Mar 302021
 


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Oct 142019
 

At the opposite end of the scale from the elegant and complex mid-range rum of the Appleton 12 year olda Key Rum in its own rightlies that long-standing rum favourite of proles and puritans, princes and peasantsthe rough ‘n’ tough, cheerfully cussin’ and eight-pack powerful rippedness of the J. Wray & Nephew White overproof, an unaged white rum bottled at a barely bearable 63%, and whose screaming yellow and green label is a fixture in just about every bar around the world I’ve ever been in and escorted out of, head held high and feet held higher.

This is a rum that was one of the first I ever wrote about back in the day when I wasn’t handing out scores, a regular fixture on the cocktail circuit, and an enormously popular rum even after all these years. It sells like crazy both locally and in foreign lands, is bought by poor and rich alike, and no-one who’s ever penned a rum review could dare ignore it (nor should they). I don’t know what its sales numbers are like, but I honestly believe that if one goes just by word of mouth, online mentions and perusal of any bar’s rumshelf, then this must be one of the most well regarded Jamaican (or even West Indian) rums on the planet, as well as one of the most versatile.

Even in its home country the rum has enormous street cred. Like the Guyanese Superior High Wine, it’s a local staple of the drinking scene and supposedly accounts for more than three quarters of all rum sold in Jamaica, and it is tightly woven into the entire cultural fabric of the island. It’s to be found at every bottom-house lime, jump-up or get-together. Every household – expatriate or homeboys – has a bottle taking up shelf space, for pleasure, for business, for friends or for medicinal purposes. It has all sorts of social traditions: crack a bottle and immediately you pour a capful on the ground to return some to those who aren’t with you. Have a housewarming, and grace the floor with a drop or two; touch of the rheumatiz? – rub dem joints with a shot; mek a pickney…put a dab ‘pon he forehead if he sick; got a cold…tek a shot and rub a shot. And so on.

This is not even counting its extraordinary market penetration in the tiki and bar scene (Martin Cate remarked that the White with Ting is the greatest highball in the world). There aren’t many rums in the world which have such high brand awareness, or this kind of enduring popularity across all strata of society. Like the Appleton 12, it almost stands in for all of Jamaica in a way all of its competitors, old and new, seek to emulate. What’s behind it? Is it the way it smells, the way it tastes? Is it the affordable price, the strength? The marketing? Because sure as hell, it ranks high in all the metrics that make a rum visible and appreciated, and that’s even with the New Jamaicans from Worthy park and Hampden snapping at its heels.

Coming back at it after so many years made me remember something of its fierce and uncompromising nature which so startled me back in 2010. It’s a pot and column still blend (and always has been), yet one could be forgiven for thinking that here, the raw and rank pot-still hooligan took over and kicked column’s battie. It reeked of glue and acetones mixed up with a bit of gasoline good only for 1950s-era Land Rovers. What was interesting about it was the pungent herbal and grassy background, the rotting fruits and funky pineapple and black bananas, flowers, sugar water, smoke, cinnamon, dill, all sharp and delivered with serious aggro.

Taste wise, it was clear that the thing was a mixing agent, far too sharp and flavourful to have by itself, though I know most Islanders would take it with ice and coconut water, or in a more conventional mix. It presented rough and raw and joyous and sweaty and was definitely not for the meek and mild of disposition, wherein lay its attractionbecause in that fierce uniqueness of profile lay the character which we look for in rums we remember forever. Here, that was conveyed by a sharp and powerful series of tastesrotten fruit (especially bananas), orange peel, pineapples, soursop and creamy tart unsweetened fresh yoghurt. There was something of the fuel-reek of a smoky kerosene stove floating around, cloves, licorice, peanut, mint, bitter chocolate. It was a little dry, and had no shortage of funk yet remained clearly separable from Hampden and Worthy Park rums, and reminded me more of a Smith & Cross or Rum Fire, especially when considering the long, dry, sharp finish with its citrus and pineapple and wood-chip notes that took the whole experience to its long and rather violent (if tasty) conclusion.

So maybe it’s all of these things I wrote abouttaste, price, marketing, strength, visibility, reputation. But unlike many of the key rums in this series, it remains fresh and vibrant year in and year out. I would not say it’s a gateway rum like the Pusser’s 15 or the Diplo Res Ex or the El Dorado 21, those semi-civilized drinks which introduce us to the sippers and which we one day move beyond. It exists at the intersection of price and quality and funk and taste, and skates that delicate line between too much and too little, too rough and almost-refined. You can equally have it in a high-class bar in Manhattan, or from cheap plastic tumblers with Ting while bangin’ down de dominos in the sweltering heat of a Trenchtown yard. In its appeal to all the classes of society that choose it, you can see a Key Rum in action: and for all these reasons, it remains, even after all the years it’s been available, one of the most populareven one of the bestrums of its kind ever made, in Jamaica, in the West Indies, or, for that matter, anywhere else.

