Oct 142019
 

At the opposite end of the scale from the elegant and complex mid-range rum of the Appleton 12 year old – a Key Rum in its own right – lies that long-standing rum favourite of proles and puritans, princes and peasants — the 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 attraction — because 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 tastes – rotten 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 about – taste, 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 popular — even one of the best — rums 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
Aug 072019
 

The Blackwell Fine Jamaican rum is the result of another one of those stories we hear these days, about somebody with good intentions, oodles of spare cash, and some street cred in another creative field of endeavour (music, movies, TV, writing, master of the universe, Wall Street, take your pick), deciding they can make [insert product name here] just because (a) they always liked it (b) they have eaten / drunk / smoked / worn / read / watched / experienced it for many years and (c) they want to immortalize their own preference for said product.  “How difficult can it be?” you can almost hear them asking themselves, with a sort of endearing innocence. When that kind of thing is done well and with focus, we get Renegade. When done with less, we get this.

With all due respect to the makers who expended effort and sweat to bring this to market, I gotta be honest and say the Blackwell Fine Jamaican Rum doesn’t impress. Part of that is the promo materials, which remark that it is “A traditional dark rum with the smooth and light body character of a gold rum.” Wait, what?  Even Peter Holland usually the most easy going and sanguine of men, was forced to ask in his FB post “What does that even mean?” I imagine him nobly restraining the urge to add an expletive or two in there, because colour has been so long dismissed as an indicator of a rum’s type or an arbiter of its quality. 

Still, here’s the schtick: it’s a 40% ABV throwback to yesteryear’s mild rums, a blend of pot and column still rums from that little hoochery J. Wray, and no age statement: it has indeed been aged (in ex bourbon barrels), but I’ve heard 2-4 years ageing, one guy at the 2019 Paris fest  told me “around five” and in a review from back in 2014, The Fat Rum Pirate noted it was “only aged for 1 year”. We’re going to have to say we don’t know, here. Though I question whether it’s important at all, since everything about it suggests it is not meant as a sipping rum, more a cocktail ingredient, and some rough edges and youthful notes are tolerated characteristics in such a product.  

An inviting dark red-amber colour, the first sharp and hot notes out the glass are caramel, molasses, light vanilla, not much like the younger Appletons, any of them. There’s a wisp of seaspray whisking a single olive into your face, some raisins, black cake and cinnamon – but funk, rotting bananas, spoiling fruit?  Nah, dem ting gaan AWOL, don’ go lookin’. To be honest, as something that trumpets the fact that it’s a Jamaican rum, it seems to be in no hurry to actually smell like one. 

The palate is equally indeterminate, and its unique characteristics may be youthful sharpness and jagged edges, to say nothing of its overall rough feel on the tongue. Even at 40% that’s no fun, but once it relaxes (which happens quickly) it becomes easier – at the cost of losing what tastes it initially displayed into a vague melded mist of nothing-in particular. These were fruits, dark ones, black cake, molasses, cinnamon, lemon peel, fading fast into a rough and hurried finish that was sweet, with some licorice, bananas, lemon peel and a couple of  raisins. Frankly, I thought it something of a yawn through, but admittedly I say this from the perspective of a guy who has tasted growly old bastards bottled north of 60% from the New Jamaicans. Anyway, it reminds me less of a Jamaican rum than one like Cruzan or Gosling’s, one of those blended every-bar-has-one dark mixing rums I cut my teeth on decades back.

With respect to the good stuff from around the island — and these days, there’s so much of it sloshing about —  this one is feels like an afterthought, a personal pet project rather than a serious commercial endeavour, and I’m at something of a loss to say who it’s for.  Fans of the quiet, light rums of twenty years ago? Tiki lovers? Barflies? Bartenders? Beginners now getting into the pantheon? Maybe it’s just for the maker — after all, it’s been around since 2012, yet how many of you can actually say you’ve heard of it, let alone tried a shot?  

