Mount Gay Eclipse rum review
If you’re going to get serious about Tiki cocktails you need, in my view anyway, an “anchor” dry gold rum. It doesn’t have to be the fanciest rum in the world but needs to simply act as a base in cocktails that call for multiple rums that the other spirits can lock onto and still fully express themselves. While it doesn’t need to be anything expensive it certainly has to be dry (not sweet), flexible and easily available. A very long time ago I settled on Havana Club Añejo Especial as my anchor gold rum and haven’t had much cause to question that choice until recently. The reasons for re-thinking this being: 1: I’m a big fan of several other Havana Club rums – 3 Años, 7 Años and Seleccion de Maestros – and I’m slightly concerned about coming over as a bit of an HC fanboy. This leads me to 2: If I’m really honest HC Añejo Especial isn’t nearly as good as those others and while I always describe it as a “rock solid mixer” I’d certainly never consider sipping it on it’s own. Which is a pity because, if I had, I might have noticed that: 3. Añejo Especial was re-formulated a few years back and now contains a fair bit more sugar than I’m comfortable with. Time out!
Sugar in rum.
There’s a misconception that rum is inherently sweet. Not so. Just because rum is made with a sweet feedstock (molasses or sugarcane juice) doesn’t mean that the resultant spirit is sweet, as the process of fermentation and distillation turns all that sugar into alcohol. Which is, after all, the whole point of the exercise. However rum is often sweetened post distillation as it makes for an easy and inexpensive way to appeal to a (rather undiscerning) segment of the market, an option which is further facilitated by a general lack of regulation in the rum sector. I don’t sip on sweetened rums (anymore) but if you are aware and careful you can still mix with them as long as you take care to balance that sweetness with the sour component – usually lime juice. Because spirits have no requirement to label sugar or calorie content this makes the whole sugar-in-rum thing a bit of a minefield. Thankfully a motley crew of dedicated rum-heads have gone to some lengths to expose this scandalous state of affairs by using hydrometer readings to detect added ingredients (which are almost always sugar). Capn Jimbo has collated a large (although incomplete) master list of these results if you’re interested. It was from this list than I noticed that the amount of sugar in my Havana Club Añejo Especial appears to have been creeping up over the years and a sip of it au natural quickly confirmed this*. While 22 grams of sugar per litre isn’t on the high end of the scale there are plenty of good rums (including others from Havana Club) that are at, or close to, zero. Now I have to say this all came as a bit of a surprise as I was of the understanding that Cuba is one of the islands that forbid – or at least frown upon – the addition of sugar to their rum. ‘Parently not. However Barbados, the birthplace of rum (according to themselves) takes a very dim view of such shenanigans (although there is a bit of barney going on there on the subject which I’m not dragging you into right now) and looks like a good place to start. Thus we finally get to have a look at a widely available, affordable dry Barbados gold rum with a view to it becoming an “anchor” rum in cocktails especially of the Tiki persuasion.
Mount Gay Eclipse gold Barbados rum.
Coming in simple but flattened screwtop bottle Mount Gay Eclipse comes over as somewhat unpretentious as indeed it should at a lower mid-shelf price of just €16 for 700ml which is roughly the same ballpark as HC Añejo Especial. We can’t be too surprised that it’s a bog-standard 40%ABV but what is quite impressive is that, even at this low price, we’re getting a rum with some pot-still content. And that is seldom a bad thing as pot-stilled spirit always has more character than column distillate. This type of rum for this use needs to be pretty straightforward and at first sniff Eclipse smells reassuringly “rummy”. It has a nice light copper hue – a fair bit paler than HC Especial which probably just shows a less aggressive use of caramel colouring. Since we’re on the subject of added sugar it’s worth saying that, counter-intuitively, caramel colourant does not add any significant sweetness when used in spirits so this needn’t necessarily be of any concern. We know that Eclipse juice sees the inside of some charred ex-bourbon barrels for up to two years which, while that might not seem that long, is reasonable enough in a tropical climate. Sipped we get a nice “orangey” tang, a hint of spice and a pleasant smoothness that while all unspectacular are above my expectation at the price point. While not exactly smooth it is noticeably less harsh than the Havana Club and also has a nice long finish. If you forced me to sip this with just an ice cube to temper it I wouldn’t be furious. By comparison the Añejo Especial is more aggressive; punchier, oilier and with a harshness that was clearly trying to be tempered with the added sugar. While Especial is certainly no sipper it does have a remarkable ability to mix well with other rums that should not be taken for granted. And this brings me to my only concern about Mount Gay Eclipse – is it just a little too mild-mannered for our intended use? Time to make some cocktails to find out! First stop in any rum test is to make a Daiquiri and Eclipse cleared this first hurdle effortlessly. It was nice and crisp with just enough presence to show some character. Check. Another essential use for an “anchor” gold rum is in a Navy Grog or Zombie but in those triple rum drinks it’s much harder at ascertain the effect of the anchor gold rum. However I found that subbing in the Mount Gay resulted in a satisfying drink each and every time – and those are two of my very favourite cocktails so I’m very familiar with their nuances. Well played Mount Gay! While I’m certainly not ready to de-recommend Havana Club Añejo Especial I think I’m ready to let Mount Gay take its place on my rum shelf. If that should change be assured that I’ll be letting you know. When it comes to marks I feel I have to be clear again that the following is entirely based on use as a mixing rum in the context outlined above and heavily based on value for money. With that considered I give Mount Gay Eclipse an:
*It was necessary for me to ping myself on the ear for forgetting my own advice to periodically taste your ingredients on their own to spot any unannounced and unwelcome changes. I should have done this when the label design changed a few years back as that can sometimes be accompanied by a change in the recipe.