Dec 092018
 

Habitation Velier’s second edition of the distillate derived from Mount Gay, known as the Last Warda nod to the Ward family who ran Mount Gay for over a hundred yearsretains much of what makes its 2007 sibling so special, but is a distinct and wonderful rum in its own right, if not entirely superseding its predecessor. It comes close though, and does that by simply being a Barbados rum that blends a triple distilled pot-still distillate of uncommon grace and strength into something uniquely itself, leading us to wonder yet again (and probably muttering a fervent prayer of thanks at the same time) how such a rum could have been conceived of by a company that was always much more into traditional aged and blended fare.

Since much of the background data of the Last Ward was covered in the review of the 2007, here are the simple technical details for those who are into their numbers: triple-distilled in 2009 on a double retort pot still, laid to rest in ex-bourbon casks, completely aged in Barbados, and bottled in 2018 at 59% ABV after losing 64% to the angels. Oddly, the outturn is unknownI’m still working on confirming that.

Right, so, well….what’s this rich golden-hued lass all about? Any good?

Oh yesthough it is differentsome might even sniff and say “Well, it isn’t Foursquare,” and walk away, leaving more for me to acquire, but never mind. The thing is, it carved out its own olfactory niche, distinct from both its older brother and better known juice from St. Phillip. It was warm, almost but not quite spicy, and opened with aromas of biscuits, crackers, hot buns fresh from the oven, sawdust, caramel and vanilla, before exploding into a cornucopia of cherries, ripe peaches and delicate flowers, and even some sweet bubble gum. In no way was it either too spicy or too gentle, but navigated its way nicely between both.

The palate was similarly distinct and equally pleasant. Unlike the 2007 here was not a hard-to-separate (but delicious) melange of tastes folding into each other, but an almost crisp series of clearly discernible flavours, smooth and warm. There were ripe fruitscider, apples, cherries, peachesfollowed by almonds, cereals and vanilla, before doing a neat segue into salted butter, leather and a crisp snort of light citrus giving it some edge. And then it faded gently into leather, smoke, fruits and lemon peel, exiting not so much with a flourish as a satisfied sigh that made one hasten to fill another glass just to get some more. A completely solid, well-made rum that would not be out of place with rums many times its age which get far more press.

Overall, it’s a rum hard to fault. It’s smooth. It’s firm. It’s tasty. It’s complex. It sells at a price that won’t break the bank and gives a bang-to-buck ratio that enhances its accessibility to the general audience out there who have always loved Mount Gay’s rums. Perhaps after experiencing the originality and haunting quality that was the 2007 it’s hard to be so seminal a second time. But however you view it, from whatever angle you approach it, it’s a lovely rum based on solid antecedents and great traditions, and while I can’t speak for the greater rum-loving public out there, I know I loved it too, and would not be averse to splurging on a couple more bottles.

(#577)(87/100)

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 oneat the time he had nothe 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 predecessorand definitely bolder. Much bolder. And in that lies its attractionthat 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, even if 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 ignoring the premium nature of it, the strength makes it a step up, because the entire profile is more powerful, more aggressivemuch 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 stabledry, 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 caramel and vanilla, blended with some light fruits (grapes, bananas, peaches) which lent some balance, but which faded oddly and quietly and rapidly awaysurprising 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 paidit was long, dry, and left memories of hot and very strong black tea, caramel, oak, crushed almonds and vanilla.

A very nice, solid rumif 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 itindeed, as noted above, it’s quite goodbut 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 forebearsit’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 (it was previously called the Eclipse Black 100 Proof) was one of these. It was never quite a mainstream MG rum like the XOwhich can be found practically everywhere and is known around the worldbut 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 ruma 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 exceptionalthough 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 assembledbut 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 underperformingmore 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 rightthe 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 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.

TheLast 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 emergebon 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 various WIRD rums for years nowthese demonstrated with emphasis and aplomb what could be done even if you didn’t hail from Foursquareand this rum is as good as almost all of them. Just about everything works here, comes together rightit 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 likedbut 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 familiarand 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 bottlersaged, cask strength bottlings, fancy finishes, single barrel or millesime expressionsall 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 bethe 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 isa 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 yearsa 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 independentsthis 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 Labeland a Danish Foursquare from Compagnie des Indes 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 fruitpears, 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 didthis 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 beforecaramel, 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. Too bad they don’t mention the still.
  • 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 laterconsequently, it somewhat predates the Golden Age of Cask Bottlings through which it could be argued we’re livingno 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 aboutthat’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 rumit was redolent of flambeed bananas, honey, nutmeg and peaches, rich and pungentand 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 takeawaysone 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, fruitsmangoes, 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 rawit 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 strengthhere 66.3% really is a bit much. Intense and powerful for sure, with all that this impliesbut 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 appreciationon 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.
Jun 032015
 

D3S_9106

***

Sweet enough to appeal, smooth enough to enjoy, complex enough to admire. Solid, succulent Bajan rum from 2003, a cut above the ordinary, just like its 2001 brother.

Why Fabio Rossi, the gentleman behind Rum Nation, keeps referring to his Bajan offerings as “entry level” is beyond me. ‘Cause like Mr. Gump, I may not be a smart man, but I know what entry level is. This is a few notches higher, and that it can do what it does with what for me is a relative anemic 40% strength, is no mean achievement in a pantheon dominated by R.L. Seale, Mount Gay, Cockspur and St. Nicholas Abbey.

