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  • Writer's pictureStuart Pearce

Ultimate Mount Gay Tasting Review

Updated: Feb 23, 2023

Mount Gay distillery Barbados - The world's oldest commercial rum company! Dating back to at least 1703 (potentially 1654 - although the brand and marketing team are probably hoping that's not proven). This household name needs no introduction.

I've provided a couple of paragraphs on the fascinating history of the distillery, especially where it seemed pertinent to the tasting. I highly recommend further reading but there's little point me re-covering ground that has been impressively researched and documented many times before. So I will link a selection of excellent articles and videos at the bottom.

Jumping straight to the 1800s and the Ward family, who owned the distillery for over 100 years. They were the last to live on the distillery grounds before the company was sold to Rémy Cointreau in 1989. Despite selling off the brand Mount Gay to Rémy in 1989, the Ward family continued to own the distillery and the means of production, up until 2014 when, under financial strain, the entire distillery was also sold to Remy Cointreau.

During this period (in 2007 to be precise) the Managing Director Frank Ward began distilling his own style of rum, Mount Gilboa, distinctively different from the official Mount Gay rums. Rémy’s contract (in 2014) with the Rum Refinery of Mount Gay did not include exclusive rights to all the distillery’s capacity and Frank's triple distilled (yes triple!), 100% pot stilled Mount Gilboa rum stock was sold to Velier* and features in some of today's bottles :-)

*Velier sold half on to Cognac Ferrand.

Current Managing Director Trudiann Branker has been no less influential to Mount Gay's evolution, legacy and impressive reputation. Since taking the helm from 25-year veteran Master Blender Allen Smith, she has been dazzling the rum community with an annual limited release Master Blend Collection - four of which are featured today.

Enough interesting background. On to the rums. Today I have the enviable task of reviewing arguably the finest of all Mount Gay rums...

  • 4 rums from Mount Gay's Master Blender Collection (the inaugural, and controversial, 'peat smoke' is absent)

  • all 3 Habitation Velier Mount Gay bottlings

  • and revered Velier bottles from the Elliot Erwitt and Warren Kong collections.

All nine are 100% tropically aged in Barbados.

Interestingly the Habitation Velier 2011 is easily the darkest of the line-up. Less surprising is the Madeira cask being next darkest. Pot still, Andean Oak and HV 2007 are the lightest.

15ml of each, left to open up for 20+mins, nosed first, then tasted, in increasing abv order. Assisted today by the Fugees.

Master Blender Collection No2. 'Pot Still Rum', 2009, 48%, 10year, 4290btls

100% pot still rum. Aged for 10 years in American ex bourbon casks.

Nose: Musty (or dusty), heavy with mothballs & laundry freshener at first. Sense this will split the crowd. Certainly not a typical Bajan rum. After a while the flavours settle and the pot influence becomes pronounced offering vanilla tropical fruit that (at risk of stating the obvious) is typical pot still Mount Gay. A little anise and lots of thyme. Well integrated alcohol, pretty spicy and inviting. The dusty detergent never fully leaves.

Mouth: Tasty. Carries the same flavours from the nose straight to the palate. Vanilla tropical fruit. Herbal. Slightly medicinal. Surprisingly full bodied for the lower abv. Some SLD Vendome notes. A few gaps in the side of the mouth, and a little light when compared to it's brothers and sisters. If it wasn't for the price and availability I'd say this was an outstanding every day Mount Gay. [84+pts]

Master Blender Collection No4. 'Andean Oak Cask, 2007, 48%, 14year, 2760btls

Double distilled in a copper pot still, aged for 14 years in American ex bourbon casks followed by secondary aging for 11 months in virgin Andean oak casks from Columbia.

Nose: Significantly more lively than the pure pot still. Sharper and more acidic. Tighter. Spicier, with a that medicinal side. The wood influence is edging towards wet wood. Thyme is there but less pronounced. Heady floral pear notes, fresher - less of the laid back vanilla caramel.

Mouth: Thinner, less full bodied than the 'Pot still'. Creamy light orchard fruit with a backdrop of the spicy oak and medicinal thyme & pear flavours. A little tight and some bitter tannins from the Andean oak. A decent rum but not wowing me [83pts]

Habitation Velier Mount Gay, 2011, 52.3%, 9year, 1075btls

Triple 100% pot still rum. Aged for 9 years in American ex bourbon casks, with a 64% angel's share (loss). A blend of 6 barrels.

Nose: Wow - that's step change. Noses completely differently to the first two. Dry, armagnac-esque. From the colour and smell I'd swear this is not pot still Mount Gay. Resin, tobacco, lots of very dried fruit. Huge oak influence, with roasted spice at the fore, but the dried fruit is just about clinging on and maintaining some freshness. [checking with sample source to see if there was any mix up]

Mouth: Starts ok but slightly overrun by heavy coffee, bitter oak & stewed tea. A complete anomaly in this line-up so I'm going to refrain from scoring and investigate.

Master Blender Collection No3. 'The Port Cask Expression', 55%, 6570btls

A blend of column stilled rum aged for 5 years in Tawny Port casks, together with rum double distilled in a copper pot still aged for 14 years in American ex bourbon casks and finished in Tawny Port casks for 1 year.

Nose: Big and rich. Loads of dark fruit & bitter dark chocolate. Super alcohol integration. A little marzipan. It's a boozy dark chocolate and berry bar. Some acetone & glue. Plenty of spicy oak. The creamy thyme and banana marzipan I associate with MG pot still are mostly absent - port and spice dominate the nose.

