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
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.

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 careeruntil 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 onedating back from 1981, the year she joined the companyis 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 workI 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 funkcitrus, 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 oneslight citrus, ginger, cumin, and green apples and grapes did a funky little number off to the side, for exampleand none of it was overbearing or in your face. In fact, part of the rum’s appeal was its deceptively unassuming natureeverything 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 herour paths haven’t crossed, which is my loss, not hersand 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 basedbut 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 moreyou 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 theJoywhich no amount of money could ever buy, and the cool thing is, the rum really deserves it.

(#536)(89/100)

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 asthe oldest rum evereven 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 itit was specifically commissioned for Jamaica’s 50th anniversary of Independence in 1962, so I suspect it was an 800-bottle one-off halo-issuebut 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.

ColourMahogany with red tints

Strength – 45%

NoseThe 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).

PalateThe 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.

FinishMedium long, a fitting close to the proceedings. Mostly bananas, molasses, a little pineapple, plus a last dollop of caramel. And honey.

ThoughtsStill 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 sharinggenerously.

(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 aRare 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 (orjugged”) at a mouth-watering, drool-worthy twenty years old, I’m tempted. Consider tooat 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?

ColourAmber

Strength – 43%

NosePure tamed Jamaican, with elements of the profile being showcased, but not strong or violent enough to put one offa 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 persistentif faintbackground odour of vegetable soup in here, both the veg and the soya. Really.

PalateMore of that dialled down bad boy attitude, nicely integrated into a profile that starts withdirt”. 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 intenseIt may be jugged at 43% but it sure feels more powerful than that.

FinishFalls 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.

ThoughtsIt’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 tragedypotential 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 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

Nov 022012
 

 

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 Jamaicarecently in the news for its 50 year old rum as well as a controlling stake of the main Trinidadian conglomerate being acquired by Campariis 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 neatthat, 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 ruman odd omission in its lineup, I thinkI 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 sugarand 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 appealingin 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 earthshakingit’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 themselvesis 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 fowlI can get a cheaper, decent mixing agent in the V/X, and a better sipping rum at a reasonable price in the twelve year oldwhich leaves the Reserve sittinglike a forlorn second child not knowing whether to play with its older sibling’s friends or younger one’s dollsrather uncomfortably in the middle.

(#129 . 77/100)


Other notes

  • 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.
Oct 042012
 

Though not as in your face as its older brother, it’s still too oaky for me. It’ll be the bees knees for anyone who prefers a rum with a drier mouthfeel, less sugar and more tannins in their rums than I do. This one’s all about opinion.

The Appleton Estate 21 year old rum has been around long enough for most reviewers to have had a chance to check it outin my case, I simply never got around to it, having been less than enthused about the Master Blender’s Legacy, the blend of which it said the 21 forms the backbone. Plus, there are so many other good 21 year old rums out there at a lesser cost (the El Dorado 21 and the Juan Santos 21 to name just two) that I haven’t felt the need to shell out the C$130 for it.

Be that as it may, the 21 is the one of the first of the company’s premium rums (the Legacy, 30 and 50 year old are the others, and others will argue the 12 year old should be on the list as well), and deserves notice. Presentation wise it’s nothing specialtin can enclosure, and the same bottle and the same pressed on tin cap as the entry level V/X (a good mixing rum if there ever was one), which always struck me as odd given its supposed cachet as a top flight spirit.

The initial not-too-spicy nose of this 43% dark copper-coloured rum were deep and winey, with rich scents of dried fruits that almost, but did not quite descend to the depths of a wine-based spirit. Faint vegetal and herbal notes, with almost none of the signature citrus that are supposedly the hallmark of many of Appleton’s rums. After settling down a bit, the pleasurable aromas of burnt sugar (not caramel) and light flowers made themselves shily known.