The real question is, I suppose, what other rum-drinking people think of it. I may be going too far out on a limb here, but my personal opinion is that Not much is the most likely answer of the kindhearted, and Nothing at all is the response of the rest. Me, I’m with those guys.

(#649)(69/100)


 

Other notes

  • The Blackwell brand was formed by Mr. Chris Blackwell (founder of Island Records) and Mr. Richard Kirshenbaum (CEO of NSGSWAT, a NY ad agency), back in 2012. The Blackwell rum derives from a blend of pot and column distillate made by J. Wray and Nephew, developed with the help of Joy Spence, and is supposedly based on a Blackwell family recipe (secret and time honoured, of course — they all are) which hails from the time the Lindo family (who are related directly to Mr. Blackwell) owned J. Wray & Nephew. In 1916 Lindo Brothers & Co. bought J. Wray, and picked up the Appleton sugar estate at the same time. The whole edifice was merged into one company, J. Wray and Nephew Ltd, and it existed for nearly a hundred years until 2012, when the Campari group bought the company.
  • The words “Black Gold and “Special Reserve” on the label are marketing terms and have no bearing on the quality of the rum itself, or its antecedents.
Apr 072019
 

When a bunch of the rum chums and I gathered some time back to damage some rums and show them who was boss, one of them remarked of this rum, “Easy drinking” — which initially I thought was damning it with faint praise until I tried it myself, and continued with it three or four more times after they all staggered back to their fleabag hotels, surprised by its overall worth.  It’s not often you get to try (or be really pleased by) an indie bottling from the USA, given how much they are in love with starting whole distilleries rather than sourcing other people’s juice.

Which is not to say that Smooth Ambler, the West Virginia outfit that made it (and then never made another) isn’t a distillery – it is.  But like most American spirits makers, they are into whiskies, not rums, and one can only speculate that given the components of this thing are reputed to date from 1990 and earlier, that to make it at all they must have gotten a pretty good deal on the distillate, and it’s to our regret that they themselves commented that it was a one time deal for them, as “we don’t make rum.”  

That out of the way, tasting notes. Nose first: take your pick on the terms — rancio, hogo, dunder, funk — it’s all there.  Rich and sharp fruits. Red currants, pomegranates, rotten bananas and a milder form of fruits thrown on the midden that haven’t completely spoiled yet.  Caramel, vanilla. I actually thought it was a muted Hampden or Worthy Park, and it was only after it opened for a bit that other aspects came forward – vanilla, caramel and some tannics from the oak, which is not surprising since part of the blend comes from (what is assumed to be) 75% Appleton’s column distilled 1990 stock (so 23 YO, given this was bottled in early 2014) and another 25% from a pot still dating back, according to them, 1985. No idea where it was aged, but for its richness, I’d almost say tropical.

Palate and nose diverged rather markedly in one key aspect – the characteristic Jamaican funk took a serious back seat when I tasted it, and became much more balanced, really quite approachable, if losing somewhat of its individuality and craziness that so characterizes Jamaican high-ester screamers.  Some of the acidic fruits remained – green apples, sultanas, cider, bitter chocolate, vinegar — but with some attention one could easily discern soy, olives and brine as well, to say nothing of sweeter, softer fruits like tinned peaches and apricots in syrup. Plus maybe a bit of cumin, smoke and lemon peel.  There is a layer of nuttiness, caramel and toffee underneath all that, but it serves more as a counterpoint than a counterweight, being too faint to catch much glory. Much of this stayed put on the finish which was soft yet spicy, just on the rough side of being tamed completely, with cumin, nuts and fruits closing things off, perhaps without bombast, but at least with a little style.

