Sep 022018
 

Back in early 2018, when I wrote about the Mount Gay Black Barrel rum, Ivar de Laat, one of the rum chums in Toronto, grumbled “I wish Mount Gay would be a little bolder. I find it all too friendly and not daring enough.”  Were he to try this one — at the time he had not — he might possibly reconsider the first part of that statement….but not necessarily the second. Because the XO Cask Strength is equally friendly as its lesser proofed predecessor…and definitely bolder.  Much bolder. And in that lies its attraction – that and its limited-edition premium cachet.

Though Mount Gay remains a major producer of quality Bajan rums and has a brand awareness quotient that’s pretty damned high (I named the standard XO one of the Key Rums of the World, remember), you get the sense that with the eyes of the rum world being dragged constantly to regard only Foursquare, it’s slipping in status.  Well, maybe. My own feeling is that this nicely presented edition is an answer to those who want the XO hauled into the current world of limited, full proof juice without reinventing Barbados rums in any particular or fundamental way.

You can’t fault the presentation or the stats (though you might balk at the price). The ovoid bottle is nicely labelled with the bottle number and Allen Smith’s signature, comes in a handsome wooden box with a small booklet in it that speaks to the rum. It doesn’t state the outturn on the label, but it’s 3000 bottles, a rum to mark fifty years of independence though itself it is not that old, being a blend of pot and column still rums aged between 8-15 years old (just like the regular XO, though one gets the impression that certain select barrels were chosen here).  And of course the main selling point, the 63% ABV, Mount Gay’s first serious foray into these strong and dangerous rum currents.

Even if one ignores the premium nature of it, the strength makes it a step up, because the entire profile is more powerful, more aggressive…much more solid. The assertive attack of the nose was a clear indicator that Mount Gay wanted to produce something to appeal to those who desired precisely that: it was hot and had a certain kind of fierce yet musky aroma redolent of a stable – dry, dusty hay, and leather. It developed further into caramel, nuts, almonds and dates and was very pleasantly deep and rich after opening up, with a fine line of bananas, peaches, light licorice, cognac and grapes lending a solid background to the smell, all really nicely done.

That high-proof solidity of taste was also evident on the palate, though here some sharpness could not be avoided at 63%. Initial flavours of carmel and vanilla, blended with some light fruits (grapes, bananas, peaches) which lent some balance, but which faded oddly and quietly and rapidly away – surprising for something so strong. But as a consolation there were also notes of coconuts, licorice, burnt sugar, almonds, cumin, oak, eucalyptus, and something faintly minty, gone in a flash.  Even the finish showed that some care and attention had been paid – it was long, dry, and left memories of hot and very strong black tea, caramel, oak, crushed almonds and vanilla.

A very nice, solid rum – if I had to sum it up in the fewest possible words I’d say it’s a cranked up and better XO (which I tried alongside it, mostly out of curiosity).  There’s nothing at all wrong with it – indeed, as noted above, it’s quite good – but conversely and paradoxically, nothing intensely exciting or exceptional about it either.  Certainly it has somewhat of a longer and more muscular leopard’s tail in its trousers, but it twitches much the same.

Because of the similarity in profile and naming, it’s almost impossible to get away from the inevitable comparison of the Cask Strength XO to the venerable and very well known standard version. The question is, I suppose, whether its worth five times as much, considering it’s “only” half again as strong, the profile is similar, the outturn is limited and the ageing is about the same (strip away the premium part and it may just be an undiluted XO).  Still, I don’t think premium rums can or should be approached from this kind of coldly mathematical perspective, since any product’s value (and quality) diverges geometrically away from price the higher one goes. The Mount Gay XO Cask Strength is a perfectly serviceable rum, solid, sober, strong, traditional, tasty, totally in line with its forebears – it’s may be buying at least once, even at the price, just for that, especially if one is into the Bajan canon. But if you’re looking for “daring” as well as “bold,” you may have to wait a little longer before the company puts one like that out the door. This rum is only halfway there.

