Jul 192017
 

#378

No matter how many other estates or companies make and market Jamaican rum, it’s a fair bet that when it comes to recognition, Appleton has cornered the market in their own land, much like DDL has in Guyana, or how FourSquare is currently dominating Barbados.  Recently I ran a few Appletons past each other (it’s one of the few decent rums one can get in the rum wasteland that is Toronto), and while the 21 year old, Master Blender’s Legacy and 30 year old are not on sale there, the rebranded “Rare Blend” 12 year old was.

Re-tasting the rum after a gap of some eight years was eye-opening.  My first encounter with it as a reviewer was back in 2009 and the short, unscored essay #5 came out in January 2010.  Things have changed in the intervening years – my palate developed, tasting became more nuanced, preferences underwent alterations…and from the other side, the rum and the bottle were worked over.  It was not the same rum I tried back then, nor like older versions from the 1980s and 1970s.  But what was not so evident to me then and which is clear to me now, is that the Appleton 12 year old rum in all its iterations over the years, is one of the core rums of the island and the style, a sort of permanent marker that almost defines “Jamaica rum”.  If one ever asks me in the future, what rum from there should one get first, or which rum should serve as a cornerstone of the Jamaican shelf, I’m going to point at it and say, “That one.”

This is because of its overall solidity of its assembly.  Consider how the nose presented, warm, just short of sharp, well constructed and pleasantly complex – it started with molasses, bananas, cream cheese, brine and dates, some citrus, cinnamon and apples just starting to go.  It provided a little oak (not much), and some tar, anise, vanilla and brown sugar, all very tightly and distinctly constructed – an excellent representation of everything Appleton stumbles a little on with their younger iterations, and which they amp up — not always as successfully — in the older ones.

The real key to capturing the rum’s essence is is the taste. How it feels in the mouth, how it develops over time. The palate is not particularly different from what one sensed on the nose, and I don’t think that was the intention – what it did was consolidate the gains made earlier, and build gently upon them, to provide a sipping experience that is a great lead-in to new drinkers wanting something upscale, without disappointing the hard core whose taste buds are more exacting.  It was smooth and velvety, the characteristic Jamaican funk present and accounted for (without actually becoming overbearing).  Salty caramel ice cream, stewed apples, citrus, cinnamon, gherkins in brine, vanilla and tannins for a little edge (perhaps a shade too much, but I wasn’t complaining).  After some time one could sense the background of rotting bananas, some herbals and perhaps a whiff of dill. The finish, while short, was warm and mellow, and gave up a last whiff of dates, caramel, more brine, and overall I’d say the rum was not overly complex, but the balance between the various components simply could not be faulted.  That’s what makes it a good all-round mid-tier rum.

Now, I don’t want to give the impression that the 12 is a fantastic 95-pointer on par with or better other exceptional Jamaicans which I have scored high in the past.  It’s not.  It lacks their individuality, their uniqueness, their one-barrel dynamism and exacting natures, so no, it’s not that.  What makes it special and by itself almost be able to serve as a stand-in for a whole country’s rums, is that it encapsulates just about everything one likes about the island at once without shining at any one thing in particular or pissing anyone off in general.  It’s a rum for Goldilocks’s little bear – it’s not too hot and not too passive; not too massively funky, yet not too dialled-down either; no one aroma or taste dominates, yet the final product is of a remarkably high standard overall, self-evidently, almost emphatically, Jamaican.  Best of all, it’s affordable for what it provides, and I consider it one of the best price-to-quality rums currently extant.  In short, while it may not be the best rum ever made in Jamaica, it remains a quiet classic on its own terms, and one of the key rums in any rum lover’s cabinet.

(84/100)

May 162017
 

Rumaniacs Review #041 | 0441

Everyone knows about the 50 year old rum which Appleton pushed out the door a few years ago.  Not only because of the age, which they touted as “the oldest rum ever” even though that was patently untrue, but because of the stratospheric price, which even now hovers around the US$4500 mark (give or take).  I’m not sure if they still make it — it was specifically commissioned for Jamaica’s 50th anniversary of Independence in 1962, so I suspect it was an 800-bottle one-off halo-issue —  but that price alone would make many take a really jaundiced view of the thing.  To their detriment, I believe, because having tasted it five times now, I can say with some assurance that it is still one of the very best rums Appleton ever made.

