What? Another Mount Gay Rum post? With a rather humdrum start to the year, things are looking up and to make an already great week even better, I received a sample of Mount Gay’s most recent release: 1703 Master Select.
I was twice gifted bottles of Mount Gay 1703 by friends in Barbados so to receive the latest update to Mount Gay’s oldest reserve blend, especially for this limited edition, I’m honored. Not long ago a friend sent a picture to show me how him and his friends were enjoying a December evening (show-off) and I didn’t recognize the bottle as one I’d seen before. Indeed, it was the 1703 Master Select edition. Apparently I would follow Allen Smith’s guidance when he stated, “the most important ingredient in 1703 Master Select is time.” I’m sure that my waiting to sample it is not what he meant, but I’m proud to say I was more patient for this release than the XO Cask Strength.
Before getting into the details of how it tastes, a little background on what makes a bottle of 1703 so special. Taken from the press release, “the name pays tribute to Mount Gay’s legal deed, dated February 20, 1703, which confirms the existence of a “Pot Still House” at Mount Gay’s distillery in Barbados.” So yes, Mount Gay just celebrated their 314th birthday! Also, with the newer packaging evident throughout the portfolio, it is difficult to forget the year Mount Gay was established. Quick fact, 314 years is old for rum distilleries (the oldest recorded) and yet, quite young when you research the world’s oldest companies. I digress…Mount Gay 1703 Master Select is a blend from reserves that are between 10 and 30 years old; the same range as the 1703 Old Cask Selection released since 2009. It would appear that the name change is to highlight and clarify that we can look forward to an annual limited batch release of 12,000 bottles. Like the more recent label changes across the line, the new bottle provides additional information on the hand-labeled bottle including bottle number in series and the year (for all you rum hoarders with massive collections).
Now for the fun stuff…I decided to drink this against Mount Gay XO and a blend that I did back in September. It’s been a while since I’d had 1703, and since XO has been a longtime favorite of mine, then why not make a fun evening out of celebrating 314 years? On the nose, I found the Master Selection to have a more subtle sweetness of caramel than that of the XO. It’s funny to me that for the many years I’ve been drinking Mount Gay, identifying aromas from the glass can be rather challenging. It’s so familiar to me that I feel like whenever I attempt to identify individual characteristics, it’s like seeing a familiar friend in a glass; hellooooo Mount Gay.
When drinking Mount Gay XO, I reminded of Leche Quemada, a Mexican candy made of vanilla, brown sugar, salt, and evaporated milk. While not as sweet, and certainly with more complex flavors, there is a richness to this full-bodied rum that becomes enjoyable to the adult as the candy does for a child. On the tongue, there is a clear difference between XO and the Master Select. Where the XO has stronger flavors of caramelized banana, and of molasses, the Master Select has a dryness about it with its toasted oak and warm spice. This is a lovely sipping rum with a light sweetness that is reminiscent of baked apples and pears; a balance that resulted in a very empty glass. How dare Mount Gay tease me with a 4oz sample! With its delicate finish, I enjoyed this more than my original bottles of 1703 Old Cask Selection. While the Old Cask was satisfying (my bottles are long gone), the balance of the Master Selection is more agreeable to my palate without the need of anything more than a glass; even that is debatable but I don’t want to appear “lushy.”
As for my blend, I am far from becoming anyone’s master blender. While smooth (thanks to plenty of the 7-year Column Still rum), and having drank both the XO and the 1703 Master Select just before, I see that mine lacked the balance and flavor of what I love about Mount Gay Rum. I certainly drank all of it, but I wouldn’t ask anyone to bottle it for the masses. In this era of single cask and/or barrel this and that, I appreciate how blends are balanced and the opportunities to tweak and improve not only the taste of a rum, but to heighten our own expectations. Could you imagine what first century rums tasted like? Remember the nickname “kill devil” came from somewhere.
As you will see below, the 1703 Master Select’s packaging is quite different from the Old Cask Selection version. You can’t miss it and I quite love the way the map of Barbados and the location of the distillery is tastefully displayed. This is a beautiful rum and at a premium price of $150, expect to make a couple calls about availability. My local trusted store still stocks the previous version. From the press release, “1703 Master Select will be available at select premium liquor and spirits stores in more than 85 markets including the United States, Barbados, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, France, and many duty free outlets…” As mentioned above and shown in the picture below, each year there is a limited release of 12,000 bottles. I’ll be on the lookout for a bottle very soon and hope for those that may grab a bottle, that you will comment and share with me your thoughts.