On the palate, as I have noticed in the past (and here), there was a certain driness in the medium bodied rum, something astringent, mitigated just enough by a heated smoothness that was far from unpleasant, yet transformed the 21 into something more akin to a cognac, also a characteristic of the El Dorado 15, as some have observed (mi padre being one of them). After a while, the sweet began to emerge from hiding in tandem with faint lemon rind and nutty notes (pecan? walnut?), and upon further opening, the 21 became a bit smoky, the sweet was overpowered, though a subtle whiff of vanilla could be noted coiling around the other tastes. I’d judge it bit better than the Legacy on that score, and the relatively long fade, which was a neat sandwich of orange peel, cinnamon and oak, cemented my opinion.

That said, I’m not entirely enamoured of the prevalence of the sharper oak tannins, which held, to me, a somewhat unhealthy dominance over the other, subtler flavours that never quite got their chance in the sun: I sensed they were there, but the defense was too strong. The copper-still-made rum is a blend of molasses-based rums aged a minimum of 21 years in used Jack Daniels barrels, and so are others of similar age, yet with no other comparable product is the drinker fended away from more complex flavours (and bashed over the head quite as insouciantly) as here. Similar concerns over time have led me to downgrade my initially high opinion of the 30 year old. The 21 costs enough and is premium enough, limited enough, for us as drinkers who fork over our cash to expect something more.

The thing is, I have a high opinion of Appleton and their products, the company’s longevity and even their rare and pricier bottlings (the 50 is a case in point, though I’ll never buy it) – what is happening more and more often is that I prefer to stick with their lower-tier products and use those as mixing agents for a pleasant late-in-the-week sundowner, rather than incur my wife’s not inconsiderable wrath and buy an overpriced hooch which after the dust has settled, simply does not deliver on its promise.

Now that’s just depressing.

(#123. 83/100)

 

Sep 082012
 
Publicity Photo from RumAuctioneer

A truly wonderful rum which is simply too expensive for regular drinkers, in spite of its quality. It’s just too out of reach for us proles, alas.

“I have left instructions in my will,” growled Kanflyer on the Ministry of Rum, echoing the sentiments of many, “For my grieving (?) widow to take the insurance settlement, find a bottle of this and toast my memory with my friendsboth of them. There is no way I could spend $5k on a bottle of rum while I’m still kicking around.” In two humorously pithy sentences Kanflyer (may his glass never be empty) encapsulated the rank and file’s opinion on Appleton’s most heavily hyped and most expensive production rum ever, the Independence Reserve.

Appleton’s 50 year old Jamaican Independence Reserve rum is so audacious that when I call it a vanity project, all you can really do is admire a company crazy enough to make it. Even with its vanishingly small production run of eight hundred bottles, you have to concede that here’s a product that really has no reason to exist at the price point of US$5000, which puts the 58-year-old Longpond at one fifth the price to shame (note that as of 2020, the price remains stubbornly steady at around this level).

The cost of this one bottle is high enough to make me a small one-man special interest group with some hefty clout in the capital. For the price, I could fund the Whisky Pilgrim on ATW for a decade, buy enough Bacardi to keep me drunk until the Rapture, all the Renegades that will ever be made and just about all the El Dorado and Rum Nation rums currently in production (maybe twice). Quite frankly, there’s nothing that I know about to which I can seriously compare it unless it’s the 37 year old Courcelles from Guadeloupe, or the 58 year old Longpond from G&M (and frankly, I really wish people would stop saying that the 50 the oldest rum available in the world, because even if the Longpond isn’t the only other one, the fact that it’s there at all put a lie to Appleton’s press statement).

So it’s perhaps almost anticlimactic to discuss the characteristics of the rum (I was given a sample to try by Andrew of the KWM and had it againtwiceat a tasting event), but let’s forge on regardless. The nose of the dark copper fifty year old began with notes of hay and grasses, and dark brown sugar melting in the tropical heat. Freshly cut tobacco leaves, raisins, a hint of cherries. My seven year old, who wanted to know what Daddy was doing, sniffed, opined “vanilla” and walked away. But what coiled out and took over the balance was a kind of luxuriously heavy honey scent that really was quite heavenly. It blew away the thirty year old like yesterday’s news.