Colour – Mahogany with red tints

Strength – 45%

Nose – The smell opens the vault of my memories, of Jamaica, of the stately progression of other Appletons rums over the years, of the times I tried it before. Initial notes of glue, fading fast; then honey (I always remember the honey), eucalyptus oil, toffee, caramel, rich milk chocolate with rye bread and cream cheese, developing slowly into luscious candied oranges, molasses and burnt sugar.  Some of that vegetable soup I noted from the 20 year old ceramic jug is here as well, much subdued.  What woodiness that exists is amazingly well controlled for something this old (a problem the 30 year old had).

Palate – The dark richness purrs down the throat in a sort of warm, pleasant heat.  Burnt brown sugar and wek molasses, caramel, toffee, nougat and nutty toblerone chocolate, a flirt of coffee.  More fruits emerge than the nose had hinted at, and provide a pleasing contrast to the more creamy, musky flavours: grapes, bananas, apricots, pineapples.  Then cinnamon, more honey, some cheese.  Oakiness again well handled, and a sort of leather and smoke brings up the rear. I sometimes wonder how this would taste at 55%, but even at 45%, the rum is so very very good.

Finish – Medium long, a fitting close to the proceedings.  Mostly bananas, molasses, a little pineapple, plus a last dollop of caramel.  And honey.

Thoughts – Still a wonderful rum to sip and savour.  Sadly, too expensive for most.  Those who can afford a whole bottle are unlikely to be into the rum world as much as we are, but whoever has it, I hope they’re sharing…generously.

(89/100)

The other Rumaniacs have also written about the rum, and their reviews are in the usual spot.

May 152017
 

Rumaniacs Review #040 | 0440

As with the 12 year old ceramic jug, I don’t think that Appleton is exaggerating in the slightest when they call this a “Rare Old Jamaican Rum,” – at the time it was issued in the 1960s or 1970s they might have been hyping the product a tad, but now?  Not likely. Still, you can actually find it if you’re prepared to pay Masters of Malt, who name this a 1970s era rum, the £700 it costs.  And that’s more than the Longpond 1941 fetches these days.  I must confess that for an aged artifact bottled (or “jugged”) at a mouth-watering twenty years old, I’m tempted.  Consider too – at that age, it means at the very latest it had to have been distilled in 1959, and very likely earlier than that, and what lover of historical rums wouldn’t want to try that?

Colour – Amber

Strength – 43%

Nose – Pure tamed Jamaican, with elements of the profile being showcased, but not strong or violent enough to put one off…a Trenchtown Rasta in a Savile Row suit, if you will. Rolling waves of salt and sweet, bananas, pineapple, chocolate and coffee, with caramel and toffee hastening to catch up from the rear.  Some tobacco and smoke, a touch of vanilla, honey, anise, and very strong black tea.  There’s a persistent — if faint — background odour of vegetable soup in here, both the veg and the soya.  Really.

Palate – More of that dialled down bad boy attitude, nicely integrated into a profile that starts with “dirt”.  By which I mean a sort of loamy, earthy, vegetable taste (far from unpleasant, I hasten to add), rye bread, cumin, garam massala, molasses, and oh, a lovely clear line of florals and citrus.  Did I mention the vegetable soup? All wrapped up in a bow with the usual dessert menu of salted caramel and vanilla ice cream. And as an aside, it’s quite rich and intense…It may be jugged at 43% but it sure feels more powerful than that.

Finish – Falls down here after the high point of tasting it.  It just fades too damn quick, and for some inexplicable reason, the wood starts to take on an unhealthy dominance.  Salted caramel, brine, olives,, breakfast and cooking spices, and a twist of licorice.  All very faint and too watered down.

Thoughts – It’s actually very different from the younger Appletons, the 12 year old jug, or the older 21 year old. Points of greatness are unfortunately ameliorated by weakness and an increasing lack of balance over the hours spent comparing it to all the others.  In short, somewhat of a Shakespearean tragedy — potential and hubris being brought low by inherent flaws. Though even with all that, it leaves me somewhere closer to praising the rum than coming to bury it.

