Review: Mount Gay’s Experimental Rum Series Debuts an Unknown Oak

Pretty much no one is aging spirits in Andean Oak. Can this 14-year old rum survive?

October 28, 2021 6:35 am
Mount Gay Master Blender Collection Andean Oak Cask, with a glass of rum. The rum is new and limited edition.
The new Mount Gay release is part of the distillery's experimental Master Blender Collection
Mount Gay

What we’re drinking: Mount Gay Rum Master Blender Collection: Andean Oak Cask

Where it’s from: Mount Gay, the world’s oldest running rum distillery, located on the northernmost tip of Barbados.

Why we’re drinking this: The latest expression in the Master Blender Collection continues the experimental nature of Mount Gay’s previous three MBC releases by giving some 14-year copper pot-stilled rum (aged in ex-bourbon barrels) an extra eleven months maturation in virgin Andean Oak casks.

So, what’s Andean Oak? Also known as Quercus humboldtii, it’s the only oak native to South America. Standing at nearly 82 feet tall, Andean oak trees are found across the mountainous ranges of 18 departments of the Colombian Andes at an altitude ranging from 1,000 to 3,200m, according to Mount Gay’s research … which also showed that the oak is pretty much never used in the booze world, and has definitely never been used as maturation for rum.

“Look, we already know how to make rum,” as Mount Gay Master Blender Trudiann Branker tells us. “We’ve been doing it for 300 years. This was an opportunity for consumers to see what I see and be part of our innovative side.”

Unfortunately, breaking new ground there’s no blueprint for how the oak, which supposedly was going to give off smoky, spicy and subtle vanilla notes, would actually react with a well-aged rum. “There’s no historical data to help us — we didn’t know how this would taste after six months or four years,” Branker admits, who points out that their wide-ranging innovation program “seldom” produces something that’s saleable.

Mount Gay's Trudiann Branker, who's been the Master Blender since 2019
Mount Gay’s Trudiann Branker, who’s been the Master Blender since 2019
Mount Gay

So, how would the new wood act? Let’s find out.

How it tastes: The Andean Oak Cask release is non-chill filtered and comes in at 48% ABV.

The interesting thing here is what you don’t find: Instead of hints of banana, you’ll find pear. Vanilla is strongly present, but so is nutmeg. It’s a tad spicy but not, as expected, particularly smoky. And the more you taste it, the more floral and citrus notes pop in. 

What I do like is that this rare oak seems to be accentuating what makes this unabashedly a rum, as opposed to the aging and the ex-bourbon barrels pushing this back toward whiskey-like characteristics. The brand suggests paring this with a firm, cave-aged goat cheese, but I’d also add a fruity tart of some sort. 

Fun fact: While using an almost unknown oak for maturation is interesting, the most out-there release in the Master Blender series arrived with its debut, 2018’s XO: The Peat Smoke Expression. Peat and rum, not a mix you’d expect (the following two releases were a pot-still and a port-finished edition, the latter being one of our favorite spirits of 2020 and a new Ultimate Spirits Competition winner for best aged rum).

Where to buy it: Only 1,026 bottles are available in the United States at select retailers for $195.


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