Distilled from molasses and aged in the standard used oak barrels, the rum is a blend of twenty rums whose minimum age is fifty years. Distilling it to 45% was the right decision, I thinkhad it not been a little overproofed, I doubt I would have enjoyed it as much (I was tasting it with the Appleton Reserve, the 21 year old and the 30 all together). It had a medium body, and arrived with a luscious taste of fresh honey and nuts (no, not Cheerios), and had a deep and dark mouthfeel like velvet, no sting or bite, just a warm, slow heat that gradually revealed notes of cinnamon and lemon zest. Yes there were oaky notes on this baby, just not as evident and unwelcome as the thirty turned out to have, and just the right amount of sugar in the rum gave it an excellent and harmonious balance. The fade was long and lasting, redolent of leather and smoke and a faint nuttiness. An excellentno, a phenomenalproduct all around, and while it may not be worth every penny of five grand, if you can get a taste, don’t pass it up.

Here’s the thing. It’s a good rum, a great rumperhaps even brilliant one. Appleton have somehow managed to weed out the overbearing oakiness that to some (I have gradually become one of them) marred the 30 year old. It may lack the stern, uncompromising beefiness of cask strength offerings I’ve been sampling recently, yet the 45% strength is good for what it attempts, which is to be intense, flavourful and a damned good drink. I liked it a lot. It handily shows any 46% Renegade Rum the door.

But I honestly don’t know who is supposed to drink this rum, because at close to $200 per shot, I know I couldn’t, and actually, I’m not even convinced it is meant to be anything other than a collector’s piece for oligarchs, politicians, ambassadors, industry CEOs and the rich and powerful (and crass). Even Joy Spence remarkedThis will emphasise the ‘premium-nessof Appleton. It’s a halo for the other brands of the estate to bring them up.So it’s an advertisement rather than something for wide distribution, the way the Nikon F6 film camera isgreat stuff, far too pricey and ultimately, kinda useless. This is a luxury rum on steroids, a sort of flagship marquee that bellows “Here I am!” to the world, like a pig-ignorant over-decorated geriatric driving a Lambo, ostentatiously tooting the horn at a traffic light. It’ll provide the company, marketers, bloggers, reviewers and its fortunate owners with exactly what they desire, yes: but whether it’s exactly what they deservewell, that’s quite another matter.

(#120 / 90.5/100)


Other notes:

  • Tasted together with Appleton Reserve, 21 yr old 43%, 30 yr old 43%, El Dorado 25 43%
  • This rum review was long enough that I didn’t bother describing the presentationI justified this breach of reviewing etiquette by telling myself that every press release and news article has already mentioned it, so I didn’t have to. I may change that in a while after my backlog is taken care of.
  • Wait a whileI read in a Jamaican paper that Appleton is going to produce a 100 year old rum in 2062. Pardon me if I don’t start saving for that.

 

Jan 212011
 

First posted January 21st, 2011 on Liquorature. Tasted April 2009 and again December 2010.

Good rum, solid mid-tier sipper, but if you like something a bit more biting and clearly defined my take is for you to stop messing around and get the 21-year old, which is one of the cores of this one. It’s like buying a Boxster just because you’re too cheap to get the 911, and hoping the ladies don’t notice. Watch for the twitchy ride in either case.

The heart of this Jamaican rum produced by J. Wray and Nephew is a 21 year old rum blended with an 18, 15 and 12 year old (according to that valuable source, Michael from Willow Parkand here I need to post an addendum, that Chip Dykstra of the Rumhowler blog told me in late 2010 that Appleton reps had told him the 30-year old is also part of final blend), and the resultant is aged in oak barrels once used for Jack Daniels. For a rum that is this old and at almost at the top of its price range (~$100, compared to ~$135 for the 21 year old, and ~$320 for the 30 year old), I have to admit to being somewhat let down by its presentation: a cheaply made tin concealing the same old bottle with just a different coloured label is not my way of advertising one of the premium products of my line. Don’t get me wrong, I’m aware that presentation isn’t everything (just observing the way I dress should disabuse anyone of the notion that I have to have the outside match the inside) – it’s just that for the price of this baby, one expectsa little more. And in my review of rums, I find this issue across all of Appleton’s wares.