(86/100)

Other Rumaniacs reviews of this rum can be found on the website, here.  Note that Serge was enthralled with it, while Marco was much more disapproving.

May 132017
 

Rumaniacs Review #039 | 0439

A rum like this makes me want to rend my robes and gnash my teeth with frustration because there’s no information available about it aside from what’s on the label, and that’s hardly very much.  Still, it’s Jamaican, it’s a J. Wray (Appleton) and it’s from the 1970s and that alone makes it interesting.  Imported by another one of those enterprising Italian concerns, age unknown.  From the colour I can only hope it was a real oldie.

Colour – Dark red-brown

Strength – 43%

Nose – “Dirty” might be the est way to describe the nose.  I’ve mentioned “rotting bananas and veggies” before in a review once or twice, and here it’s real.  Quite intense for a standard proof drink – wine, bitter chocolate and black rye bread.  Then molasses and bananas and a lot of compost (wet leaves in a pile) and a lot of fruit way past their sell-by date.  Oh, and anise, strong black tea and some smoky, leathery aromas backing things up.  Fantastic nose, really.

Palate – Smoothens out and is less aggressively crazy as the nose, though still quite assertive, luscious and rich.  Molasses, caramel and dark fruits (prunes, plums, stewed apples, raisins) with the off notes held much more in check.  Then chocolate, black tea and some citrus oil, a flirt of sugar cane juice and the bitterness of some oak.  Some spices noticeable here or there, but nothing as definitive as the nose had suggested.

Finish – Short and easy, mostly caramel, wood chips, more tea, plums, a little brine and a last hint of veggies in teriyaki, odd as that might sound.

Thoughts – I really liked this rum, which didn’t present itself as an Appleton, but more like a unique Jamaican carving out its own flavour map.  I seriously doubt it’ll ever be available outside a collector’s shelves, or perhaps on an auction site somewhere, but if it can be found I think it’s worth picking up, both for its history and its taste.

(85/100)

May 112017
 

Rumaniacs Review #038 | 0438

A “Rare Old Jamaican Rum” the ceramic jug says, and I believe it.  In all my travels around the world, I’ve never seen this kind of thing for sale (and buying beer in a glass jar at a kiosk in the Russian Far East don’t count). We’re living through an enormous upswell of interest in rums, with new indies and new bottlers popping up every time we turn around…but stuff like this shows us that even back in the day, there was some amazingly well-presented juice floating around.  Here, cool factor is off the chart.

As for the rum?  Very nice indeed. Aged in the tropics (of course – where else would Appleton be ageing its stock?) and better than both the other 12 year old we looked a the other day, and the modern one.

Colour – Amber

Strength – 43%

Nose – Initial attack is as dusty and dry as a mortician’s voice (and he’s wearing well polished old leather shoes, that’s there too).  Oily, vaguely like cigarette tar (not my favourite smell).  Coffee and chocolate, citrus rind, and then a nice procession of tart ripe fruits…mangoes and red guavas.  Some saltiness and dates and grapes, not much funk action as far as I could tell.

Palate – Some bitterness of unsweetened black choclate starts things off, hot salt caramel over a coffee cake (same kind of dessert taste I got on the last 12 year old).Wood shavings, some more leather, more cigarette smoke, and then the fruits timidly emerge – citrus mostly, also bananas (barely), and a dash of breakfast spices, nothing overbearing.

Finish – Weak point of the experience, after the above-average smell and taste.  Dry, sawdust (the mortician is back, shoes squeaking), leather, light chocolate, caramel, and the barest hint of the fruits retreating.  Not impressed here, sorry.

Thoughts – It’s better than many other, more recent Appletons of various names (like “Extra”, “Reserve”, “Legacy”, “Private stock” and so on) and those of younger ages, beats out the other twelves that have been tried…but not by leaps and bounds.  It’s not a furious game-changer. It sort of edges past them as if ashamed to be seen at all.  A good rum, and I liked it, but it does leave me puzzled too – because I thought it could have been better and didn’t understand why it wasn’t.

(84/100)

Some interesting and divergent perspectives on this one, from other members of the Rumaniacs.  You can check out their opinions in the usual spot.