(#545)(85/100)

Mar 112018
 

#495

Some time ago I called Mount Gay XO one of the Key Rums of the World, and observed that it longevity, decency and general all-purpose usefulness created a shadow in which all subsequently issued Bajan rums to some extent had to live.  Times moved on and other profiles started to take precedence in the rumiverse, but Mount Gay, however delinquent in moving into the limited edition or cask strength landscape so effectively colonized by Foursquare, did not entirely rest on its laurels, and did try to experiment here and there to see what else they could pull out of their trousers (their recent foray into flavoured categories like the Mauby is a case in point).

The Black Barrel, introduced in 2013, was one of these.  It was never quite a mainstream MG rum like the XO – which can be found practically everywhere and is known around the world – but it was and remains an interesting variation on the core concept of a pot and column still blend bottled a few points above the norm (43%).  Its claim to distinction (or at least difference) was to have a secondary ageing in heavily charred ex-bourbon barrels, and it was specifically created, according to Master Blender Allen Smith, to provide a versatile best-of-both-worlds rum – a better than average near-premium that could just as easily be used in a cocktail, and particularly to appeal to bourbon drinkers.

That might be the key to its profile, because unlike caskers and single barrel rums which almost demand to be sipped (so as to extend the enjoyment you feel you deserve after forking out three figures for one), the Black Barrel was designed to both do that or be mixed, and whether that duality and the lack of an age statement helps or not, well, that’s for every individual drinker to decide for themselves.

For me, not entirely.  For all its appearance of small batch quality (label has each bottle individually numbered and Mr. Smith’s printed signature on it), there was little to mark it out as being something exceptional – though admittedly it did diverge from the XO in its own way.  It presented an initial note of light acetones and nail polish, 7-Up and a lemon meringue pie, delicately creamy with citrus, tart apples, and a lot of vanilla, under which could be sensed some ripe bananas. “Light and frothy,” my notes went, “But where’s the exceptionalism?”

Exactly, and that was also the issue with the taste.  It came on somewhat sharply, and with some salt and very light olive-y profile (that was good), and as it opened up and I came back to it over time, further hints of apples, pears, salt caramel, almonds, coconut and bananas made their presence known.  Molasses, somewhat surprisingly, took a back seat, as did the citrus notes, both of which could be sensed but were so light as to almost disappear into the background altogether. The vanilla, on the other hand, was right there, front and center, and it all faded out fast in a rather short finish that coughed up a few last tastes of a citrus-flavoured yogurt, some woody and smoky notes, more vanilla and a final touch of caramel.  

The Mount Gay Black Barrel, then, was well made and nicely assembled – but originality was not exactly its forte. The balance tilted too heavily to the influence of the char (maybe that was the intent?), and wasn’t quite up to scratch for me.  The whole experience was also not so much light as underperfoming … more than a youngish rum (it’s actually a blend of rums aged 7-12 years) could have been expected to present. In that respect, the makers were absolutely right – the rum could just as easily be taken neat as mixed up with something to create a cool cocktail with an evocative name, redolent of Barbados.  What it meant to me when I was sorting out my thinking, was that it was mostly another rum to round out the overall portfolio of the Mount Gay line than anything so original that it would supplant the XO in the opinion of its adherents. Perhaps it would have been better off trying to be one or the other, sipper or mixer, than uneasily straddling the divide between them both.  Rums that fail at this balancing act tend to have very long shelf lives, as this one will probably have on mine.

(82/100)

Dec 312017
 

Although I always have controls on hand when writing a review, it’s not always clear in my writing how they all relate to each other, since the individual essay speaks to just a single rum.  However, I’m a firm believer in doing flights of multiple rums, whether horizontally (several rums of similar age or provenance), or vertically (where a single maker’s entire range is evaluated up and down the age or strength scale).  Such exercises are useful in that they permit similarities and differences to snap more clearly into focus, and perhaps some interesting judgements can be made on that basis.

