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
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.

Feb 022019
 

Rumaniacs Review #090 | 0595

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

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

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

ColourWhite

Strength – 40%

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

PalateNot as interesting as the nose, really, but every bit as nice. Tinned cherries and pineapples in syrup was the first thought that ocurred to me as I sipped it; a trace of salt and brine, with perhaps half an olive, vanilla, almonds, andif you crease your brow, sweat a bit and concentratecitrus, raisins, cinnamon and maybe a shaving of fresh ginger.

FinishShort, mellow, slightly fruity, a little herbal. Nothing to write home about.

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

(80/100)

 

Aug 082018
 

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

Jan 192017
 

Photo (c) shopsampars.com

#337

Just about every rum junkie has heard of the J. Wray & Nephew 63% Overproof, Appleton’s flagship white lightning and that’s likely the variation that most people know about and have tried. But since the 1990s, there’s been a local hooch, the Charley’s J.B. White Overproof (made by the Trelawny Rum Company which Appleton controls), primarily marketed in the backcountry…at that time it was aimed at rural farmers and considered a sort of 2nd tier tipple. In 2015 the company decided to issue it to the urban market perhaps because people in the cities were getting annoyed at those wussy little forty percenters they had to suffer though, wondering whydem lucky bredren in de backdam gettinall dat good bashwar”, and wanted to get something from near by Cockpit Country that would pack more animal in its jock. And aside from actually stating that the Charley’s JB is a “Trelawny blend,” I’m not sure there’s much difference between it and the JW&N 63%. Most people who’ve tried it just love the thing for its fiery, fruity and powerful taste.

Photo Courtesy of Matt Pietrek, the Cocktail Wonk

Like DDL’s Superior High Wine, or the Rum Nation Pot still white 57%and of course the Haitian clairinsit channels a sort of barely contained ferocity. No easy lead up here: the rum puts you in the middle of the action immediately, with the very first sniff of the cap when cracked, so it’s probably a good idea to go easy for the first few minutes and let the alcohol burn off a mite. Do that and you sense salty, fusel oil fumes, with sharp rubber, acetone, musty cardboard and leather vying to see which can skewer your schnozz the fastest. It stays sharp, and is like breathing the inside of a vulcanizing shop in hot weather, but it does develop well (if grudgingly), and aside from a weird glue aroma, a watery fruity punch of bananas, citrus, unripe green apples is also there, tied up neatly with the rich scent of new leather shoes still in the wrapping paper.

Tasting it more or less continues the experience and I am here to assure you that yes, to some extent, it really does smoothen outjust a little (well, it is 63% ABV, so you can’t expect too much). Sweet watery pears, white guavas, watermelon, cucumbers, some dill and rosemary, squash segue their way across the tongue. The crisp tartness of the nose mellows into something more akin to plums and blackcurrants with a flirt of gooseberries thrown in, if you can believe it, but just add a little water (coconut water might be better), and the feral beast goes quiescent in labba time. The finish? Nothing shabbynice, long, fruity, estery, sugar water and soursop ice cream, plus the faintest bit of rubber and smoke. Overall, it’s a crude iron axe, not a sword made from Damascus steel, and that’s apparent all the way through….butlittle axe does chop down big treeas my great aunty Sheila always used to tell me so sanctimoniously.

Frankly, I’m amazed that Quazi4Moto, my correspondent on reddit, agreed to spot me a sample (many, many thanks to the man for sending it along). This isn’t the best white ever made by a long shot, and it shows its cheerful working class origins clearly…but it sure is a unique one, a taste bomb of savage, raw quality, and if it belonged to me and I knew I wasn’t going back for rice and peas any time soon, I’m not entirely convinced if I’d have shared it myself.

See, I’m aware it’s powerful and uncouth and needs some dialling down, and them crazies who quaff it neat are clearly purveyors of over-the-cliff machismo who are afraid of absolutely nothing; and to be sure, it proudly struts a massive codpiece of taste that falls this side short of a mess, and which will curl your toes without busting a sweat. But you know, in its own way it’s a really freakin’ cool white rum. So what if it’s untamed and maybe too sharp? So what if it growls down our throats as if mixed with undiluted tiger blood? It’s in no way a bad hooch, and those who make it past their initial despite might find themselves – like mebreathing hard, grinning stupidly, and nodding that yeah, they’ll take another shot. Maybe two.

(82/100)


Other Notes

According to the Cocktail Wonk’s informative post, in the good old days, such rural backwoods rums were undesirably-congener-rich heads and tails cuts pilfered from the distillery process, which gave rise to the humorous grumble that it tastedlike a John Crow batty” (in Jamaican creole it refers to a vulture’s assquite poetic, yes?). I wonder if it’s a coincidence that the initials CJB of the rum are the same, if out of order. I can’t find much data on who Charley was, or what J.B actually stands for. Maybe I’ll have to go to Jamaica to find out.