That said, I admired the deep bronze colour of the decanted liquid in a clear glass, and the aroma hinted enticingly of burnt sugar and (oddly enough), of maple syrupnot something I associate with the Caribbean, really. Perhaps a little pear. A sip and a taste revealed no major disappointment: mellow, smooth, rich on the tongue, with some nip from citrus peelings, and an odd sharpness on the backend . If one looks, one can discern the hints of oak, and vanilla, even some honey. It was a good rum: you could almost taste the way the younger rums enhance the central older one.

The finish is long and smooth, and then, somehow, it just falls short of being a really top rum by having the body fail and thin out (I can think of no other way to express this feeling) and turn bitchy on the way down, like an expensive courtesan who resents what she is and scratches you for your trouble after you’ve forked over and put out. Honestly, the finish ends on a whiskey note that is totally unexpected and not entirely welcome. I appreciate the craft that went into making this blend, and look forward to one day trying the Limited Edition 30-year old, but for something this close to being excellent, it’s a cruel letdown. It goes all the way to 99%, and then quits. Aaargh.

And this isn’t just me. This is the second of three really superior rums I had on hand for the April 2009 session, and yet it was pipped in the opinions of the participants by not only the Flor de Cana 18 year old, but the 12 year old Zaya (which may be a poke in the eye for those who believe age confers quality so far as the good stuff is concerned)

Maybe the packaging wasn’t lying after all.

(#064)(Unscored)

 

Dec 252010
 

Originally Posted 25 December 2010. Photo courtesy of Chip Dykstra’s Rum Howler Blog

Let’s assume that there is a place where goodness reigns, the evil get punished, all kittens get rescued from trees and lotteries are won by the deserving. Trust me when I tell you that the Appleton 151 does not hail from here. This raging brown liquid is the Rum of Sauron. No, it’s Sauron’s dark effluent after he drinks the Rum of Sauron. Wussie whiskies such as the cask strength 60-percenters run crying to their mommies when the 151 approaches.

Appleton 151 is a dark, sinful, bottled morals charge, a mischievous indecent wink against our perceptions of rum. It takes no prisoners, expresses itself in four letter words, and is unashamedly, unapologetically vulgar. It’s a barbarian trying to eat with a knife and fork. You show this fella in public, you’ll either be arrested on sight or be accosted on every street corner being furtively, wistfully or eagerly asked “Where the hell can I get me some of that?

The 151 series from any maker may be the ne plus ultra ofstandardoverpoofs1. Rums like this will never really be made fresh or new again. While I may be exaggerating just a smidgen, it is my considered opinion that distilling and blending techniques have now gotten sophisticated enough for overproofs to be taken seriously as drinks in their own right, and not just bases and mixers and cooking ingredients. You see, although generations of gleeful blenders and traumatized drinkers think otherwise, the purpose of an overproof is not really to cause you pain or get you drunk: it’s to deliver a concentrated flavor unobtainable anywhere else, at any other strength. And maybe to make a real bitchincocktail.

As an example, take the Appleton’s nose. I wouldn’t recommend this, but this is what I did and you’re welcome to try: take a hearty sniff of this sour Klingon sweat. A massively alcoholic man-eating lion will leap fiercely at your defenseless snoot. You will fall back, feet excavating spade sized trenches from the ground, pounding frantically on your chest, not the least because your breastbone feels like it’s now somewhere behind your spine. Once the fire goes out and the spirit fumes have finished raping your beak, in between bouts of delirium you will remember that there was a deep caramel taste, a cinnamon shot, and a scratch of vanilla. Really. Personally, I think you’d be lucky to find your sinuses again (ever), but you see what I mean? The nose is a Godzilla of flavor if you stick with it and move through the pain.

