouth. The finish, I’m gonna have to tell you straight out, is short and bitchy and bitter, like a Reno divorce, and about as pleasant. I kind of just looked at the glass on my second go ’round with it. What just happened to this thing? Did they not try to tone down the woodiness imparted by the Jack Daniels barrels, in some misguided effort to give it street cred?

No matter what my personal feelings about the Bajans (and my disappointing experience with the Doorly’s XO should have been a shot across the bows), I had really gone in prepared to like this one. Hell, I forked over sixty-plus bucks for the bottle, can you blame me for expecting more? Extra Old rum of any kind has this cachet of age and care and love about it – online reviews are almost uniformly positive and fawn over the rum as if it could hold them till the Rapture – and while I had wanted to stroke Mount Gay like a favourite cat, you’d think my prior encounters with other pretentiously named XOs would have educated me out of this delusion: as it turned out, I had forgotten my lesson, and simply got scratched for my trouble.

So it fails as a sipper for sure, in my opinion. It’s okay – nay, excellent – as a mixer and a cocktail base, but then, if I wanted okay and a mere ingredient for fancy-named drinks, I could have gone with the Coruba, and not blown my budget for the week with this thing.

I think one day I’ll fork out three figures for the 1703 Cask edition from Mount Gay, if some kind purchasing agent for a liquor shop ever gets around to bringing it over to this city of malts: by that time, I’m just hoping that I’ll have put this rather disappointing experience behind me, so I don’t treat the premium offering of a four hundred year old distillery with the same sort of indifference that this slightly less exalted bottle treated me.

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