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The World’s Oldest Rum Distillery Talks Sustainability, Stills, And The Future

Mount Gay World's Oldest Rum Distillery

Master Blender Trudiann Branker tells us about how Mount Gay is focusing on sustainability and the future, without losing sight on what brought them to the forefront of Barbadian rum.

Mount Gay traces its roots back to 1703. It’s the world’s oldest rum distillery, and the first to come to mind when thinking about rum from Barbados. They’re the ones who created the idea that Barbadian rum is balanced and elegant.

Even as the original trailblazers in the rum category, sustainability is top of mind for Trudiann Branker, Mount Gay’s Master Blender, “Mount Gay is committed to sustainability across all aspects of its operations,” she tells us. From water to agriculture and biodiversity to social responsibility, the future of our planet and rum production plays into every decision made by the distiller.

We sat down with Branker who told us about Mount Gay keeps an eye on the future, including rums coming from a new still.

Trudiann Branker Mount Gay Master Blender

Spirited: Can you tell us a bit about the history of Mount Gay?

Trudiann Branker: Mount Gay embodies the rich history and heritage of Barbadian rum-making, tracing its roots back to 1703, making it the world’s oldest running rum distillery. For over three centuries, Mount Gay has been synonymous with craftsmanship, tradition, and excellence, crafting premium rums that capture the spirit and essence of the Caribbean. Mount Gay is an icon of Barbados. The distillery has been at the same location, crafting rums without interruption, for more than 320 years.

Sp: In many ways, Mount Gay is the epitome of Barbadian rum. What makes rum from Barbados special and how does it differ from other Caribbean rums, such as Jamaican rum or Dominican rum or rum from Trinidad and Tobago?

TB: Mount Gay celebrates the unique essence of Barbadian rum by harnessing the island’s natural resources and centuries-old distillation techniques. Barbadian rum is known for its balance, dry yet elegant taste, and also its versatility, attributed to the tropical climate and rich soil of Barbados, but also for blending together various types of distillation. Unlike other island rums, which may have bolder and more robust flavours, or a very sweet and mellow taste, Mount Gay offers rums a refined, rich and balanced taste profile that reflects the island’s heritage and craftsmanship.

Sp: As the oldest rum distillery in the world, how do you continue to innovate, while also celebrating tradition?

TB: Mount Gay takes pride in its legacy while embracing innovation to push the boundaries of rum-making. By combining traditional distillation methods with modern techniques, Mount Gay creates distinctive expressions that honour its heritage while catering to evolving consumer tastes. Whether introducing limited-edition releases like the Master Blender Collection or exploring innovative cask finishes, Mount Gay remains committed to preserving rum making traditions, only using three ingredients, molasses, water and yeast, and not adding sugar, while adapting to modern preferences.

Sp: Can you tell us a bit about Mount Gay’s stills?

TB: Mount Gay utilizes both traditional copper pot stills and column stills in its distillation process. These stills allow Mount Gay to capture the essence of Barbadian terroir, producing rums with depth, character, and complexity. This is the use of these various types of stills, and different shapes of copper pot stills too, that allow us to create different types of rums that, once matured separately and blended, offer this unique, rich and balanced taste Mount Gay is famous for. 

As you may know, we also recommissioned a 100% copper Coffey Still in 2018. This still dates from the 1920s and requires a very artisanal touch, is very special, and we have been told there are only three full copper Coffey stills currently in activity, and this is the only one in the rum world… We look forward to sharing some first distillates soon…

Sp: From American Bourbon Casks to Madeira Casks to Port Casks and beyond, the brand is no stranger to working with a variety of barrels. How do you go about the process of choosing what rum goes into which cask and how do you know something has been aged for long enough?