That said, it does lack some of that distinctive complexity of character that would make me rank it higher. Consider first the nose of the orange-brown rum: like many of Rum Nation’s products there is that olfactory sense of sinking into the soft ease of a plush chesterfield, with which which any consumer of Barbados rums would be quite happy. Bananas, brown sugar and taffy, some crushed hazelnuts, almonds, and an odd spray of cough drops stealing through the back end (cough drops?…I tried again, and yes, that’s what it nosed like).

To taste, that depth of lushness continued, though the rum presented as a somewhat lighter, even “Spanish” style of mouthfeel. It moved away from the brown sugar and caramel, and provided initial flavours of smoke and vanillas that the oak had imparted; yet also more sweetness and smoothness here, like running our spoon through a ripe papaya. Some kick of not-quite-ripe apricots, a bit of green grape, kiwi fruit, aromatic pipe tobacco, a bit of dry mustoverall, a very unaggressive, quite friendly rum, extremely accessible. The finish was not too shabby for a standard strength rum: shorter than I might have wished for, but still impressively redolent of caramel, burnt sugar and smoky notes.

You could mix the rum, I suppose, though with something this easy-going, I question why. It has few of the jagged edges that a cocktail might seek to smoothen out, or enhance. I think it’s fine to have neatits strength (or lack thereof) makes that no chore at all. In any case, Rum Nation has never really hewed to the elemental brutality of full proof rums issued by the Scots, or Velier, or Samaroli. They strike me as closer in philosophy to Plantation, with their finishing strategy, dosage. and slightly more voluptuous profiles. In that sense, to me, it is better than the rum many use as their Bajan baseline, the Mount Gay XO, and for sure I enjoyed it more than the Cockspur 12. It actually has more in common with some of FourSquare’s rums, but that’s just me.

According to Mr. Rossi, the rum is derived from Barbados molasses distilled in a column still, aged in American oak barrels in the Caribbeanno mention where, I suppose we can assume also in Barbadosbefore being shipped off to be finished for 18-24 months in Italy, in ex-Spanish brandy casks before bottling. As a point of interest, unlike the 2001 RN Barbados 10 year old, this rum did not come from the West Indies Refinery, though you’d be hard pressed to put the two side by side, taste them blind, and know which was which. Although not eplicitly mentioned anywhere, I was told that it was from Mount Gay.

Like Plantation, Rum Nation has been catching some flak recently for adding sugar to their rums. I guess people are having some difficulty marrying the generally positive reviews out there (mine among them) with the mere suggestion of saccharine inclusion. Now I acknowledge the influence that sugar has in making this rum what it is (and that’s not a negative opinion), but am also aware this is a deliberate choice to create the final product, not to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, or deliberately tart up and obscure an inferior piece of crapI’ve spent too much money on, and sampled too many of, RN’s rums, old and young, to believe that for a moment.

In any event, I can tell you that here Rum Nation has produced an affordable, pleasant and drinkable spirit, one I enjoyed thoroughly and would happily buy again. I may ultimately prefer my high-end aged agricoles and full proof twenty-plus year old taste-bombs, but that is no reason not to give this softer, younger Bajan a whirl. Even if you believe, as its maker does, that it’s “just an entry level rum.”

Because that it isn’t, not really.

(#217. 86/100)


Other notes

  • New bottle design introduced in the 2014 season
  • 8118 bottles outturn

 

Oct 172012
 

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.

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 amberalmost 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 timethis 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 worldwhile 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 enthusiastically written 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 rummost 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 1 as well. That might not shut anyone up, but at least then they would have equal bragging rights.

(#125; 76.5/100)


Other Notes

  • The age is not mentioned either on Mount Gay’s own website page or the label. Both Spirits Review in an undated post, and Forbes in February 2020, noted it was a blend of components 2-7 years old.
  • TheBlackin the title comes from finishing it in heavily charred ex-bourbon casks. In 2013, the rum was rechristened Black Barrel, but the blend, as far as I could tell, remained the same.
  • In February 2020, Forbes magazine (link above) reported that the Black Barrel (as well as the XO) would be replaced in April of that year with another blended formulation. It was unclear whether the title would change also.
Aug 282010
 

mount gay 1703

Stunning. Strong marriage of 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.

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 anywayit’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). As the sole ‘Caner here, I consider this my small contribution to their education in Matters of Rum.

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 copperperhaps a freshly minted new coin. Like both the Doorly’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 ofwell, 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 tastethe 1703 is a blend of rums aged between ten to thirty years in used bourbon barrelsand 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 XOless 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 isto say the leastproblematic. 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 bring it up, and guzzle the thing down with great enjoyment.

As a gift for someone special, as a sundowner in your new McMansion 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.

(#097. 85/100)

 

Jul 302010
 

First posted 30 July 2010 on Liquorature

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 introduced perhaps a year or so ago, 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 togetherwhat 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 samea combination of 8-15 year old rumsand the bottle on the right is merely a newer, morepremiumdesign, which is in line with my observation that rums are now moving upscale in both blending and design (see the Elements 8 review if you doubt me).

Mount Gay is the rum from Barbados that essentiallyafter tourism, I guessmakes 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 continentsit 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 lowerthe 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 complexit 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 itonline reviews are almost uniformly positive and fawn over the rum as if it could hold them till the Raptureand 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 okaynay, excellentas 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.

(#096) / Unscored


Update February 2018

  • For years I felt Bajan rums lacked something and mostly stayed awaynot 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 when I tried it in 2018
  • 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 Velier Collaborations. It remains to be seen what response will be mounted by Mount Gay.