Rainy day after miserable rainy day, my sample bottle of Mount Gay 1703 sat on my shelf, waiting to be tasted, savored, enjoyed. But the moment never seemed right — Caribbean rum is meant to be drunk in the sun. So finally, finally, a summer-like day arrived, and it was time. Two pours: straight into the glass and over a big square cube of ice, and we were ready to go.
But first, some backstory: Mount Gay from Barbados is one of my favorite rums, the Eclipse as a reasonably priced mixer, and the Extra Old in a rocks glass or when I’m feeling like an especially flavorful rum and Coke (I got spoiled on these during a Barbados trip that included several rum-shop stops, where you could buy pints of the Extra Old for short money and mix your own). Needless to say, I was excited to give the 1703 a try when it was released earlier this year. (Of course I felt the same way when Mount Gay released its limited-edition XO Cask Strength, but alas, they only made 3,000 bottles of that for the whole planet.)
The 1703 Master Select, crafted by Mount Gay master blender Allen Smith, is also a limited edition, with 12,000 bottles produced annually (my sample is from the 2016 batch). With a nod to the distiller’s founding year — it’s the oldest rum brand in the world — the 1703 is a blend of 10- to 30-year-old rums, is bottled at 86 proof, and retails for about $150 for 750 ml.
Was it worth the wait? A sniff confirmed the advertised tasting notes: I got a strong sense of caramel. A neat sip revealed the essential difference between this rum and the XO: it’s far dryer, surprisingly so for a Bajan rum, which I always find to be on the sweeter side. For the price I’d expected that this would be an easy sipper, but honestly I far preferred it on the rocks (or one big rock, to be precise). The melting ice had the effect of softening the alcoholic burn on the finish without diluting the enjoyable flavor notes — caramel, as noted, but also woody and with a hint of molasses and clove. Quite enjoyable, even if not quite my favorite style of rum from Barbados. If you enjoy a complex, dry rum, however, the 1703 may well be worth the investment.
As for me, well now, about that XO Cask Strength…