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Interview with Allen Smith: Master Blender – Mount Gay Rum Distillery

Interview by Chip Dykstra
Published May 29, 2017

I would like to welcome Allen Smith, Master Blender at Mount Gay Rum Distillery to my website. I was offered an opportunity to sample his newest creation, the Mount Gay 1703 Old Cask Selection (see review here) and to follow up my tasting sessions with an interview to learn more about Mount Gay Rum.

I will be forthright and admit I am not an experienced journalist so rather than conducting an oral interview over the phone, I submitted a list of questions via email to Allen and after a few weeks he sent them back with his responses. The interview covers a range of topics from the Micro-Distilling Industry to the Cocktail Revolution, as well as general questions regarding his Mount Gay Rum and of course the Mount Gay 1703 Old Cask Selection Rum.

Allen Smith – Master Blender at Mount Gay Rum Distillery

Allen Smith studied to become a Chartered Biologist at the Institute of Biology in England graduating in 1988 with a Degree in Biochemistry and Microbiology.

After a sabbatical from Mount Gay Rum, Smith returned to the Distillery as a manager with the significant responsibility for Research and Development within the organization.

In 2008 Smith crafted Mount Gay 1703 Old Cask Selection, an extraordinarily refined and highly acclaimed blend of reserve rums. Smith used rums aged 10 to 30 years to create the velvet-like texture and taste profile found in 1703, evocative of an aromatic bourbon or Single malt scotch. 1703 Old Cask Selection has since won numerous awards and superlative commendations throughout the world.

Allen Smith’s Favourite Rum: Cask Strength Mount Gay Rum (Straight from the Barrel)

Due to his dedication and hard work, Smith was promoted to Master Blender at Mount Gay Rum Distillery in 2010. In this role, Smith overseas all aspects of the brand’s new blending facility at St. Lucy with a continuing focus on innovation shaped by his years of experience.

In addition to serving as a Master Blender for Mount Gay Rum, Smith also promotes the island of Barbados by working with the Barbados Institute of Management and Productivity.

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Allen Smith Interview Q&A – The Rum Howler Blog

1.)  The Micro distilling industry has exploded in North America. Ten years ago when I began writing about spirits, there were less than 10 distilleries in Canada, and all of these would be considered large-scale distilling operations. A mere ten years later, I can count well over 25 distilleries and that number is growing fast. This isn’t happening just in Canada, but all over North America (and probably the world).  I am curious as to how Mount Gay Rum views the impact of these small distilleries upon the overall market-place, and if you have developed a marketing strategy to account for this new competition?

The growth of micro distilling throughout the world has helped fuel consumer interest in small batch spirits. Despite our name and more than 300 years of experience we are still a small batch rum that has remained committed to making rum the way it was intended. As micro distilling expands, the interest in premium rums and where they come from increases, giving us the opportunity for more people to learn about us and try our growing portfolio of rums

2.)  In North America (and perhaps all over the world) people seem to be rediscovering and reinventing cocktails. Has this new cocktail culture had an impact upon Mount Gay Rum’s marketing and/or impacted the Mount Gay Rum portfolio?

We actually launched Mount Gay Black Barrel in 2013 to give drinkers a complex premium rum that they could enjoy as a sipping rum or by mixing in cocktails and it has become one of our most popular rums. It’s a small batch, handcrafted blend that has a balanced, but bold spicy flavor.

While our recommended way to enjoy our rums is straight or with a drop of water or an ice-cube, they also can be beautifully mixed into drinks. As I travel across the globe and meet rising bartenders and mixologists, I love how they are embracing Mount Gay. They are coming to me to learn about the key aromatics in our rums, so that when they create their cocktails they are enhancing the spirit rather than masking it. I’m thrilled to hear that they are mixing our rums and creating delicious drinks with it.

3.)  Obvious, I feel that the two trends of Micro-distilling and the Cocktail Revolution are very important to the spirits industry going forward. I am of course very interested in what Allen Smith believes is the most important trend with respect to the production and sale spirits in general and Rum in particular and how is Mount Gay Rum positioning itself to take advantage of or react to this trend?

At Mount Gay we believe in staying true to our process and our rums. We love that these trends are continuing to rise up, as they encourage drinkers to learn more about what they’re drinking which in turn helps them discover Mount Gay, as it’s a top rum for many bartenders.

