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Trudiann Branker - The First Female Master Blender for The World’s Oldest Rum Distillery

Dec 30, 2023 10:00AM ● By Boitumelo Masihleho

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 back to 1703. Trudiann Branker is the master blender at Mount Gay Rum in Barbados, the world's oldest rum distillery. She oversees the aging and crafting of spirits and ensures each batch meets the brand's standards. For the last few hundred years Mount Gay Rum distilleries in Barbados, like many others have had a long line of men filling these shoes.

Master blenders are individuals who create signature blended spirits by combining various spirits with different characteristics. This is an important l role in manufacturing spirits and ensuring the quality and consistency of products are maintained. Rums are typically aged in barrels, and different types of barrels can yield different flavor profiles. It’s up to the master blender to know the right time to remove the rum from barrels, while also understanding which ones should be blended to create the right expressions.

The legacy of distilling rum dates back to 1703 originating right here in Barbados and is an integral part of the culture. Barbados was in 1627 the originator of sugar cane cultivation in the Caribbean. Rum was produced in 1642 and demand rapidly soared on the old European continent. Rum had already won the hearts of island sailors and was not new to the island of Barbados. Soon it wins the hearts of the English sailors. Legend has it that when the sailors returned to England they offered gifts of rum from Barbados to prove that they had indeed crossed the Atlantic.

The undisputed birthplace of rum, Barbados is an island dotted with windmills in ruins once used for grinding sugar cane to extract the juice. Rum is big business in Barbados. It is not only important to the country’s GDP, where exports of liquor currently account for a little over 40 million USD of Barbados’ GDP of about 4.3 billion, but it also represents an important part of the country’s heritage.

To understand the significance of her unknowingly amazing role in securing endless possibilities for women all over the world, we must take a short look at the history of her industry. Science and education have been Branker's foundation for becoming a force in the rum world. While studying at Howard University she achieved dual degrees in science. She then studied at the Siebel Institute and the Institute of Brewing and Distilling.

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Back in 2014 when Branker first joined the distillery as quality assurance manager, she relied heavily on her chemistry background. There she met Allen Smith, the master blender at the time. He saw that she had a strong knowledge of chemistry and distillation, a passion for the art of making rum, and what it would take to step into his role when he retired. He took Branker under his wing, and they worked closely together for five years. 

Like many other technical fields, Branker is often the only woman in the room. She acknowledges that while she was extremely fortunate, especially living and working in Barbados, to have many female, and male mentors throughout her career, the lack of women in the industry becomes quite apparent, once outside the island’s shores. Her vision for Mount Gay is for it to continue being a world-renowned Rum and become even more legendary. She also wants to incorporate novel techniques in the process of rum-making while holding to tradition.

As Mount Gay’s fifth master blender, Branker was given the task of reimagining Mount Gay Black Barrel and XO blends along with launching what would be the second expression in the Master Blender Collection this year. Nevertheless, she was well prepared and suited for the job. The success of this has allowed Branker to begin new developments for the new year. This includes the launch of the next expression of the Master Blender Collection. 


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 Boitumelo Masihleho is a South African digital content creator. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Rhodes University in Journalism and Media Studies and Politics and International Studies.  

She's an experienced multimedia journalist who is committed to writing balanced, informative and interesting stories on a number of topics. Boitumelo has her own YouTube channel where she shares her love for affordable beauty and lifestyle content. 

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