It’s a tough call, what to think of something like this.  The balance is good, and oddly enough it reminds me more of a Jamaican and Cuban blend than a meld of two Jamaican houses.  The strength at 49.5% is also spot on, residing in that pleasant area that is more than standard strength without tearing your tonsils out as a cask strength sixty-percenter might. There’s a lot here that a bourbon fancier might enjoy, I think, and while it won’t take on the big Jamaican players we now know so well, it’ll give a good account of itself nevertheless. I thought it an interesting rum and a very sippable dram for those who want to try something a little different, and as I finished my fifth glass, I could only think that yes, my friend was right when he said I had to try it; and that it was a crying shame Smooth Ambler didn’t care enough about rums to follow up with what they had achieved on their first go through the gate.

(#614)(84/100)


Other notes

Both the Rum Barrel (on Facebook) and The Fat Rum Pirate commented on its excessive oakiness, but I felt it was just fine myself.

Mar 122019
 

Rumanics Review #93 | 0607

The Appleton Special is not yet a true Rumaniacs rum, since it’s still commonly available – it was, for quite a long time, one of the most common low-end starter rums available in North America and Europe, so it’s more than likely that one can still find a bottle.

However, in 2016 it was retired from active service and put out to pasture, to be replaced by the not-quite-as good J. Wray Jamaica Gold rum – I think they tweaked the blend somewhat since the taste is almost, but not quite, similar.  So, since it is no longer in production and gradually will disappear, I include it in this series rather than the main body of the reviews.

As far as I know, this is a blend of very young rums (less than five years old, and my own feeling is  two years and less), pot and column still blend, and an entry level rum made for mixing with whatever you have on hand.

Colour – Gold

Strength – 40%

Nose – Funk and dunder, warm bordering on hot.  Bananas, brine, olives, plus citrus peel, flambeed bananas, some nuts, molasses and faint rubber. Sharp and light at the same time. I suppose one could add some water to bring out the nuances, but at 40% I didn’t bother.  It’s meant for cocktails, so that’s where it shines more.

Palate – All the hits come out to play: vanilla, orange peel, watermelon juice, brine, avocados.  Some apple cider and green grapes, plus light underlying notes of bitter salt caramel and molasses.  Weak and undernourished, really, but they’re there and the longer one sticks with it, the more pronounced they become.

Finish – Short, mostly caramel, brine, vanilla and funk

Thoughts – Oddly, I liked it better than the new J. Wray Gold.  It’s a subtle kind of thing. Some of the rough edges the Gold retained were less evident here.  It was slightly better integrated, and it could – with some effort – be had neat (though I would not recommend that).  In fine, it’s a fully competent mixing agent, with enough character to wake up a cocktail, yet possessing a fine edge of refinement that incrementally lifts it above its successor.

(74/100)

Update June 2020: It was announced that the Appleton Special and White would be rebranded as Kingston 62 in the UK, but with no changes to the recipe.

Mar 102019
 

In the previous review of the Florida Caribbean Distillers industrially-produced Florida Reserve 2 year old rum, it was treated and written about with some disdain, because as far as I was concerned, it had nothing to make it stand out at all.  It was a low rent mass-produced column-still rum that did exactly nothing to distinguish itself and could at best be used to spike a drink with alcohol, without leaving any trace of itself behind, not even a grin.

Move on now to another minimally aged rum marketed to the masses, cheaply priced, easily available (at least, in Toronto, which was where I sourced it), and you can see what a difference there is. I’m not talking about intrinsic quality so much as distinctiveness; nor do I contend that the J. Wray Gold is some kind of hidden masterpiece, because it rubs shoulders in the same sort of downmarket liquor store shelves where you might find the Reserve, and is a mass market rum just like it….but does have its points.

The J. Wray Gold is nothing particularly new – for years it was sold as the Appleton Special Jamaican rum, and this new version got issued in 2016 as a rebranding effort (though why they bothered escapes me – maybe it’s to distinguish it from the slightly more upmarket Appleton range of rums).  For what it’s worth, I tried them side by side, and felt they tasted somewhat similar, scored somewhat similar, but were definitely not the same – so the recipe was likely tweaked some in the rebranding. What is also peculiar is that there is actually not much information available on what makes it up: the most I can ascertain is that it’s a mix of pot and column still distillate, 40% ABV, and (my opinion) is probably very young – maybe two years old or so, maybe even less.