Knowing it was my duty to take one for the team and complete the review in an appropriately stiff-upper-lip fashion, I sipped it when I managed to draw a thimble of oxygen into my seared chest and the uranium spill in my lungs reached its natural half life. This roughly equates to rapidly following up stupidity with an act of irredeemable idiocy. You’d think by now I’d learn to mix this stuff, but no…I had to take the taste neat, and a good sized one at that. Never let it be said, guys, that I wasn’t there for you when it counted.

Big friggin’ mistake. A lake of fire exploded. The sobriety I had fondly embraced became the sobriety I had just left behind. There was a concussive cchuuuff of vanilla, caramel and light citrus that scaped across my tongue just before I lost track of ten minutes of my life in one searing amnesiac flash. My tongue writhed like a serpent doing a rain dance, my tonsils vapourized, and my head spun as rapidly as if I had just been hooked up to the high-speed paint shaker at Home Depot. I lost twenty IQ points, and I swear the Appleton 151 caused my DNA to devolve on the spot. Ugh mug kook aagh.

I don’t know about you, but me, I gave up. Forget nose, forget taste, forget finish. Like all highly overproofed rums out there, there’s simply no point to it. It’s got a ferocious taste, sure, but let’s be honest: the 151 is not meant to be a garden party sipper or socializing enabler. Tasting notes are pointless here.

Because, guys, come on: all of you who are reading this and snickering, none of you ever tried this stuff for its bouquet, or aroma or its elegant fade, redolent of whatever-the-hell-they-added. You didn’t drink it because your Tanti Merle made a great Black Cake from it, and her eggnog was to die for. You drank it because you were young, because you were high on life, and because you wanted to get loaded as fast as possible. Because it was your passport to manhood among The Boys, because Grampi always had it, because la petite femme over there on the floor of the bottom-house Old Years party was giving you the eye and might kiss you later if she thought you had some balles. You drank it then because it was your rite of passage to all other rums that came after, and you drink it now because you want to remember the bright sharp days of your youth when the world was an apple in your mouth. So forget this review. Just put it away, pour a shot and enjoy taking your drinking experience to the wild extreme of unreason.

(#061)(Unscored)


Other Notes

  • For additional details on the history and development of 151 overproof rums, this article provides all the background
  • Also, for reference, here’s a list of the most powerful rums in the world, starting at 70% ABV and working up.
  • It is unclear whether as of 2021, this rum continues to be made. Certainly it remains available, but I think that with the rise of cask strength bottlings from around the world, it may have been quietly discontinued without fanfare.
Nov 012010
 

First posted 01 November, 2010 on Liquorature

Raw white overproof, fun to drink mix or celebrate withas the Jamaicans have long since known.

To be honest, I’m not entirely clear why people – aside from binge drinkers, students and serial alcoholics, whose motives are clearerbother to drink white overproofs straight on a regular basis. The taste is simply too raw for real appreciation, in my opinion (though I have had severalfull proofrums which avoid this sharp stiletto to the palate, so it’s by no means a hard and fast rule). But I suppose they’re like those long distance runners who believe that twenty six miles is for sissies, and run ultra marathons instead. Tail end of the bell curve, or something like that. Or maybe they got used to in their youth in an old-country beer garden, or some trading post-cum-rumshop in the backdam; or believe it makes them more macho; gets them high faster; mixes better. Who the hell knows? If it’s one thing I’ve discovered in writing these reviews, is that there is as wide a variety of tastes as there are rums, and what is derided by one may be equally praised (fulsomely so) by another.

