Pot still rum is often treated as a novelty or a flavoring agent in the modern rum market, doled out in small quantities into various blends in order to act as “the spice” or “the flourish” on top of a body largely composed of cleaner, more consistent column-distilled rums. The vast majority of modern rum (and really, modern liquors) come from column stills, which can produce larger quantities and more consistent, concentrated product—but without quite as much individuality and expressiveness that is often seen in high-ester pot still rums.
It’s easy to forget, though, that for several hundred years, pure pot still rum was the sole definition of the product. Prior to the introduction of column stills, every batch of rum came from pot stills, which likely contributed to products that were both characterful but somewhat inconsistent. But hey, it was the 1800s—it’s not as if consumers were about to write to the distillery’s PR team about batch-to-batch changes. In the modern era, however, consumers have increasingly gotten used to the carefully forged blends that are the backbones of most distilleries’ flagship products, and tasting a 100% pot still rum has become more of a rare occasion.
This is no doubt what new Mount Gay Master Blender Trudiann Branker—the brand’s first female master blender in its 300-year existence, and one of the few in the Caribbean rum industry—was thinking when she designed her first rum for the company. The second release in Mount Gay’s “Master Blender Collection,” following last year’s XO The Peat Smoke Expression, Mount Gay Pot Still Rum is a celebration of the way the brand spent more than 200 years producing their coveted liquid. It’s a 10-year-old spirit, distilled in 2009 and bottled at 96 proof, coming off the distillery’s classic pot stills, which are typically contributing toward classic Mount Gay expressions like XO and 1703—both of which were created by Branker’s predecessor Allen Smith, who served as Master Blender for more than 25 years. As a native Bajan, it only makes sense that Branker’s first introduction of her blending skills to the Mount Gay audience would be as a celebration of the brand’s oldest techniques.
So with that said, let’s get to tasting.
On the nose, the Master Blender Collection: Pot Still Rum is enticingly funky, with bold notes of toffee and butterscotch, along with a distinctly earthy signature that is a bit “forest floor” in nature, along with candied apple fruitiness.
On the palate, this release is both complex and plenty assertive, redolent in both spice and fruit, along with its woodier, more sugar-driven side. Candied ginger dukes it out with dessert banana and grilled pineapple, although there’s a grassier, funkier undercurrent that is almost reminiscent of well-aged rhum agricoles, which tend to lose their more assertive funkiness as they mellow out in oak. Probing farther, I’m getting notes of spearmint, pineapple and custard/creme brulee, although I should note that this really isn’t a very sweet rum overall—it evokes all sorts of confections in terms of flavor rather than residual sweetness, finishing fairly dry overall, with a savoriness that suggests tobacco leaves and cedar cigar box.
All in all, this is a wonderfully complex, well-rounded and tasty dram, which is what you’d be hoping for in something that is meant to be a showcase for Bajan rum purity. Unfortunately, it is quite a limited release indeed, with a total of 4,920 bottles, only 1,002 of which are headed to the U.S. If you’re a fan of classic Barbados rums, good luck in acquiring one.
Distillery: Mount Gay
City: Bridgetown, Barbados
ABV: 48% (96 proof)
Availability: Limited, 750 ml bottles, $170 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident brown liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.