HELD up to the light, the heady liquid in our glasses shimmers copper. Nosing the newly-released Mount Gay XO The Peat Smoke Expression reminds one of overripe bananas tossed with bay leaves (or dried thyme, the next best approximation), while crushing earthy peat underfoot.
Wait – that last element isn’t common in rum. Birthed of molasses on sugarcane plantations, the beverage so often associated with pillaging, one-eyed pirates more often sports just herbaceous, grassy notes pepped up with citrus or berries and couched by vanilla and caramel. So there’s usually plenty of warmth, but no fire or smoke.
But it turns out Mount Gay – the world’s oldest rum distillery and certainly the biggest name on Barbados – isn’t afraid of experimenting. And so master distiller Allen Smith took a blend of 8- to 15-year rum and finished it in heavily peated casks from Islay, and the product’s delicious. Banana-forward with nuts and cherry apple goes down smooth, aided by a long-lasting, creamy finish. (Disclaimer: We never did shake from them where exactly the casks come from, but we’re ardent fans of an Islay-based whisky distillery and we picked up overlaps.)
The drink – bottled at cask strength (57% ABV, avast!) is aromatic and memorable, but equally mesmerising is the animated gent telling us that Disney’s among the main culprits for giving the amber liquid somewhat of an off-brand rep as cheap swill for pirates. In reality, sea-faring was the realm of the wealthy and the educated, and rum among the preferred spirits, and it was only later with the advent of privateering did distilled rum (or grog) become tied to the buccaneering horde.
Miguel Smith is six years the international ambassador for the distinguished distillery, so we sit him down for a quick pow-wow to see what we’ve been missing out on.
Q: You mentioned rum was the drink of the wealthy and that the association with pirates was very much a historical inaccuracy. Do you think this has been a boon or bane to the rum industry?
Q: What’s rum traditionally best enjoyed with?
Q: Could you list three Asian dishes that you think or know would go down great with Mount Gay? What about them makes the pairing tick?
Satay is a natural pairing with rum, especially with Mount Gay Black Barrel, as the charred flavors from both make for a rich experience, with layers of spice, smoke, and light sweetness. The nuttiness of the satay sauce works really nicely with the almond notes in the Black Barrel.
Rendang probably is one of the most flavorful and complex dishes in this region! Exotic spices like cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon actually play a big part in the cuisines of Barbados and the Caribbean, so Caribbean rums have always paired well with cooking that features these spices. I love pairing our XO and Black Barrel with rich, aromatic foods such as rendang, as both rums are very persistent, and have big flavor profiles that can hold their own against a heady, robust meat course.
Dessert: Khanom Khrok
These amazing little coconut rice cakes from Thailand look simple to make, but are super flavorful and fragrant – the coconut aroma and the richness of the cake itself pair perfectly
with Mount Gay XO. The rich pastry notes in the rum bring out a new spicy dimension to the cake’s flavor profile, enriching the whole experience!
Q: Pirates aside, the biggest misconception about rum is..?
… that it is a one-dimensional, unsophisticated spirit with no flavor, and no interesting history to speak of.
Clearly we have multi-dimensional rums worthy of any premium offering that are relevant in any situation, be it for an aperitif, cocktail hour, or a lazy evening with a cigar, or a complex dessert rum that satisfies every taste.
Rum is also a bit more fun since it is not a spirit that takes itself too seriously.
Q: What can fans look forward to coming out of Mount Gay?
As long as there is a demand for premium rums from us, we will continue to pursue the best possible rum on earth. We will also continue to release traditional rums incorporating our traditional methods that we hope our dedicated fans and new consumers will like.