I’ll be honest — some of the rum I’ve been drinking lately has been a bit of an eye opener. I never really gave the category much thought, instead focusing on bourbon and rye as my go-to companions. But the more that I’ve investigated this Caribbean phenomenon this summer and fall, the more I’ve liked it. So now I’m working my way through some of the more popular labels, and the Mount Gay Black Barrel is near the top of that list.
While the oldest record of the distillery can date back to a deed in 1703 (which allows it to claim the title of the oldest operating rum distillery in the world), the distillery is named for the much more recent owner Sir John Gay Alleyne, who purchased the facility in 1747 and ran it until his death in 1801. During his life, Sir John Gay Alleyne served as a member of the Barbados Parliament, in which he was elected Speaker, and was one of the most influential voices to speak out against the practice of slavery.
Mount Gay rum has a history that is closely associated with sailing and trade. As the easternmost island in the West Indies, Barbados was often the first port of call for ships traveling from Europe into the Caribbean and would be a prime location for ships to resupply with water, food, and (most importantly) local rum.
The distillery remained in private hands until 1989, when it was purchased by the French company Remy Cointreau.
- Learn More: What Is Rum?
Mount Gay is one of a handful of Caribbean rum producers who continue the tradition of using a double retort distillation process for their rum, including part of the rum used in this bottle.
All of the rum here starts as a sugary liquid formed with backstrap molasses (the end result of the sugar production process – for more information, check out our article ‘What is Rum?‘). That liquid is fermented into a slightly alcoholic mixture which is then distilled.
Some of the spirit in this expression is distilled in a normal column still, which quickly and continuously produces high alcohol content spirit. The more interesting component of this bottle is made using a traditional pot still with what’s called a “double retort” system, which is a system that forces the vapors coming off the main pot into a series of two additional chambers where it is further distilled before spitting out the other end. This system also allows for the addition of some flavors by varying the contents of those additional chambers, usually using liquid from previous distillation runs that has been specifically selected for their flavor qualities.
Once produced, the rum is matured in previously used American whiskey barrels for a period of time until the flavors are just right. Then, the various barrels are blended together and aged once more in heavily charred used bourbon barrels before bottling.
There’s really not much to write home about this bottle.
The bottle itself is a pretty reserved design: an oval cross-section body that quickly tapers to a medium length neck. The bottle is capped off with a wood and cork stopper. The only real interesting thing about the bottle is that the name of the distillery is embossed into the glass, meaning that this must have been a custom mold. (Which, since they have been around for a couple centuries, makes sense that they had time to make that happen.)
Labeling on the bottle is a little sparse, but appealing. There are three distinct labels on the front: the brand name (which seems to be consistent between all of their expressions), the specific expression of rum, and a black label with the legal requirements that need to be somewhere on the bottle. Overall, the labels feel like something out of a 18th century sailing ship, with weathered paper and black block lettering. It’s a nice thematic touch that really does incorporate some of that sailing history.
This rum is a beautiful medium amber color in the glass, significantly lighter than many of the other rums I’ve been reviewing, even despite the double aging that this one went through. Speaking of that double maturation — I would have expected that the aromas coming out of the glass would have been a bit bolder with heavy emphasis on the barrel aging components, but really it’s the rum that is the star of the show here. You can get the toffee and toasted caramel notes from the molasses, some mango and pineapple fruit, coconut, baking spices from the barrel aging, and just a hint of that funk you’d normally see with a high ester mark from Jamaica.
Taking a sip, the fruit and the vanilla are really what come through clearest. Mango, pineapple, banana, coconut, and vanilla — or even a bit of toasted caramel — are the key players here, with some baking spices bringing up the rear. On that finish, there’s a touch of bitterness and the fruity notes that last for just a few moments before disappearing.
Usually, when you add a bit of ice the more delicate components of the drink drop out of the running. Very often these are the fruity notes, as those are lighter, ester-driven components within the spirit that can’t really handle the cold. But in this case, the added ice really doesn’t actually impact the flavor profile that much.
The biggest changes here are the lack of bitterness on the finish that I saw before, and the baking spices taking more of a back seat. I think there’s more emphasis on the mango and pineapple, and I can almost see some of that hogo Jamaican-style funk peeking through as well. Not nearly as much as in something like Smith & Cross, but still enough to keep things interesting.
Fizz (Dark and Stormy)
This isn’t quite consistent with what I’d usually see in a Dark and Stormy, but I think it’s still pretty darn good in its own right.
Usually, this cocktail is mixed using a dark rum, something with a ton of age (or at least a ton of coloring and flavoring) that tries to balance out the brighter ginger beer flavors with something deeper and richer. This version takes a bit of a different tack (pardon the sailing pun), balancing that bright and sometimes bitter note with fruit and sweetness instead.
It’s lighter and more refreshing, really highlighting the pineapple and mango flavors that mix nicely with the ginger and line juice that I usually add. There’s even just a touch of that over-ripe or slightly rotten mango hogo note in there to add something interesting and different.
I think this is a pretty great rum. There are a ton of great flavors going on in here, with solid complexity, and it really reflects the history and character of the island nation of Barbados. It tastes like an island getaway in a glass, and even has some funk going to keep things interesting. Besides a bitter note in the finish, I think it’s a solid option for those looking for a good rum.
One interesting thing, though: I don’t know if I necessarily get all of the bourbon barrel aging notes in here. The baking spices and the vanilla are probably the strongest barrel components that make an appearance, and you can probably attribute some of the caramel to the barrels as well instead of just the molasses raw material. But the flavors aren’t nearly as strong or as bold as I’d expect in something like a bourbon. That’s not necessarily a knock on the spirit, just an interesting note that this isn’t the bourbon-barrel-bomb I was anticipating.
|Mount Gay Black Barrel|
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 43% ABV
Price: $34.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 4/5
Fruity rum with some funky characteristics… just avoid sipping neat.