I make this last observation because of its unrefined nature. Even at standard strength, it noses rather raw and jagged, even harsh.  There are initial aromas of light glue, rotten bananas and some citrus, light in tone but sharp in attack. It also smells a little sweet and vanilla-like, with vague florals, apple cider, molasses, dates, peaches and dates, with the slightest rtang of burnt rubber coiling around the back there somewhere. But it sears more than caresses and it’s clear that this is not a lovingly aged product of any kind.

It is, however, somewhat more distinct on the taste.  The sharp and uncouth nature doesn’t abate, that’s a given, and funky notes persist – rotting fruit, ripe landfill steaming after a tropical rain (yeah, I know what that sounds like), overripe fruit and bananas, honey, brine, vanilla and some molasses and caramel.  It’s not very well integrated and though I mention these flavours, the truth is that they are still underwhelming (a function of the strength) and the roughness on the tongue makes it unsuited for any kind of sipping drink. The finish is unspectacular- short, salty, nutty with some citrus and vanilla thrown in, and overall, very faint, quickly gone.

This is not a ringing endorsement by any means — I can’t say I cared for it, really.  But for good or ill, it was a rum you couldn’t easily forget once you tried it because of those very same attributes. It excites opinion, not indifferent yawns. Sure it’s a rough ‘n’ ready backcountry bottom-feeder, perfect for a pick-me-up hip flask to be taken into the dodgy areas of Scarborough when you’re liming with your squaddies down at the local rumshop. It’s cheap, it’s raw, and doesn’t pretend to be anything other than an entry level hooch.

Yet at the same time you can sense the nascent quality it has, which emerges more fully as you work up the line of the company’s products. It has something, some small spark of artistry, of appeal, of uniqueness. Poor as it rates next to pricier upscale rum from J. Wray / Appleton, it does show what some distillation chops and blending ability can bring to the table with a set of people who know what they’re doing, even at the bottom end of the range. Oh sure it won’t class with an aged Hampden or Worthy Park, and I think even the old V/X exceeds it. So okay, it fails, maybe….but to me, it fails with authority. And that’s why, though scoring them almost the same,  I would prefer an honestly made piece of dreck like this, over something more smoothly anonymous like the FCD Florida Reserve.

(#606)(73/100)

Update June 2020: It was announced that the Appleton Special (which was supposedly rebranded already elsewhere as this “Gold”) and the White would be rebranded as Kingston 62 in the UK, but with no changes to the recipe.

Feb 022019
 

Rumaniacs Review #090 | 0595

We’re all familiar with the regular roundup of major Appleton rums like the Reserve, the 12 YO, the 15 YO, 21 YO and 30 (old version or new), as well as their halo rum du jour, the 50 YO. But the company also had and has distinct and not so well known brands for sale locally (or niche export markets), such as Edwin Charley, Coruba, Conquering Lion, JBW Estate and Cocomania.  And as the years turned, the company outlived some of its own brands – for example the previously well-known One Dagger, Two Dagger and Three Dagger rums which went out in the 1950s.  Another casualty of the times was the C.J. Wray Dry White Rum, which was launched in 1991 as a broadside to Bacardi; at the time there weren’t many light whites out there and the Superior was the market leader, so Wray & Nephew decided to take lessons from the very successful premium vodka campaign of Absolut (against Smirnoff) and launched their own, supposedly upscale, alternative.

But by the early-to-mid 2000s, the Dry was discontinued.  The reasons remain obscure: perhaps on the export market, it couldn’t compete with the vastly more popular poor man’s friend and bartender’s staple, the 63% overproof, being itself a meek and mild 40%.  Perhaps there was some consolidation going on and it was felt that the Appleton White was enough.  Maybe it just wasn’t deemed good enough by the rum drinkers of the day, or the margins made it an iffy proposition if it couldn’t sell in quantity.