We believe that people will start to view rum like they do good bourbons and fine whiskies and want to educate individuals about our rums so that we can start to change their possible perceptions of rum. What most people don’t realize is that blending is much more than simply mixing liquids together. Persistence, overall flavor, balance and a pleasant aromatic all come into play. These are all delicate components in balancing a perfect blend. My prediction is that companies and Master Blenders like myself will continue to experiment with these delicate components and will continue to create more complex flavor profiles and interesting products for rum drinkers.

Mount Gay Visitor’s Center

4.)  Are there other important marketplace trends that I am overlooking, and how is Mount Gay adapting to them?

As someone who lives and works in Barbados, we’ve noticed a lot more young American tourist visiting the island, specifically to learn more about rum. There has been a rise in spirit led vacations, where people visit a place to tour the distilleries. At this point in time visitors can’t visit our distillery because it’s closed to the public, but we do have the Mount Gay Visitor Center where travelers can learn about and sample our rum, which has helped drive awareness and interest in our rums.

Inside the Visitor’s Center

 

5.) You have been overseeing the blending and maturation facilities at Mount Gay for over twenty years. In 2008 you crafted Mount Gay 1703 Old Cask Selection using rums from Mount Gay’s special reserves that were aged from 10 to 30 years. Tell me a little about the cask selection process and why such a wide range of aged rums were necessary.

Making Mount Gay rum is all about blending together two uniquely different spirits with great care and intent to create something extraordinary. It’s a true chemistry project and it takes time to create the perfect rum that I believe drinkers will truly love – and with that comes many trials and experiments with different mixes of pot and column rums that we’ve created over the years.

1703 Old Cask Selection, which we recently revealed with a new name – 1703 Master Select – and beautiful new bottle in February, is comprised of some of Mount Gay’s rarest rums that I have been monitoring over the years. The blend is a mix of some of our finest 10 to 30 year single and double distilled rums from Mount Gay’s oldest reserves. I carefully chose the blend with the goal of creating a sipping rum that the drinker could appreciate and enjoy. It’s a delicious balance of caramel, spice and toast.

6.)  This year Mount Gay Rum is releasing Mount Gay 1703 Master Select again using selected rum’s from your treasured reserves aged from 10 to 30 years. How is this rum going to be different from the 2008 Mount Gay Old Cask Selection?

Unlike our previous blend, this year’s blend will come in a newly designed premium bottle that will proudly feature the rum’s heritage year and details on the exact cask it matured. Also different this year is the new name, 1703 Master Select, to correspond with the debut of the beautiful new bottle. The new name also brings to life what 1703 Master Select is. Working for Mount Gay for almost 30 years, I hand select each and every pot and column still rum from our oldest reserves that I’ve been monitoring over the years to create a discerning blend of our most rare and noteworthy barrels, while making sure quality and consistency is not sacrificed and that this year’s rum taste exactly like our 2008 rum.

7.) If I bought a bottle of the Mount Gay 1703 Master Select, I would want to enjoy it in the manner in which the creator of the blend intended. Bearing that in mind, how do you suggest that I serve the spirit to my friends? Is there a particular food pairing (or dare I say cocktail) you would recommend that I serve with the Premium Rum?

1703 Master Select is meant to be a sipping rum, so I recommend enjoying it straight or with a few drops of water or an ice-cube – just like a good bourbon or fine whisky. That way, you are able to experience the entire tasting profile and can enjoy the delicious balance of caramel, spice and toast, without it being masked by other ingredients.

Allen Smith’s Cocktail of Choice: The Black Storm

8.)  My current favourite Mount Gay Rum is the Gold Eclipse which I have recently ranked extremely well when I presented my list of the World’s 50 Best Mixing Rums (aged 5 years and less).  What is your favourite Mount Gay Rum, and how do you like to serve it?

I don’t know if I necessarily have a favorite, but I can tell you the best way to drink Mount Gay Rum is straight from the barrel of course! Although, if I’m home, I love to drink 1703 Master Select straight or on the rocks and if I’m mixing it I enjoy a good Black Storm with Mount Gay Black Barrel.

Note: A Black Storm is a simple recipe of Mount Gay Black Barrel mixed with ginger beer and a slice of lemon or lime. (See recipe here)

9.) Can you give us a hint as to what is next for Allen Smith (and for Mount Gay Rum)?

As the Master Blender of what I believe to be the best rum in the world, Mount Gay, I’m always experimenting with blending different rums to create new rum experiences for our drinkers. I’m always looking for ways to create more complex flavor profiles and interesting products for our premium rum drinkers. What’s next for me and Mount Gay Rum? You’ll just have to wait and see!

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I would like to thank Allen Smith for taking the time to answer my questionnaire, and I hope that my readers have found his responses illuminating.

Chimo!

 

 

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