If you were to ask a random person on the street where they thought the oldest operating distillery in the New World was, they would probably choose somewhere in the USA or Canada. Some, upon thinking about it, might come up with Mexico or Cuba…possibly Brazil. None of these people would be correct.
Whiskey may be the dominant spirit in the New World, but rum has been here almost as long as they’ve been growing sugar cane; and the oldest operating distillery on this side of the Prime Meridian is in Barbados: Mount Gay Distilleries.
Mount Gay Distilleries has been in operation on Barbados since 1703 (and they have the documents to prove it), making it the oldest operating distillery in the Americas, and one of the oldest in the entire world. That’s quite a distinction, and Mount Gay wears it proudly.
I was first introduced to the Mt. Gay brand while on my honeymoon in St. Lucia, although it is my understanding that the rum is very well-known on the Eastern Seaboard of the US and Canada (living in on the other coast sometimes has its disadvantages). My introduction was through the Mt. Gay Eclipse product, which was one of my many alternatives to the local Bounty rum (not that Bounty was bad) for my various cocktails. I haven’t delved back in to Eclipse since those heady days of…honeymoon stuff…so I can’t really speak about it intelligently.
I received my first bottle of the Extra Old from my sister-in-law as a birthday present. That bottle was not used for this review, because it didn’t last long enough to be used for one. No, I had to go out and get a whole ‘nuther bottle for this review. It’s hard, but these are the sacrifices that have to be made.
The Extra Old (often written as “XO”…if you’re new to spirits you might have wondered why people talked about “XO” all the time, it means “Extra Old”…see? You’ve learned something already!) has a beautiful, warm, gold coloring to it.
A quick swirl of the spirit shows it’s legs to be thin, and an almost ribbon-like ring forms after the swirl before it dimples and then collapses into the glass.
The smell of the rum is really rather pleasant. The first thing I catch is the smell of citrus and banana. Looking over my notes from my last visit with this rum, I see that I found cocoa up front last time, but this time I have to search for that to find it. A few extra swirls of the glass though, and there it is – revealed possibly by the extra time to breathe, the extra swirling to aerate, or just the fact that I wanted to smell it and so I did (which is one of the reasons I try not to read other people’s notes before doing one of these reviews…the power of suggestion is amazing).
There is a subtle sweetness underneath these fruitier tones, just a hint of molasses mixed in with an oaky, woody scent.
The nose promises good things, and my tongue has just informed me that my nose did not lie. There’s a slightly oily texture to the rum as it glides over my taste buds, and I’m struck at once by the woody notes from the time spent aging in barrels (the blend of rums comes out with an average age of 17 years). There is the taste of banana leaf and some coffee, followed by a peppery spice on the finish. The burn is non-existent in the throat, but this is a rum that stays with you after every sip (in a good way), as you feel the oily, peppery after-effects on your tongue, and the warm, glowing, rummy warmingness of the rum in your chest.
The Long & The Short Of It
This is an excellent rum. It’s fantastic. I mean, you’d figure that the guys that have been doing this for over 300 years would be pretty good at it, and they certainly seem to be. This rum is wonderful in cocktails, and terrific on its own or with a cube or two of ice. Drinking it, you feel like when you blink you might find yourself sitting on the porch of a large sugar plantation in the South Caribbean, looking out on a sloop sailing in to the bay.
Mt. Gay XO is actually one of my favorite stand-by spirits after a long day – sometimes neat, sometimes in my fall-back cocktail of Mt. Gay XO, lime juice, blood orange bitters, and soda. I’m sure there’s a name for that…I just call it “delicious”. And that’s what this venerable spirit is: delicious.
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