Jul 192017


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.


  8 Responses toKey Rums of the World: Appleton 12 Year Old Rum

  1. I agree fully with you. You find many more tastes in it than I do but to me it is probably one of the best buys available. A great quality rum at a great price. If this is the only rum a person owns they are not bad offI do hate the name change though

  2. tastes like rye whiskey to me. Not to my liking at all. Perhaps I like a sweeter rum. Somewhat new to rum tasting.

    • You’re not alone. If you think sweeter rums are more your style, give El Dorado, Rum Nation or Plantation rums a try.

  3. Is this one discontinued now? Can’t find it in my favourite online shop as well as on Appleton’s site..

    • This specific one, yes. The 12 YO seems to be reformulated once or twice every decade or so, dating back to the 1960s and is now called the Appleton Estate 12 Year Rare Cask as of 2020 when the change took effect. There are still variations of the 12 year old from previous years available, however.

      • Well, now it seems that Reserve 8 is more expensive than 12 Rare Blend used to beAt least here in Poland. And Rare Blend prices went sky high.

  4. Well, having had Hampden 8 and Smith&Cross recently and with my fading memory of Appleton Signature I’ve had a looong time ago, I am not entirely sure this one would stand against them in thefunkterritory (not that it’s bad, maybe just not thatJamaicanas the before mentioned are). I have also WP Rum-Bar Gold standing on the shelf that I will probably open this week.as well. Will this one add much value in terms of getting to know Jamaican rum if I get one?

    • It’s not meant to be a representative of funky style Jamaican rums that have come into prominence in the last years. Appleton has never fished in those waters. It’s simply a solid rum that represents Jamaica well and is known around the world as value for money.

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