I love talking about rum, because rum has a great story behind it, and its story might best be embodied by Mount Gay, the Barbados distiller known as the "rum that invented rum." They’ve got a pretty good claim to that, as the oldest surviving official deed for the company dates to 1703, which happens to be 310 years ago. I visited Barbados in 2011 and had the pleasure of meeting Mount Gay’s master blender, Allen Smith, who showed me around the distillery and taught me quite a bit about rum. Yesterday, he returned the favor by visiting me in New York, dropping by the office to introduce the latest marque in the Mount Gay rum portfolio: Mount Gay Black Barrel.
Mount Gay Black Barrel is a tasty yet versatile rum, smooth enough for straight sipping and flavorful enough to mix into cocktails that still taste like rum cocktails. I tried it neat, and noticed a spicy, woody aroma and flavors of pepper, vanilla, and caramel. It doesn’t need ice, just a glass. However, at a suggested retail price of $30, it’s great for mixing, and I tried it with just about the simplest cocktail there is: rum and ginger ale. The flavors mingled harmoniously in my mouth, the ginger dancing with the spicy edge of the sugar cane-based spirit. Even in a cocktail, the rum kept its character, gracefully carrying on a lineage that dates back countless generations.
So why is it fun to talk about rum? Because you can impress people by telling them, over tumblers of rum, that rum is the original spirit of the Caribbean. It came about because sugar producers had a whole bunch of molasses, which is a byproduct of sugar production, that they didn’t know what to do with. They had so much sticky molasses that they’d dump barrels of it into the ocean, until some genius realized that you could distill it into alcohol. The white "kill devil" rum was shipped to the New World in barrels, and after long journeys, the recipients realized that the time it spent in wooden barrels made it smooth and less harsh tasting, as well as giving it a nice amber color. (You can also tell people that, unlike most spirits, rum is gluten-free.)
And the rest is history. Okay, there’s plenty of dark history involving the slave trade and the inhumane things people did to each other back then, but through it all, rum just kept getting better and better, with Mount Gay being joined by other producers, from Appleton in Jamaica to Bacardi in Cuba (and, later, Puerto Rico).
But as for the Mount Gay Black Barrel, it gets the name because it’s mellowed in charred bourbon oak barrels, which look black on the inside. But whatever the name, it’s a fine pour, punching well above its price point in quality. Mount Gay Black Barrel will be widely available in April, where you’ll be able to enjoy it in such bars as Manhattan’s Rum House. Can’t wait until then? Hang out with me. Allen left me a bottle. It won’t last long.