Technical details are murky. All right, they’re practically non-existent. I think it’s a filtered column still rum, diluted down to standard strength, but lack definitive proof – that’s just my experience and taste buds talking, so if you know better, drop a line.  No notes on ageing – however, in spite of one reference I dug up which noted it as unaged, I think it probably was, just a bit.

Colour – White

Strength – 40%

Nose – Light, mild and sweet.   Dry?  Not for this guy’s schnozz.  Initial aromas narrow in on vanilla, nougat, white toblerone and almonds, with a little salt and citrus peel to liven up the party.  It’s very soft (no surprise), gentle, and warm, and going just by the nose, is perfectly acceptable to have neat, though I saw some fans posting back in 2008 who were itching to try it in a daquiri.

Palate – Not as interesting as the nose, really, but every bit as nice.  Tinned cherries and pineapples in syrup was the first thought that ocurred to me as I sipped it; a trace of salt and brine, with perhaps half an olive, vanilla, almonds, and – if you crease your brow, sweat a bit and concentrate – citrus, raisins, cinnamon and maybe a shaving of fresh ginger.

Finish – Short, mellow, slightly fruity, a little herbal.  Nothing to write home about.

Thoughts – For a low-end white, it’s actually quite an interesting drink.  Sales must have been low, margins too scrawny, reactions too muted, and it was put down as an act of mercy (or so the storyteller in me supposes).  That’s too bad because while the profile does suggest that it was doctored (entirely a personal opinion – it lacks something of the punch and edge of a clean and unmessed-with rum, though this may simply be over-enthusiastic filtration), it’s a neat little rumlet if your expectations are kept low and you like easy.  Maybe, had it been left in place to gather a head of steam, it might have found some legs — these days, good luck finding any outside an estate sale or an old salt’s collection.

(80/100)

 

Aug 082018
 

You will rarely find two rums of the same age from the same island more unalike than the Samaroli 1992 25 YO and the Appleton “Joy” 25 year old Anniversary Blend.  One is a fierce, cask strength rum, tightly focused, furiously tasty, with a complexity and balance that nearly broke my chart.  The other is a blended rum brought into being utilizing every ounce of more than two decades of experience which Joy Spence, Appleton’s Master Blender, brings to the the table.  And yet, under the bare statistics that ostensibly set them apart, in both there runs the blood and bones of a Jamaican rum. The “Joy” is as much from the island as the Song of the Banana Man, yardies, rice and peas and Three Finger Jack. And while the “Joy” is a blend and not so individualistic, not so strong, it is nevertheless a triumph of the discipline, a combination more art and alchemy than science, and a worthy cap to Ms. Spence’s career…until she makes the next one.

Photo pinched from Josh Miller, used with permission (c) Inu a Kena

Some brief background notes: the rum was issued in 2018 to mark Ms. Spence’s 37 years with Appleton, more than twenty of which were as the Master Blender.  It is comprised of rums at least 25 years old, with one — dating back from 1981, the year she joined the company — is in excess of 30, and it’s a blend of both pot and column still marques. With 9,000 liters made, we can estimate somewhere around 12,000 bottles floating around the world, all issued at 45% and costing a bruising $300 or more (which was the same price I paid for the Appleton 30 YO many years ago, by the way).

The “Joy” was, to me, a rum that seemed simply made initially, but developed into a really lovely and complex piece of work – I got the sense of a blender working right at the edge of her abilities, with excitement and verve and panache, and this was evident as soon as I smelled it. The nose began with a beautifully rich molasses aroma mixed in with a sort of dialled down crazy of musky and sharp funk – citrus, honey, oak, rotting fruit.  I left it and came back to it over a few hours, and it presented leather, caramel, coffee, ginger, lemon zest with the faint dustiness of cumin. Oh and also nougat, and white chocolate.

