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 third year.
After two previous releases that dabbled in peat (The Peat Smoke Expression) and pot still purity (Mount Gay Pot Still Rum), 2020’s Master Blender Collection series release is The Port Cask Expression. It’s the first time in the centuries-long history of Mount Gay that the company has commercially released a rum expression aged and finished in tawny port casks, and it feels like a special occasion indeed.
Created by Branker as Master Blender, The Port Cask Expression is “a blend of rums distilled in traditional column stills aged for 5 years in tawny port casks, together with rums double distilled in copper pot stills aged for 14 years in American whiskey casks and finished in tawny port casks for 1 year.” The product is non-chill filtered and bottled at a barrel proof of 110 (55% ABV), and carries a rather heavy MSRP of $175. The size of the batch totals around 6,000 bottles, which begin hitting shelves on Oct. 12, 2020.
Speaking with Branker during a virtual tasting of The Port Cask Expression, she stressed the differences between rum aged in tawny port casks (the column-distilled portion) and rum finished in port casks (the pot still portion), saying that the long maturation of the latter in American whiskey barrels was a necessity to produce a product that still reads as “rum with a port finish,” rather than “port liquid with a rum finish.” Clearly, it was a priority that the Mount Gay house style be maintained.
So with that said, let’s get to the tasting.
On the nose, The Port Cask Expression reads as a decadent delight, with mouthwatering impressions of chocolate, plum, digestive biscuits (very “brown sugar biscuit”), allspice, clove and restrained ethanol. It’s ever-so-slightly vinous, as one might expect after the port cask aging, and the alcohol is very much in line with where it should be, considering the 110 proof. It smells very rich, festive and cocoa-driven, which can often be the case with port-finished rums and whiskies.
On the palate, this is absolutely unctuous, with an incredibly thick mouthfeel that is smooth as butter. Molasses and dark chocolate lead off, into fruit-driven notes of plum and dark berries, segueing into a panoply of baking spices that include candied ginger and allspice. Sweetness is on the higher side, as you’d likely expect, but held together with a proof point that is perfectly integrated for 55% ABV. The finish goes on and on, evolving with more dried fruit and baking spices—you’re still tasting each sip, five minutes later.
Suffice to say, The Port Cask Expression is both delicious and decadent, a real treat that is still drier than most of the sugar-laden premium rums you’d label as “after dinner” sippers. The price point and limited availability will no doubt put it out of reach for many drinkers, but this absolutely tastes like something that you’d expect to be expensive—it has the balance, the complexity and the assertiveness to back up a premium asking price and then some. It’s just a fabulous rum, offering a welcome evolution to the Mount Gay house style, and it only reinforces the notion that this company’s Master Blender Collection is a special series indeed. After Pot Still and now The Port Cask Expression, this collection will be sought out by rum collectors all around the world.
Distillery: Mount Gay
City: Bridgetown, Barbados
ABV: 55% (110 proof)
Availability: Limited, 750 ml bottles, $175 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident brown liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.