Some time back when I was out in the real world, I spent some time doing a white rum run-through (this led to one of my favourite lists, the 21 Great Whites), a Jamaican flight (still to be written up) and this one of nine rums from Barbados.  The selections were not standard-strength or more commercially available rums like St. Nicholas Abbey, Mount Gay, Doorly’s or Fousquare, but mostly independents and limited releases: since such caskers possess attributes of strength and individuality which I felt to be incompatible with larger-volume blends existing in their own space and time; and they appeal to a different grouping of rum lovers than the specific rums tried here.  This may reduce its usefulness to some (aside from the fact that I could have made the list much longer), but certainly some limited conclusions could be drawn from the exercise nevertheless.  I’ve dispensed with my notes, thoughts and observations on each rum (that was not the purpose of the session) but the full length essay on each is linked where available, and will provide any additional background information these quick tasting notes don’t have.

So without further ado, here they are in my final post of 2017. Enjoy.


Cadenhead Mount Gay 2000-2008 8 YO BMMG 66.3%

Nose – Hot and fierce. Honey, flambeed bananas, nutmeg and peaches, salty caramel.  Gets a little sweeter over time, very distinctly so with water.

Palate – Sharp, hot. Bananas, caramel and burnt sugar, vanilla and nutmeg. Tart fruits are there but take a back seat to softer ones.  Water is almost required here since it allows the lighter fruity notes to emerge more distinctly

Finish – Not so impressive – dry and medium long, but for the intensity there’s surprisingly little going on here

(84.5/100)

Cadenhead Green Label 2000-2010 10YO Mount Gay 46%

Nose – Acetone, nail polish, quite light. Bananas are back, also nutmeg and peaches, a flirt of caramel, and in fact it is quite similar to the BMMG above.  It is pleasant and light, with honey and some salty caramel remaining as the backbone, interestingly melded with some ashes and charred wood, and some medicinal notes I didn’t care for.

Palate – Salt and sweet caramel, sweet soya.  Those hospital smells translated to the palate also, not successfully IMHO.  Green tea, some pears and light fruits, chocolate and the honey almost disappears. The easy strength works well here.

Finish – 46% betrays itself into a short, light fade, mostly florals, honey, caramel and a dash of citrus rind.

(82/100)

Isla del Ron 2000-2013 Mount Gay 12 YO 61.6%

Nose – Mount Gay really does seem to have something of a profile all its own, leaning towards honey, bananas, light caramel, acetone, some rubber and a bit of brine.  Some sweet syrupy smells like mixed fruit in a can.  Resting didn’t add much to this one.

Palate – For all its heat and power, there wasn’t much going on here as one would expect.  Vanilla, brine, mint, chocolate with watery fruits (watermelon, papaya, white guavas), but all quite vague.

Finish – Long, salty-caramel-ice-cream; almonds, walnuts, vanilla, brine and an olive or two. Quite tame.

(83/100)

Compagnie des Indes 2006-2016 Foursquare 9 YO 62.1%

Nose – Olive oil in a nice garden salad, oddly enough, but sweeter florals permeate the nose as well, nicely integrated strength and balance with acetone, cherries and peaches, red grapes and Moroccan olives.

Palate – Nice! Caramel and licorice, fried bananas, apricots, chocolate and light coffee grounds. It’s 62.1% yet this is hardly felt.  Apples and some lemon zest round out an excellent profile

Finish – Longish, with cider, apples, salted butter, light molasses.  It’s a bit sharp, and with water it gets toned down very nicely indeed, at the expense of some of its distinct flavours.

(87/100)

Habitation Velier 2013-2015 Foursquare ~2 YO 64%

Nose – Power, lots of power here, leading in with pink rock salt and tomato-stuffed olives. Rubber, glue, vanilla ice cream drizzled over with hot caramel and chocolate. Lemons, cumin, sweet paparika and pepper. There’s a little wine-iness in the background, but this is very faint, almost unnoticeable.

