Tropical cloudbursts tousle the sugarcane fields at Mount Gay
, urging their grassy scent toward a cavernous bond house filled with aging rum. Time turns slowly among the oak barrels, which are stamped with the name of the world’s longest-running rum maker, in Barbados
’ rural Saint Lucy Parish. But inside a white-washed laboratory next door, master blender Trudiann Branker is distilling the future of her island’s iconic spirit.
“Rum has had a marriage with the Caribbean cliché for many, many years,” says Branker, the first female master blender at Mount Gay, which was established in 1703. “Now we’re just more discerning drinkers.” While a seventeenth-century visitor to Barbados called the local spirit “hot, hellish, and terrible,” these days the island’s rum is prized for its nuanced flavor profiles.
It’s a remarkable turnaround for a drink first conceived as a way to use up molasses, a by-product of the sugar-making process. Connoisseurs have sought out fine rums for decades, but only in recent years have premium bottles elbowed in among the sweetened, spiced spirits that have long commanded shelf space in shops. On the ever-more-selective international market, great rum has finally made its own luck.