We recently had the pleasure of speaking with Trudiann Branker, one of the foremost rum experts and the first female master blender at Mount Gay - the world's oldest rum distillery. We discuss distillery traditions, innovations and some of her most memorable moments in the industry - we hope you enjoy! If you have any further questions, please get in touch and we would love to reach out and ask Trudiann for you.
Could you please introduce yourself explaining your role at Mount Gay, including a brief overview of how you got involved in the rum industry?
My name is Trudiann Branker, and I have been the Master Blender at Mount Gay since April 2019. My journey to this role is founded in my passion for science. I initially studied at Howard University, where I received dual degrees in Biology and Chemistry. This acted as the basis for my future in blending.
After university, I went on to study at Siebel Institute and the Institute of Brewing and Distilling. I then returned to Barbados where I worked with a brewer, and following that, I moved to Mount Gay where I worked as Quality Assurance Manager. It was then that former Master Blender Allen Smith took me under his wing to prepare me for my current role of Master Blender.
Can you describe the characteristics of the rums you produce at the distillery in just a few words?
Mount Gay is the world’s oldest running rum distillery, dating back to a deed in 1703. We have centuries of experience spent refining our rums. Our core range is fruity, full-bodied, bold and rich. And our limited edition range is a chance for me to explore my creativity and push the boundaries of traditional rum-making.
Mount Gay is the world’s oldest running rum distillery. How do you balance creativity and experimentation whilst still honouring the traditions and history of Mount Gay?
Our core range is very much steeped in tradition. In 2019, I revisited the blends for XO and Black Barrel, which saw a wider range of aged rums used in both and a third type of barrel used in the XO blend.
However, the limited-edition range called The Master Blender Collection is my chance to push the boundaries of rum-making and explore through distillation types, different barrel ageing and finishes. From time to time, we also release other limited editions, like The Republic Blend, which was created to celebrate Barbados’ move to Republic status in November 2021.
As more rum distilleries open across the globe, how does Mount Gay continue to make an impression among growing competition?
More rum distilleries opening speak to the popularity of the category itself, and I think it’s great to see more people working to make rum something that steps above the rum cliché of holiday cocktails and pirates. It shows that more people are interested in aged rum, using it in craft cocktails and sipping rum, much like whisky enthusiasts do with single malts. That said, here at Mount Gay we honour the genuine rum tradition by making rum the way we have for hundreds of years, with recipes passed from Master Blender to Master Blender.
Our core expressions are versatile for both the on and off trade, and our limited expressions pique the interest of rum and brown spirit enthusiasts alike.
Barbados is home to some of the world’s finest rum distilleries, in your opinion, what distinguishes Mount Gay from the rest? What makes it unique?
We are committed to upholding the Barbadian rum tradition here at Mount Gay. Like other Barbadian rum distillers St Nicholas Abbey and RL Seale, we are committed to never adding sugar to our rums, using our natural coral filtered water and ageing our rums on the island of Barbados. Together, we hold the largest stock of aged rum. Each of these distilleries craft a unique rum using their own recipes, but together, we are working to champion the true craft of Barbadian rum.
Mount Gay have an annual release series known as the ‘Master Blender Series’. What is the idea behind this series? And how important is cask experimentation to the series?
The Master Blender Collection started in 2018 with my predecessor Allen Smith. Since then, we’ve released an annual limited edition, focused primarily on cask experimentation; however, my first release in 2019 was a 10 year old pot still rum that honoured the original way rum was made using only pot still distillate. Since then, I have experimented with Port wine casks and Andean Oak casks. This year we’ll again experiment with a cask we don’t typically use at Mount Gay.
In 2021, Mount Gay released the limited-edition ‘Republic Blend’ rum, to commemorate the occasion of Barbados becoming a Republic. Could you tell us more about this rum?
The Republic Blend was created to pay tribute to Barbados’ move to Republic status in November 2021. It was a very very limited run of 195 bottles. The result is a blend of pot and column still rums aged for 10 to 30 years in American oak barrels. The bottling showcases aromas of vanilla, nutmeg, dried plum, banana and fig, with almond, mocha, dark chocolate, dried fruit, oak and vanilla delicately balanced on the palate. The Republic Blend is bottled at 45% ABV.
You started your role as Master Blender in 2019 after spending five years working with Allen Smith (Mount Gay’s previous Master Blender). During this time, what did you learn from Allen that really stuck with you and inspired you in this new role?
I started at Mount Gay in 2011 as Quality Assurance Manager and former Master Blender Allen Smith took me under his wing. Although my education prepared me brilliantly, working with our rums so closely with Allen truly prepared me to step into the role of Master Blender in 2019. Allen was crucial in helping me learn the fine line between the art and science of making rum.
What’s your next focus at Mount Gay? Can you give our readers any insight into future releases?
Well, I’d love to talk about what else we’ve been up to but there are a few things I’m not yet ready to share! We will have a new release for the Master Blender Collection coming up in early Autumn, but you’ll have to stay tuned for the rest.
What trends are you witnessing within the wider rum industry at the Mount Gay distillery?
I try not to be swayed too much by trends, but I do find it inspiring to see what casks people are experimenting with. I also like looking to other spirits like single malts to what casks their using, like I did with Andean Oak.
The other thing that makes my heart sing, is seeing how many women are stepping into the ‘big’ roles throughout the rum industry as Master Blenders and Distillers. Though, I hope this isn’t a passing trend.
What’s been your best moment so far at Mount Gay?
There have been quite a few memorable moments already, from the day I officially stepped into my role of Master Blender, to seeing my signature on a bottle and to seeing people’s captivated reactions to when I relaunched Black Barrel and XO.
However, I think what really stopped me in my tracks was when we released The Republic Blend in November 2021. Standing there with my team beside me, listening to our PM Mia Amor Mottley talk about the importance of rum to Barbadian culture on the very ground where rum was first made was an incredible moment. I was so honoured to make this expression for such a momentous time in Barbadian history.
What advice would you give to new enthusiasts who are just beginning to explore the world of rum?
Do your homework! Rum isn’t just a cliched spirit to enjoy at the beach. It has centuries of rich history. Learn about rum, what makes it unique and explore the different flavour profiles coming from different distilleries. And, if you ever have the opportunity, visit a distillery.