It’s hard not to admire an artist who is willing to occasionally abandon the very tools that have won them critical acclaim. For a musician or filmmaker, that might be a purposeful move away from a sound or genre that has given them a rabid fanbase. For a chef, maybe it’s the decision to ditch a dish that is extremely popular with customers. And for Mount Gay Rum, it’s the choice to put out a release like The Madeira Cask Expression. With this bottle, the company’s Master Blender, Trudiann Branker is exploring a space so apart from Mount Gay’s core expressions that it can hardly even be referred to as the same category of product. It’s a wildly ambitious undertaking, but one with delicious results that speak for themselves.
This bottle is the latest release in the distillery’s Master Blender Collection, which began in 2018 with XO: The Peat Smoke Expression, followed with others such as Pot Still Rum, The Port Cask Expression, and last year’s Andean Oak. But where all of those bottles were at least based around core rums that were indicative of the Mount Gay house style, The Madeira Cask Expression diverges from most forms of precedent. It’s as if the goal was to be as disparate as possible, in fact.
For one, this is an entirely column still rum, an unusual thing from the Barbados distillery, whose flagship products are typically a blend of lighter column still rum and heavier, more ester-laden pot still product. Nor does this product apparently see any time inside of ex-American whiskey casks, in which most Mount Gay products would be aged—instead, it spent its entire six-year maturation inside casks that previous contained the Portuguese fortified wine Madeira.
These are choices that run against prevailing rum geek expectations and hype, which often favor pot still distillate and advanced age statements. Granted, there are aspects of this label that will still catch the rum geek’s eye, such as the sturdy 55% ABV (110 proof), which is higher than other Master Blender Collection bottles. But in general, it feels like quite an exotic concept, which Branker described below to local Barbados media:
I was inspired by Madeira’s rich history and expertise of aging wine. When we placed the column distilled rum in these beautiful barrels six years ago I had a patient curiosity knowing that one day the liquid from these barrels would bring an entirely new flavour profile to our distinct rum. What developed truly pushed my palate beyond what I thought Mount Gay rum could do and I’m proud to release Madeira Cask as this year’s Master Blender Collection.
So with that said, let’s get to tasting this truly unique Mount Gay Rum limited release.
On the nose, this bottle proves exotically fruity but oddly familiar all the same, with notes of poached pear, butterscotch, rhubarb and hints of earthier tobacco. I’m getting honeycomb-like sweetness and perhaps a bit of chocolate-covered shortbread, while the ethanol of this proof point stings a bit on some passes, but doesn’t seem particularly intense on others. This is a fine nose, but it evolves rapidly into a more complex one after the rum sits in the glass for a little while—suddenly, I’m getting the more intensely vinous, dried fruit character when I come back and taste it again a few minutes later. The Madeira has emerged, in other words, with a richly vinous array of concentrated fruit.
On the palate, this does have the lighter body of a column still aged rum, but the combination of proof point and rich fruit notes give it a difference kind of heft. I’m getting lots of vanilla, slightly floral, along with honeycomb, pears in syrup, citrus and dried fruit suggesting sultana. There’s also a subtle, not too aggressive brown spice creeping forward from the oak, tempered by fairly substantial ethanol heat. It’s a rum with great richness, but not a lot of actual, residual sweetness, which gives it a sophisticated sort of air.
All in all, this is one of those limited release rums that seems to be a tale that grows in the telling, a product that opens up and invites more tasting and contemplation as it sits in the glass. The Madeira cask character in particular can take a short while to emerge and truly open up, but it shines brightly when all is said and done. Branker’s experimentation paid off with a very memorable limited release.
Distillery: Mount Gay
City: Bridgetown, Barbados
ABV: 55% (110 proof)
Availability: Limited, 700 ml bottles, $220 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.