May 092017
 

Rumaniacs Review #037 | 0437

Tasting all these Appletons together and side by side is an instructive exercise.  The profile remains remarkably stable at its core, while presenting some interesting diversions from the main theme, like a James Bond movie or a Sherlock Holmes short story. We smile at and are comfortable with the similarities, know the form, and sniff around for variations.

This 12 year old is from the 1980s, still retains the tinfoil screw-on cap, and its provenance can be gauged from the barroom style bottle and black label, instead of the current consistent presentation and callypigian shape (I told you this was a word worth knowing already).  Beyond that, it’s now simply a piece of rum history.

Colour – Amber-orange

Strength – 43%

Nose – Darker, brooding, more intense and more expressive than the old V/X.  Starts off with dark chocolate and orange peel, ripe bananas, also a touch of cereal, of creaminess.  Later burnt sugar and bitter caramel start to emerge, melding with black tea, and maybe some anise.  The nose is weak, not very robust…it’s even a bit thin, surprising for 43%.

Palate – Oh well, much better, quite crisp, almost sprightly.  Unsweetened chocolate, coffee, bananas, cereal, burnt sugar, candied orange, all the hits which the nose promised.  With water the anise creeps out, some herbal notes, some vanillas, but it’s all just a bit too bitter; the slight saltiness helps control this somewhat.

Finish – Dry, herbal, and with caramel, black tea, some ashy (“minerally,” quite faint) and leather notes.  A good finish by any standard, wraps up everything in a bow.

Thoughts – Better than the V/X.  It’s assembled better, the balance is better, and the edges I whinged about have been sanded off some.  There’s still something not quite there though, some subtle filip of the blender’s art, but perhaps it’s just because there was better in the lineup I tried that day. In 2010 I wrote about a newer version of the 12 year old “A very good mid-tier rum” and that still expresses my opinion here.

(81/100)

The boys over in ‘ManiacLand have taken a gander at this also, and their reviews can be found on the website.

May 082017
 

Rumaniacs Review #036 | 0436

The second in a small series on a few older Appletons. The V/X is not a sipping rum (and never was), but more of a mixing agent with just enough jagged edges, undeveloped taste and uncouth to make it shine in a cocktail (and always has been).  This may be why it was my tipple of choice in the years when I first arrived in Canada: it was clearly a cut above the boring Lamb’s and Bacardi cocktail fodder that flew off the overpriced LCBO shelves, even in those simpler times when two-ingredient hooch was what passed for an elegant jungle juice, and we all loved 40%. Just about every online reviewer under the sun who began writing in the mid-to-late-2000s has some words about this one on their site – in that sense it really might be something of a heritage rum.

Much like the 21 year old from the same era, little has changed between then and now.  The general profile of the V/X remains much the same, nicely representative of Jamaica, and the only question one might reasonably ask is what the V/X actually stands for. The rum is around five years of age, no less.

Colour – Amber-gold

Strength – 40%

Nose – It starts off sharp and dry, with an interesting melange of orange peel and caramel, bitter burnt sugar, before settling down to a slightly creamier smell of wine barely on this side of being vinegar, black chocolate, olives and nuts, and a  faint but discernible ashy-metallic (almost iodine) note I didn’t care for.  Lack of ageing is clear even this early in the game.

Palate – For flavours as punchy and pungent as the nose promised, the palate falls flat and dissolves into a puddle of wuss, all directly attributable to the strength.  Much of those variety of the smells is now lost in the sharpness (and thinness) of alcohol.  Still, after waiting a while and tasting again, there are raisins, more orange peel, bananas very much gone off,  brine, caramel, anise and tannins which, with the thinness, make the whole taste somewhat searing and astringent, even raw.  Just as the nose did, once it settled it became somewhat creamier, and more enjoyable.

Finish – Nothing to report.  Medium long.  Some oak and raisins, maybe anise again, but not enough to matter or entice.

Thoughts – Clearly a young rum.  Lacks body and punch and is jagged in the overall nose and palate.  It’s never been touted as being anything except an entry level Appleton, and that’s perfectly fine, as it is appealingly honest in a refreshing kind of way, and doesn’t pretend to be — nor was it ever marketed as — more than it really is.