Whatever the case, there is actually a pretty good market for overproof rums among drinkers: overproofs are supposedly for cocktail bases and cooking purposes, but that never stopped anyone I ever met, male or female: one of my most enduring memories of working (and boozing) in the bush is a young Amerindian girl, passed out dead drunk on the Baramita airstrip, a bottle of Brazilian 99% alcool clutched tight in her left hand, and I know men who simply pace themselves better with strong spirits than with weak ones. That said, as I was researching and reading online readers’ fora about Stroh 54 (and 80), Bacardi’s 151 and the Clarke’s Court Pure White, knowing what I knew about Guyanese “High Wine” and now writing about the J. Wray & Nephew White Overproof, it seems to me that some people simply prefer it. And that’s perfectly proper.

The white I discuss here is bottled at a relatively mild 63%, which would make scotch drinkers quite happy, I suppose. It is, as any rum aficionado can immediately tell you, manufactured by the Jamaican boys who make Appleton Estate rums: and while the Appletons are easily purchased the world over, I get the impression that this white lightning is not easily or commercially available outside the Caribbean – which is indeed where my Torontonian squaddie John had picked it up on one of his sojourns to the Islands. It may be the single most popular rum in Jamaica, and mostly drunk mixed.

Therein lies the rub. Drinking an overproof of any kind is not a matter of sipping it neat, or even on ice. The J. Wray variant in this review is pretty strong, searing stuff without question: a massive, raw, ethanol delivery system that could knock a platoon out by breakfast time with one quick inhale. At the inception the white has almost no taste: it’s pretty flavourless beyond some kind of smoky, oil-fire kero tang coiling behind the nasty burn, which means that it’ll take on the flavours of whatever you chose to mix into it. Sure you might get some hints of orange peel, licorice and a peppery kind of spiciness at the back end (nose? what nose?), but truly, the only way to get any enjoyment at all out of something like this is to mix it, because all tastes are burned to a crisp by the spirit fire fairly fast (and in the distance I can hear the sneers of the Maltmonster as he delicately noses his favourite Ardbeg, neat).

Do that and this transparent medium body rum fares rather well, I thought (not without a little surprise). It makes a mean bastard of a Cuba Libre, a deep and strong Mai Tai that kicks the crap out of you in labba time, and I can almost guarantee that there isn’t a household of Jamaicans – expatriate or homeboys – who don’t have a bottle of this stuff kicking around. Like Guyanese with their XM five, it has all sorts of social connotations: 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 pickneyput a dab ‘pon he forehead if he sick; got a cold…tek a shot and rub a shot. And so on. Of course, it must be noted that all the usual safety advisories are in order as well, given the flammability of something this close to pure ethanol.

I have gained a sort of sneaking appreciation for overproofs, including this one, because while it lacks the subtlety of a more refined 40% variation (subtlety? don’t make me laugh…the thing is like a charging brontosaurus on steroids at rutting time), it makes an intense, strong, powerfully tasting mix with whatever you decide to chase it. Try adding cola to a 40% low-ender and then to the White Overproof and try and tell me this one doesn’t have more character, more taste, more…well, cojones. It absolutely is not afraid to charge the gates and get the hell off the reservation. When you drink J. Wray’s clear hooch, reader, there’s no ifs, ands or butsyou know Elvis has left the building; and didn’t just exit, he took off with rocket-powered, turbo-charged steel-toed boots. And a jet pack.

So if you believe that major rum producers have pussied out and are producing too many high end, over-sugared, liqueur-tasting sweet drinks (like spiced rums, underproofs or Pyrat’s) for the masses of the unwashed and the hordes of the rabble (like myself); and if you think your chest lacks sufficient cylindrical, keratinous filaments; and that you are swinging a pair of weighty ones that should be addressed by a man’s drinkwell, then it’s entirely possible that you are just waiting to buy a gallon or three of this popskull, made by one company that remembers its roots and continues to distil a real rum.

Always assuming, of course, that you do not already own some.