The palate was where it shone the brightest, I think, and I would never mix this elegant piece of work (that might actually be a offense punishable by the lash in some circles).  It was nicely dry, with forward notes of honey, molasses, vanilla, caramel bon bons and dried coffee grounds, which were intercut with some lingering oak, just enough to provide some bite and tannins without disrupting the smooth flow.  It was just a shade briny, not too sweet, and balanced off the deeper flavours with lighter ones — light citrus, ginger, cumin, and green apples and grapes did a funky little number off to the side, for example — and none of it was overbearing or in your face.  In fact, part of the rum’s appeal was its deceptively unassuming nature – everything seemed tamped down and rather relaxed, but wasn’t really, just solid and well constructed, and remarkably complex and well-balanced to a fault. Even the dry and medium-length finish, which at that strength tends toward the short, was very enjoyable and softly lingeringly aromatic, closing off the sip with brown sugar, honey, flowers, crushed almonds and a little orange peel.

Big hat tip to Josh Miller who allowed me to make off with this picture…

Summing up, this was a wonderful sipping rum. It wasn’t one that took a single distinct note and ran with it. It wasn’t a fierce and singular Jamaican funk bomb or hogo monster that sought to impress with sharp and distinct tastes that could be precisely catalogued like a grocery list of all the things that enthrall us.  It was, rather, a melange of softer tastes set off by, and blended well with, sharper ones, none of which ever seemed to strain or reach for an effect, but simply provided a slow parade of commingled flavours that somehow come together into something greater than the sum of its parts.

Ms. Spence is perhaps one of the few legends we have in this curious subculture we inhabit, where owners commonly get more publicity and adulation than blenders (unless both inhabit the same corpus).  I have never met her – our paths haven’t crossed, which is my loss, not hers – and yet how could anyone call themselves a rum lover and not know who she is? In some way, her hands have touched, her personality has influenced and her skills are evidenced in every rum Appleton has made in the last quarter century and more.  My own feeling is that if she never makes another rum in her life, she will still be known for this one. The original 30 YO was a little overoaked, the 50 YO remains too expensive, the 21 YO too indeterminate and the 12 YO too broad based – but this one, this one is a quiet triumph of the blender’s art.

And if you want a more mundane proof of the rum’s quality, I direct you to the actions of Grandma Caner when I gave her some to try.  She affects to a certain indifference my writing, expressing impatience with all these rums cluttering up her damned basement and I could see she wasn’t all that enthusiastic.  But when she took an initially disinterested sip, her eyes widened: she just about swallowed her dentures in her haste to ask for more…you never saw an arthritis ridden hand move so fast in your life. The woman finished the sample bottle, cleaned out her glass, then my glass, and I could see her eyeing the bottle, perhaps wondering if it would be considered uncouth to ask to lick it out.  Then she got on her old East German rotary phone, and spent the next three hours frantically calling all her friends to go find this thing, and I swear to you, I am not making this up!  Word of mouth and actions like that are an endorsement of the “Joy” which no amount of money could ever buy, and the cool thing is, the rum really deserves it.

(#536)(89/100)

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

Note: The initial full length review can be found in the main reviews section.

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, drool-worthy 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 Superior 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

Mar 302013
 

 

Photo courtesy of and (c) Cocktail Wonk

A proverbial harridan of rums, thin, dry, harsh and critical of everything you do with and to it. I call mine “Jimbo.”

Coruba. That brings back memories. Remember that original shuddering bastard of a mixer I reviewed some years back? It was made in Jamaica but mostly sold in New Zealand, with a trickle going in other directions (like Alberta, or Europe, where a friend picked it up for me for about fifty Euros). It was rough and tough and a powerful inducement to give up spirits altogether. I wrote rather humourously in my original Coruba review, that one should trot it out – generously – for favoured enemies when they come visiting, which I thought may have been a bit harsh. Until I ran into its twelve year old brother, that is.

