Behind the distinct flavour of Mount Gay rum there’s history, chemistry, know-how and noses. One of the noses belongs to the master blender, Trudiann Branker, who analyses and adjusts the final product. The other belongs to Reynold “Blues” Hinds, who sniffs and tastes it earlier in the process to make sure the congeners, the flavour elements, are correct.
Rum making begins by mixing molasses with water and yeast and allowing the mixture to ferment in huge, bubbling vats. Temperature and density are carefully monitored. About three days later, distillation begins. It is during that process that Blues’ expertise is applied.
Blues was born to it. He’s a grandson of Lisle Ward, and great nephew of Lisle’s brother, Darnley, who spent their working lives at the company’s helm. The story goes that their father, Aubrey Fitz-Osbert (A.F.) Ward, worked his way up from humble beginnings to acquire the 350-acre plantation and its distillery in 1918. A.F.’s son, Roy Ward, was steering the business as late as 2013 at the age of 95.
Blues too worked his way up. As an energetic, 16-year-old school-leaver in the mid 1960s, Blues asked Lisle for a job and was put to work in the distillery helping with maintenance. He was taken under the wing of another rum legend, the then-manager Carlisle Corbin. “You got insight,” Mr. Corbin told the young man. “Let’s try you in distillation.” Blues got to know not only how to keep the stills running properly, but also what to smell for. As time went on, he ended up supervising.
There are two types of stills in use: the pot still for complex, aromatic flavour, and the more efficient column (or continuous) still for purer, stronger distillate of a more consistent quality. One of Aubrey Ward’s innovations was to import a Coffey still, a type of column still. That’s what produced the dear, departed sugar cane brandy that Mount Gay used to make.
It’s a major source of Blues’ satisfaction in his work: “The Coffey still broke down a long time back, but I brought it back online. I made that still part of me,” he said. “That’s why they now call it the ‘Blues’ still.”
Blues has retired but remains on call as a consultant. His son, Wave, has worked at Mount Gay since 1990 and is stepping into Blues’-swayed shoes. “I taught him both the manual and computerised stills,” said the proud father.
What about those names? Blues got his nickname from his eye colour at birth. (It has since changed.) Wave is his son’s real name. Before his birth, Blues, who relaxes by shore fishing, dreamt that he caught a big fish. This told him that his girlfriend was pregnant. It turned out that she was, so Wave was the perfect name.
The Ward name itself is legendary in Barbados, and not just for rum. By the age of 29, Aubrey Fitz-Osbert (Blues's father) of St. Lucy had sired eight children and went on to produce over 42 more! His brother, Edmund, in the south of the island fathered an estimated 30 children. Neither married any of the mothers, but both provided maintenance for them all, making sure that none became Wards of the state. The two men looked after their offsprings’ education too, which may partly account for their fitness to go into extensive Ward family businesses.
Many of Blues’ other seven children and 22 grandchildren now live abroad, but Wave is practically next door to the little house that Blues is building for himself in the tiny, cane-swallowed village of Oxford, St. Lucy.
Though Mount Gay Rum is no longer in the Ward family, there’s something comforting about the multi-generational connection, and that some of the expertise abides less than a mile from its birthplace.