(#045)(Unscored)


Other Notes

Ten years down the road of the rum journey, I came around to seeing this rum more clearly and appreciating it moreand named it one of the Key Rums of the World

May 172010
 

Publicity Photo (c) Appleton Estate

First posted May 17, 2010 on Liquorature.

A smooth, complex, warm, rich and all-round-awesome creation which fails ever so slightly on the back stretch because of excessive oakiness, just enough to defer sainthood for Joy Spence. Should be drunk in miniscule sips, with hat off, and head bowed reverentially down.

I’ve remarked before that there are only three ways of deciding whether to buy a rum you know nothing about and which you cannot taste to test in the shop: one, by price; two by information filtering through from others (i.e., word of mouth or one’s own research) and three, by age. One might also and reasonably concern oneself with the way it looksboth bottle and liquidor whether the rum is old enough to have sex with itself or not, but since so many are blends, it’s not always easy to tell (and Rums have this irritating tendency not to be bound by whiskey’s strictures of stating the age of any blend as the youngest part of the blend).

Based on these admittedly half-assed standards, the best rum in the world right now might actually be the 40% English Harbour 1981, because it comes in a sturdy red-maroon cardboard box, the bottle cork is a real one, not the pissy little plastic nonsense, and is sealed with old-fashioned red sealing wax (gotta love those touches, man); and it has received rave reviews from all over, as well as having a dark look and strong legs of a rum that really means business. My imaginary friend Keenan has more than once observed (rather sourly) that he absolutely hates being dinged an extra ten bucks or more for a decidedly mediocre offering, simply because ten centsworth of extra whistles and bells was put on the bottle in an effort totart ‘er up”, as he so colourfully puts it.

So what can I say in a rum review of (hats off, and bow heads respectfully here) the Appleton Estate 30 year old? This is a rum which is arguably at the peak of the distillers art in Jamaica. It is the most expensive rum I have ever seen. It has a bottle shape different from all the other Appleton offerings, up to and including the decent 21-year old whichhorrors! – still comes in the cheapskate cylindrical tin, still has that fat-ass bottle shape of the entry level V/X and still retains the ridiculous cheap metal cap (what are these people thinking?). Now the 30-year-old has a fat cork shaped like a grizzly’s d**k. The rum is burnished copper and within the bottle dance hams two dance-hall girls past their prime would weep with envy over. And yet, as if they heard Keenan’s grumbles, the makers put this pristine lass in the same piece-of-crap tin cylinder that embraces bottles a quarter of the price. I don’t know who does the marketing for these boys, truly.

If you see one of these, or hear of one for sale, then your whole drinking life to this moment comes into perfect perspective. To buy or not to buy, that is the question. In my youth, I would have said screw it and walked away, reasoning that my hard earned dollars were better offand would go further, afford more enjoymentin purchasing the equivalent fifteen bottles or so if SDR tipple. But in my dyspeptic old age, quality is so rarely seen that it almost seems a crime to let something at the top of the heappricewise and appearance-wiseget away just because one was being a cheapo. This line of reasoning is a little flawed, I’ll grant you, but it got me past last Friday with no problems.

Only 1,440 bottles of the ultra-exclusive 30 year old 90-proof rum were produced from six casks. Of those, 744 went to the USA and 30 to New Zealand in 2009 (the year of issue), and the rest got scattered around the world. The resident rum guy at Willow Park, a gent by the name of Michael, noted that they had six in the cellar, and I saw another four at Co-op the other day, I read a post on the Ministry of Rum that 156 went to Ontario in May 2010all of which makes one wonder where the other 500 in the world are being held. I shut my eyes tight, forked over my credit card, and one of the pricier rums ever seen by me to this point became mine.

The individual marques that make up the 30-year-old originate from small-batch copper pots and columnar stills, and were all aged a minimum of eight years, blended, and then aged for a further twenty-two years in oak barrels from Tennessee which once held Jack Daniels. After that length of time, the great fear of the drinker and the great challenge of the blender, is how to make the resultant not become so infused with the oak that you end up with something that is no longer a rum (but not quite a whiskey).