Feb 242013
 

 

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.

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.

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

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

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

The Coruba 12 year old was one of the lightest-hued aged rums I’ve had in a while, being somewhere between amber and honey-coloured (but not blonde). Both the Cockspur 12 and the El Dorado 12 with which I tried it, were darker. The aroma on opening was quite biting, and more than a little 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.

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

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

(#146. 75/100)

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)

 

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 012010
 

First reviewed December 1st, 2010 on Liquorature

The V/X is an ostentatious shot across the bows of Bacardiit may be one of the world’s best mixing, use-for-anything rums that you will have no trouble picking up anywhere, but the spicy sting in the tail makes it unsuitable for sipping.

It’s always the same: the cobbler’s kids have no shoes, the accountant doesn’t do his own taxes, and this reviewer doesn’t review a rum he’s been drinking for years. I mean, you’d think by now I would have rounded off the Appleton section by at least attempting a review of the V/X, which may arguably be one of the best known and most consistently purchased rums in Calgary. Some fifty four reviews along, and I still haven’t bothered, even though I have a 1.75L jug in my house at all times for those occasions when I don’t feel like paying attention, or when forty-plus guests arrive and I need something that will go well for everyone, and with which all are familiar.

From the preceding remarks you’ll gather that Appleton’s V/X is pretty much a working man’s drink, a mixer, blue-collar for sure, suitable for those who don’t want to indulge in the more premium lines, don’t have the bling to blow, or simply don’t care. And that’s perfectly fine – hell, do you honestly believe that everyone who likes rum only goes for the top end, all the time? The thing is, the V/X, for what it is, is good. It makes no pretensions to grandeur; does not make any claims to a premium or sipper status, and represents the Appleton Estate well. In this one entry-level rum, you find all the hints, tastes and blending choices which get progressively more pronounced and refined as you go up the scale of the Appletons.

The bottle is the standard bottle with which everyone is familiar. Rounded, thick waisted, fat-battied, well known. The copper-red-brown rum has a medium body, blended from fifteen different rums matured in oak barrels that previously held Jack Daniels (not bourbon). In the glass it lacks real viscosity and demonstrates thin legs that trail rapidly down the sides. I know it’s not much of a sipper, but I follow the usual procedures: and on the nose, after I let the glass stand a bit to open up and the sharpness of the initial sniff wears off, there is the brown sugar and caramel, mixed with that slight perfume of citrus which is the Appleton signature (like bananas on the Mount Gay). The smell is sharp and pungent, and you feel something a bit more raw than the rungs further up the ladder: all pretty much par for the course. On the palate the rum is not smooth (were you seriously expecting it to be? come on, be serious), but the citrus notes balance well with the burnt sugar, caramel and a slightly fruity tang. I’ve heard some people taste nuts, but not me.

What you do get is that slight orange peel, and bitterness from the oaken tannins, that so characterizes the Appleton rums, and in this entry level rum, it comes earlier. It continues through to a spicy finish that is more sting than burn (for those who ask what the difference is, a sting is like sharp cat’s claws, short, sharp and painful; a burn is more like a mellow kind of deep, long lasting not-quite-pain which is like a hot cup of tea carving its way into your system), and for this reason, it’s no surprise that Appleton V/X is more mixer than sipper. Some brave souls might like it with just ice, which is fine: it’s more complex the more you stick with it, and for this reason, I want to express my opinion that it’s one of the more underrated rums around. A mixer, yes…but still underrated, like the English Harbour five, for example.

Almost everyone I know in Canada has, at one time or another, tasted the V/X. It is a constant feature at parties (thrown by people of any nationality), and one of those staples of the drinking season one remembers fondly as one moves up the quality scale. Like Bacardi, it is a rum made to please many: it has good body, a unique taste, and is good to mix with just about anything. You won’t want to drink the V/X straight – it’s not designed for that – but in any kind of cocktail (and even just the old standby of rum and coke), it performs superbly, each component of the drink enhancing the other; you can simply stretch out on the veranda, watch the sun set and forget your worries for a bit, with a glass of this excellent bottom-feeder in your hand. And I say that because I do that on just about every Friday evening, and it’s the V/X I reach for the most often when I do.

(#0052)(Unscored)


Other Notes

  • In 2015, the V/X was discontinued as a brand and replaced with the Appleton Estate Signature Blend, though all indications are that the blend components, and the taste, is still very much the same. This was part of a brand-wide update which also saw the Appleton Special title renamed the J. Wray Jamaica Rum Gold and then the Kingston 62 Jamaica Rum. I think it’s all just nonsense myself and probably only justifies some marketing veep’s salary, because all it does is confuseif the rum is the same and the title is recognized, why mess with it? Ho hum….
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)

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.