Monday, February 6, 2017

Mount Gay master blender Allen Smith on his own visa rejection

Cocktails in the morning with Mount Gay master blender Allen Smith
Allen Smith has been with Mount Gay rum in Barbados for 26 years, but his career was nearly grounded by an overzealous immigration official.

Smith, 56, was born in the UK, but both of his parents are from Barbados, which should have given him citizenship in the country. Should.

His father moved to Jamaica shortly after his birth to work on the project of electrifying that island. The family spent most of his life through secondary school in Jamaica. When he was ready for university, he went to Reading, England, where after nearly a decade he earned a degree in biochemistry and microbiology.

In 1990, Smith had had enough of life in clammy old England and longed to return to the sunny Caribbean, so he bought a one-way ticket.

"I wanted to surprise my mum," Smith said. "But I traveled on a British passport. The immigration man said, 'You can't come in. You have to have a place to stay.' I said, 'I could stay with my mum, I could stay with my cousins, I could stay with some other cousins ...' He said, 'Don't get smart with me.' "

"He called my mum and spoiled the surprise," Smith said. Fortunately his mother vouched for him.

Smith took a job in the lab at Mount Gay, which is the world's oldest rum distillery, having opened in 1703. But it didn't pay well.

"I needed more money so I got a better job at Coca-Cola at the concentrate plant," he said. "After a year I was bored. They work with manuals, and you just follow the manual. I am more into research. Fortunately after a year my job with Mount Gay was open."

Smith worked his way up to master blender, taking over 7 years ago. It's his job to combine the rum made by column still distillation, which is leaner and cleaner, with rum made in pot stills, which is richer and fuller-flavored, to create a bar-friendly rum called Black Barrel that is finished in used American Bourbon barrels.

"We wanted to satisfy a gap in the market between sipping rums and a rum to make cocktails with," Smith said. "We find that whiskey drinkers like this because there's a hint of Bourbon. Black Barrel is going through a phase where a lot of bar people are using it. There's a halo effect when the rum is used in cocktails."

Mount Gay makes 500,000 cases of rum per year total, which is enormous but at the same time not, in the scheme of global spirits manufacturing. That is actually mid-range, just like the Black Barrel: not quite small-batch artisanal, but not quite mass production either. It is, just as Smith discovered, more interesting than Coca-Cola.

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jo6pac said...

Thanks for the fun story.

Unknown said...

Really have come to enjoy Mount Gay XO, good stuff. Comparable but smoother than Appleton 12 year.