Pretty good all rounder, marred somewhat by an excessive spiciness that lends itself well to a cocktail without enhancing the rum as a sipping spirit.
Appleton’s Reserve rum from J. Wray & Nephew (in business since 1825) out of Jamaica — recently in the news for its 50 year old rum as well as a controlling stake of the main Trinidadian conglomerate being acquired by Campari — is a product that is an order of magnitude better than the entry-level V/X, assuming you use it for what I think it’s meant for: a mixer. The V/X, which is from the low end of the scale of Appleton’s products, is not meant to be a sipping spirit (though of course you can) and the Reserve is a step up from there (still has a cheap tinfoil cap, mind). Yet it still hasn’t broken into the category of rums you can pleasurably have neat – that, in my opinion, begins with the quite excellent 12 year old (although the cap remains the same).
The Reserve is a blend of twenty different Appleton pot-still and column-still rums aged for an unspecified period (I’ve heard eight years) in Jack Daniels barrels. Given that Appleton does not have a five year old rum – an odd omission in its lineup, I think – I find the eight years possible, but surprising that it is not mentioned as such right up front, since rums between five and ten years of age are often referred to as hitting the sweet spot before the blender’s art kicks in to start masking and smoothening out the inevitable oak prescence of ageing beyond that point
Initial arrival of this amber rum was quite sharp, and the characteristic Appleton signatures of orange zest and citrus were evident right away. Once it settled, one could perceive some winey notes commingled with bananas, cloves, caramel and burnt sugar…and an oakiness I really didn’t care much for.
That oak (something I’ve whinged about as far up the food chain as the 21 and 30 year old) made the taste of the medium bodied Reserve somewhat less than it could have been, because really, it was a shade sharp and raw. Uncouth and unlettered, one might say. There was a smoky background that started to come out, enhanced by vanilla, butterscotch and maybe nutmeg and cinnamon to go along with the citrus notes, yet those tannins imparted a sharpness to the whole which I did not find appealing – in fairness, I must simply concede that the V/X was sharper and thinner still, so this one certainly won out by being incrementally better.
As for the finish, it was as short and biting as a pissed off Shetland and to my mind, nothing really earthshaking – it’s about what I would expected taking into account the foregoing, although with some ice to tame it down a shade, it became a lot better, with a sly butterscotch and cinnamon close (I don’t really recommend this, by the way, but that’s a personal thing).
Summing up, then, I think that for all my complaining about the spiciness of the whole, the Reserve is a step up from the V/X. It has the characteristic Appleton taste profile for those who like it, slightly dialled down. It’s edging gently (but not quite all the way) into the territory of rums one can reasonably drink by themselves…is just a shade too heated and biting for true enjoyment in this manner. The problem this creates for the Reserve is that it makes it neither fish nor fowl – I can get a cheaper, decent mixing agent in the V/X, and a better sipping rum at a reasonable price in the twelve year old…which leaves the Reserve sitting — like a forlorn second child not knowing whether to play with its older sibling’s friends or younger one’s dolls — rather uncomfortably in the middle.
(#129 . 77/100)
- Around 2019, this was replaced by the Appleton Estate 8 Year Old Reserve, also a pot-column still blend, when Appleton revamped their entire lineup with new bottle shapes, labels, names, and tweaked blends.