Allen Smith loves bourbon. The Master Blender for Mount Gay Rum has used bourbon barrels as a key step in the aging and blending process across the portfolio of the Bajan rums. But when Smith was given free rein to create a new expression of the classic spirit, he want heavy on the bourbon – very heavy.
To craft the rum, sugar cane is fermented and distilled in both single-column and pot stills, employing water run through the giant coral filtration system that is the island of Barbados. Then Smith loads up the bourbon layer to the rum by finishing it off in charred American oak barrels that once held the Kentucky whiskey and soaked up its smoky, honeyed sweetness.
The finished version, Mount Gay Black Barrel, has a fairly classic rum nose – rich with fruit sugars and vanillas, not something that suggests you'd want to drink it neat. On the palate, however, it reveals itself to be another animal altogether – a rum suffused with a little bite. The heat, peppers, and a touch of the spring water sweetness of the bourbon yield a spirit that is earthy, complex, and worthy of savoring. It sips like a good whiskey, one to dilute with a few drops of water to release the aromatics and better enjoy the spectrum of flavors. While it can work well in cocktails like Manhattan riffs and Dark 'n' Stormys, this one deserves to be enjoyed on its own. The Black Barrel could be a gateway rum for those who aren't fans of the spirit, much in the same way that the cucumber-rich Hendrick's converted many who'd steered clear of gin. And while there are other rums that are refined and delicate enough to warrant this whiskey-style sipping approach, they tend to be expensive. At $29.99 a bottle, the Mount Gay Black Barrel is an extremely approachable sipper. [mountgayrum.com]