(75/100)

Other Rumaniacs reviews on this rum are at this link.

May 042017
 

Rumaniacs Review #035 | 0435

This is the first of what will be seven Appleton Estate historical rums, which I’ll post faster than usual, because they’re of a series.  In going through them, what they all go to show is that while Appleton may be losing some ground to other, newer, more nimble upstarts (some even from Jamaica), their own reputation is well-deserved, and rooted in some very impressive rums…some of which are even extraordinary.

My first pass at the Appleton 21 year old came around 2012, and I wasn’t entirely in love with it, for all its age.  Rereading my review (after making my tasting notes and evaluations of its 1990s era brother here) was instructive, because bar minor variations, it was very much the same rum – not much had changed in two decades, and my score was almost the same.

Colour – Amber

Strength – 43%

Nose – Frisky, a little spicy, with deep honey notes, borderline sweet.  Straddles the divide between salt and sweet, presenting dates, cinnamon, citrus and slightly overripe apples just starting to turn.  Becomes grapey and quite fruity after ten minutes or so into it (to its detriment), and I’m not sure the coffee and toffee background help much.

Palate – A sort of sugarless, briny “rummy” flavour, heated but full, with some Jamaican funk being the only indication of its origin.  Would certainly appeal to many because there’s nothing bad about it…just nothing exceptional either.  As it opens up you get burnt sugar, smoke, more coffee and some vague molasses, cider (or ale), nuts; and the funk gets so laid back as to be a thought rather than reality. Decent enough, just not sure it works when faced with a full proof single barrel offering from an indie.

Finish – Pretty good, longish and dry, with closing hints of bitter chocolate, hot and strong black tea, plus more toffee and salty caramel.

Thoughts – Even in 2012 this was a shade too bitter (I attributed it to over-oaking, which is also an opinion I finally conceded the 30 year old had), and I guess it was a core attribute of the range from the beginning.  A decent enough rum, honest enough, just not a definitive marker of its age, or its country.

(82/100)

Other Rumaniacs have also reviewed the rum, check here for their opinions.

 

Jan 192017
 

Photo (c) shopsampars.com

#337

Just about every rum junkie has heard of the J. Wray & Nephew 63% Overproof, Appleton’s flagship white lightning and that’s likely the variation that most people know about and have tried.  But since the 1990s, there’s been a local hooch, the Charley’s J.B. White Overproof (made by the Trelawny Rum Company which Appleton controls), primarily marketed in the backcountry…at that time it was aimed at rural farmers and considered a sort of 2nd tier tipple.  In 2015 the company decided to issue it to the urban market perhaps because people in the cities were getting annoyed at those wussy little forty percenters they had to suffer though, wondering why “dem lucky bredren in de backdam gettin’ all dat good bashwar”, and wanted to get something from near by Cockpit Country that would pack more animal in its jock.  And aside from actually stating that the Charley’s JB is a “Trelawny blend,” I’m not sure there’s much difference between it and the JW&N 63%.  Most people who’ve tried it just love the thing for its fiery, fruity and powerful taste.

Photo Courtesy of Matt Pietrek, the Cocktail Wonk

Like DDL’s High Wine, or the Rum Nation Pot still white 57% — and of course the Haitian clairins —  it channels a sort of barely contained ferocity. No easy lead up here: the rum puts you in the middle of the action immediately, with the very first sniff of the cap when cracked, so it’s probably a good idea to go easy for the first few minutes and let the alcohol burn off a mite.  Do that and you sense salty, fusel oil fumes, with sharp rubber, acetone, musty cardboard and leather vying to see which can skewer your schnozz the fastest. It stays sharp, and is like breathing the inside of a vulcanizing shop in hot weather, but it does develop well (if grudgingly), and aside from a weird glue aroma, a watery fruity punch of bananas, citrus, unripe green apples is also there, tied up neatly with the rich scent of new leather shoes still in the wrapping paper.