To paraphrase Josh Miller from the Inu a Kena blog: “I’m mixing a twelve year old Jamaican rum! WTF?”. But it’s true.

The source of this rum is probably a young Appleton (reasonable, since it’s made by the Appleton boys at J. Wray for the Swiss based concern “the Rum Company” which may be as far away from Fassbind’s Secret Treasures line as you can get). In 1967 the Coruba rum was first imported to Europe: its name comes from the name Companies Rum Basel (or Compagnie Rhumière de Bâle) – which is the name of the company in Jamaica which was among the most famous of the islands’ 128 distilleries at the time when the original company was established in 1889. In 1929, the Rum Company Kingston was founded under the management of Rudolf Waeckerlin-Fiechter in order to complete production process of the rum in Jamaica. Since 1962, the marque has been produced by J. Wray & Nephew, and the blending and the bottling for the whole of Europe still takes place in the Rum Company in Basel, which has become a part of the Haecky Group in the meantime.

It was aged in small (no further description available) casks that once held (of course) bourbon and beyond that my research hit a dead end, and I was able to glean no more info on its constituents. But my feeling based on taste and profile suggested a column still product, not one from a pot still.

All this is window dressing through. Bluntly, this is one of the few aged rums I really don’t care for neat. Most are made with care and attention, and a view to rising up the scale to even older versions to come (take the St Nicholas Abbey 12, Cockspur 12, El Dorado 12, and the Appleton 12 as examples). And Coruba does have an 18 and 25 year old knocking about which I’d like to get and see if they up the ante a shade. But that pussyfoots around the central issue of this rum, and that is that it doesn’t work for me.

Take away the labelling on this bottle and what you’re actually left with is the English Harbour 10 year old bottle plus a wooden-cork combo stopper. Not anything to complain about, and actually, quite nice, even if the label was a bit busy to the eye (I’m a fan of beauty in simplicity). It spoke to its manufacture by the Rum Company out of Kingston, the ISW gold medal it won in 2008 and its ageing in “old oak casks” as well as its “handcrafted” nature, which just had me moving on with the same impatience I always feel in the grocery shop when I see idyllic rural farms and hard-working midwestern families pictured on a box of some industrial-level-manufactured product.

The Coruba 12 year old was one of the lightest-hued aged rums I’ve had in a while, being somewhere between amber and honey-coloured (but not blonde). Both the Cockspur 12 and the El Dorado 12 with which I tried it, were darker. The aroma on opening was quite biting, and more than a little astringent – for a 40% aged rum I found this disappointing to say the least, because the other two competitors had noses that were so much richer and deeper – the best I could say about the Coruba was that I liked the subtle scents of flowers, fresh-cut grasses and faint lemon zest, even if it lacked some more complex fruity notes I would have liked. And let me tell you, like the serpent in the garden of Eden, there was an unwelcome note of excess nail polish coiling behind it all that was utterly discombobulating. Again…wtf?

Palate…meh. Thin bodied and both spicy and briny at the same time, a shade harsh on the tongue, like some Dickensian headmaster of old, rod held upright to whip my misbehaving, misbegotten behind. I am not kidding when I tell you that I tasted dry, musty, tobacco and leather first off (almost morphing into cardboard that’s been in the basement too long), with vague caramel, unsweetened dark chocolate, vanilla and burnt sugar notes following on as the rum opened up, followed by a flirt of ripe cherries. But all subtler, sweeter flavours were rapidly overrun by that salty, dry, tobacco background, which, now that I think about it, is probably why they named this one “Cigar”…not because the rum is good to have with one, but because it tastes like one. A dry one at that. As for the finish, sorry, no happy ending there…short, acerbic, unremarkable, and it sure didn’t like me much. Too dry, too peppery, and gave back not enough.