(#665)(83/100)


Other notes

  • Unaged pot and column still blend
  • The colours on the label channel the colours of the Jamaican flag
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 rebrandedRare 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 yearsmy palate developed, tasting became more nuanced, preferences underwent alterationsand 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 complexit 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 constructedan excellent representation of everything Appleton stumbles a little on with their younger iterations, and which they amp upnot always as successfullyin 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 intentionwhat 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 bearit’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 112017
 

Rumaniacs Review #038 | 0438

ARare Old Jamaican Rumthe 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 aroundbut 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 coursewhere 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.

ColourAmber

Strength – 43%

NoseInitial 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 fruitsmangoes and red guavas. Some saltiness and dates and grapes, not much funk action as far as I could tell.

PalateSome 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 emergecitrus mostly, also bananas (barely), and a dash of breakfast spices, nothing overbearing.

FinishWeak 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.

ThoughtsIt’s better than many other, more recent Appletons of various names (likeExtra”, “Reserve”, “Legacy”, “Private stockand so on) and those of younger ages, beats out the other twelves that have been triedbut 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 toobecause 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.

ColourAmber-orange

Strength – 43%

NoseDarker, 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 robustit’s even a bit thin, surprising for 43%.

PalateOh 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.

FinishDry, 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.

ThoughtsBetter 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 oldA very good mid-tier rumand 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 sitein 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.

ColourAmber-gold

Strength – 40%

NoseIt 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.

PalateFor 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.

FinishNothing to report. Medium long. Some oak and raisins, maybe anise again, but not enough to matter or entice.

ThoughtsClearly 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 benor was it ever marketed asmore 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 rumssome 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 rumnot much had changed in two decades, and my score was almost the same.

ColourAmber

Strength – 43%

NoseFrisky, 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.

PalateA sort of sugarless, brinyrummyflavour, 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 itjust 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.

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

ThoughtsEven 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.

 

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). TheExtraevolved into the modern 12 year oldalas 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 ainno quattie, I could tell you that.

Colourdark amber (darker than the current 12 year old, actually)

Strength – 43%

NoseA 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.

PalateThe 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.

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

ThoughtsAlmost 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, thoughit lacked some body, tasted a little thin. Everything I liked was therejust not enough of it, and perhaps a shade less fruity than my memory has it. Still a perfectly serviceable all rounderyou 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

Jan 252010
 

 

First posted January 25, 2010 on Liquorature.

(#005)(Unscored)

The first of the mid-range Appletons where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. From here, Appleton gets out into sipping territory, and it’s worth the extra you fork out for it.

***

As I may have mentioned, Appleton is a Jamaican classic. Part of J. Wray & Nephew, which has been making rum since 1749, Appleton takes its name from the island’s largest sugar cane plantation. It’s become a sort of standard for me here in Calgary: I buy a massive mulit-litre jug of the V/X when I have loads of people in the house, which regularly happens at least once a year — 40+ people descend upon my family when birthdays are celebrated. Mine in particular. And while they all tend towards the Russian vodkas, nobody says no to good rum either.

However, while I have no compunctions about taking the V/X with cokeit’s one of the best bodied rums around, but isn’t really ready to be nipped neatthe same cannot be said for the 12-year old, which, while not quite sipping quality for me, is for many others I booze with, and comes about as close as you can get on a limited budget. English Harbour 25-year old is, after all, a rare thing. And we’re not even going to discuss Appleton’s 50 year old.

The 12-year old Appleton is a mellow rum with little shrewishness about it; a spicy-sweet nose and hints of caramel, oak and vanilla. These flavours stay in balance throughout the tasting, and transform into a sort of butterscotch (that’s not scotch with traces of butter, Hippie) with traces of nutmeg and a dusting of cinnamon and oaken tannins, bound about with citrus peel; and trail off to a very smooth finish that just goes on and on. It’s not precisely an oily finish, but a lasting one (the rum is medium bodied and feels good on the tongue), and if it wasn’t for the bite at the very end, this is almost the perfect midrange rum. I don’t always drink it neat, but I don’t mix it much either, and as I say, I’m in a minority among my rummie pals. Over ice is just fine for this one.

Because I occasionally drink on my own, mostly on Fridays, I’ll grab a shot or three after dinner and relaxout on the verandah when weather permits. I have had more expensive rums that are smoother, and sting less going down (and have a price tag to show they’re real). But when I want to just kick back and daydream and watch the sun go down, this is one of those affordable rums that makes it ok to lose no sleep over the fact that there’s no chaser in the house.


Other Notes