Palate – Salty olive oil and soya, like a rich vegetable soup impregnated with lemon grass, cumin and dill. Nuts, dates and peaches, rubbery and wax notes, not all playing entirely harmoniously together, though for sheer originality it’s certainly worth a second (or third) try.  Water helps here.  Sweetness returns, caramel, fruits, herbs, really quite an experience.

Finish – Surprisingly short.  Creamy.  Dark sesame-seed bread plus herbs, caramel, honey, sweet olives. Points for originality, if nothing else, and not one you’re likely to forget anytime soon.

(87/100)

Foursquare 2005-2014 9 YO Port Cask Finish 40% (Exceptional Cask Series)

Nose – Rubber and acetone to start, fruity notes quite distinct. Grapes, oranges, tangerines (not lemons).  Vanilla, toffee, cinnamon.  Smells like a slightly amped-up Doorly’s 12 YO, showcasing what that could have been with more barrel work, because this one is younger than the Doorley’s, almost the same strength…but better.

Palate – Wish it was stronger, as that intriguing nose does not efficiently deliver tastes in equal measure: mixed fruits in a salad bowl sprinkled with brown sugar, raisins, cherries, bananas, some coconut (I liked that) and charred wood.

Finish – Short, warm, almost light.  Certainly it’s easy. A few fruity notes, some toffee, blancmage, orange zest. It works, but not as well as it might have.

(82/100)

Compagnie des Indes 2000-2016 Foursquare 16 YO 62%

Nose – Luscious.  Black grapes, prunes, plums, honey, tinned fruit salad syrup simply without excess cloying-ness which might have ruined it. 62% is remarkably well controlled, even gentle.  Sweet red olives, fried bananas, hot black tea.

Palate – Very well done, dry intense, quite rich.  Acetone (fading fast), honey, black tea sweetened with condensed milk, cherries, apricots and even some rosemary.  An interesting combination of delicacy and heft, and that’s quite a trick for any rum to pull off.

Finish – Long, rich, fruity, zesty, includes some of those sweet cooking herbs.  Doesn’t quite ignite, however, and the components don’t mesh as well as they might. That said, still a rum to savour neat, in spite of its strength.

(86/100)

Foursquare 2006-2016 Single Blended Rum 62%

Nose – As good as I remember, as amazing. Nougat, white toblerone, cream cheese; peaches, strawberries and cream, citrus rind, and a majestic panoply of darker berries and fruits. Just a lovely nose.

Palate – Dried apricots and mangoes; rich brown honey spread on toasted black bread. Cherries, overripe grapes, lemon zest and all this retains great pungency over long periods. Hard to believe, with its smoothness and assembly, that this is north of 60% ABV.

Finish – Surpisingly easy; warm, not sharp.  Quite fruity and creamy, both soft and tart at the same time.  The integration is excellent, the balance superb.

(91/100)

Bristol Spirits Rockley Still 1986-2012 26 YO 46%

Nose – Meaty, chewy, salty maggi-cubes.  Brine, olives, salted caramel. Wow, quite a left-turn.  Where was the sherry? Sweeter fruit and some waxy pungency take their own sweet time coming out, plus honey and nuts after maybe ten minutes.

Palate – Much better to taste than to smell.  Caramel, weak molasses, dollops of dark honey, cough drops, leather, rye bread.  Also bitter chocolate, burnt sugar, stewed apples and the tartness of firm white unripe fruit – apples, ginnip, soursop, that kind of thing.

Finish – Short, fruity, honey-like, with additional notes of polish on old leather. Great balance

(86/100)


Having tried these few, then, what can one say about the lot?