Tasting it more or less continues the experience and I am here to assure you that yes, to some extent, it really does smoothen out…just a little (well, it is 63% ABV, so you can’t expect too much).  Sweet watery pears, white guavas, watermelon, cucumbers, some dill and rosemary, squash segue their way across the tongue.  The crisp tartness of the nose mellows into something more akin to plums and blackcurrants with a flirt of gooseberries thrown in, if you can believe it, but just add a little water (coconut water might be better), and the feral beast goes quiescent in labba time.  The finish? Nothing shabby – nice, long, fruity, estery, sugar water and soursop ice cream, plus the faintest bit of rubber and smoke. Overall, it’s a crude iron axe, not a sword made from Damascus steel, and that’s apparent all the way through….but “little axe does chop down big tree” as my great aunty Sheila always used to tell me so sanctimoniously.

Frankly, I’m amazed that Quazi4Moto, my correspondent on reddit, agreed to spot me a sample (many, many thanks to the man for sending it along).  This isn’t the best white ever made by a long shot, and it shows its cheerful working class origins clearly…but it sure is a unique one, a taste bomb of savage, raw quality, and if it belonged to me and I knew I wasn’t going back for rice and peas any time soon, I’m not entirely convinced if I’d have shared it myself.

See, I’m aware it’s powerful and uncouth and needs some dialling down, and them crazies who quaff it neat are clearly purveyors of over-the-cliff machismo who are afraid of absolutely nothing; and to be sure, it proudly struts a massive codpiece of taste that falls this side short of a mess, and which will curl your toes without busting a sweat. But you know, in its own way it’s a really freakin’ cool white rum. So what if it’s untamed and maybe too sharp?  So what if it growls down our throats as if mixed with undiluted tiger blood? It’s in no way a bad hooch, and those who make it past their initial despite might find themselves – like me — breathing hard, grinning stupidly, and nodding that yeah, they’ll take another shot.  Maybe two.

(82/100)

Other Notes

According to the Cocktail Wonk’s informative post, in the good old days, such rural backwoods rums were undesirably-congener-rich heads and tails cuts pilfered from the distillery process, which gave rise to the humorous grumble that it tasted “like a John Crow batty” (in Jamaican creole it refers to a vulture’s ass…quite poetic, yes?).  I wonder if it’s a coincidence that the initials CJB of the rum are the same, if out of order.  I can’t find much data on who Charley was, or what J.B actually stands for.  Maybe I’ll have to go to Jamaica to find out.

Mar 152016
 
Appleton Extra 12 YO 2

Photo courtesy of Lo Spirito Dei Tempi

***

Rumaniacs Review 020 | 0420

The tinfoil cap and chubby, callypigian bottle (trust me, that’s a word worth knowing), give this away as a rum made within living memory, even if some of us weren’t drinking back then (or drinking much). The “Extra” evolved into the modern 12 year old…alas I didn’t have any on hand at the time I tried this ‘Maniacs sample so I couldn’t do a comparison, though some of my friends think it’s as good or better. It ain’ no quattie, I could tell you that.

Colour – dark amber (darker than the current 12 year old, actually)

Strength – 43%

Nose – A remarkably subdued nose, initially almost quiescent. But pay attention, the bottom-house mash up is right there, and just getting warmed up.  Citrus, dunder, lemon peel, ahh that Jamaican funk is as good as ever, just fainter than usual. Dust and musty books attended the smell, followed by green stuffed olives in brine, mixing it up with some crisp apples.  Salt and sweet and a bit raw.

Palate – The bite smoothens out and the ageing is more obvious here. More citrus peel, smoke, some leather and tannins, kept under control with lusher, less aggressive notes of vanilla, faint toffee, some spices, flowers and candied orange. You can tell from the clarity and cleanliness of the way this tastes and goes down that it’s quite unmessed with.

Finish – Shortish, sharpish, a little thin, but with excellent closing notes of flowers, breakfast spices, orange juice (with pulp), some oak, and a flirt of vanilla.

Thoughts – Almost a standard Jamaican profile, or perhaps I just drank so much Appleton back in the day that this was like rediscovering me ole bredren. I thought it was too austere, though – it lacked some body, tasted a little thin. Everything I liked was there…just not enough of it, and perhaps a shade less fruity than my memory has it.  Still a perfectly serviceable all rounder – you could drink it neat or mix it up with something fancy, and it would be no bodderation, at all.

(82/100)

Appleton Extra 12 YO 1

Photo courtesy of Lo Spirito Dei Tempi

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