Mount Gay XO is somewhat of an institution in the rum world. It’s been around for a very long time and has been one of the great examples of aged rum from Barbados. It was super premium when the term super premium wasn’t a thing yet. It was one of the few shining lights of unadulterated rum in a sea of sugar added, debatable age statement carrying, faux premium products.
I “discovered” it when I moved to Canada in 2007. Those days I was highly seduced by the marketing and sweetness of “premium” rons. Despite that, I remember thinking that Mount Gay XO was one of the best rums I had ever had when I first tried it. It’s one of the expressions that opened my eyes about how wonderful and complex rum can be when you get rid of the additives. Somewhat of a saving grace in that regard, which has been partly responsible for putting me on the rum path that I’m on now. Since that moment in 2007, I’ve always had a bottle of Mount Gay XO in my rum cabinet.
In 2021, I don’t see it as the best rum in the world anymore. There is no best rum in the world to me. I see it more as a reference rum. If someone new to the category asks me what rum tastes like, I could give a thousand answers, as there is such variety in the category. But one of my very likely answers is Mount Gay XO.
Responsible for the old XO is master blender Allen Smith. He started working at Mount Gay in 1991 and retired in 2019. His successor is Trudiann Branker, the first female master blender in Barbados, who created the new XO blend. It’s very clear that the master blender position changed hands, as there is a noticeable difference in the general taste profile at Mount Gay. The Black Barrel and XO are obvious examples. I was never a big fan of Black Barrel, but the new blend is a big improvement imho. Much more interesting and approachable for new (and old) rum drinkers. Is it the same for the XO?
The previous XO is a blend of rums aged 8 to 15 years. The new has an age range of 5 to 17 years. The rums in the blend are individually aged in ex-bourbon, cognac and American whiskey casks. Abv is the same at 43% and they are both blends of pot and column rum.
I did this tasting on the balcony of my hotel room in Barbados, which was right on the beach. Technically not ideal circumstances for a tasting, but incredibly ideal at the same time.
New Mount Gay XO
Heavenly combo of fruit and oak, old barn wood, hay, marzipan, buttery, rum n raisin ice-cream, tobacco. Very fruity nose.
Old Mount Gay XO
Oak, vanilla, light rubber, burnt oak is wonderful, caramel, raisins, chocolate, baking spices. It’s a sweet profile but not as fruity as the new XO.
I prefer new XO on the nose.
New Mount Gay XO
Oak, vanilla, tobacco, light coconut and a ton of fruit. It’s on the lighter side, missing some body. Light tobacco and oak on the medium finish that has a slight bitter dark chocolate note. Oak is fairly strong, just scraping out a win in the fight against the sweetness and fruitiness. The wood spice is turned down a lot vs old XO, but there is more going on overall.
Old Mount Gay XO
A lot more wood spice. Chocolate, vanilla, raisins, light coconut. Less delicate than new, more body. Longer finish with a mild bitterness.
I’ve been drinking Mount Gay XO for a very long time and am therefore very familiar with the taste profile. It’s one I’ve always enjoyed. With that in mind, it’s hard to like a new version when its profile is changed as much as it has. There is a bias in familiarity. To battle that, I spent a very long time with these two rums to compare them properly.
The nosing was super interesting. Old XO has a great nose. It smells so good, I could nose it for hours without drinking any. But when switching to new XO you realize there is a lot more going on in that one. Makes the old seem rather limited and somewhat boxed in.
On the palate it’s a similar story. However, what speaks in the old’s favour is its body. The new is a bit thinner and more delicate. Old hits you in the face with a solid fist, while new is caressing you. That made me conclude rather quickly that I preferred old XO on the palate. Things changed the longer I spent time with them though. I started gravitating more and more towards new XO, as more and more flavours were presenting itself each time I took a sip, while old XO remained the same. New XO is superior from a complexity standpoint, without a doubt.
The old is a bit more one trick pony. Or to be more precise and respectful to it, a three or four trick pony. It does those fewer tricks very well though and if you love that profile, you might not be as happy with the new one. To rate this new blend properly you have to disconnect it from the old XO. They are vastly different, it’s a new era. If you are able to do that, you’ll notice it’s a very good and complex rum. Much more complex than the old XO. I appreciate that aspect of it.
Let’s talk price. New blend, new packaging and a new price. In Ontario Canada, where I am, the price doubled from $50 to $100. You might imagine this comes as a bit of a shock to many. I personally feel $50 was too low a price. Best value for money at the LCBO, together with Appleton 12. $70-$80 seems a lot more logical, looking at the quality of the product. At that price level I would have continued buying Mount Gay XO like I always have. At the current $100 tag it will perhaps be a once a year buy for me. It really is an unfortunate and extreme price increase.
A thing I didn’t mention yet is the age of the liquid in this price equation. I’ve seen quite a few people state XO has gotten more expensive, while the rum has gotten younger. I think this a premature conclusion. Unless you know the exact makeup of the blend, you can’t possibly know if the average age is older or younger than the old XO. I will make a guess and say there is more column still rum in the new XO than in the old though. That’s as far as my speculation will go.
Can this still be a reference rum? I don’t know. It’s changed so much from the previous iterations and therefore doesn’t have that signature profile anymore that was responsible for all the praise over the years. Time will tell. If I had to choose between the two, I’d take the old. Unfortunately we can’t choose anymore, but I do believe the new XO is a very nice and enjoyable rum that you can’t go wrong with. A great buy, just not at this price.
Old Mount Gay XO – 82
New Mount Gay XO – 79
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