It’s not hard to tell that Trudiann Branker loves her job. That passion helped propel her to the position of master blender for Barbados’ Mount Gay Rum, the oldest rum distillery in the world, where the Barbados native is vowing to put her personal stamp on a product that she grew up with and truly loves.
Branker became Mount Gay’s fifth master blender in 2019, joining the ranks of only a handful of other women who, like her, have worked hard to make their mark in the white male-dominated rum industry. “It’s incredible to see our voices heard as the authority on rum,” she says, pointing to women including Appleton’s Joy Spence, Brugal’s Jassil Villanueva, Zacapa’s Ana Lorena Vasquez Ampie and Angostura’s Carol Homer-Caesar. Then there’s Maggie Campbell, former head distiller of Privateer Rum, who joined the Mount Gay team last year as estate rum manager. “We’ve known each other for many years,” says Branker. “She’s a wealth of knowledge and her passion for rum speaks volumes.”
When it comes to Mount Gay, however, Branker has made history: she’s the very first female master blender for the company.
“There were four master blenders before me,” says Branker, who joined Mount Gay in 2011 as a Quality Assurance Manager. “The title of Master Blender is something that only a few people at Mount Gay ever had and ever will have, so that alone is an immense honor.”
Branker says she received encouragement and support from Mount Gay’s former Master Blender, Allen Smith, who she credits with training and preparing her for the role—a role she was able to assume within eight years of first joining the company.
With this high-level role comes intense scrutiny and pressure, but Branker is mostly focused on producing quality rum that she can be proud of. “I had big shoes to fill, but I was confident my new blends would taste great,” she says.
Shortly after assuming the position as Master Blender in 2019, Branker released her first Master Blender Collection limited edition expression, a Pot Still Rum that she says “pays homage to the way rum was originally made on pot stills.” Branker says she was also given the task of updating the brand’s Black Barrel and XO blends, a challenging undertaking that afforded her the opportunity to showcase her innovation-forward approach to rum distillation and production.
The process of rum-making is time-intensive; it requires an astute understanding of the science and technology that supports that creation, so Branker doesn’t have much time to ponder all that she’s accomplished—she’s too busy concocting a plan for her next master blend. “I have so much more to do at Mount Gay,” says Branker. “We have a lot of exciting things coming up… We will have a great new expression for the Master Blender Collection releasing early Autumn.”
Her plan also includes ensuring that the door of inclusivity remains open. “We’re seeing more and more women working in top positions, especially in rum, which I think is a great way to encourage younger women to study science,” she says. “I hope that more women will strive to take on the role of Master Blender or Master Distiller as they see more and more women in these roles. While I have become written in the pages of Mount Gay’s history, it’s the future of Mount Gay and who will be involved in the next 300 years that I find most exciting!”