When you’re the world’s oldest commercial rum distillery, it’s safe to say that opportunities for new “firsts” tend to become few and far between. So it is for Barbados’ Mount Gay Rum—it’s one of the most recognizable brands in the world, with a core lineup that exemplifies the Bajan style of rum, alongside their peers at Foursquare. It’s a company built on brands that are sacrosanct—although products like Mount Gay XO or Black Barrel can occasionally be refined (and they were, under current Master Blender Trudiann Branker), actually replacing them would be unthinkable. But there are still ways for the company to embrace a “first” from time to time, especially via the yearly Master Blender Collection series of limited releases, currently in its fourth year.
After three previous releases that dabbled in peat (The Peat Smoke Expression), pot still purity (Mount Gay Pot Still Rum), and port cask aging (The Port Cask Expression), 2021’s Master Blender Collection series release is dubbed Andean Oak Cask. It is so named for the (probably obvious) fact that it has been finished in so-called Andean oak, Quercus humboldtii, a species of oak that grows only in Colombia and Panama, which is not often used for spirit aging.
Specifically, this is 14-year-old, cask-strength, pot still Mount Gay rum that has survived an unusually long period of tropical aging, before then spending 11 months finishing in newly charred (level 3) Andean oak casks. It’s then bottled at 48% ABV (96 proof), and is non-chill filtered. This is an extremely limited release, with a mere 1,026 bottles headed to the U.S., where they’ll carry an unsurprisingly high MSRP of $195. In other words, good luck coming across a bottle of this stuff in the wild, but perhaps you’ll be able to find a dram of it somewhere.
According to Master Blender Branker, the time aging in Andean oak had the effect of primarily modifying the rum’s spice profile, resulting in what is labeled as a “delicate, yet opulent blend with layers of spice, nutmeg, vanilla, ripe pear and toasted coconut.” I received a sample, so let’s get to tasting and see how this unique oak aging affected the rum.
In the glass, there’s no missing that this rum has developed a lovely burnished copper hue after all those years in the barrels—one might think that almost a year in the newly charred Andean oak would be a major factor there, though Branker said it seemed to make a relatively small contribution to color. On the nose, my first thoughts are of fudge, cinnamon, toasted sugar and overripe banana. There’s a peppercorn spiciness here as well, along with a slightly resinous/spicy character and some lightly estery funkiness—a little musty, a little nutty. Darker fruit notes also seem to be teased out over time.
On the palate, this one is at first notable for being extremely oily and viscous in texture. I’m getting almond nuttiness and considerable fruitiness, with notes of citrus and spiced pear most prominent. There’s also quite a panoply of spice notes, but the one that is really sticking out to me is a sweeter anise note that is distinctive and pleasant. The spices have a toasted quality to them, and lead to a slightly drying and leathery finish, with mild tannins. That finish actually doesn’t strike me as particularly long in a flavor sense, instead transitioning to a blooming of heat in the chest (rather than on the tongue). All in all, there’s a whole lot to like—it’s a mildly sweet and balanced dram that finishes fairly dry, while having an attractive spice profile.
With that said, it’s hard to say that this Master Blender Collection release is quite as specifically distinctive as the Port Cask Expression, or something like the first Peat Smoke Expression. Those were concepts that more dramatically altered the classic Mount Gay flavor profile, while this is more of a subtle deviation. If you love Mount Gay or Bajan rum, it will be one you’ll want to be searching out.
Distillery: Mount Gay
City: Bridgetown, Barbados
ABV: 48% (96 proof)
Availability: Limited, 750 ml bottles, $195 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.