Trudiann Branker took over the reins as Mount Gay master blender less than a year ago, in April 2019. However, she has already been making her mark on the brand in ways that seem subtle but actually have a big impact. At a recent tasting in New York City, Branker talked about her respect for the tradition and history of the distillery, which has been around since 1703, making it the oldest licensed rum producer in the world. Mount Gay rum is made from three ingredients — water, molasses, and yeast. It is distilled in both column and pot stills, and is aged in a variety of casks, the majority of which are American whiskey barrels. There are four main expressions, but Branker has focused on just two of them to make her mark as the new master blender.
Black Barrel has undergone what is perhaps the most significant change to the components of the blend. Branker has shifted the age range of the liquid from the previous two to seven years to three to seven years old. She has also increased the amount of pot still distillate in the blend. Finally, she has tinkered with what is arguably the core identity of Black Barrel. After initial maturation in ex-American whiskey barrels (the exact type are not disclosed), the rum is finished in heavily charred ex-bourbon barrels. That finish has been increased from four weeks to six months, allowing the rum to pick up even more intense notes of vanilla, spice, and banana.
For XO, Branker has made two changes. First, the blend of rum is now five to 17 years old, instead of eight to 15 years. This gave her more liquid to play with on both the younger and older sides, each of which brings different flavors to the mix. Most importantly, she has added cognac barrel-aged rum to the blend, which used to consist of only American whiskey and bourbon barrel-aged rum, the same as Black Barrel. This brings more candied fruit and baking spice flavors to the palate of this already complex spirit.
“We believe in aging in Barbados, using water sourced in Barbados. These are not talking points; this is how we make rum, and we’re very passionate about that.”
Listening to Branker describe the art of rum-making reveals a master blender who is passionate and knowledgable about her craft. She mentioned that the column still distillate is a bit lighter than the pot still distillate, for example, and how barrel aging tends to bump up the column still character while calming and smoothing out the pot still identity. She also has pretty strong feelings about the ongoing conversation on a geographical indicator (GI) for Barbados rum, which would legally define the parameters of how it can be made.
“It’s no secret where Mount Gay stands,” she said. “We are definitely in agreement with our fellow distilleries in regards to … I don’t want to say setting rules, but preserving how Barbadian rum has been made.”
The only sticking point so far seems to be that there are a few distilleries that would like to add sugar or color to their rum, or even age it off the island. For Branker and Mount Gay, this won’t fly. “We want to be sure that for the next 300 years, we’re able to still make rum the same way, still preserve the art of making rum,” she said. “So where we stand in regard to a GI is clear — we believe in aging in Barbados, using water sourced in Barbados. These are not talking points; this is how we make rum, and we’re very passionate about that.”
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