Well, to begin with, I believe that with some practice one can indeed pick out the Mount Gay from a Foursquare rum, though I can’t pretend this is a statistically significant sample set, and I wasn’t trying them blind, and most of the reviews had already been written. Also, spare a thought for WIRD’s Rockley Still from Bristol Spirits, which is something of an outlier in this listing dominated by the other two big guns.  In October 2017 when Marco Freyr (of Barrel Aged Mind) and I were talking and sampling like cash-rich newbs in the rumshop, he remarked that there was no way – ever! – he could mistake a Rockley Still rum.  The profile was simply too distinct from the other Bajan makers, and while at the time I didn’t entirely agree with him, further tastings of other WIRD rums (not on this list, sorry) showed that in all likelihood, with a large enough sample set, yeah, he was absolutely right – even under the influence of the sherry casks in which it was aged, it was markedly different and particular to itself, and strength had nothing to do with it.

It’s clear that quality, enjoyment and a high ranking does not rest on age, or strength, or finishing and not on fancy barrel strategy.  None of these attributes in isolation automatically makes for a good rum…a relatively youthful cognac-aged Habitation Velier ranked very well against a lesser proofed other-barrel-aged rum like the Foursquare Port Cask.  And the higher power of the 8 YO Cadenhead BMMG only marginally improved it over the older, but weaker, Green Label, neither of which had any ageing in other barrels than the norm.  The Danish cask strength CDI Foursquare rums were also quite good in spite of one being almost double the age of the other. So clearly, age has its limitations, as does the type of barrel or finishing regimen used, or the strength.

But push them into combination with each other and you’ve really got something.  The Foursquare Velier collaboration of the almost legendary 2006 ten year old pressed all the right buttons at once, and this is why even on this go-around, it beat out all the competitors.  It’s simply as spectacular now as it was then, and while it’s not the best Bajan ever made (I haven’t tried every Bajan ever made), it remains a high water mark for sure and demonstrated that when judiciously applied, with verve and skill and style, the intersection of the three components results in some awesome juice.

Lastly, it is no secret that 2017 has pretty much been the year of Foursquare (Velier might dispute that given the enthusiasm over its 70th Anniversary special issues) — and I don’t just mean the company, but its rums in general, whether released by them or other independents. This small selection of nine rums from Barbados show why this is so. That’s not to take anything away from the others, which all scored reasonably well and are credit to the island’s rum making heritage.  But certainly Richard Seale is riding high at the moment, and it remains to be seen whether the other brands from Barbados will step up to the high standards he is setting, or get relegated to second tier status for the foreseeable future.  For that reason alone, the next years’ developments will make watching Barbados rums evolve a fascinating experience.

Dec 132017
 

#468

Velier’s Last Ward is an elegaic and haunting rum that evokes memories of old times and old places, yet is brought smack bang up to date for the modern connoisseur and rum lover.  It is a summing up of all things Mount Gay that matter if you’re in tune with it, just a really good rum if you’re not, and is one to savour and appreciate and enjoy no matter what your state of mind or preference in rum.  One can only wonder, with all the great distilleries that are represented in the independent bottlers’ more popular and better-known wares, how a small batch production like this one was ever conceived of, let alone made it out to the general marketplace.  It is one of the best rums from Mount Gay not actually sold under the brand.

The “Last Ward” is about as evocative a title for a rum as I’ve ever come across.  It breathes of Barbados, of history and of rum. It speaks to the Ward family who ran Mount Gay for over a century (Aubrey Ward acquired it in the early 1900s) and still appear to have involvement with the company which was officially in existence since 1703 (unofficially much before that) and acquired in 1989 by Remy Cointreau. Frank Ward started producing a brand called Mount Gilboa in 2007, naming it after the original plantation and distillery before it had been renamed in 1801 after Sir John Gay Alleyne, whom John Sober had inveigled to manage the new company when he had bought it in 1747.

