13 November 2023

Rum Insiders Interview - Maggie Campbell

Mount Gay Distillery
Estate Rum Manager

How long have you been working in the rum industry?
I have held a spirits distiller position since 2009 and joined the rum industry in 2012, where I’ve grown my career far beyond just production work.

What has been your biggest career highlight to date?
Very few people can understand the immense undertaking building our own molasses mill was. It was more technical and challenging than any distillery construction project I have been a part of. 

It took nearly two years of construction and is an incredibly intricate flowing system that requires all operations of our 30-person mill team to work in concert, not to mention the 13-person Agricultural Team who is coordinating harvest with the whims of Mother Nature after taking nearly a decade to rehabilitate the Estate with regenerative practices and grow the highest possible quality heirloom cane.

We worked with the designer-builder over those two years in construction and were steadfast that quality molasses, not sugar crystal yield was the goal. This is truly turning the concept of modern sugar on its head; it was a constant paradigm shift for our partners. The facility is three stories tall and houses three powerful grinding mills, four vacuum steam powered evaporators, two vacuum pan boilers, three crystallizers, a pug mill, high velocity centrifugal machine, a sugar dryer, silo, and packaging system. It required every type of engineering and installation possible, and each item had to be tested and vetted with our small crop and short seasons.

Can you remember your first rum, and indeed what it was?
Funny enough it was Oronoco, nothing wild or fancy, no magical religious experience. My career started in whiskey and brandy, and I came to love rum later. And yes, I certainly remember it.

What does rum mean to you?
Rum is community. Rum is global and made in so many different cultures that no one is going to say that there is only one true and best way to make rum the same way. A bartender needs to have a number of rums on their shelf, and they will often mix different rums in a cocktail. In that way many brands share customers rather than seek 100% customer loyalty. This means we share and connect a lot more than other categories I have experience in. We share culture, stories, respect, and true friendship. The community is amazing. After a big rum show you will find a number of rum icons not just sharing dinner but also finding a bar playing Soca or Dancehall and all of us dancing together.

Where would you like to see yourself in five years time?
Spirits take a long time to bring to life so five years doesn’t necessarily mean that what a distiller is working on will even go out to the world yet. I do hope in five years we see culinary folks recognizing Barbados as the iconic and finest sugar in the world. We have 5 jars of salt for cooking why not care about the origin of your sugar? I hope that Barbados sugar cane community can generate economic growth while keeping spaces green and honouring high-skill craftsmanship, like molasses pan boiling, alive.

What was your last rum?
I just tried a sample that was handed off to me via an extremely long rum road! It was from my good friends at Luisita in the Philippines and now I want to visit very badly! They passed it to someone at a overseas rum fest who passed it to someone who passed it to me. I am deeply grateful. Very cool folks!

Do you have a favourite rum and food pairing combination?
Rum and steak. Especially a rum boulevardier, especially at La Cabane 

What’s your favourite rum-based cocktail?
It depends, but I enjoy a tall Collins glass of Mount Gay Eclipse, ginger ale, a dash of bitters, and a grapefruit twist after work. It’s like an Eclipse Horse Neck so I call it Garrison Savannah in honour of Bridgetown’s historic horse track.

What do you think is going to be the next big thing on the rum horizon? 
I think as folks drink less and drink better, I feel like customers will be looking past the gimmicks of ‘premiumization’ quick fixes and seeking out truly authentic rums. I also think non-pretentious broad appeal rums will be key as folks look for fun and welcoming energy from the spirits world.

What’s the one rum you couldn’t live without?
Because rum is so broad and diverse it’s hard to pick just one! Mount Gay XO is an icon and so classic I feel like I could do almost anything with that rum. A close second would be Worthy Park 109 as no other rum does what that rum does when you add a ½ oz to a cocktail. But if I had to live on one rum alone it would be XO.

Many thanks to Maggie Campbell. Who will be our next Rum Insider? Click back soon to find out!