Bringing Barbados to the UK

Published on April 20th, 2021

After the 2016 Scuttlebutt story, How Mt Gay Rum Became an International Brand, surfaced recently on social media, this memory prompted John Burnie to contribute this anecdote to the legend of this Barbados brand:

Further to Don Street’s article on Mount Gay Rum, the United Kingdom also played a small part in its development as an international brand.

Many years ago (1979-80), there was (and still is) a very good pub next to Wandsworth Bridge, in London, called The Ship. The Youngs Brewery landlord at the time was Charles Gotto – a wonderful landlord who was taken from this life far too early.

Gotto’s main clientele at that time were bus drivers from the large, adjacent bus depot. Many of the drivers were from the Caribbean and they continually “dissed” the rum brands on sale. Ever the entrepreneur, Grotto arranged for a huge bottle of their preferred Mount Gay Rum to be purchased and placed on the bar – which was then served in measures using a “dipping stick”.

This peculiar story filtered back to the Mount Gay Rum business who eventually offered Youngs Brewery the rights to distribute in the UK.

Youngs Brewery (under the incorrigible guidance of Chris Troup) at that time also catered for all the beer tents during Cowes Week – so followed a rum bar, the red hats, and eventually the legendary Mount Gay Rum Parties that used to happen during the UK sailing week.

Mount Gay as a brand was barely known outside the Caribbean during this time, particularly in the UK. So to promote it, Grotto held a Mount Gay party event for my local company in the pub (commonly known as my boardroom). This entailed filling the entire pub with sand, beach chairs, and umbrellas – and of course he organized a steel band and the signature hats / flag bunting.

The bus drivers were all there, giving lessons in “Worry” (a Caribbean board game), and everyone succeeded in getting spectacularly “bladdered”. Grotto and I liked to believe that this was the first ever Mount Gay Rum corporate event held in the UK.

The only negative aspect was that the slightly damp sand destroyed a large number of expensive Louboutin high heel shoes – something a certain body of people still hold against me – and some of the sand was still there many years later.

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