‘It’s a Delicate Balance Between Science and Art’: Mount Gay’s Trudiann Branker Speaks on Her Journey to Becoming a Master Blender - Rum Raiders
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‘It’s a Delicate Balance Between Science and Art’: Mount Gay’s Trudiann Branker Speaks on Her Journey to Becoming a Master Blender

‘It’s a Delicate Balance Between Science and Art’: Mount Gay’s Trudiann Branker Speaks on Her Journey to Becoming a Master Blender

(Photo: Mount Gay Rum Barbados)

Many call Barbados the birthplace of rum. This Caribbean island country is also home to the oldest continuously operating commercial distillery, Mount Gay, which traces its history all the way back to 1703. In 2019, Trudiann Branker became Mount Gay’s fifth master blender, making her the first woman master blender for this distillery after 300-plus years and the first for the island of Barbados. We spoke with Branker about her journey in rum and what it takes to be a master blender. 

Science and education have been Brankers foundation for becoming a force in the rum world. While studying at Howard University she achieved dual degrees in science. She then went on to study at the Siebel Institute and the Institute of Brewing and Distilling. 

“This was the basis for my future in blending,” Branker said. “I don’t think I would be in this role, working with the largest stock of aged rum in Barbados, had I not had the foundation in chemistry, which ultimately led me to study distillation. A solid foundation in science gave me confidence in my distillation, which I feel gives me the opportunity to explore the art of blending.” 

Branker took what she had learned abroad and returned to Barbados with a new set of skills. She eventually took on a role with Mount Gay that set her on a path to becoming the next master blender of the historic distillery. 

“My first role was a Quality Assurance Manager and it was then that former Master Blender Allen Smith took me under his wing to prepare me for my current role of Master Blender,” Branker said. 

Branker illustrated the nuances of her craft and what tips and tricks she picked up from those who came before her. Blending is not a recipe or an instinct, instead, it is something altogether unique that requires years of mastery. 

“It’s a delicate balance between science and art,” she said. “After working so closely with former Master Blender Allen Smith, I learned first-hand which barrels brought out certain notes in our rum.

“The art of blending comes into play towards the end. Knowing when it’s time to take the rum from the barrels and which rums should be blended together are essential skills to get the flavor just right. Of course, we have a benchmark for this, but there are subtle nuances that no benchmark can predict, so my team and I spend quite a lot of time nosing and tasting rums, taking notes, and poring over notes to figure out which casks will be blended for final products.” 

Branker is one of the few female master blenders in the world. She explained what it was like learning from a distillery with a 320-year history and making history herself as the first master blender for the distillery and her home country.

“It’s been an exciting journey so far! I’m proud to be the first female Master Blender at Mount Gay, and in fact, in all of Barbados,” said Branker. “Since I started, the majority of my team is female and it’s great to work with like-minded women every day.” 

As Mount Gay’s fifth master blender, Branker was given the daunting task of reimagining Mount Gay Black Barrel and XO blends along with launching what would be the second expression in the Master Blender Collection. Nevertheless, she was well prepared and suited for the job.

“When I was asked to rework the Black Barrel and XO blends, I knew which pieces of the puzzle needed to fit well together to enhance these blends to create bold, multifaceted rums, from increasing the age range on Black Barrel to diversifying the cask selection and adding in older rums on XO,” said Branker. “It was a huge sigh of relief to see people thoroughly enjoy them!”

Branker hinted that Mount Gay has “some very exciting developments coming.” This includes the launch of the next expression of the Master Blender Collection. Last year’s fifth master blender collection release was the Madeira Cask expression. The series has been a hit among rum enthusiasts, who are eagerly awaiting news of what the next release will be, as are we. 

Read Next: 

Mount Gay Reveals the Latest Master Blender Collection Expression, Madeira Cask

Mount Gay Distillery Marks 320th Birthday With New Anniversary Rum

6 Superb Women-Owned Rum Brands To Discover This Women’s History Month – And All Year!

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Jessica Gleman is the managing editor of Rum Raiders. She received her Ph.D. at the University College of Dublin in Ireland, where she studied the archaeology of ancient alcohol. Jessica has a passion for the alcohol industry, including agriculture, distillation and mixology. When Jessica is not writing about rum, she is also a travel and food enthusiast who loves going around the world and experiencing various cuisines and cultures. She is enthusiastic about sharing her knowledge and expertise and learning even more about this amazing spirit.