TB: Our mission is to honor our past and preserve and nourish the future of Barbados rum through tradition and innovation. Thanks to the skills, knowledge and curiosity of previous generations here at Mount Gay, we have been able to innovate and create new products, pushing the boundaries of the category whilst looking towards the future ahead. This is how we came up with the first XO of the rum category in the early 1990s, followed by many since then. This is why we are always open to trying out different barrels, even barrels never used in rum before, such as the Andean Oak we released in 2021. When it comes to ageing it’s all about taste. We won’t take an expression out until it’s ready: time and patience are the fourth ingredient at Mount Gay. We are willing to be patient to get it right, and we will not compromise or add sugar to save time.

Sp: Sustainability has become an important part of spirits making. What steps is Mount Gay taking to address sustainability? And how does the distillery plan to become more sustainable in the future?

TB: Mount Gay is committed to sustainability across all aspects of its operations, from conserving water, exploring renewable energy sources and implementing waste reduction strategies. The distillery actively engages with local communities and environmental organizations to promote conservation efforts in Barbados. Mount Gay is committed to advancing sustainability goals to inspire positive change and protect Mount Gay and Barbados for future generations.

Mount Gay Rum is committed to sustainability through five key pillars:

Agriculture & Biodiversity: implement regenerative agriculture practices and for instance use 100% organic fertilizers to support biodiversity and sustainable farming.

Energy: By 2028, we aim to rely entirely on renewable energy sources, reducing our environmental footprint. For that, we have installed solar panels on most roofs and have plans for a solar panel farm on the Estate.

Water: 100% of Mount Gay Estate fields are irrigated with vinasse, a byproduct of rum production, to ensure efficient water management and conservation whilst providing to the Estate soils nutriments.

Carbon Footprint: We are working to reduce our carbon footprint by 50% per bottle by 2030, reducing the weight of our bottles, adding more recycled glass, introducing a circular recycling model program in Barbados, etc.

Social and Societal Responsibility: We are committed to mindful engagement with communities, contributing positively to social well-being and fostering meaningful societal impact. This can be illustrated by the long-term collaboration with Barbados organisations promoting responsible consumption, beach clean ups, Barbadian student scholarships, …

Mount Gay rum and soda

Sp: Let’s talk about cocktails. When you make a rum, there are obviously a lot of different steps involved. Is there ever a time when you think, “this rum will be used for cocktails?”

TB: Mount Gay carefully crafts its rums with versatility in mind, ensuring that each expression can be enjoyed neat, on the rocks, in spirits-forward cocktails or, like in Barbados, with mixers such as soda water, sparkling water, tonic water, ginger ale, etc. Eclipse is crisp and aromatic, and it works really when topped with these various “waters”… Eclipse is also the benchmark for a classic rum punch. We truly believe in offering a pure interpretation of what rum tastes like, flavourful, rich yet versatile and balanced. This is the spirit and the intention we try to share with our latest campaign and the line “Taste the Good Life”, the way we share and enjoy rum and significant moments together, in Barbados.

Sp: Do you have a favorite cocktail to make with one of Mount Gay’s rums?

TB: I don’t drink cocktails very often, so if I’m going to have something I often go for XO and soda water. XO is also delicious with a large coconut water ice cube. We call it the Coco Hill! When you visit Barbados, I would recommend having a Mount Gay Silver and soda water, with a dash of fresh lime juice. This is very balanced, citrusy and refreshing.

Sp: How do you like to enjoy your rum?

TB: I like to keep things simple so I typically enjoy my rum on the rocks or with soda water but you can’t go wrong with it in a cocktail.

Sp: What makes Mount Gay rum unique?

TB: As the World’s oldest running rum distillery, dating back to 1703, Mount Gay offers consumers distinct flavours and great tasting rums thanks to its island roots and soil, but also its island heritage and culture: all play a significant role in Mount Gay’s style and taste, inviting, generous, rich, balanced. For more than 320 years, we have built and shared our expertise in order to champion great tasting rum with taste at the forefront. Mount Gay’s unique taste across our expressions is a result of a variety of the sugar cane we select, the fermentation and distillation types, and the casks utilized during the maturation process, crystalized in the end in the blending, the art of blending, as it combines technics and skills with intuition and creativity.

For more information on the world’s oldest rum distillery, head over to the brand’s official website.