Mouth: Beautiful rum. 55% offers a fully bodied rum, yet soft and sweet. Little evidence of the pot still notes but outstanding none-the-less. Layers of sweet, ripe dark fruit. Salted dark chocolate on the finish. Just the right amount of bitter tannic oak to focus the sweetness of the fruit. Really moreish. An easy sipper and definitely a crowd pleaser. Long clean finish leaving you wanting more [88+pts]

Master Blender Collection No5. 'The Madeira Cask Expression', 2015, 55%, 6year, 2706btls

Column stilled rum aged for 5 years in ex-madeira casks.

Nose: Lighter and less funky than those so far. A more typical Bajan affair. Takes a long while to open up, but worth the wait. The Madeira cask influence works beautifully. A classic nose. Refined. Much drier. Rich tannic wine fruit, balanced with ideal levels of warm caramel. Very different but equally enjoyable nose to the bolder port cask.

Mouth: A drier, less fruit forward rum when compared to the Port cask. More complex, more moreish. Toasted coconut, lots of tannins. Feels like 5 years in Madeira was just right. A classy drop. Worryingly easy drinking. No bad notes anywhere, and a long clean madeira wine finish. A touch more refined than the Port cask but nothing in it score-wise, two outstanding rums. [88+pts]

Habitation Velier Last Ward, 2009, 59%, 9year, 4488btls

Triple 100% pot stilled rum. Aged for 9 years in American ex bourbon casks, with a 64% angel's share (loss). A limited release of 4488 bottles from the last 18 barrels of triple distilled 2009 rum.

Nose: Distinctive Mount Gilboa on the nose. Creamy thyme and banana marzipan. Tropical fruity gluey esters. Quite refined, and decent depth. Spicy oak balance the big deep funky rum. Impressive.

Mouth: A big thick mouthful of spicy gluey goodness. A long, complex moreish finish. Without doubt this is less of a crowd pleaser than the faultless, easy drinking port & madeira master blenders bottlings. But this is more interesting and (to this reviewer) equally delicious. Outstanding rum. Outstanding value. [89pts]

Habitation Velier Last Ward, 2007, 59%, 10year, 4746btls

Triple 100% pot stilled rum. Aged for 10 years in American ex bourbon casks, with a 65% angel's share (loss). Bottled in 2017 from the 19 oldest barrels of the the rare Ward stock.

Nose: Predictably similar to the 2009. Complex and engrossing. Big, gluey, medicinal rum integrated perfectly with spicy caramel oak. 2007 is a little more refined than 2009. Better balanced and better alcohol integration. You could argue that 'bigger' 2009 has more upfront Gilboa notes, both are winners.

Mouth: As per the nose, better alcohol integration and a smidge more refined than the 2009. And consequently packs an ever so slightly lighter flavour punch. Very little in. Buttery, herbal, spicy. Gluey tropical fruit. Exciting, interesting, and delicious. [89pts]

Velier Elliot Erwitt Magnum Collection Mount Gay 2007, 60%, 14year, 1200btls

Triple 100% pot stilled ex bourbon.

A recently, very limited, release of Mount Gilboa stock bottled as part of the impressive Magnum Series (reviewed in full here).

A huge (estimated) angel's share (loss) of over 75% !

Nose: Massive, complex and super inviting. Funky Gilboa notes - but toned right down. More going on here. Rich stone fruit, sweet spice, a little thyme, coconut. Some banana but less obvious than the HV. Glue and acetone. Slightly medicinal and beautifully 'dirty'. I love how Gilboa rums challenge the expectations of a Bajan rum.

Mouth: The best Mount Gay I've tasted. Mount Gilboa at it's very best. Cane sweetness. A little burnt rubber. Super glue. Lots of bright tropical fruit. A dash of vinegar. All tamed perfectly by clean spicy vanilla oak. [90+pts]

Velier 70th Anniversary Warren Kong Collection Mount Gay 2008, 66%, 9year, 1659btls

The first release by Velier of Mount Gilboa stock. Three 450L casks of this triple pot stilled rum was aged in French oak ex-brandy casks and release as part of the Warren Kong collection to celebrate Velier's 70th anniversary.

Nose: Sharp, heady alcohol. Not nearly as well integrated as the Elliot Erwitt. Huge wood influence, quite tannic. Brandy casks have added some creamy light fruit. So much going on, maybe too much. Acetone, cloves, some sweet & sour tropical fruit (maybe papaya). Spicy and herbal. A touch too aggressive for me.

Mouth: A huge mouthful of Gilboa goodness. Layers of gluey acetone and tangy fruit. A big warming rum. Fiery stuff. Not as polished or complete as the HV 2007 or the Magnum Series. Wild, rough and delicious - an incredible experience to try this rare and iconic rum. [87pts]

Conclusion: The Port & Madeira cask Master Blenders bottlings are an absolutely treat and highly recommended as guaranteed crowd pleasers. Stunning quality, delicious rums - and worthy of their hefty price tags.

The duo of rare Velier bottlings were a thrill to try. Unfortunately silly prices now mean they're beyond drinking value, but the pick of the two (and of the whole tasting!) would be the Magnum series Mount Gay. Second tasting on this monster and it's creeping closer to a 91 pts!

Overall, I'm most impressed by the affordable value of the unique and exciting Habitation Velier Last Ward bottlings. I'll be buying backups!

Recommended links for further reading on Mount Gay:

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Feb 22, 2023

Mount Gay is not Barbados's largest exporter of rum and has not been since 2017

Stuart Pearce
Stuart Pearce
Feb 23, 2023
Replying to

Thanks. I have updated the article to reflect this.

Cheers 👍🥃

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