Did all that history and age and heritage translate into a rum worth drinking?  It’s not always the case, of course, but here the answer is a firm yes. It started with the nose, where the very first word of my notes is “Wow.” It was smooth and heated, handling the 59% ABV quite well, smelling of furniture polish, leather, light flowers, bags of white chocolate, nougat, toblerone, coffee grounds and salt caramel.  It was aromatic enough to make me think of a warmer, softer Savanna Lontan, to be honest, and continued with almonds, pecans and vanilla, all of which harmonized into a nose one might not initially pick out as specifically Bajan, but which was definitely worth spending some time with.

The palate developed with somewhat more force, being sharp and intense without losing any of the aromatic character I liked so much on the nose.  Oak took more of a leadership role here, and behind it coiled flavours of flowers, citrus and marzipan. Letting it stand for some time (and later adding some water) cooled it down and allowed other components to emerge – bon bons, more caramel, coconut shavings, bananas, white chocolate, tied together with a vague complementary sweetness which made the whole experience a very approachable one. The sharpness and intensity which began the taste was almost totally morphed to something quieter and by the time the finish arrived.  And that was very pleasant indeed, long lasting, sweet, with caramel and vanilla walking a fine line next to orange peel and nuttiness.

Almost everything about the production details is stated clearly on the label in a fashion that shames brands who indifferently genuflect to the concept (like for instance the Dictador Best of 1977, remember that?): double retort pot still origin; triple distilled in 2007, aged ten years in Barbados with an angel’s share of 65%, no sugar, issued at a robust 59% ABV. About the only thing missing is in what kind of barrels it was aged in, but those are ex-bourbon, so now you know as much as I do. (As an aside for those who like such details, the still is made by McMillan from Scotland, who are still in business making copperware for distilleries the world over, and have been ever since their founding in 1867).

Mount Gay has now started producing its cask strength series of the XO (63%) which I thought was very good, a German indie called Rendsburger made a 1986 Rockley Still 18 year old rum I quite liked, and we’ve been trying WIRD rums for years now — these demonstrated with emphasis and aplomb what could be done even if you didn’t hail from Foursquare…and this rum is as good as almost all of them. Just about everything works here, comes together right – it finds the intersection of a name redolent of memory, a presentation in quiet pastels, all married to a profile of strength, reasonable complexity, and, dare I say it? – even beauty.  

If I had any note of caution to sound about the matter, it’s that those who like fierce and brutal purity in their cask strength rums might not entirely appreciate one which is firm rather than sharply distinct, and rather more diffuse and melded together in a way that makes individual notes lack a certain clarity; and the pot still heritage is not as evident as I might have liked – but to me that’s a minor whinge….overall, this thing is good. The Last Ward is a like a WIRD rum taken out to left field and torqued up to just about the max, and represents a triumph of the imagination as much as the better known Foursquare Exceptional Cask series or Mr. Seale’s collaborations with Velier. It may not entirely beat the Foursquare 2006 10 year old, but believe me when I say that that is no reason to leave it on any shelf where you see it.

(89/100)


Other notes

Both The Fat Rum Pirate and Single Cask Rum, whose reviews are also available, noted that it derived from 19 of the oldest barrels remaining. Luca got back on to me and aside from confirming the 19 barrel number, said the actual outturn was 4,746 bottles.

 

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.

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 a fullproof; 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, 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. It’s a blend of rums between 10 and 30 years old, both pot and column still as far as I know.

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) / Unscored

*

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.


Update February 2018

  • For years I felt Bajan rums lacked something and mostly stayed away…not difficult given the hundreds and thousands of rums available for me to try.  But in a 2017 revisit, with more experience (and perhaps more understanding), I called the Mount Gay XO one of the Key Rums of the World
  • In 2017 Mount Gay released a cask strength expression of the XO, which I felt was quite good
  • By the same year, most of the Bajan rum bragging rights had been transferred to Foursquare and its amazing run of the Exceptional Series, as well as its Habitation Velier Collaborations. It remains to be seen what response will be mounted by Mount Gay.