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
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 cinnamonbut 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 easierat 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 islandand these days, there’s so much of it sloshing aboutthis 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 makerafter 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 coursethey 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 distilleryit 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 termsrancio, hogo, dunder, funkit’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 forwardvanilla, 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 aspectthe 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 remainedgreen apples, sultanas, cider, bitter chocolate, vinegarbut 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 availableit 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 rumI 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.

ColourGold

Strength – 40%

NoseFunk 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.

PalateAll 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.

FinishShort, mostly caramel, brine, vanilla and funk

ThoughtsOddly, 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 couldwith some effortbe 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 newfor 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 memaybe 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 sameso 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 youngmaybe 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 persistrotting 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 meansI 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 thisGold”) and the White would be rebranded as Kingston 62 in the UK, but with no changes to the recipe.

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 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.

ColourDark red-brown

Strength – 43%

Nose – “Dirtymight be the est way to describe the nose. I’ve mentionedrotting bananas and veggiesbefore in a review once or twice, and here it’s real. Quite intense for a standard proof drinkwine, 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.

PalateSmoothens 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.

FinishShort 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.

ThoughtsI 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

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

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 mineJimbo.

(#146. 75/100)

***

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 outgenerouslyfor 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.

D7K_0118

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.

 

D7K_0129

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 astringentfor 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 deeperthe 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. Againwtf?

Palatemeh. 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 thereshort, acerbic, unremarkable, and it sure didn’t like me much. Too dry, too peppery, and gave back not enough.

D7K_0131

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.

 

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 massesit’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 Switzerlandusing 30 marks to create it utilizing the solera methodprimarily 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 morea 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 thereI 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 cabinetunless 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 Cigarrelease, 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 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