Day Trip: Trudiann Branker of Mount Gay Distillery

trudiann brankerLast spring, Barbados native Trudiann Branker stepped into the role of master blender at Mount Gay, the first woman to hold the position in the distillery’s 300-plus year history. Leading the aging and blending team, Branker is writing a new chapter for the rum distillery, revisiting expressions in Mount Gay’s core range, such as the XO and the Black Barrel. Here, Branker walks us through her typical day at the historic estate.

7 a.m. Following a prompt 4:45 a.m. wake up and family breakfast, I’m out the door and headed to the Mount Gay Rum distillery. My commute is an opportunity to reset. For 25 minutes I cruise along the coastline, against traffic as I head to the rural northern part of Barbados. Along the way I pass the sugar factory and cane fields, rum shops, local schools, and churches. My surroundings embody the unique culture and terroir of Barbados, which is engrained in what we do every day at Mount Gay.

7:30 a.m. As I walk to the distillery estate along a path that divides the sugarcane fields from the facilities, it’s quiet enough to hear the birds chirping, yet there’s a strong sense of history surrounding me. It’s not long before I begin to sip rum, even before I’ve had a coffee. A series of meetings at the distillery kick off with a “sensory analysis” and tasting panel of unaged rum to observe the distillate that was last produced. My team and I discuss future plans and innovations currently in the works. Finally, I review with the blending team what they did yesterday, and then I align the plan for today.

8:30 a.m. I head to one of the barrel bonds to sample a selection of our aged rums. (Across our four bonds, we have upwards of 40,000 barrels.) Inside, we pull [samples from] select barrels and evaluate the characteristics of each, looking particularly at the organoleptic profile (i.e., aroma and taste) and choose the liquids that best fit the profiles needed. Scents and flavors of vanilla, almond, banana, and dark chocolate permeate. I only take notes in my notebook, never my computer, as it allows my creativity to come through. I even calculate the old-fashioned way, with a calculator.

10:30 or 11 a.m. By late morning, once I’ve tasted through a number of liquids, I finally transition to my daily cup of coffee. Instant coffee is popular in the Caribbean, but my coffee of choice was a gift from a friend—coffee beans from the Blue Mountains in Jamaica.

2 p.m. In the afternoon (after a brief lunch while listening to a podcast), I spend some time in the R&D lab, where we analyze the organoleptic profiles and alcohol strength, and where I work on blends and future innovations. We typically work five to six years in advance, so we are planning out future releases. I work with rum aged in various wood types, as well as experiment with the ratios of pot- and column-distilled components.

4 p.m. Before everyone begins to head home, I walk the estate with the blenders and review the plan for the next day. We might discuss what liquids we will use and how to understand the organic movement of the barrels first-hand. The strong scent of tropically aged rum—oak mixed with vanilla and fruity undertones—greets you at the door and is one of my favorite scents at the distillery. The feeling of being surrounded by barrels and more than 300 years of history always excites me. On most days, I’m the last person to leave and shut the doors.

5:45 p.m. I head home in the evening for a family dinner, which is an important end to my day. From time to time, or on the weekends, we will enjoy a nice cocktail, such as a Honey Old Fashioned. Surprisingly, my husband is the one who takes the lead with cocktail creation at home.


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