Mount Gay has been distilling and blending rum longer than any other currently operating distillery in the world — the brand marked its 320th anniversary in 2023. But with its new Single Estate Series, Mount Gay is going in a direction that harkens back to its earliest history. For the first time in living memory, every part of the rum-making process, from growing the sugarcane to bottling the finished rum, has been done entirely on the Mount Gay estate by the brand’s own team. The result is a classic Barbados rum that highlights the terroir of the island, while at the same time standing apart from every other expression in the Mount Gay range.
When Mount Gay was founded in 1703, Barbados’ cash crop was sugarcane, and where there was sugarcane, there was rum. Barbados was the preeminent rum-producing British colony in the Caribbean, exporting to both North America and England. By the 1800s, however, sugarcane production on the island had begun a long decline for various economic and political reasons. By the 1970s, when Mount Gay sold off its sugarcane plantation, the Bajan sugar industry was all but defunct. The cane that was still grown there was shared by the four distilleries on the island and combined with sugarcane imported from elsewhere in the Caribbean; all four distilleries used the same sugar mill to extract the molasses that’s used to make rum.
Fast forward to 2014, the year the Mount Gay distillery was acquired by Remy Cointreau (Remy had owned the brand since 1989). The land next to the distillery, which was used for growing sugarcane, went on the market, and its acquisition was finalized the next year. Of its 324 acres, about 190 are used for growing sugarcane at any one time, according to Mount Gay’s sustainability manager, Jacklyn Broomes. That’s not nearly enough to supply all of the brand’s needs, but it’s enough to do one special bottling a year. Enter the Single Estate Series.
The goal with the Single Estate Series was for every step of the rum-making process to be done in-house by Mount Gay employees, which meant a fairly steep learning curve was involved. “We’ve always been distillers,” says Mount Gay’s master blender, Trudiann Branker. “We’ve always been blenders. That we’ve got down pat. [But] it was to become farmers … to really marry what we saw as the vision for Single Estate, being the traditional farming practices.” A dozen employees were added to handle the farming and harvesting, with Jacklyn Broomes overseeing them.
For the milling process, in which the molasses used to make rum is produced, the Portvale sugar factory — the lone mill on the island — was employed (Mount Gay now has its own sugar mill, which opened in 2022). Rather than using blackstrap molasses, which is what’s traditionally processed at Portvale, Branker opted to make higher quality Grade A molasses. She also had other specific requests. “I have no career in sugar, and I’m saying to them, ‘Wash your factory. Give me [Grade] A molasses. Separate it from everything else that you’re doing. And by the way, I want to control the specifications.’ I think, at first they looked at me and the rest of the team like, they have lost their minds! The first year, it was a challenge. And then every year after that, it became almost like we became part of the culture.” The team would go so far as to clean the factory before milling, ensuring that only Mount Gay sugarcane would find its way into the rum.
Barbadian sugarcane is different from what’s grown in the rest of the Caribbean. “We’re the only island in the Caribbean chain that is limestone. All of the others are volcanic,” Jacklyn Broomes says. “Our soils in St. Lucy [where the estate is located] are high in clays, which means that they retain nutrients well. Tthey are shallow, but still good for sugarcane. And the limestone bedrock is very close to the surface of the soil, which means that our sugarcane roots can be influenced by the mineralogy found in the limestone soil.”
Single Estate Series 23_01, the first in what’s planned as an annual release, is distilled from Grade A molasses from estate-grown sugarcane harvested in 2016 and 2017. The cane and the molasses aren’t the only things that separate this expression from the rest of the Mount Gay roster. Branker says she undertakes a longer fermentation process, “allowing the secondary atmospheric yeast to really go in for that second fermentation for a very long time. We ferment for nine days, not our traditional three to four days.” Where Mount Gay is typically distilled in a mix of pot and column stills, Single Estate Series is 100% pot still, which results in a more flavorful, complex final product. After 5-6 years of tropical aging in ex-bourbon barrels at the estate, it’s bottled at 55% ABV; the rest of the permanent range is bottled between 40-43%. “The ABV journey is one that I don’t take lightly,” Branker notes. “I’m always very keen on what strength to express an edition at, because it makes a difference in how it’s perceived. For me, 55% was really where I think the essence of the blend started to shine more. It’s where you were able to kind of pick up the discrete [flavor] notes.” It’s additive-free and non-chill filtered, so the influence of the casks is unadulterated.
Branker’s instincts clearly paid off. Single Estate Series is an impeccable rum, with aromas of pear, oak and honey wafting out of the glass. On the palate, burnt caramel and creamy vanilla give off a creme brulee vibe, underpinned by ripe pear, banana, and peppery oak, culminating in a long, oak-and-toffee finish. It’s certainly of a piece with other Mount Gay rums, especially Black Barrel. But it’s far deeper, richer, and multi-layered. Given its high proof, it’s highly quaffable without water — it’s a strong rum, but lacks the alcoholic heat that can taint so many high-ABV rums.
Even the packaging stands out from the rest of the Mount Gay line. The dark, lightweight bottle is made from 70% recycled glass, and the outer packaging is single-material to make it more recycling-friendly. It’s all part of the brand’s drive toward complete sustainability. “Yeah, that’s definitely something that everyone on the team is working on,” Branker observes. “It’s really a core part of who we are. I mean, we are 320 years old. I think for us, it is extremely important that the next 320 are done correctly, and that they are also able to make rum. So absolutely, you have to respect not only your your processes and what you do, but your your environment and your impact on on the on the areas in which you operate.”
While the Single Estate Series will be released on a yearly basis, the rum itself will differ from year to year, depending on the weather, which varietals of sugarcane are selected for milling, and other factors left more up to nature than the brand. The first edition, 23_01, is limited to 4,002 bottles worldwide, 1,200 of which will be available in the U.S. at a suggested retail price of $400 — emphasis on “suggested,” as it’ll likely be hard to find it at that price. To go further down the Single Estate Series rabbit hole, visit Mount Gay’s website, or if you’re feeling lucky, search out a bottle, each one of which contains a QR code tracing the story of the rum inside, from the sugarcane fields of St. Lucy to the bottling plant.