Perhaps it’s a good thing that I merely sample rums to review, and am not a really regular or serial drinker. Because a rum like this, for the price it cost and the profile it presented, would make a normal person swear off rum for good and maybe switch to whiskies (and indeed, I think there are a lot of elements to this rum that an anorak might appreciate more than I would or did). Others with a samaritan-like bent might just use it to address battlefield trauma. Me, I’m just disappointed. Perhaps it’s a depressing rum for me because I had had higher hopes for it.

Long story short, this is a rum that if it were a film noir, I suspect it would have been that film at the point where it’s raining. Hard. Without the neon lights. Just as someone gets offed by his lady love, for whom he cared more than she deserved.

(#146. 75/100)

Feb 252010
 

First posted 25 February 2010 on Liquorature.

(#011)(Unscored)

Short, sharp sword to the guts when had neat, this rum is without question something to use as a mix and not to risk taking alone.  Needs refinement to be taken seriously, but since it’s cheap as all get-out, it does have a perverse attraction on that basis alone. Go for it if you’re feeling a bit brave today.

***

This is another one of those reviews that I wrote in order to give some weight to the Single Digit Rums.  Having tasted it, shuddered and reached for the coke, I can understand both why it costs so little, and why it’ll probably never make the table of the Club.

SDRs are in the main the bottom end of the ranking scale, and part of that is because they represent what I term the tipple for the masses – it’s the sort of thing I grew up on, had many a good conversation over, and eventually moved away from as my tastes became more snooty (and hence, expensive).  The Jamaica distillery of J. Wray & Nephew, home of  Appleton makes this low end rum and it’s marketed by Compagnie Rhumière Bale out of Basel, in Switzerland – using 30 marks to create it utilizing the solera method – primarily as a mixer and a base for cocktails and other drinks.  Given that the age is unmentioned anywhere on the label, and taking into account its somewhat raw searing taste, I venture to suggest it’s five years old or less.

The thing is, a rum this dark, I kinda expected just a tad more…a strong molasses taste maybe, a burnt-sugar kind of nose.  Something that was rude, vulgar and overpowering, that happily booted and spurred across the palate and would never see the tables of the rich but which at least had some kind of obnoxious character all its own (say what one will about the Bundie, no-one can deny it has a taste and prescence not readily ignored). None of that is really in evidence in the Coruba, because the spirit fumes overpower everything fast. Now, if one flexes one’s snoot and gives it a long and decent snort, one may be able to separate the fruit and perhaps some whiskey: certainly the taste is there – I detected some apricot and sugar on the way down.

The problem is that the finish is too short and harsh, and you know me: I really have an issue with that damned whiskey burn.  So neat and on the rocks, I’d stay away from it, since this is clearly not a sipping rum.  Even when mixed, alas, it lacks the release of flavour that characterizes the aristocrat of the working class tipple, the EH5 (which has become a low-end baseline all its own, by the way). Which is a shame, because once the burn goes away and you manage to swallow, you do actually taste something of the toffee and caramel at the back of the throat. Unfortunately, that’s more than likely just the coke or ginger beer.

In summary then, Coruba really fails as a sipper either neat or on the rocks. On the assumption that it’s a mixer, I’d put it on the bottom shelf.  If I was desperate for a drink I’d take it, but it’s got so much competition at the same price point that it’s probably best to just use it in one’s cooking without giving it pretensions to your liquor cabinet…unless a favoured enemy is dropping in for a visit, in which case, be generous.

Update 25 Oct 2010: I just reviewed an article on Wikipedia which states that Coruba is not marketed in Jamaica, but primarily in New Zealand, where it has held the top selling rum spot since the 1970s. If anyone from NZ can comment on that I’d appreciate it, since it sure is news to me, and it’s curious that I found a Kiwi rum in Alberta.


Other Notes

The Cocktail Wonk provides some background information on the company behind the brand as he discusses the “Cigar” release, but it’s useful here too.

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 coke – it’s one of the best bodied rums around, but isn’t really ready to be nipped neat – the 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 relax – out 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