Rum Review: Mt. Gay Origin Series Vol. 1
Mount Gay Origin Series Volume One Review
It’s fair to say that special cask finishes are taking the rum world by storm. Of course the practice is nothing new, but with a renewed focus, producers are attempting to create excitement among rum connoisseurs by tweaking the last step in the production process (and it’s working).
The latest to hit the market here in California is Mount Gay’s Origin Series. Volume One is comprised of two finishes: Virgin Cask, which was finished in new French oak barrels, and Charred Cask, which was finished in deeply charred American oak (ex-Bourbon barrels). I was under the misapprehension that these rums were going to be aged solely in these barrel types, but no, they are blends which are truly only “finished” in these casks. Let’s take a look and see what we have here.
The two rums come packaged in a handsome brown box which could fairly be described as understated. The bottles themselves are just 375 milliliters each, and the labels are plain white with black print. They look experimental–as if they came directly from Mount Gay Master Blender Allen Smith’s lab. The flask style bottles are finished with simple metal screw caps. The liquid within is 43% ABV and the set is priced locally at $80.
In contrast to the simplicity of the packaging is the accompanying booklet that comes tucked away inside the box, which explains a bit about Mount Gay, Allen’s approach to blending, the cask finishes, and how to evaluate them. With no copyright on the booklet (oops!) I took the liberty of scanning it for your reading here.
Let’s dive in and have a taste.
Bottle 13464 out of an unknown number
In the glass, the Mount Gay Virgin Cask bears a light golden color. A swirl produces an evenly distributed set of droplets that quickly head south before a second set of droplets form and move more slowly. Initial aromas are of lemon zest, almonds, floral perfume, vanilla, and cherry pipe tobacco.
A super piquant entry provides a lot for the taste buds to decipher, and it takes a few sips to become attuned to the spirit. The tannins coat the front and upper portions of the palate, providing a dose of oak before the citrus zest comes in—now suggestive more of white grapefruit than lemon. Again we note the almond note, which is paired with the pipe tobacco and a bit of saddle leather. One might expect the piquant notes to die down eventually, but they never seem to, as the white grapefruit and lemon zest persist even as additional flavors make themselves known. Spices do emerge on subsequent sips, however, including allspice and nutmeg, black pepper and a touch of cinnamon. The long, sharp finish is dominated by the rancio and floral notes, backed up by leather and cinnamon.
Bottle 514 out of an unknown number
In the glass, the charred cask is a darker gold to mahogany with flashes of copper. A swirl yields a ring of droplets that fall slowly. The nose bears a big dose of charred oak and fruit, dominated by citrus zest and stewed peaches. Saddle leather is up next followed by a bit of clove-studded orange.
The entry is sharp, but is significantly attenuated by the sweet oak notes. Quickly bracing the sweet oak is a goodly dose of black pepper and tannins, which is followed by the clove-studded orange. Here now is the saddle leather and a hint of pink peppercorn. After a time, other wood flavors come to the fore, namely cedar. The finish is long and surprisingly dry, dominated by the pink peppercorn and clove-studded orange.
Kudos to Mount Gay for branching out in these new directions; it’s given rum aficionados something new from a distillery with roots more than three centuries old. I myself was incredibly excited to get my hands on these, but after sitting with them for a couple days, I must admit they were a bit of a letdown, and not just because the juice wasn’t as good as some of their standard marques. The French oak finish was really interesting, as it was big departure from the standard Mount Gay flavor profile, but the charred cask was akin to a sweeter, more tannic version of Black Barrel.
So let’s get real: barring an impulse buy at travel retail, releases like these are for hardcore rum nerds and Mount Gay super fans. At $80 dollars for two 375 ml bottles, casual rum drinkers would never dream of buying these, and in fact, after issuing offers to procure extra sets of these bottles for some close rum friends, it became clear that I was in the minority of rum aficionados willing to part with the requisite cash. Eighty dollars can buy you a lot of good rum after all, so there’s the notion of relative value working against these. On the flip side is the potential future value as collector’s items and the novelty of the finishes. But if we agree that these are mostly for hardcore rum fans, then what is missing?
For one thing, age. Despite Mount Gay’s history of releasing products with no age statements, if these releases are designed to educate the consumer and give them a window into the world of rum blending and finishing, then why not allow more of a look under the bonnet? Tell us more; it’s not like you’re giving away the keys to the distillery. Aficionados would also like to know the percentage of pot versus column, and the length of time each was aged in ex-Bourbon barrels before being blended and re-aged in the special casks. Another glaring omission is the size of the release. One bottle was number 514, while the other was 13464. Knowing the total number of bottles would provide the consumer with a better sense of the rarity of these bottles and further inform their purchasing decisions.
The next release in the Origin Series is already hitting shelves in Barbados and other lucky retail outlets east of here. That release is comprised of the copper pot and copper column distillates we learned of last year during our visit to the distillery. For those who enjoyed the Wards’ Mount Gilboa line of 100% pot still rums, this will be both a familiar friend and a chance to try your hand at recreating Mount Gay’s signature pot/column blend. And despite my complaints (constructive criticism, really) I’ll be sure to buy a set or two.