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Meet The Maker: Mount Gay’s master blender Trudiann Branker

Douglas Blyde speaks to Mount Gay’s Trudiann Branker, the first female master blender in Barbados, about the 300-year-old brand’s inaugural, terroir-led, single estate rum, which is set to become an annual release — and her hopes that more women will assume responsibilities in distilleries…

How did you become the first female master blender in Barbados?

I guess I could say I’ve been on the path to becoming a master blender since I began my studies, spending the entirety of my education focusing on the science of brewing and distillation. I received my degree in science from Howard University in DC, and following that, I studied at The Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago and with The Institute of Brewing and Distilling. After school, I returned to Barbados, and in 2014 started my journey at Mount Gay as quality assurance manager. I believe it was there that Allen Smith, our former master blender of 13 years, saw that I had what it would take to step into his role when he retired. He took me under his wing, and we worked closely together for five years until he retired.

When did you assume the role?

Taking over from Allen in 2019 was a pretty fluid transition. We all had discussions about when and what would happen. It was daunting to be asked, but a great honour and I felt that I was ready to take the role and make my mark on an iconic brand. As the first female master blender in Barbados, I’m proud that Mount Gay saw the potential in me, and I can only hope this means that more women will study chemistry and take on roles working at distilleries in the future.

What is the Single Estate Series?

In 2015, we purchased 324 acres of what were the historical Mount Gay and Oxford estates. This meant that, for the first time since the nineteenth century, Mount Gay became a fully integrated operation from soil-to-sip. On the Mount Gay Estate, our own sugar cane cultivars were developed to illustrate and translate the estate’s specific terroir. We harvested sugar cane from the estate transforming it into molasses which were fermented, distilled in copper pot stills, and then aged in our bonds in Saint Lucy. Over the years the Mount Gay Estate distillates were transformed, having been influenced by the characteristic tropical ageing conditions to create the first in this series: a Single Estate rum from Mount Gay.

What condition was the old Mount Gay Estate in when Mount Gay acquired it in 2015?

Prior to Mount Gay’s ownership, this was managed using conventional practices. Upon acquiring the estate, we focused on implementing sustainable agricultural practices, prioritising soil and crop health. Practices such as using organic inputs, crop rotation, mulches and compost were the building blocks on which the estate was reinvigorated.

How does the terroir of the Old Mount Gay Estate translate into the liquid that is Single Estate Series 23_01 Bn_Qa?

“Terroir” refers to the influence of the environment, soils and expertise conveyed to the finished liquid. From a geological perspective, Barbados is different to volcanically formed Caribbean islands. Our island is the product of accumulated and uplifted coral limestone. We have the resource of underground water, which is a key element in what makes Mount Gay’s rums so unique. Specifically on our estate, the shallow soil allows the fibrous roots of the canes to reach this limestone bedrock.

What does the number refer to?

The code on the bottle is an invitation to discover the liquid within. “23” stands for the release year, 2023, while “01” is the release number of this first edition. “Bn_Qa”, meanwhile, stands for the type of barrel used to age the rum, being Quercus Alba, ex-Bourbon casks. Each bottle of this annual release will have a unique code, detailing information about the release.

What were the conditions like during the vintages of 2016 and 2017?

In 2016 and 2017, we experienced years of average rainfall on the island, contributing to the optimal sugar cane growth for this First Single Estate Series.

How long was Single Estate Series 23_01 fermented?

Mount Gay Single Estate Series 23_01 has a much longer fermentation compared to our core range. Normally fermentation lasts for four days, but for Single Estate Series, fermentation lasted on average nine days. This led to a secondary fermentation which provided a really distinctive flavour giving specific Barbadian notes that we don’t normally encounter in our rums, like pineapple and guava. You really get the fruitier side of the congeners appearing.

What else might we find in the glass?

Beyond its light golden hues, the nose is filled with pear, plum, freshly cut flowers, dried fruits, nutmeg and lemon. The palate continues with sea salt, leather, ripe yellow banana, and star anise. This rum opens up over time, offering complexity and layers of flavour. To fully reveal the aromatic complexity of this unique rum, Mount Gay Single Estate Series 23_01 is best served neat.

How many bottles of Single Estate Series 23_01 are available, and where can we find it in the UK?

Only 4,002 bottles have been released as an exclusive batch. UK stockists include Master of Malt (£345) and Hedonism.

Do you anticipate it being collectable?

We have no doubt Mount Gay Single Estate Series 23_01 will be one to savour by admirers from around the world…

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Yes, take me to the Asia edition No