The Bear being unavailable (or my imagination not bringing him to life, depending on whether or not you believe the man exists), and I being unable to contain my desire to crack the bottle, I hustled over to the Last Hippie’s place, knowing he was out drowning his sorrows in cheap Scotch on his backyard deck in his daughter’s pilfered Barbie cup. Just as Dumbledore had to give blood to pass into Voldemort’s hiding place, I had to endure a dram of excellent whiskey which I had no appreciation for (sorry Curt, couldn’t resist). Then we reverently opened the 30-year-old, swirled, took a deep sniff and a sip so dainty the Queen of England would have been proud.

Wow.

The rum had real body. The colour was a burnished copper-bronze, and it had the fat, slow legs of an over-the-hill stripper. The nose was an exhilerating and subtly complex combination of orange peel (the Appleton signature), caramel, maple sugar (yes, maple), vanilla and baked pears. On the palate the smoothness of this baby was unbelievable. I was waiting with trepidation for the oak peg-leg to the face and a deep burn on the way down, but somehow Appleton have managed to take 30 yearsmaturation in oak and de-fang the taste many might expect, to create a smooth, mellow sipper which is redolent of vanilla, caramel, burnt sugar and spices, but which lacks the sweetness some might want in their rums. Like Renegade’s offerings, there’s no getting around an oaken component some mislike for being too in-your-face (I said it was muted, not absent) but the smoothness of the overall blend made it a phenomenal drink. The finish is excellent, lingering in the throat, not overpowering you, just staying there and gradually dissipating with the hints of molasses and spices remaining, and a suggestion of tannins and oaken flavours that many may find excessive. But really, a masterful piece of work. For the record, I believe Curt thought so toothough rum isn’t really his thing, he’s generous enough to lend grudging appreciation to his friend’s madnesses when they deserve it (even if the reverse is not true).

With a rum costing this much (it is $500+ in Ontario, last time I checked), one has, after the fact, to be a little dispassionateeven coldabout one’s review. One cannot simply let one’s expenditure dictate a positive opinion. Fortunately, I didn’t have to: that it was a rum on par with the other elephant in the room is not under dispute. The questions is, would one buy it againor recommend it to someone else who had the money but wasn’t sure. For example, with the $200 EH25, I would unhesitatingly say yes (and have). Was the smoothness, the subtlety of the taste, the exclusiveness of the issue, worth it? After all, if the EH25 was like having a slow love-in with your mistress, then the Appleton 30 should have been like a surprising mad romp in the sheets with a wife you’re crazy in love with. Was it?

The bottom line is both yes and no, and one of the reasons this review is so long is because in my own meandering way, I want to be honest about my feelings regarding it. It is a lovely rum. A lovely sipper. It’ll come out to be sampled rarely. It is one of the smoothest rums I’ve ever had, and one of the most complex. But in a way I can’t quite put my finger on, it falls short of true greatness. This could be because of the crap packaging; and the slight lack of sweetness, that final nip of bitterness, which, as I have said before, is what I want in a rum, and why I don’t care for whiskey. It has a lovely hue and colour and legs, and the body is excellent. But perhaps in ageing it that long too much oak ended up in the taste, subtle as it was, and too much effort placed into muting that, not entirely to the advantage of the finished product. (“Too smooth!” thundered Keenan, and quickly poured himself another shot to make sure he was right). Having said all of the above, let me say that I unhesitatingly and unreservedly recommend it above any of the other Appleton offerings, and I am really in awe of what Appleton have done, as I was with the English Harbour.

I just think for that price point, it should have bowled the EH-25 for duck, and instead, got nailed for two byes. I’m paying for a limited edition, not for the ultimate quality of the rum. The Jamaicans came in with a powerhouse cricket team and the Antiguans pipped the innings.

For a rum this exclusive, this hyped and this expensive, I cannot help but call that a defeat.

(#019)(88.5/100)

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.


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